Catholic Social Teaching


It is the role of the social justice office to promote Catholic Social Teaching (CST). But what is that exactly? 

What is Catholic Social Teaching? 

Catholic Social Teaching (or Catholic Social Doctrine) is the rich, constantly growing body of teaching by the Church on social justice issues.  

It is part of the discipline of moral theology and draws upon four main sources 

  • scripture
  • reason
  • tradition (papal encyclicals, statements by Bishop’s conferences)
  • experience
Unlike the Ten Commandments, which is a universally agreed on list, the principles of CST come out of many years of different experiences, documents and teaching.  As such there is often debate about which are the main principles of CST. Nonetheless, distinct and key themes are identifiable.    

Key themes in Catholic Social Teaching

Human Dignity   

Human Dignity
Everyone is created equal and of immeasurable value

CST starts where the bible starts, with the creation of humanity. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Gen 1:27. Because each person is created in the image and likeness of God, they have an inalienable (can’t be taken away), transcendent (can’t be measured) God-given dignity. This dignity is shared equally by each member of the human family because we are all children of the one God.







Solidarity is more than giving your excess

The principle of solidarity means we are all really responsible for each other. To Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) God answers, yes!  Pope Benedict defines it as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” 

Feeling sorry for someone is not solidarity. Unthinkingly dropping spare change in a collection plate is not solidarity. Solidarity begins when we take another’s human dignity seriously and ends (or rather leads to) the Common Good.     



The Common Good 
JCA promotes the Common Good by working with new arrrivals

The common good is about setting up society in such a way (the social conditions) that each social group and all of their individual members are able to and encouraged to achieve their full potential.  To achieve this each social group must take account of the rights and aspirations of other groups, and of the well-being of the whole human family. Rights and responsibilities must be brought into harmony.  This only happens when a spirit of solidarity underpins our interactions, when we realise that other people are worth sacrificing for and vice versa. 


Universal Destination Of Goods

Caritas volunteers
Caritas Australia volunteers help during Project Compassion

God intends for the goods of creation to be at the service (or destined for) all of humanity (universally).  Everyone has the right to access goods to meet their needs. People and nations have no right to squander resources when others are in need. Saint Ambrose summed it up over 1500 years ago when he said of charitable giving,   "You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated (taken up) to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich." 


Without participation little meaningful change can occur

Because of their dignity, intelligence and free will, people have both a right and a duty to participate in those decisions that most directly affect them.  They are actively to shape their own destiny rather than simply accept the decisions of others. This right to participate belongs not only to individuals but also to groups and communities. 

Subsidiarity: not all decisions should be made at the top

Subsidiarity is about power and decision making. It aims to keep responsibility as close to the grassroots as possible.  This principle maintains that the people who will be most directly affected by a decision should have a key decision-making role. They wear the consequences and their proximity gives them a unique insight.   

Subsidiarity doesn’t mean that centralised decision making or intervention cannot happen. However if it does it should be a) necessary b) supportive and potentially c) help coordinate activities with other groups. 

Care for creation ultimately serves us as well as the environment

Catholics believe that human beings have a special responsibility to care for creation, while also believing human beings have a special place in creation. Only human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. As such human beings have dominion over the natural world. Gen 1:28  However as we have inherited creation from God, our dominion means we are managers rather than owners of the natural world. Our management (or stewardship) of creation is part of our broader mission to glorify God by always acting justly and affirming life. 

Indeed all creatures, humanity included, share the same Creator and command; to glorify and worship the Creator. This shared heritage and mandate can be seen in our interconnectedness. Pope Benedict notes, “Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa.” 

Special thanks to the ACSJC and Faith Doing Justice.

flickr photo credits: Human Dignity-saoire; Solidarity-derpunk; Participation- sidewalk flying; Subsidiarity-emmettanderson; Stewardship-visualpanic. The artists do not necessarily endorse the content of this website and have allowed their works to be used under flickr's Creative Commons.