THEMES OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL 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 highlight several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.
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. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. 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. More Pro-Life Resources .
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our societyin economics and politics, in law and policy directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and the family are the central social institutions 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.
Rights and Responsibilities
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.More on The Preferential Option for the Poor
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 the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that “if you want peace, work for justice.”1 The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.
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. For a copy of the complete text of Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions (No. 5-281) and other social teaching documents, call 800-235-8722.
Copyright 2005, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington, D.C
Rerum novarum (The Condition of Labor) Pope Leo XIII, May 15, 1891
The first comprehensive document of social justice which highlighted the subject of workers rights.
Quadragesimo anno (Reconstruction of the Social Order) Pope Pius XI, May 1931
Introduced the concept of “subsidarity”: social problems should be resolved on more local levels first.
Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress) Pope John XXIII, May 15, 1861
Addressed the plight of nonindustrialized nations.
Pacem in terris (Peace on Earth) Pope John XXIII, April 11, 1963
Written after the building of the Berlin Wall (August 1861) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Oct 1962) and addresses Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Gaudium et spes (The Church in the Modern World) Vatican II, December, 1965
Explores relationship between the Catholic Church and humanity and its mission in the world.
Populorum progressio (The Development of Peoples) Pope Paul VI, March 26, 1967
An Encyclical devoted specifically to the issues of international development.
Evangelii nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World Pope Paul VI, October 26, 1975
Essential components of evangelization are to challenge injustice and to preach liberation.
Laborem exercens (On Human Work) Pope Johnn Paul II, September 14, 1981
This document addresses the dignity of work as the center of the social question; “it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation”.
Sollicitudo rei socialis (On Social Concern) Pope John Paul II, December 30, 1987
Addresses state of the world: economy, development, consumerism and calls attention to “structures of sin.”
Centesimus annus (The Hundredth Year) Pope John Paul II, May 1, 1991
Following the collapse of communism in Easter Europe, marks the 100th anniversary of Catholic Social Teaching.
RESOURCES AND ALLIANCES
• Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is a non-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the fullness of the Catholic social tradition in the public square.
As Catholics, we inherit a rich social tradition based on Jesus’ call to love one’s neighbor and serve the least among us, and on the Hebrew Scriptures’ prophetic commitment to justice and righteousness. Our Catholic tradition calls us to participate actively in public life in the service of human dignity, social justice and the common good.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good works to promote the necessary conditions for a culture of life – a culture that reverences the dignity of the human person over greed, materialism, and the politics of division.
NETWORK: The National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
NETWORK is a progressive voice within the Catholic community that has been influencing Congress in favor of peace and justice for more than 30 years.
Through lobbying and legislative advocacy, they strive to close the gap between rich and poor and to dismantle policies rooted in racism, greed and violence.
NETWORK’s membership, which includes both individuals and organizations, represents more than 100,000 people. This vast constituency is committed and active. When NETWORK’S national office puts out the word that Congress needs to hear from our members on critical legislation, our members respond by calling, writing, emailing or visiting their Senators and Representatives, and by mobilizing others to take action as well.
• Peace and Social Justice Ministry, Diocese of Joliet
The Peace and Social Justice Ministry seeks to promote the gospel of peace and social justice through its programs and ministries, locally, nationally, and globally. With the information and resources provided on this website, it is hoped that the visitor will be challenged to discover creative ways to engage in the struggle for justice.
• The Office for Social Justice, St. Paul Minneapolis Don’t be distracted by the fact that this site is from another diocese, it is loaded with great content. The mission of the Office for Social Justice is to serve the Archdiocese as its primary resource and catalyst for the work of social justice. This website offers excellent information serving well beyond the boundaries of the Archdiocese of St. Paul Minneapolis.