A hermeneutic of integral human development: bridging the gap between magisterial theory and Catholic agency Praxis

MacLaren, Duncan MacGregor (2019) A hermeneutic of integral human development: bridging the gap between magisterial theory and Catholic agency Praxis. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3369376


The thesis evolved out of an experience of working for, or being involved with, Catholic agencies devoted to implementing humanitarian and long-term development programmes over three decades (‘Roman Catholic Faith-based Organisations’, RCFBOs). In the encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967), Pope Paul VI called for an ‘authentic development’ which would result in a shift for the poor from living in inhuman conditions to more human ones within their culture. Paul’s contribution to the debate about development was to insist that development was not just about the economy but had to be holistic and include the whole of life - social, political, cultural as well as religious. Since then, subsequent popes have built on Paul’s foundations such that a concept of Integral Human Development (IHD) is now firmly placed within the corpus of Catholic Social Teaching (CST), the ‘official’ Church teaching on issues affecting life and society. Some Catholic agencies have taken the concept of IHD and incorporated it into their work and praxis in the field.

The thesis aims to delineate a fuller hermeneutic, or theological understanding, of IHD for both RCFBOs and the institutional Church. IHD lacks explicit definition by the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, and does not take into account the praxis of the agencies mandated by bishops’ conferences, and indeed the Holy See, to implement IHD programmes in the field. To delineate a fuller hermeneutic of IHD, I researched the teaching on one of the central tenets of the Catholic faith, diakonia, serving or ministering to the poor, in Scripture, Tradition and CST. Over four chapters (three to six), I construct a hermeneutic of IHD, and examine it in the light of RCFBO praxis. I found that the occasional mutual antagonism of Church and agencies was caused largely by ignorance of Church teaching on the part of RCFBOs (as well as among some priests and bishops) and by the lack of knowledge of, and exposure to, RCFBO praxis on the part of the institutional Church. I propose dialogue.

I show in Chapter Seven how the reflections of the teaching are found in two pieces of research I undertook; one concerned an early IHD programme run by Caritas Australia in rural Cambodia, and the other drew on interviews with focus groups of participants in a training programme led by the Catholic agency, Faith and Praxis, in Cameroon. In the case of the cohorts in Cambodia, the ‘reflections of the teaching’ included: the seeking out in the micro-society of villages the poorest people which included the disabled, those who were leading dysfunctional lives of addiction and domestic violence, and people living with HIV; an increase in the learning of skills to provide opportunities to earn a decent income, and in the building up of self-esteem and self-confidence. Acquiring these life skills even broke through the barrier of patriarchy with women being elected into leadership positions in the self-help groups. This transformation of lifestyle earned the people the admiration of their fellow villagers as well as local authorities so that they could then access services such as clinics and schools for themselves and their families; active participation of the so-called ‘beneficiaries’ in the programme to induce a feeling of ownership, and to build up their confidence in themselves and their abilities, while ensuring that empathy is increased among them to guarantee that those previously shunned by the village, such as those with HIV, are included in the programme; the transformation of the staff of community-based organisations (CBOs) to be more empathetic to the poorest they sought out, to phase out their involvement in programmes only when they are sure of their sustainability, while, being local, available for advice in the long-term; and IHD also influenced Caritas Australia which continued to operate within a subsidiarity-induced partnership approach to development, so that power was given to the local entity, ACR Cambodia, and the CBOs which worked in the local areas. All of them were Khmer Buddhists, as were the programme participants.

In the case of Faith and Praxis, I show that the methodologies used in the programme, many of which are faith-based, led to the transformation of the participants who were mostly members of religious congregations. Some rediscovered their original charism and proceeded to live with the poor in the rural villages.

On the basis of this research, both primary and secondary, I concluded (a) that IHD resulted in good developmental outcomes for the poorest because, at its best, it cohered with the culture and values of the programme participants, and its way of working has engendered greater self-esteem and confidence among the poor; (b) that faith resources could be used as assets in development, empowering the poor, enabling them to discern the causes of their poverty and assisting them to find their own solutions to their own problems; (c) that the greater dialogue I have proposed between RCFBOs and the institutional Church on the basis of my hermeneutic of IHD could overcome any tensions over the Catholicity of the agencies or the lack of prophetic stances by some Church leaders.

My hope remains that this study, which has brought together a theology which underpins IHD and the praxis of Catholic agencies, along with suggestions to ameliorate both, will, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and the papacy of Pope Francis, be regarded as a Catholic approach to a development which is professional, authentic, and holistic as well as being pro-poorest, pro-dignity and pro-planet to RCFBOs, the Church and the world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Integral human development, community-based development, Catholic Social Teaching, theology.
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Clague, Ms. Julie
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr Duncan MacLaren
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75148
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2019 12:05
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2022 10:22
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75148
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/75148

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