Measuring Changes in Vatican Social Policy from Papal Documents

Authored by: Anna Grzymala-Busse and Blake Miller

Abstract:There is much debate about how, when, and why the Roman Catholic Church has changed its emphasis on secular states and social issues. Unfortunately, large-scale, systematic research on papal policy has not yet been done, despite widely available papal documents on the subject. Using automated multilingual topic modeling and other methods of automated text analysis, we analyze a large multilingual corpus of papal encyclicals, bulls and other documents spanning the past 2000 years. We aim to use this corpus to better understand the evolving posture of the Church with respect to modern states and social policy. We adjudicate between two competing propositions, 1) that the Church’s views change in response to doctrinal developments only (the naive doctrine hypothesis), and 2) that the Church emphasizes social policy when it feels threatened, as a way of reasserting its moral authority. Additionally, we investigate the hypothesis that Church and state only became distinct concepts in modern history. This work, aside from adjudicating major debates surrounding the Church’s emphases on social policy secular states, also introduces a new method of topic modeling using multilingual corpora.

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