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Ten Social Justice Principles
Definitions and
Contemporary Pastoral Statements that Reflect these Principles

 

1) Dignity of the Human Person

 

All people are sacred, made in the image and likeness of God. People do not lose dignity because of disability, poverty, age, lack of success, or race. This emphasizes people over things, being over having. This principle is the foundation for the Church's promotion of respect for human life.[1]

 

There is a growing awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, who stand above all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. They ought, therefore, to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing ... the right to education, and work...[2]

           

2) Common Good and Community

 

The human person is both sacred and social. We realize our dignity and rights in relationship with others, in community. Human beings grow and achieve fulfillment in community. All people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all. The family is a central social institution that must be supported and strengthened.[3]
 

The members of the Church, as members of society, have the same right and duty to promote the common good as do other citizens. Christians ought to fulfill their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life.[4]

 

3) Rights and Responsibilities

 

People have a fundamental right to life, food, shelter, health care, education and employment. All people have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities. For example,

all persons have a duty to respect the rights of others in society. All persons have a responsibility to participate in social and political activities and institutions that promote the common good.[5]

 

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.”[6]        

 

4) Option for the Poor

 

The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor. The "option for the poor," is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another. Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community.[7]

 

Listening to the cry of those who suffer violence and are oppressed by unjust systems and structures, and hearing the appeal of a world that by its perversity contradicts the plan of its Creator, we have shared our awareness of the Church's vocation to be present in the heart of the world by proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted.[8] 

 

5) Global Solidarity and Development

 

We are one human family. Our responsibilities to each other cross national, racial, economic and ideological differences. We are called to work globally for justice. Authentic development must be full human development. It must respect and promote personal, social, economic, and political rights, including the rights of nations and of peoples.  It must avoid the extremists of underdevelopment on the one hand, and "superdevelopment" on the other. Accumulating material goods, and technical resources will be unsatisfactory and debasing if there is no respect for the moral, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of the person.[9]

 

There can be no progress towards the complete development of the human person without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity.[10]

 

6) Promotion of Peace and Disarmament

 

Catholic teaching understands peace as a positive, action-oriented concept. Peace is not just the absence of war. It involves mutual respect and collaboration between peoples and nations. There is a close relationship between peace and justice. Peace is the fruit of justice and is dependent upon right order among human beings and human institutions.[11]

 

It is obvious that individual countries cannot rightly seek their own interests and develop themselves in isolation from the rest, for the prosperity and development of one country follows partly in the train of the prosperity and progress of all the rest and partly produces that prosperity and progress.[12]
        

7) Stewardship of God's Creation

 

The goods of the earth are gifts from God, and they are intended by God for the benefit of everyone. There is a "social mortgage" that guides our use of the world's goods, and we have a responsibility to care for these goods as stewards and trustees, not as mere consumers and users. How we treat the environment is a measure of our stewardship, a sign of our respect for the Creator.[13]

 

God destined the earth and all it contains for all people and nations so that all created things would be shared fairly by all humankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.[14]

 

8) Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

 

The economy exists to serve people, not the other way around. People have a right to productive work and fair wages. Workers have the right to safe working conditions, the right to participate in decisions that affect them in the workplace, and the right to security in case of sickness, disability, unemployment or old age. All workers have the right to form unions. In fact, unions are referred to in the teaching as an "indispensable" element in the search for social justice.[15]
 

For when people work, they not only alter things and society, they develop themselves as well. They learn much, they cultivate their resources, they go outside of themselves and beyond themselves. Rightly understood, this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. People are more precious for what they are than for what they have. Similarly, all that people do to obtain greater justice, wider brotherhood, a more humane ordering of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances. For these advances can supply the material for human progress, but of themselves alone they can never actually bring it about.[16]

 

9) Role of Government and Subsidiarity

 

The state has a positive moral function. It is an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and build the common good. The principle of subsidiarity holds that the functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, as long as they can be performed adequately. When the needs in question cannot adequately be met at the lower level, then it is not only necessary, but imperative that higher levels of government intervene.[17]

 

If any government does not acknowledge the rights of man or violates them, it not only fails in its duty, but its orders completely lack juridical force.[18]

 

10) Free Markets, Economic Initiative, and Private Property

 

Catholic teaching opposes collectivist and statist economic approaches. But it also rejects the notion that a free market automatically produces justice. Competition and free markets are useful elements of economic systems. However, markets must be kept within limits, because there are many needs and goods that cannot be satisfied by the market system. It is the task of the state and of all society to ensure that these needs are met. All people have a right to economic initiative and to private property, but these are not unlimited rights. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life.[19] 

Individual initiative alone and the mere free play of competition could never assure successful development. One must avoid the risk of increasing still more the wealth of the rich and the dominion of the strong, whilst leaving the poor in their misery and adding to the servitude of the oppressed.[20]


[1] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice (St Paul, MN. ND, accessed January 25, 2006); Available from http://www.osjspm.org/cst/pdf/cstprinciples--osj.pdf; Internet. 

[2] Second Vatican Council, “Gaudium et Spes,”  #26, Pastoral Constitution on  the Church in the Modern World (1965 accessed January 25, 2006); Available from http://www.osjspm.org/cst/q_dignity.htm) ; Internet. 

[3] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[4] World Synod of Catholic Bishops, Justice in the World # 38 (1971, accessed January 25, 2006); Available at http://www.osjspm.org/cst/jw.htm; Internet. 

[5] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 
 

[6] Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris #60 (1963, accessed January 25, 2006); Available at http://www.osjspm.org/cst/pt.htm; Internet. 

[7] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[8] World Synod of Catholic Bishops, Justice in the World #5 (1971, accessed January 25, 2006); Available at http://www.osjspm.org/cst/jw.htm; Internet. 

[9] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[10] Paul VI,  Populorum Progresio, On the Development of Peoples #43 (1967, accessed January 25, 2006); Available at  http://www.osjspm.org/cst/pp.htm; Internet. 

[11] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[12] John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth #131 (1965, accessed January 25, 2006); Available at http://www.osjspm.org/cst/pt.htm, Internet. 

[13] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet.
 

[14] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965, accessed January 25, 2006); Available at http://www.osjspm.org/cst/gs_cos2.htm; Internet. 

[15] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[16] Gaudium et Spes #35; Internet. 

[17] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[18] Pacem in Terris #61; Internet.  

[19] Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, Office of Social Justice; Internet. 

[20] Populorum Progresio #33; Internet.

 

 

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Last Update to this page was March 15, 2011

Copyright © 2006 Dennis C. McNulty