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Catholic Social Justice Teaching
The Church's social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Modern Catholic social teaching has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents. The depth and richness of this tradition can be understood best through a direct reading of these documents. In these brief reflections, we wish to highlight several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.
Seven Core Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
- Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Our belief in the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and assisted suicide. The value of human life is being threatened by increasing use of the death penalty. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
- Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society in economics and politics, in law and policy directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The family is the central social institution that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
- The Dignity
of Work and the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, wherever they live. We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Learning to practice the virtue of solidarity means learning that "loving our neighbor" has global dimensions in an interdependent world.
- Care for God's Creation
We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God's creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
This summary should only be a starting point for those interested in Catholic social teaching. A full understanding can only be achieved by reading the papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents that make up this rich tradition.
A Catholic Framework for Economic Life
As followers of Jesus Christ and participants in a powerful economy, Catholics in the United States are called to work for greater economic justice in the face of persistent poverty, growing income gaps, and increasing discussion of economic issues in the U.S. and around the world. We urge Catholics to use the following ethical framework for economic life as principles for reflection, criteria for judgement and directions for action. These principles are drawn directly from Catholic teaching on economic life:
- The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
- All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions
must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support
the family, and serve the common good.
- A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
- All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g.,
food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, and economic security).
- All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages
and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions or other
- All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility
to provide for the needs of their families, and an obligation to contribute to the broader
- In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government
has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles,
but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.
- Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary,
to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.
- Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic
life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic
opportunity, community life, and social justice.
- The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.
According to Pope John Paul II, the Catholic tradition calls for a "society of work, enterprise and participation" which "is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state to assure that the basic needs of the whole society are satisfied." (Centesimus Annus 35) All of economic life should recognize the fact that we are all God's children and members of one human family, called to exercise a clear priority for "the least among us."
The sources for this framework include the Catechism of the Catholic Church, recent
papal encyclicals, the pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, and other statements
of the U.S.Catholic Bishops. They reflect the Church's teaching on the dignity, rights and duties
of the human person; the option for the poor; the common good; subsidiary and solidarity.