See, judge, act NOT file: theologian tells Vatican conference

Addressing a Vatican conference to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Mater et Magister, Jesuit theologian Father Peter Henriot noted that the method recognized by the encyclical was see, judge, act, not see, judge, file.

Father Henriot, an American who now works in Zambia, was addressing the international congress “Justice and globalisation: From Mater et Magistra to Caritas in veritate” hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace from 16-18 May.

Applying the method in his talk on “Equity Policies,” Father Henriot noted that the “’see, judge, act’ advances active policies to advance equity policies for proper balance of
production and distribution of wealth.”

“But please avoid the all-too-common: See, Judge, File!” he warned.

Australian Brian Lawrence, who spoke on the “valuation and remuneration of labour“, noted the impact of the Church’s teaching on labour issues dating from Pope Leo’s encyclical Rerum Novarum.

“Another theme that comes through various encyclicals and Gaudium et Spes,” noted Lawrence, who was a formernational leader of the YCS in Australia, “is the importance of starting from life.

“Applied Catholic social doctrine is a response to changing realities,” he said, citing Mater et Magistra Paragraph 236 where Pope John XXIII refers to the see-judge-act.

Another Jesuit, Father Sergio Bernal Restrepo, from the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota, Colombia was another to highlight the significance of the method.

“John XXIII proposed for this (social action) training, the use of the famous method applied by the then Monsignor Cardjn in his groups of young workers, namely the
SEE-JUDGE-ACT paradigm.

” Without ignoring the problems that the process can involve, there is no doubt that this methodology has been a force for good in forming individuals and groups committed to acting in history as conscious Christian citizens who are fully aware that they belong to civil society without contradicting their Christian identity.

“It is disturbing to discover how within the same Church that this way of acting and training in action, has met with strong resistance in conservative circles, who are often ignorant of reality and sometimes too committed to defending their own interests.

However, the Churches of Latin America have been able to defend this method, which was recently forcefully relaunched as a useful tool for pastoral action by the bishops gathered in Aparecida, Brazil,” Father Restrepo said.

Caritas International President Cardinal Oscar Maradiago Rodriguez was another to highlight the method.

“The reality in which the principles of the (Church’s) Social Doctrine is applied is a local reality, namely the social, cultural, economic and political lives each ecclesial community,” Cardinal Maradiaga said.

“It is  in the midst of the practicalities of the life that Christian men and women experience that they they analyse events and judge them in the light of the Word of God and the Social Doctrine in order to make concrete findings for action,” Cardinal Maradiaga explained.

CELAM, the Conference of Latin American bishops, teaches this method as part of its training for social pastoral agents.

“Each training module consists of three parts which follow the see-judge-act methodology,” Cardinal Maradiaga continued.

“The program is targed at pastoral agents involved in the social dimension of the Church who have completed secondary studies,” he added.

Meanwhile, Brazilian Professor Daniel Seidel noted the role played by the Cardijn movements – University YCS, YCS, YCW and Rural YCW – in promoting democracy in that country.

“Since its foundation the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) has been active agent for the consolidation of Brazilian democracy, and was preceded in this role by the specialised youth Catholic Action movements,” he told the conference.

“In this perspective and in response to the dicrediting of Brazilian politics during the 1990s, the CNBB in 1996 launched a Fraternity Campaign, which carried over from the Lenten campaigns that were launched in 1964, on the theme of ‘brotherhood and politics’. Following the see-judge-act method, the campaign proposed as a concrete action to launch the first popular initiative law passed in the Brazil national congress.”

“One million and thirty nine thousand signatures were collected from 1996 to 1999 resulting in the adoption byu Parliament of the Law 9480/99 (in only 29 days!). This Law makes it an offence to buy votes and to use government administrative machinery during an election campaign,” Professor Seidel noted.