Catholics In Coalition for Justice and Peace

About Catholic Social Teaching

What is Catholic Social Teaching?

There is a broad and narrow understanding of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). In its broad meaning it encompasses all the ideas and theories that have developed over the entire history of the Church on matters of social life. More commonly and over the past 115 years it refers to a clear body of official Church teaching on the social order in its cultural, political, economic and environmental dimensions.

This teaching is an interpretation of reality in the light of the Gospel, the Church’s tradition and human wisdom. It deals with central, not peripheral or optional aspects of the Catholic faith.

Basic Principles:

Human Dignity

A consistent theme underpinning all CST is the dignity of the human person. It follows from the fact that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore possess a fundamental dignity that stamps human existence as good regardless of gender, race, class, ethnicity, nationality. This dignity finds expression in a set of inalienable rights and responsibilities.


This principle proclaims that people are social by nature. They are not simply self-sufficient individuals separate and autonomous from others. The social dimension is part and parcel of our humanity.

Common Good

Pope John XX111 defined this as …the sum total of those conditions of social living whereby people are enabled more fully and readily to achieve their own perfection (Mater Et Magistra 1961: 65) For CST the common good is not an aggregate term, the totality of individual goods. Rather there are goods that are only experienced in common, as shared, or they are not experienced at all. The common good is not compatible with tolerating hunger, homelessness, unemployment or other injustice.

The common good also suggests that the good of each person is connected to the good of others. That is, human beings only truly flourish in the context of a community.

It is the role of the State to promote the common good. The State is required in CST to intervene actively in society, including the economy, to promote and ensure justice. The State is not to be reduced to a mere passive observer of socio-economic processes, including the process of the market.


Decisions should be made as close as possible to the level of individual initiative in communities and institutions. Families, local community groups, local governments and small businesses should be fostered and their input considered. Larger government structures have a necessary and important role when greater social coordination and regulation are necessary for the common good.


People should be able to participate in the decisions which affect their lives (unions, social organizations, councils, etc.).

Universal Purpose of Goods

This states that the goods of the world are meant for all. Although CST has consistently upheld the right to private property as a fundamental human right it also teaches that this right is not absolute. The right to private property is in fact subordinated to the right to common use.- … no one is justified in keeping for his/her exclusive use what he/she does not need when others lack necessities(Populorum Progressio 1967:23)

Preferential Option for the Poor

This is central in the Old Testament and in Jesus’ mission in the Gospel. It calls for a commitment from individuals and communities at every level to engage actively in a struggle to overcome the social injustices, especially national and international structures, which impoverish and marginalise people. In CST the poor are the key criterion for assessing both the justice and the efficacy of an economy; they are to be the first concern of policy-makers and decision-makers. CST understands the very existence of global and national poverty as a sign that there is something radically wrong with current political and economic arrangements. In addition CST urges the poor to organize and demand change and sees them as “teachers” for all the non-poor/marginalized/oppressed.

Dignity of Work

According to liberal capitalism work is a commodity. To CST work is not a commodity but an expression of human creativity and a participation in God’s continuing creation. Further, labour is always superior to capital since people are always superior to things. CST has always stressed a range of workers’ rights which take precedence over the rights of capital. These include the right to decent work, to just wages, to security of employment, to adequate rest and holidays, limits to hours of work, health and safety protection, to non-discrimination, to form and join trade unions and as a last resort to go on strike.

Ecological Responsibility

Earth's resources are limited and are part of God's creation. We need to use them with care and in a way that allows for regeneration and sustainability.

Resources: A Basic list of Catholic Social Teaching Reading


Leo X111

Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labour)


Pius X1

Quadragesimo Anno (Reconstructing the Social Order)


John XX111

Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social progress)


John XX111

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth)


Vatican 11

Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World)


Vatican 11

Dignitatis Humanae (Decree on Religious Liberty)


Paul V1

Populorum Progressio ( he Development of Peoples)


Paul V1

Octogesima Adveniens (Call to Action)



Justice in the World


John Paul 11

Laborem Exercens (On Human Work)


John Paul 11

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern)


John Paul 11

World Day of Peace Message – The Ecological Crisis


John Paul 11

Centesimus Annus (One Hundred Years of CST)