US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Pacem in Terris jobs bill

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The jobs bill has a lot in common with Pope John XXIII's encyclical, Pacem in Terris.

By guest blogger Ken Trainor

Listening to President Obama’s speech about jobs last week made me think about Pacem in Terris, the famous encyclical by Pope John XXIII, released two months before he died in 1963. It has much to say about “the order which should exist between men.”

The foundation of his reflections is the dignity of the individual, upon which is built the collective common good.

This encyclical was ahead of its time and, regrettably, ahead of our time, too. It details human rights as well as duties, and the rights are far-reaching. Many involve work and the workplace.

Every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services (11).

He’s already way ahead of us.

Therefore a human being also has the right to security in cases of sickness, inability to work, widowhood, old age, unemployment, or in any other case in which he is deprived of the means of subsistence through no fault of his own. …

The natural law also gives man the right to share in the benefits of culture and therefore the right to a basic education and to technical and professional training. … Every effort should be made to ensure that persons be enabled, on the basis of merit, to go on to higher studies, so that, as far as possible, they may occupy posts and take on responsibilities in human society in accordance with their natural gifts and the skills they have acquired (13). …

If we turn our attention to the economic sphere, it is clear that man has a right by the natural law not only to an opportunity to work, but also to go about his work without coercion (18).

To these rights is certainly joined the right to demand working conditions in which physical health is not endangered, morals are safeguarded, and young people’s normal development is not impaired. Women have the right to working conditions in accordance with their requirements and their duties as wives and mothers (19).

From the dignity of the human person, there also arises the right to carry on economic activities according to the degree of responsibility of which one is capable. Furthermore--and this must be specially emphasized--the worker has a right to a wage determined according to criterions of justice, and sufficient, therefore, in proportion to the available resources, to give the worker and his family a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person. Our Predecessor Pius XII said, “To the personal duty to work imposed by nature, there corresponds and follows the natural right of each individual to make of his work the means to provide for his own life and the lives of his children; so fundamental is the law of nature which commands man to preserve his life” (20).

A livable wage--imagine that. And Pius XII agreed! It’s not just crazy old liberal Pope John.

Pacem in Terris provides the basis for one heck of a jobs bill. It also provided the basis for Vatican II documents like the Declaration on Religious Freedom and the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

At the very least, Catholics can take some pride in this visionary position, and we should be speaking out in favor of President Obama’s pale-by-comparison-but-better-than-nothing jobs proposal.

The jobs issue, after all, is first and foremost about human dignity. It is also about the common good. Both are at the core of Catholic theology.

Catholics tend to be very outspoken about the right to life.

They should be just as outspoken about the right to quality of life.

By Ken Trainor, a practicing, progressive Catholic, who was 10 years old when Vatican II began. For the past 20 years, he has been a reporter, editor and weekly columnist for Wednesday Journal, a newspaper in Oak Park. You can find his column at

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.