February 07, 2005

Catholic Social Principles

I thought that in order to get the ball rolling for Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, I would post the major themes or principles of Catholic social teaching. There are roughly ten of them. From the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Office for Social Justice:

1. Dignity of the Human Person

Belief in the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all Catholic social teaching. Human life is sacred, and the dignity of the human person is the starting point for a moral vision for society. This principle is grounded in the idea that the person is made in the image of God. The person is the clearest reflection of God among us. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: We at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis might point out the obvious -- that the dignity of the human person calls for a consistent ethic of life, which respects the dignity of all human life. It would not allow Catholics to value some human life (i.e., preborn life) but not value other human life (i.e., criminals or Iraqis). While we would acknowledge that some violations of human dignity may carry more weight than others, we would encourage Catholics to oppose violations of human dignity wherever and whenever they occur].

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. Human dignity can only be realized and protected in the context of relationships with the wider society.

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 obligation to "love our neighbor" has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the good of the whole society, to the common good. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The principle of the common good reminds us that our own lives, the lives of those in our own families or the lives of those in our local communities are not the only human lives that we should be concerned with. We have to be concerned with human life in the wider society, not just in America but throughout the world. Thus, the millions dying of HIV/AIDS in Africa, the genocide occuring in the Sudan and the deaths of both American military and Iraqi civilians throughout Iraq should all be of concern to Catholics, and we should be doing everything we can to help in all of those situations].

3. 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.

The option for the poor is an essential part of society's effort to achieve the common good. A healthy community can be achieved only if its members give special attention to those with special needs, to those who are poor and on the margins of society. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The most imperative issue facing society is how it treats the poor, vulnerable, deprived and powerless. As many pro-life Catholics have pointed out, this option for the poor includes in a special way preborn life, because they are truly the most vulnerable human beings. But the option for the poor cannot be viewed as an option that now applies exclusively to preborn human beings. It is still morally imperative for Catholics to work for changes in society so that attention is given to the special needs of the poor].

4. Rights and Responsibilities

Human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency -- starting with food, shelter and clothing, employment, health care, and education. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities -- to one another, to our families, and to the larger society. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The fundamental right of human beings is the right to life, but human beings also have a right to that which is required for human decency. According to Catholic social teaching, we have a right to food, shelter, clothing, employment, health care and education. Further, Catholic teaching is emphatic in stating that violations of any of these rights are gravely immoral, and it is not at all unreasonable to see a connection between some violations of human rights and the violation of the fundamental right to life. For instance, the absence of the right to health care, to employment, to education or to other human rights often lead young women to feel as if they have no choice but to end the life of their preborn children. Regardless of whether or not this thinking is right or wrong, providing for these other human rights may lead to a greater respect for the fundamental right to life. All human beings have corresponding responsibilities, including the responsibility to make sure that others' basic human rights are met].

5. 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. All people have a right and a responsibility to participate in political institutions so that government can achieve its proper goals.

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. (See selected quotations on the role of government and subsidiarity.)

[Blogger's Note: The state is meant to be an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights and build the common good. Unfortunately, there are many instances when the state is not an instrument for any of these justice-building goals. That's why all people have a right and responsibility to participate in political institutions, which includes voting in democratic governments, to ensure that the state can achieve the threefold goals we've mentioned. Catholic teaching also emphatically endorses the principle of subsidiarity. Unfortunately, subsidiarity is not very well respected by either of the two major political parties in our American government. Many conservative Catholics will argue that Republicans pay more respect to the principle of subsidiarity by limiting social programs and promoting involvement in private charities. Liberal Catholics might argue that needs cannot be adequately met by private charities in today's world, which is why we need social programs to supplement private charity. It is true that when needs cannot be met at lower levels, the government is required to intervene. Still, both of our major political parties could benefit from a greater respect for subsidiarity].

6. Economic Justice

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. All workers have a right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to safe working conditions. They also have a fundamental right to organize to join unions. People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life.

Catholic teaching opposes collectivist and statist economic approaches. But it also rejects the notion that a free market automatically produces justice. Distributive justice, for example, cannot be achieved by relying entirely on free market forces. 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 intervene and ensure that these needs are met. (See selected quotations on markets, workers rights, and labor vs. capital.)

[Blogger's Note: Catholic social teaching opposes both communism and unfettered capitalism. The Church's social teaching emphasizes the right to productive work, the right to decent and fair wages and the right to safe working conditions. The right of workers to organize and form labor unions is also strongly supported by Catholic teaching. This is an area in which the Republican Party, particularly, is lacking. Republicans often oppose raising the minimum wage, which at $5.15 an hour cannot be considered either decent or fair since it does not meet the cost of living. Republicans are also notorious for their opposition to labor unions and for "union-busting." Catholic Republicans have a responsibility to challenge their party to have greater respect for the rights of workers].

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. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: Although the Bible is clear that God has given us dominion over the Earth, it is also clear from Catholic social teaching that this dominion also gives us a responsibility to the Earth. How we treat the environment is a measure of our respect for God, who created the universe and saw that it was good. By disrespecting and abusing God's good creation, we disrespect and abuse God the Creator].

8. Promotion of Peace and Disarmament

Catholic teaching promotes peace as a positive, action-oriented concept. In the words of Pope John Paul II, "Peace is not just the absence of war. It involves mutual respect and confidence between peoples and nations. It involves collaboration and binding agreements." There is a close relationship in Catholic teaching between peace and justice. Peace is the fruit of justice and is dependent upon right order among human beings. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: The promotion of peace has been a major theme of Catholic social teaching, especially in the pontificates of Pope Bl. John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Although it is separated from the dignity of human life here, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops include peace and disarmament among the life issues -- strongly implying that peace and disarmament are inseparably tied to the dignity of human life].

9. Participation

All people have a right to participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of society. It is a fundamental demand of justice and a requirement for human dignity that all people be assured a minimum level of participation in the community. It is wrong for a person or a group to be excluded unfairly or to be unable to participate in society. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: Catholic social teaching is very clear that there should be no prejudices against individuals or groups, and that no one should be excluded from participating in society. Although we have made large steps toward equality in America, there is still work to be done].

10. 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. (See selected quotations.)

[Blogger's Note: Catholic teaching is clear that we are one human family. This stands in contradiction to the American tendency toward isolationism, which sometimes leads us to think primarily of ourselves and less about the rest of the world. It also contradicts our policies on immigration, which are decidedly anti-immigrant].

These ten principles are not the sum of Catholic social teaching, but they represent major themes which should be important to all American Catholics. All of the subsequent principles can be said to be rooted primarily in the dignity of the human person -- making Catholic social teaching a form of personalism. This personalism is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the redemption of the material world, which ties Catholic social justice to the central teaching of Catholic Christian faith.