The Dignity of the Human Person

The Catholic Church believes that every human life -- whether young or old, guilty or innocent, born or unborn -- is both precious and sacred. It remains as the foundation for all principles and elements of social teaching.

"At the center of all Catholic social teaching are the transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God's presence in the world; all of the Church's work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God's creative work and the meaning of Christ's redemptive ministry."

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response 
U.S. Bishops, 1983


The Common Good and Community

"Human beings," Kenneth R. Himes O.F.M. said in his book Responses to 101 Questions on Catholic Social Teaching, "only truly flourish in the context of a community." Human beings can only reach their full individual potential if they work to promote and protect the good of society as a whole. Our obligation to love our neighbor is not only an individual commitment; it requires a broader social responsibility.

"It is imperative that no one, out of indifference to the course of events or because of inertia, would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one's means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life."

Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
Second Vatican Council, 1965

The Preferential Option for the Poor

Society is only as strong as its weakest members. The only way to foster the common good is to work together to radically improve the situation of society's poor and most vulnerable members. We are called to base both our individual choices and public policy decisions on how they affect the poor.

"As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental 'option for the poor' -- to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess life styles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. This 'option for the poor' does not mean pitting one group against another, but rather, strengthening the whole community by assisting those who are the most vulnerable. As Christians, we are called to respond to the needs of all our brothers and sisters, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response."

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy
U. S. Catholic Bishops, 1986

Rights and Responsibilities

Every human has a fundamental right to such basic elements as food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education and employment. Only by achieving these and implementing them on a collective scale, this principle states, can society fully promote human dignity. We cannot split our focus, the Church says, between promoting only personal responsibility or collective human rights. Both are necessary; one cannot exist without the other. We must not only be responsible for ourselves or for our families. We must also promote a society where the right to life and to material well being in accordance with human decency is made available and attainable to all.

"It is agreed that in our time the common good is chiefly guaranteed when personal rights and duties are maintained. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are acknowledged, respected, coordinated with other rights, defended and promoted, so that in this way everyone may more easily carry out their duties. For 'to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the fulfillment of each one's duties, should be the chief duty of every public authority.'"

Pacem in Terris: Peace on Earth
John XXIII, 1963

Role of Government and Subsidiarity

Government, or the state, has at its core a positive moral function. It's an instrument to promote human dignity, human rights and the common good. Its mission is to work for the benefit of all people. Therefore all people have a right and a responsibility to participate in political institutions. Government functions should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately.

"Society as a whole, acting through public and private institutions, has the moral responsibility to enhance human dignity and protect human rights. In addition to the clear responsibility of private institutions, government has an essential responsibility in this area. This does not mean that government has the primary or exclusive role, but it does have a positive moral responsibility in safeguarding human rights and ensuring that the minimum conditions of human dignity are met for all. In a democracy, government is a means by which we can act together to protect what is important to us and to promote our common values."

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy
U. S. Catholic Bishops, 1986

Economic Justice

The economy should serve the people, not the other way around. All workers have the right to organize and join unions. They also have the right to fair wages, safe working environments, and access to productive work. And while people have a basic right to economic initiative and private property, this right has its limits. No person should amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life.

"There are needs and common goods that cannot be satisfied by the market system. It is the task of the state and of all society to defend them. An idolatry of the market alone cannot do all that should be done."

Centesimus Annus (Donders), The Hundredth Year
John Paul II, 1991

Stewardship of God's Creation

Protection of the planet is a requirement of our faith. The goods of the earth are a gift from God, and are for the benefit of everyone. Catholic tradition insists that we show respect for the Creator through our stewardship of creation, a stewardship that makes sure that we preserve our forests, maintain clean water sources, preserve species in the wild and maintain their natural habitats.

"True stewardship requires changes in human actions - both in moral behavior and technical advancement. Our religious tradition has always urged restraint and moderation in the use of material goods, so we must not allow our desire to possess more material things to overtake our concern for the basic needs of people and the environment."

Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001


Promotion of Peace and Disarmament

The promotion of peace is a requirement of our faith. The fruit of justice, peace depends upon right order among human beings. The challenge of peace calls us to oppose unjust war, nuclear conflict, weapons of mass destruction, and the arms race. It also calls us to oppose economic injustice and corruption, known to often be the seeds of resentment, unrest and civil strife.

"Peace is not merely the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called 'an enterprise of justice' (Is. 32:7). Peace results from that harmony built into human society by its divine founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice."

Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on 
the Church in the Modern World; Second Vatican Council, 1965


All people have a right and a duty to participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of society, and should be assured of that right. Human dignity requires it; justice demands it. The common good cannot be promoted or achieved without that participation, making it fundamentally wrong to exclude any person or group from participating, at least minimally, in society.

"These fundamental duties can be summarized this way: basic justice demands the establishment of minimum levels of participation in the life of the human community for all persons. The ultimate injustice is for a person or group to be treated actively or abandoned passively as if they were nonmembers of the human race. To treat people this way is effectively to say they simply do not count as human beings."

Economic Justice for All
Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social
Teaching and the U.S. Economy
U. S. Catholic Bishops, 1986

Global Solidarity and Development

We are one human family. Catholic teaching proclaims that no matter our national, racial, ethnic, economic or ideological differences, we have a global commitment to love our neighbors and to work for justice. We also have a commitment to work towards a just, even and fair development of our world, where no one society is exalted materially above the rest, and no other society is left, quite literally, in the dust. Development must respect the rights of all nations and their people, always promoting the moral, cultural and spiritual dimensions of each person.

"The solidarity which binds all men together as members of a common family makes it impossible for wealthy nations to look with indifference upon the hunger, misery and poverty of other nations whose citizens are unable to enjoy even elementary human rights. The nations of the world are becoming more and more dependent on one another and it will not be possible to preserve a lasting peace so long as glaring economic and social imbalances persist."

Mater et Magistra
Mother and Teacher
Pope John XXIII, 1961