Catholic Social Teaching is Not Liberal or Conservative


Catholic social teaching is not Liberal or Conservative

Catholic social teaching is not Liberal or Conservative


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 not liberal or conservative.

However, there are warnings to both sides of the political spectrum.


Individuals of the right may latch on to the endorsement of free markets as the only economic principle that seems to promote affluence and draw great comfort from that fact – while forgetting about the evils of consumerism, improper business activities and the fact that their brothers and sisters are in dire economic straits.


Individuals of the left might focus primarily or only on the principle of solidarity and the Church’s endorsement of the “preferential option for the poor”. These are individuals who have been enamored of government responses to the social problems, ignoring the clear call of Catholic social teaching for free markets and Subsidiarity.


Catholic social teaching is about principles not positions and these principles (human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity) are often lost in political wrangling over “positions”. By overlooking the principles of Catholic social teaching, governments fail to consider all aspects of policy decisions to the detriment of the common good.

There is also a ‘personal’ risk: individuals of the right, people in business and the professions, proponents of capitalism if you wish, may fail to be evangelized by Catholic social teaching; individuals of the left will miss the chance to properly utilize Catholic social teaching to evangelize.


In any event, individuals of both left and right may fail to implement Catholic social teaching through their lives. And both run the risk of forgetting the key message of Catholic social teaching: “It is clear that no economic, social or political project can replace the gift of self to another…He who does not give God gives too little”. (Pope Benedict XVI)

Three circles containing symbols of the three principles of catholic social teaching: human dignity, subsidiarity, and solidarity.

Three Key Principles

Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human DignitySolidarity 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.

Human Dignity

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)