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"CONTEMPORARY POPULISMS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: The Populist Surge as a Challenge and an opportunity for the 'Catholic Social Imagination'"

Cesare Sposetti, S.J. (Italy)

Master of Arts in Theological Studies, with field of specialization in Moral Theology
Adviser: Fr. Peter Pojol, S.J., S.T.D.


The last decades have seen the powerful rise of new populist movements all over the world, which are deeply challenging the “Liberal World Order” that has been in force since the end of the Second World War, and which seemed to strengthen after the end of the “Cold War”. The Italian context gives us an interesting point of observation of this phenomenon. These movements apparently threaten not only our contemporary understanding of democracy, but also, relevantly, most of the main stances of contemporary Catholic Social Teaching.

This study aims to show how the rise of populist phenomena is a contemporary “sign of the times” that the Catholic Church must attend to carefully, in order to respond adequately while drawing from the rich treasure of her social teaching. The application of such an approach to the current Italian context proposes a concrete analysis of and a Catholic response to populism.

Dealing with the novelty of this political contingency and in the absence of other systematic contributions on the issue, this study opens with the analysis of this phenomenon through the lenses of social and political sciences. Then it continues showing how the Magisterium has reacted so far to this phenomenon, spelling out the main concepts of Catholic Social Teaching (common good, subsidiarity, solidarity, pluralism, civil society, and democracy) which appear to be affected by contemporary populisms and showing how these challenges can open the floor to new opportunities for widening our “Catholic social imagination”.

It ends focusing particularly on the Italian context, analyzing some initiatives of the local Church facing this challenge, and especially opening the way to further paths, through the exercise of a wider pastoral and “synodal” exercise of listening.

Final Defense:

Date of Oral Defense: 29 July 2020 (Wednesday)

Board of Examiners: Ms. Cristina Liamzon, Ph.D. (Principal Examiner), Fr. Eric Marcelo Genilo, S.J., S.T.D. and Ms. Diana Mendoza, Ph.D.
Online Moderator: Fr. Oliver Dy, S.J., Ph.D.

Proposal Defense:

Date:21 November 2019 (Thursday)

Board of Examiners:Fr. Peter Pojol, S.J., S.T.D. (Adviser), Fr. Eric Marcelo Genilo, S.J., S.T.D. and Fr. Abundio Babor, Jr., M.S.C., S.T.D.

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Loyola School of Theology