Why there will never be an update for the Compendium. By Stefano Fontana

In 2004, due to Pope John Paul II’s will, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, then translated into many languages all over the world. Ten years later, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi who as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace signed the Compendium together with Cardinal Martino, answered some of my questions in a long interview which has become a book meant to recap how the Compendium has been received after its first ten years since been published.

The Compendium had a huge role in having the Social Doctrine of the Church spread and it has a symbolic meaning when it comes to sharing the core of the essential doctrine for the Church in the new millennium. It has been used multiple times in the past and it still is, as it shows systematically every matter of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Some subtle interpreter pointed out that some sample should be rewritten to be more precise, but nobody doubts the worth of the actions of The Holy See.

The Compendium is however stuck in 2004, as it lacks any notions from the following teachings.

It makes perfectly sense to imagine that there would be an update for this kind of essay. After all, since been published, there have been two pontificates. Let’s imagine that the Compendium had been written during John XXIII’s pontificate, wouldn’t it have needed an update after Paul VI and John Paul II? Would the update not take place with a new edition, the Compendium will fall into disuse and be left behind, precisely because it would end up being obsolete and not relevant to the times we live in. In order to save it and let it still be beneficial, it should be completed. Completing it would mean anyway, rewriting it all over again from scratch and not just adding a few new chapters.

Regarding this prospect, it’s my personal opinion that the Compendium will never be revised and therefore, it will slowly be abandoned and considered obsolete.  The Vatican publishing House won’t even reprint it at some point.

The main reason why I predict this ending is that today’s Church is lacking interest in the Social Doctrine as teaching’s core, which was crucial instead during John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s pontificates. Pope Francis and the curials helping him have different ideas and to them the Social Doctrine of the Church is more like a combination of pastoral suggestions or highlighted social needs, rather than a rightful summary, well established in the church’s doctrine. Composing the Compendium required a gigantic, complex amount of work and today there is no one willing to take up this kind of task. Such a work requires belief, consistency and clear, solid direction from the top.

The second reason why is that the current pontificate has an impression of the Social Doctrine which is different from the idea shared by the two previous ones and there’s no need to hide it. The two social encyclicals written by Pope Francis – Laudato si’ e Fratelli tutti – have a different set up and they have been actually written by ghost writers, something that both Benedict XVI and John Paul II would have never done. These encyclicals are basically about social science, metaphysics disappears, natural right is neglected, contemporary news takes up a lot of pages, “directions of how to behave” supporting today’s sociological dominant viewpoints and so on.

A new Compendium would be nearly impossible or anyway, extremely difficult to write as it would require the adding of new notions and settings that would result as forced when put together with the old ones. Moreover, it would have to overlook important matters from the new teachings. Basically, an unlikely work, due its extremely delicate nature.

A third cause is that a new Compendium would be dangerous as it would be divisive. The Church complex has further split since 2004, to a high level of breakdown and disagreement. To rewrite the Compendium would mean to support a certain idea of the Social Doctrine of the Church, an idea not accepted by many nowadays. When it comes to divisive matters, it’s better to be silent and keep quiet, than worsen them, or at least, that’s the general idea.

I also want to draw attention to the fact that beyond the complexity of writing a new Compendium it’s only going to get harder and harder to have a written work that will gather all the social encyclicals from Rerum Novarum on. Pope Francis’s latest encyclicals are so rambling that they alone could make up a whole book. This aspect, too, comes from the deconstruction that it’s happening.  The overview is going to be lost, in accord after all, with this new idea of the Social Doctrine that is now being encouraged.

Stefano Fontana