Basic Principles 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 within the challenges of our society. Modern Catholic social teaching has been spelled out through a series of papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents. The depth and richness of this tradition can be understood best through a direct reading of these documents. But in these brief reflections over the next few weeks, we will highlight several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.  So please keep reading this column and then think about how good a job we as individuals and as a community of faith are doing, in believing this and living this….

1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person

The Catholic Church believes that human life is sacred, from the womb to the tomb, and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under attack from abortion and euthanasia;it’s being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. And that war is a last resort… IF at all… 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.

Scripture: John 4:1-42   Luke 10:25-37  Romans 12:9-18

Questions: Do you really think Christ would execute anyone?

What do you think causes terrorism and the devaluation of human life in general?

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2. 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. 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.  Responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his/her position and role, in promoting the common good.  This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person.”

Scripture:  1 John 3:16-18     Leviticus 25:23-43      James 2:14-17

Questions:   What gifts has God given you?  How might God be asking you to use these gifts in the service of others?  Are you a responsible citizen?  Do you consider voting in an election a moral obligation?

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3. 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.  Each person has the right to live.   They have the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and the necessary social service.  This includes the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability, widowhood, old age and / or enforced unemployment, or whenever, through no fault of their own, they are deprived of the means of livelihood. A moral test for society is how we treat the weakest among us—the unborn, those dealing with disabilities or terminal illness, the poor, the elderly and marginalized. How are we treating them, honestly???

Scripture:   Leviticus 25:35    Proverbs 31:8-9    Matthew 25:  31-46


Do you recognize and respect the rights of others – including their economic, social, political and cultural rights?

Do you advocate for programs and policies that give priority to the human dignity and rights of others, especially the vulnerable?

Want more information?  Go to and search for “catholic social teaching rights and responsibilities”

4. 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, (the wealthiest 1% of our population own more than 90% of us combined)  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.   Building  a just economy includes a wide range of issues including: food and hunger; work and joblessness; homelessness and affordable housing; tax credits for low income families; as well as protecting programs that serve poor and vulnerable people throughout the federal and state budgets.

Scripture: Exodus 22: 20-26   Matt. 25: 34-40   1 John 3:17-18

Questions: Do you really think our congress has done a good and moral job of providing for the poor?  Has “trickle down” economics really worked?  What can YOU do to try to change things??

Want  more information?  Go to and search for “options for the poor and vulnerable”

5. 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 called to work for greater economic justice in the face of persistent poverty, growing income gaps and increasing discussion of economic issues around the world. All  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. In 1966 the U.S. Bishops issued an ethical framework for economic life as principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and directions for action. These principles are drawn directly from Catholic teaching on economic life.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 14:28-29  Isaiah 58:3-7   Luke 12:13-21

Questions:  Who are the poor and vulnerable in Brunswick? Who are hit hardest when times get tight? What can we do to help?

Want more information?  Go to economic-justice-economy/  Read (Google)recent letters of Pope Francis on the economy.

6. Solidarity…You ARE your sister/brothers’ keeper!

We are one human familywhatever 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. 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.

We need to move to an understanding that we are interdependent, not independent; and that Christian love and justice implies concern for ALL people, but especially the poor. So that we need to continue to work for just social and economic structures that work for the good of ALL people, not just wealthy people. How can a lasting peace be possible as long as glaring economic and social imbalances continue?

Scripture: Psalm 72   Matthew 5:9   1 Cor. 12: 12-26

Questions: What do you think the poor of our country AND of third world countries think and feel, when they see what the wealthy, the rich and famous, the athletes and actors, the multi-million dollar ceo’s have, that they do not and cannot have? What would you feel?//// When you purchase products do you ever check to see if they were made in a sweat shop?

Want more information?   Go to and search for solidarity, global dimensions, one human family

7. 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.  “Let us be protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” Pope Francis 3/13

The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.  “In dialogue with Christians of various churches, we need to commit ourselves to caring for the created world, without squandering its resources, and sharing them in a cooperative way.” Pope Benedict

Seeing creation as God’s gift to us, can help us to understand our responsibility to protect that gift and share it.

Scripture: Psalm 24   Romans 1:20  Matthew 6:25-34

Questions:  What are you doing as a family to protect the environment? Do you recycle? Litter?

Have you looked into the facts on Global Warming or Fracking?

Want more information?  Go to  and search for stewardship of creation