A very nice summation from Crisis Magazine.
The magisterial book, online, from the Vatican is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
An excerpt from the Crisis Magazine article.
“What is the magisterial authority of Catholic Social Teaching (CST), and how is it applied to real world situations? Catholic Social Doctrine is simply the voice of the Church, starting with the Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers, that lays out the principles of how justice and charity are to be lived out in the world.
“The contemporary era of CST began with Pope Leo’s XII’ Rerum Novarum in 1891, and continues up to Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate. Through the social documents, one can see a gradual development that reflects the Church’s study of the times. That is to say, the Church is always looking to update and clarify the basic principles of Social teaching, given new economic situations and technologies, without ever contradicting authoritative past teaching.
“Confusion enters in when Catholic lay faithful (and in some cases clergy) mistakenly claim for their opinions the absolute magisterial authority of the Church and correspondingly denounce as un-Catholic the conflicting positions of others, whether their political criticism comes from the left, right, or center. The basic error is the failure to see that the foundational teachings and principles of CST can be applied in practice in a wide variety of ways — and working out the application of such principles in any given case rightly falls mainly to the laity, not the hierarchy. The magisterial Church’s role, normally exercised through the local ordinary (the bishop), is to point out when these applications appear to diverge from the principles and teachings themselves….
“Before delving deeper into these questions, we should also consider another modern development: the post-Vatican II emergence of national conferences of bishops (known as episcopal conferences), and the extent to which, especially in the United States, such conferences speak and teach authoritatively on issues of Catholic social teaching. There has been much confusion in this area, going back to the American bishops’ conference’s endorsement of controversial documents largely written by bureaucrats….
“On the bright side, this document led the Vatican (or, more precisely, Pope John Paul II) to issue a clarifying motu proprio (a document issued by the pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him), Apostolos Suos, on May 21, 1998. Apostolos Suos confirmed the limited authority of national bishops’ conferences, along with their associated committees, commissions, advisors, and experts. Since Vatican II, these had tended to usurp the fundamental canonical responsibility of an individual bishop as chief teacher of the faith in his diocese.
“In a statement apparently directed principally toward the USCCB, the Holy Father wrote, “Commissions and offices exist to be of help to bishops and not to substitute for them.”
“Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also commented on the purview of episcopal conferences: “Episcopal conferences do not constitute per se a doctrinal instance which is binding and superior to the authority of each bishop who comprises them.” However, “if the bishops approve doctrinal declarations emanating from a conference unanimously, they can be published in the name of the conference itself, and the faithful must adhere” to them.
“In practice, this has never happened.
“Apostolos Suos made clear that the magisterium of the Church comes from the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him, and not from episcopal conferences. That question is therefore settled….
“Catholic social teachings are nothing less than the Beatitudes of the gospel refined for action in the world. As such, the social doctrine is magisterial, and the laity have a serious obligation to put it into effect in their own lives, in society, their culture, and country, according to their conscience, which should be formed by the promulgated teaching of the Church and applied to the specific situations that they encounter. When in doubt, they should consult the bishop of their diocese, who is the best interpreter of the teaching of the Church.”