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. It calls us to a life of “being” rather than “having”, of “sharing”, rather than “acquiring”.
Catholic Social Teaching comprises those aspects of Catholic doctrine which relate to matters dealing with the collective aspect of humanity. A distinctive feature of Catholic Social Teaching is its concern for the poorest members of society.
Some have referred to our Church's Social Doctrine as the "best kept secret" of our faith. Surely, there was never an intent not to promulgate these teachings, however, many would argue that the teachers have not always taught, and thus, the students (laity) have not always learned.
Catholic Social Doctrine permeates all aspects of our faith. Therefore, those who are better educated in these areas are better able to form their consciences, and to express the teachings of their faith.
The term "social justice" was coined by the Jesuit Luigi Taparelli in the 1840s, based on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. He wrote extensively in his journal Civiltà Cattolica.
- Pope Leo XIII, who studied under Taparelli, published in 1891 the encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes), rejecting both socialism and capitalism, while defending labor unions and private property. He stated that society should be based on cooperation and not class conflict and competition. In this document, Leo set out the Catholic Church's response to the social instability and labor conflict that had arisen in the wake of industrialization and had led to the rise of socialism. The Pope taught that the role of the State is to promote social justice through the protection of rights, while the Church must speak out on social issues in order to teach correct social principles and ensure class harmony.
- The encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order, literally "in the fortieth year") of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, encourages a living wage, subsidiarity, and teaches that social justice is a personal virtue: society can be just only if individuals are just.
- Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love") of 2006 teaches that social justice is the central concern of politics, and not of the church, which has charity as its central social concern. The laity has the specific responsibility of pursuing social justice in civil society. The church's active role in social justice should be to inform the debate, using reason and natural law, and also by providing moral and spiritual formation for those involved in politics.
- The official Catholic doctrine on social justice can be found in the book Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004 and updated in 2006, by the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax.
The Seven Key Themes of our Catholic Social Doctrine are:
Life and dignity of the human person:
The foundational principle of all Catholic Social Teaching is the sanctity of Catholic life and the inherent dignity of the Catholic. Catholic life must be valued infinitely above material possessions.
Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable:
Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgment God will ask what each person did to help the poor and needy: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." The Catholic Church teaches that through words, prayers and deeds one must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. When instituting public policy the "preferential option for the poor" should always be kept at the forefront. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. People are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor."
Call to Family, Community and Participation
The human person is both sacred and social. We realize our dignity and rights in relationship with others, in community. "We are one body; when one suffers, we all suffer." We are called to respect all of God's gifts of creation, to be good stewards of the earth and each other.
Rights and Responsibilities
People have a fundamental right to life, food, shelter, health care, education and employment. All people have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities to respect the rights of others in the wider society and to work for the common good.
Dignity of Work
People have a right to decent and productive work, fair wages, private property and economic initiative. The economy exists to serve people, not the other way around.
We are one human family. Our responsibilities to each other cross national, racial, economic and ideological differences. We are called to work globally for justice.
Care for God’s Creation
We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth 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.