Neither Left Nor Right
The Common Good
“How then should we live?”
– Tolstoy, 1882
“By her social doctrine the Church makes an effective contribution to the issues presented by the current globalized economy.
Her moral vision in this area ‘rests on the threefold cornerstone of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity’.”
Explore the Three Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles: “The State must contribute to the achievement of these goals both directly and indirectly. Indirectly and according to the principle of subsidiarity, by creating favorable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth. Directly and according to the principle of solidarity, by defending the weakest”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 15)
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image. This is “the basis not only of the unity of the human family but also of our inviolable human dignity” (Pope Benedict XVI) and it is in this beginning that human rights are grounded.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good” (Pope St. John Paul II, 38). Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment. “We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross.” (Pope Francis)
Subsidiarity identifies how decisions in society need to be taken at the lowest competent level. “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI, 79)
What Is The Practical Purpose of Catholic Social Teaching?
To achieve the common good
The common good is the sum total of social conditions which allow people to reach their fulfillment.
It is the result of applying the three principles to governments and economic systems.
Neither Right Or Left
Just as “Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies” (Pope Benedict XVI, 31) it must be reiterated and acknowledged that Catholic social teaching is not an endorsement of or for any political teaching. The Church is clear that none of the magisterial documents are teachings to or for the right or the left. Catholic social teaching is neither liberal nor conservative.
However, there are warnings to both sides of the political spectrum.
It’s Not What You Think
The practice of Catholic social teaching recognizes that, in charity, we have a binding requirement to confront improper and even sinful social structures. “Decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them”
What Must I Do?
Our Church Has Issued a Clear Call to Action
Pope St. John Paul II
“A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.”
Pope Benedict XVI
“Freedom…demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.”
Participation in politics is a Christian obligation: “We must participate in politics because politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good. And Christian lay people must work in politics…”
Catholic social teaching informs our consciences and requires action from us, the lay faithful. “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy.
It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.”
This is our job.
Democratic socialism is much in the news. Several candidates for President of the United States and many in congress espouse it as an alternative model for our country. But, is it clear what, exactly, it is? Here, we attempt to define ‘democratic socialism’ and outline what the Catholic Church has to say about it.
This is a complex issue. It requires weighing the integration of all three Catholic social teaching principles (Human Dignity, Solidarity, and Subsidiarity) and applying them to a thorough analysis of the Common Good. There are few straightforward “answers” here! However, a comprehensive review of the issues based on “principles” rather than “positions” might lead to more effective policies.
One political party committed the US to the Paris Agreement and proposes a “Green New Deal”. Another party has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement and inimically opposes the other’s proposal. Explore what insights Catholic social teaching may contribute to this national dialogue.
Health care in the United States is, in many ways, the envy of the world. Yet: Are needs not being met? Why is it so expensive? Is the health care practitioner pool expanding? How does Subsidiarity inform policy and practice? Is health care a right? Are practitioners happy in their work? This is a complicated topic!
What is CAPP USA?
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CAPP-USA is the U.S. Affiliate of the Vatican-based foundation established by Pope St. John Paul II and to promote the knowledge and practice of Catholic social teaching.
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Centesimus Annus Pro Pontificate, Inc (CAPP-USA) is the United States affiliate of Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice at the Vatican.