What is Catholic Social Teaching?
Q. What is Catholic Social Teaching (CST)?
A. The Catholic doctrines on human dignity and the common good that influence everything a Catholic, or a Catholic organisation (like a school) should do.
Q. Where does it come from?
A. From Jesus’ teaching, from the teachings of famous Catholic thinkers (such as Augustine and Aquinas) and through the Church’s teaching authority.
Q. What are the themes?
We respect human dignity in our school – because all life is sacred. We believe every human person is made in the image of God. Consequently, every person is worthy of respect simply by virtue of being a human being. The Christian belief that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God teaches us that every person has value, every person must be treated with respect, every person has an inherent dignity, not because of what they achieve, not because of their status in life but simply because they are.
The principle of Human Dignity means that Catholic Social Teaching takes a strong position not only on issues around the start and end of life (like the death penalty and abortion) but also everything in-between. For example: it can affect how we think about how our society supports those with disabilities, how we address global inequality, how we think about trade and the approach we take to civil rights issues.
Pope Francis asked: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
Our concern for the dignity of others should shape our economic policies and find expression through the way we live our lives. It is not enough to be against an issue like euthanasia, we must be involved in: “working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.”
Option for the Poor
We promote an option for the poor in our school – because all life is sacred. God’s love is universal; he does not side with oppressors, but loves the poor and humble. In Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus begins his ministry, he states clearly those principles which will guide him. He talks about being ‘Good News’ for the poor, and throughout the Gospel demonstrates his compassion for and his involvement with those on the margins of society. He overturns convention: those who are poor are blessed.
This is our call today to hold a preferential option for the poor, “We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards”.
Pope Benedict in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est reminded us that caring for those who are poor is a defining characteristic of the church and that the definition of poor extends beyond those who lack physical wealth and extends to those in any form of need. The Psalmist reminds us that “God does not forget the cries of the poor” and neither should we.
"The Church's love for the poor ... is a part of her constant tradition. This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor. Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defence, and liberation."
We show solidarity in our school – because all life is sacred. We stand side-by-side with our sisters and brothers, especially those living in poverty. Solidarity begins with the idea that all of us, created in the image and likeness of God, are part of one family. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we are reminded that; “The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren”.
It is clear in the Gospel that loving your neighbour, especially the ‘least of your brethren’ becomes an act of solidarity towards God. Solidarity is an act of love. Just as there is solidarity between individuals we also aim for solidarity between and within institutions and nations.
In practice, signs that show our solidarity with others are the way we love and serve each other, by the way we are involved in social issues like the treatment of refugees and the homeless, by the way we show respect for, and engage in dialogue with, those from other cultures, races, religions.
In our world today over 1.3 billion people live below the agreed UN poverty line, Pope Francis reminds us that “The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity”.
Care for our Common Home
We care for our common home in our school – because all life is sacred. Our world is a gift from God. Global warming affects the poorest people the worst. In 2015, Pope Francis wrote a ‘letter to the world’ bringing together decades of Church teaching in the encyclical, Laudato Si. This letter begins by reminding us that in his canticle our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
However he goes on: “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her”.
Even before this encyclical our own Catholic Bishops’ Conference had in 2002 already called for urgent action to prevent more damage being done to the earth. “A way of life that disregards and damages God's creation, forces the poor into greater poverty, and threatens the right of future generations to a healthy environment and to their fair share of the earth's wealth and resources, is contrary to the vision of the Gospel.”
The Common Good
We strive for the common good at our school – because all life is sacred. The fruits of the earth belong to everyone and should be shared. No one should be excluded from the gifts of creation. Commitment to the common good means respecting the rights and responsibilities of all people.
Our actions have an impact on wider society. It is up to every one of us – governments, communities and individuals – to promote the common good. When we make decisions, we should choose to consider the good of all.
No one should miss out on the opportunity to grow and fulfil their potential. Each and every person deserves to have what they need to survive and flourish.
Pope Francis wrote, in Evangelii Gaudium, #235, 2013: "The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts… We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting... We can work on a small scale, in our own neighbourhood, but with a larger perspective."
Dignity of Work
We promote the dignity of work in our school – because all life is sacred. Work is an essential part of our human dignity so everybody should be able to participate. People should always come before profit. Catholic Social Teaching holds that work is dignified and an intrinsic good, and workers must always be respected and valued. The economy has to serve people not the other way around.
Work is more than a way to earn a living it is a participation in God’s creation and therefore the dignity and the rights of those who work must always be protected. Supporting the rights of workers to safe and dignified working conditions, to a work-life balance that ensures the promotion of the human person, the right to be represented by a union or similar organisation and the right to a just wage have always been a part of Catholic Social Teaching.
As we become more aware of our global responsibilities, there is need to consider whether the goods and services we buy exploit other workers in different parts of the world or prevent an equitable distribution of wealth.