Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human
life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed
by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the
human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent
dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not
from any human quality or accomplishment.
Catholic Social Teaching: Seven Major Themes
The Church's social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and
living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. It offers moral principles and
coherent values that are badly needed in our time. In this time of widespread violence and
diminished respect for human life and dignity in our country and around the world, the Gospel
of life and the biblical call to justice need to be proclaimed and shared with new clarity, urgency,
1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
In a world warped by materialism and declining respect for human life, the Catholic Church
proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation
of a moral vision for society. Our belief in the sanctity of human life and the inherent
dignity of the human person is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching.
In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and assisted suicide. We
believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and
that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and
dignity of the human person.
2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
In a global culture driven by excessive individualism, our tradition proclaims that the person
is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society,in economics and politics, in
law and policy,directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in
community. The family is the central social institution that must be supported and
strengthened, not undermined. While our society often exalts individualism, the Catholic
tradition teaches that human beings grow and achieve fulfillment in community. We believe
people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common
good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
3. Rights and Responsibilities
In a world where some speak mostly of "rights" and others mostly of "responsibilities," the
Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community
can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore,
every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human
4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
In a world characterized by growing prosperity for some and pervasive poverty for others,
Catholic teaching proclaims that a basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members
are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition
recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of
the poor and vulnerable first.
5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
In a marketplace where too often the quarterly bottom line takes precedence over the
rights of workers, we believe that the economy must serve people, not the other way around.
Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's
creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be
respected,the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions,
to private property, and to economic initiative. Respecting these rights promotes an economy
that protects human life, defends human rights, and advances the well-being of all.
Our culture is tempted to turn inward, becoming indifferent and sometimes isolationist in
the face of international responsibilities. Catholic social teaching proclaims that we are
our brothers' and sisters' keepers, wherever they live. We are one human family, whatever
our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Learning to practice
the virtue of solidarity means learning that "loving our neighbor" has global dimensions
in an interdependent world.
7. Care for God's Creation
On a planet conflicted over environmental issues, the Catholic tradition insists that we
show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is
not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people
and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God's creation. This environmental
challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
These moral values and others outlined in various papal and episcopal documents are
part of a moral framework and a precious heritage that we call Catholic social teaching.
The Scriptures say, "Without a vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). As Catholics,
we have an inspiring vision in our social teaching. In a world that hungers for a sense of
meaning and moral direction, this teaching offers ethical criteria for action. In a society of
rapid change and often confused moral values, this teaching offers consistent moral
guidance for the future. For Catholics, this social teaching is a central part of our identity.