Volume 19, Issue 2, Summer 2022
Catholic Teaching on Slavery: Consistency or Development?
In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis wonders why it took the Church so long to condemn slavery unequivocally. Indeed, the place of slavery in Catholic teaching provides a test case of change in official Church intellectual tradition. This paper examines the divergent arguments of four authors who have written about Church teaching on slavery: Pope Leo XIII, Fr. Joel S. Panzer, Judge John T. Noonan Jr., and Fr. John Francis Maxwell. It considers the statement on slavery in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in light of Pope John Paul II’s meditation on the nature of human labor in Laborem exercens, itself a meditation on Leo’s Rerum novarum (On the Condition of Labor), and offers a critique of the position that papal teaching, because it must be self-consistent, is therefore irreformable or unsusceptible to development. This provides one response to the pope’s provocative question.