Catholic Social Teaching
What is this "CST"
• Authoritative Church teaching on social, political and economic issues
• Informed by Gospel values and lived experience of Christian reflection
• Analysis of that experience from different historical, political and social contexts
• Provision of principles for reflection, criteria for judgement and guidelines for action
• Thus enabling us in our struggle to live our faith in justice and peace
CST is NOT an ideology or a third way, nor does it provide a practical programme or model.
Working for Justice is essentially a ministry of transformation – working to change the attitudes, the structures and the people that cause injustice.
1. Reminding governments, institutions, agencies, individuals and communities of the reality and extent of injustice, poverty and suffering.
2. Advocating positive ways forward, taking part in concrete programmes for human development, advising and negotiating on behalf of those caught in the cycle of poverty, working with and alongside disadvantaged groups.
3. Protesting: whenever appropriate, standing up and saying a clear ‘No’ to oppression, discrimination and other forms of institutional injustice.
4. Envisioning: promoting the understanding and vision among civil leaders, political parties, institutions and charities that will contribute to the formulation of policies and laws that will create a more just and humane society.
This work for Justice should be carried out in solidarity with the poor, giving them priority and ensuring that we carry out our work with them.
For St Francis of Assisi, this meant being poor and being with the poor, it meant seeing Christ in the poor and it meant building a Church for the poor.
(Though St Francis probably did not use the term “solidarity”, which was especially loved by Pope Saint John-Paul II. It is one of the key words now used in the Church’s Social Teaching)
The Bible makes social justice a requirement of faith and a fundamental expression of discipleship. It has its biblical roots in a God who time and time again shows love and compassion for the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the disinherited.
Biblical references to the word “justice” mean “to make right.” Justice is, first and foremost, a relational term — people living in right relationship with God, one another, and the natural creation. Justice means loving our neighbour as we love ourselves: just as God is just and loving, so we are called to do justice and live in love.
Social justice is less about what and more about who we are called to prioritise. It is often easy to disagree about what because social justice deals with issues like budgets, taxation, labour laws, social protection, safety nets, and other topics beloved by politicians.
You can find out more about Catholic Social Teaching from a number of the organisations listed on our “Links” page,
Words — some vocabulary
DIGNITY. The focal point of CST is the human person, made in the image of God, and so having fundamental freedom and dignity, the basis for human rights.
Recognising this image of dignity in our neighbour, the teaching rejects any policy or system that reduces people to economic units or passive dependence.
Somewhat confusingly, this concern for human dignity is sometimes referred to as “Personalism”.
SOLIDARITY “… is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all … because we are all really responsible for all.” Pope Saint John Paul II, ‘On Social Concern’, 1987.
As members of the one human family, we have mutual obligations to promote the rights and development of peoples across communities and nations. Solidarity is the fundamental bond of unity with our fellow human beings and their resulting interdependence. All are responsible for all; and in particular the rich have responsibilities towards the poor. National and international structures must reflect this.
THE COMMON GOOD. “… is the good of ‘all of us’, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society …” Pope Benedict XVI, ‘Caritas in Veritate’ #7
People exist as part of society. Every individual has a duty to share in promoting the welfare of the community and a right to benefit from that welfare.
This applies at every level: local, national, and international. Public authorities exist to mainly promote the common good and to ensure that no section of the population is excluded.
OPTION FOR THE POOR. “Decisions must be judged in the light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they enable the poor to do for themselves… all economic decisions, policies and institutions … must be at the service of all people, especially the poor.”
US Bishops, ‘Economic Justice for All’, #24
SUBSIDIARITY. “In a centralised society, subsidiarity will mainly mean passing powers downwards; but it can also mean passing appropriate powers upwards, even to an international body, if that would better serve the common good …” ‘ The Common Good ‘, Catholic Bishops of England & Wales, 1996.
Solidarity is the fundamental bond of unity with our fellow human beings All power and decision-making in society should be at the most local level compatible with the common good. Subsidiarity will mean power passing downwards, but it could also mean passing appropriate powers upwards.
The balance between the vertical (subsidiarity) and the horizontal (solidarity) is achieved through reference to the common good.
Prayer before a Crucifix
Most high, glorious God, cast Your light into the darkness of my heart.
Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, O Lord, so that I may do what is truly Your holy will. Amen.
(St Francis of Assisi )
OTHER PRINCIPLES INCLUDE:
The Universal Destination of Goods
Community and Participation
(creating conditions where each person can flourish)
Care for Creation
(including the right to have a family and live as a family)
Dignity in Work
Peace and Reconciliation
(with the welfare of people and the environment at its centre)
Features of Social Teaching
“Catholic Social Teaching” is not a fixed and unchanging body of doctrine, but a developmental understanding of the social mission of the Church in an ever changing world.
It sees life and the world as a gift and reminds us that all that we are, all that we own, all that we use, all that we live and all those to whom we belong is a gift: a gift from God. God’s gratuity and generosity is the starting point for the social mission of the Church. In following Jesus, we pattern our lives on his mercy and compassion and also on God’s graciousness and goodness.
These insights and approaches became known as CST after Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum appeared (1891). The Pope stressed that the process of social transformation is part of the mission of evangelisation. He placed the Church in solidarity with the poor (not with the economic and political elite). He recognised that the social mission is expressed in three ways. By: (1) helping,healing and liberating the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden; (2) calling the oppressors to conversion; (3) transforming the sources and structures that cause or continue injustice and oppression.
Rerum Novarum showed a Pope willing to engage with the rapid changes happening in contemporary society, and drawing on the riches of Catholic Tradition to identify the moral issues involved. This is the core of all later Catholic Social Teaching.
CST is distinctive in its consistent critiques of modern social and political ideologies both of the left and of the right: extremes of liberalism, communism, feminism, atheism, socialism, fascism, capitalism, and Nazism have all been condemned.
St Francis of Assisi
May I see today what lies hidden in plain sight.
May I see with unclouded eyes, see through my seeing.
May I know what I see
from the underside,
from the view of the victim,
the Forgiving Victim.
May I act with a courage
I’ve never known.
Strictly speaking, these may be Apostolic Constitutions, Encyclicals, Apostolic Letters or Exhortations, but the exact distinction among these has varied over the centuries and they are all most often referred to as “Encyclicals”.
Rerum Novarum (1891)
Quadragesimo Anno (1931)
Exsul Familia (1952)
Mater et Magistra (1961)
Pacem in Terris (1963)
Gaudium et Spes (1965)
Dignitatis Humanae (1965)
Populorum Progressio (1967)
Octogesima Adveniens (1971)
Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975
Laborem Exercens (1981)
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987)
Centesimus Annus (1991)
Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994)
Evangelium Vitae (1995)
Novo Millennio Inuente (2001)
Deus Caritas Est (2005)
Caritas in Veritate (2009)
Lumen Fidei (2013)
Evangelii Gaudium (2013)
Laudato Si (2015)
Misericordia et Misera (2016)
Querida Amazonia (2020)
Fratelli tutti (2020)
PRACTICAL SOCIAL ANALYSIS
Tools are needed to help us to understand the causes of poverty, injustice and marginalization. Social analysis is one such tool, needed because applying abstract principles is difficult.
Pope St John XXIII outlined one well-tried procedure in Mater et Magistra (1961).
a. Examine the concrete situation (SEE)
b. Evaluate it with respect to the principles (JUDGE)
c. Decide what should be done in the circumstances (ACT)
d. Continue to repeat the earlier steps in a ‘pastoral cycle’.
SEE or experience the reality of suffering, injustice or oppression.
Not just observing it, but recognising and understanding why it is taking place; analysing the social, cultural, economic and political reality of a specific situation.
JUDGE, by analysing the causes of the suffering, injustice or oppression and reflecting theologically and sociologically upon it.
Good and accurate analysis provides the agenda for pastoral action. First, it critically assesses the negative dimension of society that diminishes each of us, dehumanizes others and degrades the environment. Second, it promotes the positive forces that bring dignity, humanity and which sustain the delicate bonds that unite the human family.
ACT, after prayer and reflection about the analysis, respond pastorally to the suffering, injustice or oppression.
Good analysis enables us to see clearly and communicate clearly the causes of injustice, the roots of injustice and the effects and suffering that result. The Church supports agencies that carry out good and reliable research because it provides the background and understanding from which we can, with integrity, engage in the prophetic mission of announcing God’s Reign and denouncing injustice and oppression.