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Catholic Social Teaching: How Catholics View Social Justice Issues

How Catholics view Social Justics Issues

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Pace e Bene

Catholic Vision

LibGuide Introduction

Justice Studies investigates the many intersecting forms of injustice which are built into social life and public policies.  These may include but are not limited to injustices based on:

  • class,
  • gender,
  • race,
  • economics,
  • environmental,
  • age,
  • abilities, and
  • legal status - all with local and global reach. 

This LibGuide contains resources that will help you begin to investigate justice theories, explanations for injustices and inequalities, and solutions for restoring and transforming justice at all levels. 

This guide is oriented to provide information from a Catholic Social Justice perspective, but, as you conduct your research, keep in mind that, on a broader level, justice studies is an inclusive discipline that can be approached from a multi-disciplinary perspective.  Depending upon your topic, you may  benefit from exploring additional topcis in moral theology, Christian ethics, legal studies, law, sociology, political science, anthropology, or philosophy.

What is Catholic Social Justice?

Why a LibGuide on Catholic Social Justice?  To know a bit about the history of Catholic Social Justice, we should start by noting that enacting Social justice is one of the three "Constitutive Elements of Church" [1]

  • Scripture -- hearing the Good News                        WORD
  • Sacraments -- worship, prayer life, etc.                   WORSHIP
  • Social Mission -- action for social justice                   WORLD

In his most recent Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate [2], Pope Benedict stresses the basis of the Church's Social Teachings and its relation to faith, reason and charity in action:

This dynamic of charity received and given is what gives rise to the Church's social teaching, which is caritas in veritate in re sociali: the proclamation of the truth of Christ's love in society. This doctrine is a service to charity, but its locus is truth. Truth preserves and expresses charity's power to liberate in the ever-changing events of history. It is at the same time the truth of faith and of reason, both in the distinction and also in the convergence of those two cognitive fields. Development, social well-being, the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, all need this truth.  (Para 5)

Caritas in veritate” is the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action. I would like to consider two of these in particular, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: justice and the common good. (Para 6)

How is Catholic Social Justice related to the History of the Church?  Is it just an addition to Church teachings from the Second Vatican Council? While there has been a growing emphasis on this third element of the Church since Vatican Council II, the social mission of the Church has deep biblical and magisterial roots.  Vatican II re-animated the social mission of the early church; especially noteworthy is the call for the inclusion of "Social Justice" courses in the curriculum of primary, secondary and higher Catholic education. "This is a call to action, an appeal especially to pastors, educators, and catechists to teach the Catholic social tradition in its fullness."  The more recent emphasis on teaching Catholic Social Theory was spurred on by the US bishop's task force on social justice  [3], which found that

  1. there was a general lack of knowledge about the basis of social justice among Catholics, 
  2. which in turn implied a need for leadership formation and faculty training
  3. which could then meet the need to be more explicit in teaching the principles of Catholic social thought and ...
  4. to help Catholics to go beyond volunteering/direct service to participating in social justice.

In keeping with the spirit of Vatican II, the U.S. Bishops re-inforced that participation in social justice is, in effect, a true participation in our personal faith as Catholics and a more full participation in our common vocation "to be a Church that is true to the demands of the Gospel" as part of the Body of Christ.

The following are excerpts from the U.S. Bishops' findings in "Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions" [3], where they reflect on the need to re-emphasize social justice in catholic education in general and in the life of Catholics in particular:

  • Catholic social teaching is a central and essential element of our faith. Its roots are in the Hebrew prophets who announced God's special love for the poor and called God's people to a covenant of love and justice. It is a teaching founded on the life and words of Jesus Christ, who came "to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind"(Lk 4:18-19), and who identified himself with "the least of these," the hungry and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:45). Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. This commitment arises from our experiences of Christ in the eucharist....
  • Catholic social teaching emerges from the truth of what God has revealed to us about himself. We believe in the triune God whose very nature is communal and social. God the Father sends his only Son Jesus Christ and shares the Holy Spirit as his gift of love. God reveals himself to us as one who is not alone, but rather as one who is relational, one who is Trinity. Therefore, we who are made in God's image share this communal, social nature. We are called to reach out and to build relationships of love and justice.
  • Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment.
     [1] "Catholic Social Teaching: A Key to Catholic Identity"  PPT presentation developed by the Office for Social Justice,
              Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, original PPT available at
     [2] Pope Benedict XVI. Caritas in Veritate (2009); available through the Vatican website in many languages  
     [3] U.S. Bishops' findings in "Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Direction" (June 19, 1998), available at

Catholic Social Justice Themes

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identifies 7 themes that lie at the heart of Catholic Social tradition.  The Themes of Catholic Social Teaching are:

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 . . . "

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 . . . ."

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 met. . . ."

4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable -- "A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring . . . ."

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 . . . . "

6. Solidarity -- "We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences.  We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, whatever they may be. . . . "

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 . . . "

from United States Catholic Conference of Bishops

Off Campus Access


Online databases and electronic journals subscribed to by the UST Libraries are licensed for use by the St. Thomas community ONLY.  Because of this restriction, we need to verify that anyone accessing these databases is a current member of the St. Thomas community.

New Database: Convacate, hosted by the University of Notre Dame, Indiana

Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King & Dorothy Day; February 1973; photographer unknown.

        This new database connects international human rights documents to Catholic Social Teaching.