Major Themes of Catholic Social Justice Teachings

The Catholic Church defines Social Justice and Social Teaching as:

SOCIAL JUSTICE: The respect for the human person and the rights which flow from human dignity and guarantee it. Society must provide the conditions that allow people to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and vocation (Article 3, Social Justice, Catechism of the Catholic Church 1928, 1931).

SOCIAL TEACHING: The teaching (social doctrine) of the Church on the truth of revelation about human dignity, human solidarity, and the principles of justice and peace; the moral judgments about economic and social matters required by such truth and about the demands of justice and peace (Article 7, The Seventh Commandment, Catechism of the Catholic Church 2419-2422).

Following are the Seven Social Justice Teachings espoused by the Catholic Church

1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
“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.” Every person is created in the image of God. Every person is precious. All social laws, practices and institutions must protect, not undermine, human life and human dignity – from conception through natural death.

2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
“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.” We are social beings. We realize our dignity and human potential in our families and communities. The family is the basic cell of society; it must be supported. Government has the mission of protecting human life, promoting the common good of all persons, and defending the right and duty of all to participate in social life.

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.” The Church upholds both personal responsibility and social rights. The right to life is fundamental and includes a right to food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care and essential social services. Every person has the right to raise a family and the duty to support them. Human dignity demands religious and political freedom and the duty to exercise these rights for the common good of all persons.

4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
“Catholic teaching proclaims that a basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring.” The Church does not pit one social group against another but instead follows the example of our Lord, who identified himself with the poor and the vulnerable (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Giving priority concern to the poor and the vulnerable strengthens the health of the whole society. The human life and dignity of the poor are most at risk. The poor have the first claim on our personal and social resources.

5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
“Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.” Workers have rights to decent work, just wages, safe working conditions, unionization, disability protection, retirement security and economic initiative. The economy exists for the human person; the human person does not exist for the economy. Labor has priority over capital.

6. Solidarity
“We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences.” The Church speaks of a “universal” common good that reaches beyond our nation’s borders to the global community. Solidarity recognizes that the fates of the peoples of the earth are linked. Solidarity requires richer nations to aid poorer ones, commands respect for different cultures, demands justice in international relationships and calls on all nations to live in peace with one another.

7. Care of God’s Creation
“We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation.” Good stewardship of the earth and of all its creatures (including human beings) is a complex challenge. Humans are part of creation itself, and whatever we do to the earth we ultimately do to ourselves. We must live in harmony with the rest of creation and preserve it for future generations.


Quotations are from the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ statement Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1998), pp. 4-6. The summary of these themes also draws from statements of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on A Century of Social Teaching (1991) and Political Responsibility: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life, Protecting the Least Among Us, and Pursuing the Common Good (1995), as well as from other church documents. ©2000, USCCB. This study sheet designed for group or individual discussion and reflection and may be photocopied.

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