Neither Left Nor Right
The Common Good
“How then should we live?”
– Tolstoy, 1882
“By her social doctrine the Church makes an effective contribution…
Her moral vision in this area ‘rests on the threefold cornerstone of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity’.”
We Must Address Today’s Ills
It is our special task to order and throw light upon all the affairs of the world in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ: “let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and conditions of the world.”
Candidates for President of the United States and many in congress espouse this as an alternative model for our country. What, exactly, is it? What does the Catholic Church have to say about it?
One political party committed the US to the Paris Agreement and proposes a “Green New Deal”. Another party withdrew from the Paris Agreement and inimically opposes the other’s proposal. What does Catholic social teaching have to say?
The belief humanity can be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities with some races innately superior to others. This leads to personal and societal prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity. What does Catholic social teaching have to say about such an insidious “ism”?
National Health Care
US health care is, in many ways, the envy of the world. Would a national health care program improve it? See how Catholic social teaching can inform the discussion!
A right? How much? Who? What are immigrants’ duties? This is complicated! Catholic social teaching can help sort through the issues.
“The greatest challenge of our time”! Why? Radical secularism holds that there is no such thing as an objective truth. But, “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true...social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 5) Sound familiar?
One of the most divisive issues during the past 50 years! Why is the Church so one-sided (and must always be so)?
Catholic Social Teaching is Neither Conservative Or Liberal
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”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38)
So, What is social justice?
Clothing runs, food drives, home building projects are corporal works of mercy, not social justice. Social justice, which is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority, results when “associations or individuals…obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1928)
This correct understanding of social justice was made clear by Pope Francis when he observed: “the duty of social justice… requires the realignment of relationships between stronger and weaker peoples in terms of greater fairness”; (World Day of Peace, 2014) it “upholds the fundamental human right to a dignified life”. (Meeting with Political, Economic, and Civil Leaders in Paraguay)
A hindrance thwarting both the knowledge and practice of Catholic social teaching is the confusion caused by diocesan, parish and university student programs and projects labeled ‘social justice’ — but which are often endeavors of corporal works of mercy.
Why does this matter?
By labeling projects to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless “social justice” we inhibit our ability to distinguish between corporal works of mercy and the practice of Catholic social teaching thus obscuring our recognition that, in charity, we have a similarly binding requirement to confront improper and even sinful social structures – the domain of Catholic social teaching.
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.
What Must I Do?
Our Church Has Issued a Clear Call to Action
Pope St. John Paul II
“A new state of affairs today… 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…”
“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.”
Do you Know 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.
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.
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.
Subsidiarity “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)
Who We Are
The Vatican Fondazione
Visit the Study Center
CAPP-USA is the U.S. Affiliate of the Vatican-based foundation established by Pope St. John Paul II to promote the knowledge and practice of Catholic social teaching.