The 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching

Listers, paragraphs 40-62 of the USCCB’s document on Faithful Citizenship address the supporting role of Catholic Social Teaching in Catholic political action. Catholic Social Teaching grants Catholics a philosophical and moral platform, upon which they may have well-ordered political engagement:

The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues.

Catholic Social Teaching allows the individual to rise above the fray of the tribal two-party American political system:

It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest” (Living the Gospel of Life, no.33)

1. The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person

The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition.

Issues include: abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, destruction of human embryos for research, torture, unjust war, “use of the death penalty,”1 the prevention of genocide, “attacks against noncombatants,” racism, and to “overcome poverty and suffering.”

2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation

The human person is not only sacred but also social. Full human development takes place in relationship with others.

The family as the foundation of human society:2

The family – based on marriage between a man and a woman – is the first and fundamental unit of society and is sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children.

The USCCB also speaks of the overall organization of society, and how it should be orientated toward people and not profits. All citizens – even the “poor and vulnerable” – have a right to participate in the shaping of society.

Issues include: upholding natural marriage, a defense of the rights of families, a respect for children, and an overall cultural, economic, and political orientation toward the worth of people over mundane ventures.

3. Rights & Responsibilities

Human dignity is respected and the common good is fostered only if human rights are protected and basic responsibilities are met.

In particular, we have seen as of late an attack on religious freedom, e.g., you cannot aid sex trafficking victims unless you offer abortions, healthcare providers must include contraceptives (many which are abortive), etc.

The right to exercise religious freedom publicly and privately by individuals and institutions along with freedom of conscience needs to be constantly defended. In a fundamental way, the right to free expression of religious believes protects all others rights.

Issues include: primarily guarding the “fundamental right that makes all other rights possible” – the right to life, the rights to procure good, chelter, education, employment, health care, housing, and freedom of religion and of family.

Archbishop Dolan, President of the USSCB, serving meals.

4. Option for the Poor and the Vulnerable

While the common good embraces all, those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern. A basic moral test for our society is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst.

The bishops go on to clearly stress the link between taking care of the poor and our own salvation. SPL has stressed this issue as well.3

Issues include: social program for the poor and downtrodden, care for orphans, care for widows, and creating a well-ordered society where the least of us is protected and given the ability to improve his own lot.

5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

The economy must serve the 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.

The principle that the “economy must serve the people” is a longstanding Catholic principle, and we are beginning to see similar calls within secular groups.

Workers, employers, and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.

We should take note that the above quote does not pit workers against employers or unions against corporations. We are all accountable to craft the state in a well-ordered fashion. In many ways, unions are just as problematic as corporations, because both continue to promulgate a certain type of economic and societal order. The vies for power – regardless of the agent – are still stuck within the same economic battle. SPL recommends DISTRIBUTISM for those searching for a different and more human way of looking at economics.

Issues include: “creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers,” decent and just wages, adequate security benefits, the choice whether or not to join a union, opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, private property, and to general economic freedom and initiative.

6. Solidarity

We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are brothers; and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.

Solidarity includes the Scriptural call to welcome the stranger among us – including immigrants seeking work, a safe hom, education for their children, and a decent life for their families.

As Pope Paul VI taught, “If you want peace, work for justice.” (World Day of Peace Message, Jan 1, 1972)

Issues include: humane treatment of illegals – especially their children, the welcoming of cultural/societal strangers, the welcoming of refugees and all vulnerable people, and a general command to work for justice.

7. Caring for God’s Creation

We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of God’s creation. Care for the earth is a duty of our faith and a sign of our concern for all people.

We have a moral obligation to protect the planet on which we live – respect God’s creation and to entire a safe and hospitable environment for human beings, especially children at their most vulnerable stages of development.

The Catholic call to protect Creation differs from the run-of-the-mill environmentalist groups. The primary difference is that Catholicism seeks to guard nature and Creation not for its own sake, but first because it is God’s charge to us, second because of its impact of human health and development, and thirdly because of the beauty of Creation itself. God, humanity, and Creation. Catholicism sees this as a proper ordering of principles when working out the practicality of environmental issues.

Catholic Social Teaching cannot be reduced to mere “humanitarianism.”

In Conclusion – Above the Political Tribal Lines:

These themes from Catholic social teaching provide a moral framework that does not easily fit ideologies of “right” or “left,” “liberal” or “conservative,” or the platform of any political party. They are not partisan or sectarian, but reflect fundamental ethical principles that are common to all people.

More SPL on Politics & Catholic Social Teaching

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Proper Political Philosophy Catholic Social Teaching in the Scriptures [Part One] Catholic Social Teaching in the Scriptures [Part Two] On the Poor & our Salvation

1.Death Penalty: Here is an issue where the USCCB can be misleading. The death penalty is not and cannot be an intrinsic moral evil. The stance they take on the death penalty – inspired heavily by Bl. JPII – states that the death penalty is outdated. It was used to remove threats to the common good of society; however, now that our prisons are modernized, we can safely hold them without fear of escape – thus the death penalty is unnecessary. The stance fails to take into consideration the fact that the death penalty – according to Scripture – was not given to man as a means of preventing further crimes or threats, but as an act of justice to crimes so morally depraved they merit the death penalty. This second consideration is rarely addressed. cf. St. Thomas Aquinas on “Is it Lawful to Kill Sinners.” ↩︎

2.Family & Nature: It is lamentable that the USSCB does not spend the time here to speak of nature, natural law, human society as a natural institution, and man as a political animal. According to Aristotle, the family was the primary sub-political part of the polis. As the family goes, so does society. Catholic political thought is not simply “moral convictions” from Scripture, but a holistic philosophy rooted in an ancient and tested contemplation of nature. It is not an issue of “our moral convictions vs theirs,” but is rather “our defense of nature vs their unnatural beliefs.” ↩︎

3.The Poor & Our Salvation – cf. Matthew 25:31-46