Catholic Social Teaching

Our Catholic faith sends us forth to glorify the Lord with our lives.  Micah 6:8 implores us to act justly, be kind, and walk humbly, giving God all the glory.  The Community of St. Patrick offers a myriad of ministry opportunities to enable our parishioners to put our faith into action.  Occasionally, we’re asked, “Why do we do all this ministry?” or “What do Catholics believe that pulls us in this direction?”  Those beliefs are summarized in what’s called 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. A list of the key documents is listed at the bottom of this summary. The bishops of the Appalachian region (which includes Kentucky) have contributed to this strong tradition with the pastoral letters This Land is Home to Me and At Home in the Web of Life.  The depth and richness of this tradition can be understood best through a direct reading of these documents. But to give you an overview, we highlight several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition. Each theme builds upon scripture and Tradition, the foundations of our faith. Together, they provide the guiding principles for our lives.

1.  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. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. 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.

“This first principle of human dignity reflects the biblical teaching that we humans are made in the image of God”. (At Home in the Web of Life, A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Community in Appalachia from the Catholic Bishops of the Region, 1995)

In the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” (Gen 1:27)


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.

The second principle is community, sometimes referred to as the ‘common good’, expressed at every level from the family to the whole human race, including Earth’s whole community of life. The principle of community flows from the revelation that God is a community, a Trinity of three persons in one.” (At Home in the Web of Life)

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39)


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. This includes water, food, shelter and basic health care.  Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.  These include the duty to work and contribute to society.

“Great fortunes were built on the exploitation of Appalachian workers and Appalachian resources; yet the land was left without revenues to care for its social needs, like education, welfare, old age, and illness.” (This Land is Home to Me, A Pastoral Letter on Powerlessness in Appalachia by the Catholic Bishops of the Region, 1975)

“Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and who write oppressive degrees, depriving the needy of judgment and robbing my people’s poor of their rights.” (Is 10:1)


4.  Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
A society can be judged by how well it treats those in most need.  A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. Did you know that 1 in 7 people in the world go to bed hungry each night?  And in Jefferson County, nearly 50% of the children enrolled in the public school system receive emergency food assistance. 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.

“We remember how Jesus taught us that it is the humble and poor who best understand the word of God.”  (At Home in the Web of Life)

“Then the righteous will ask him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of mine…you did for me.’” (Mt 25:37-40)


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.

“Catholic social teaching does not reject the important role of business in society.  But it does insist on a third principle, individualistic competition should not undermine community solidarity, nor should collectivist bureaucracy smother individual creativity.” (At Home in the Web of Life)  

“And I saw that there is nothing better for one than to rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.” (Eccl 3:22)


6.  Solidarity
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.” 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.

“Our human dignity can never be separated from community with our sisters and brothers, nor from our community with the rest of creation…we are always members of community, truly responsible for our sisters and brothers.” (At Home in the Web of Life)

“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.  If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Cor 12:26-27)


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.

“Our economic life must put back into the social and ecological community as much as it takes out, so that our communities will be sustainable for future generations.  To violate the principle of sustainability is to steal from our own children and walk slowly down the path of destruction.” (At Home in the Web of Life)

“The heavens proclaim your wonders, O Lord, and your faithfulness, in the assembly of the holy ones…Yours are the heavens, and yours are the earth: the world and its fullness you have founded.” (Psalm 89:6, 12)


These are the building blocks of our Catholic social tradition.  They give us a lens with which to observe the events of the day and to reflect on how we should engage in issues discussions.  May we live out these tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, the building blocks of our faith, so others may know we are Christ’s disciples.

Copyright 2005, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington, D.C.

Text is drawn from Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions (Washington, DC: USCCB, 1998) and Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2003).


Catholic Social Teaching – Key Documents

Vatican Documents

Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor) 1891 Pope Leo XIII: Industrialization, urbanization, poverty, “Family wage”, worker's rights

Quadragesimo Anno (After Forty Years: The Reconstruction of the Social Order) 1931 Pope Pius XI (Great Depression, communism and fascism, subsidiarity)

Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress) 1961 Pope John XXIII (technological advances and what they mean for the global community and creation, solidarity and justice among nations)

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) 1963 Pope John XXIII (Just War, Human Rights and responsibilities)

Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World) 1965 Second Vatican Council (Readings the signs of the times, Dignity of the human person, call to family, community and participation, global solidarity, rights of workers, care of God's creation)

Populorum Progressio (The Development of Peoples) 1967 Pope Paul VI (Widening gap between rich and poor nations: “Development is a new word for peace”)

Octogesima Adveniens (A Call to Action on the 80th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum) 1971 Pope Paul VI (Urbanization and globalization marginalizing the poor, subsidiarity and political structures as agents for social justice)

Justitia in Mundo (Justice in the World) 1971 Synod of Bishops (“justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel”)

Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World) 1975 Pope Paul VI (response to atheism, consumerism, secularism; Liberation offered by Christ)
Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) 1981 Pope John Paul II (Capitalism and communism treat people as mere instruments of production.  Rather, work should be creative and respect human dignity)

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern) 1987 Pope John Paul II (sinful social structures perpetuate inequalities and injustices)

Centesimus Annus (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum) 1991 Pope John Paul II (consumerism and greed in contemporary society)

USCCB documents:     

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response (National Conference of Catholic Bishops) 1983

Economic Justice for All (National Conference of Catholic Bishops) 1986

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