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Catholic Social Teaching: How Catholics View Social Justice Issues

How Catholics view Social Justics Issues

Catholic Social Teaching within the arena of Justice Studies

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
  • the environment
  • age
  • abilities, and
  • legal status - all with local and global reach

This guide provides information from a Catholic Social Justice perspective. It 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. However, 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 topics in moral theology, Christian ethics, legal studies, law, sociology, political science, anthropology, or philosophy.

What is Catholic Social Teaching?

Why do we study Catholic Social Teaching?  Catholic Social Teaching corresponds to one of the three "Constitutive Elements of Church" 

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

In his Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, 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 Teaching 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. 

The following are excerpts from the U.S. Bishops' findings in "Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions" where they reflect on the need to re-emphasize social teaching 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.
"Catholic Social Teaching A Key to Catholic Identity" - PowerPoint from the Office for Social Justice Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Pope Benedict XVI. Caritas in Veritate (2009); available through the Vatican website in many languages  

Catholic Social Justice Themes

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

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."

Catholic Social Teaching Information

Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

The Dicastery promotes the integral development of the person in light of the Gospel and in line with the Social Doctrine of the Church. It dedicates particular attention to taking care of the goods of justice, peace and the safeguarding of Creation, as well as issues regarding disarmament, human rights, human mobility, health, charitable works, expressing the concern and attention of the Pope towards a humanity that suffers, among whom are the needy, the ill and the excluded. In addition, the Dicastery follows issues regarding the necessities of those who are forced to abandon their own countries or those who are without one, the marginalized, the victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, prisoners, the unemployed and victims of contemporary forms of slavery and torture and other people whose dignity is at risk.

The Dicastery promotes its activities by means of a network of interactions that involve local Churches, Episcopal Conferences, the other organs of the Roman Curia, the international organizations (both Catholic and non-Catholic), the relations with governments and supranational organizations.

The entire Dicastery is divided into four operational Areas or Sections: Management; Research and Study; Pastoral Works and Diakonia; Migrants and Refugees. All the areas cooperate towards reaching the goals of the Dicastery in the fields of the Margins of Humanity, Safeguarding Creation, Faith and Integral Development.


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

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

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