What is authentic Catholic social doctrine?

Since the Encyclical (Rerum Novarum) in 1891, the Church has spoken many times on social justice. In 2004 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a 300 page document titled the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which exhaustively reviews all Catholic teachings on social justice in all spheres, not just economic. The Compendium reaffirms Rerum Novarum is “a lasting paradigm” for the Church’s social doctrine.


The institution closest to the conditions on the ground should handle responsibility for overseeing and controlling that activity. In other words, if a municipal government can handle a social responsibility, such as community planning, or water supply, it should do so rather than a national government.

Protect property rights

  • Socialism is not a remedy to social ills.
  • Private property is an unalienable right.

Respect for work and the worker

  • The fruits of one's labor are to be the sole property of the individual. No one has a right to take your property.
  • Wage negotiations should be free agreements between the workingman and the employer.
  • Employers owe their workers a just wage sufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage earner.
  • Workers owe your employer a fair and honest days work.
  • “The free market is an institution of social importance because of its capacity to guarantee effective results in the production of goods and services.”
  • “Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person.”
  • No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12). Rather, all are charged by the Apostle Paul to make it a point of honour to work with their own hands, so as to “be dependent on nobody” (1 Thes 4:12).

Work for the Common Good

The common good is "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (Pope John XXIII: Pacem in Terris 55)Pope John Paul II said:

[The Common Good] "is not simply the sum total of particular interests; rather it involves an assessment and integration of those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values; ultimately, it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person" (Centesimus Annus 47).

Participation and Solidarity

Participation and solidarity are two other fundamental principles of Catholic social thought. Participation is defined by the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church as when each

[C]itizen, either as an individual or in association with others, whether directly or through representation, contributes to the cultural, economic, political and social life of the civil community to which he belongs. Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good. (189)

But the state should not make the people dependent financially upon it:

[Solidarity is not a] feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. (John Paul II: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38)

Peace or Just War

We should pursue peace at almost all cost. These are the conditions under which a nation may take up arms:

  1. [T]he damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain;
  2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. there must be serious prospects of success;
  4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (CCC 2309)

Deference to the poor

Almsgiving is a core principle of Catholicism. Give to the poor. The state should not overreach their jurisdiction in this, and become a "Nanny" state.

Malfunctions and defects in the social assistance state [or welfare state] are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the state. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (Centesimus Annus48)

In conclusion

The Catholic Church stands against socialism. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, know first hand the consequences of socialism, communism and fascism. John Paul II suffered first under Nazis fascism and then Soviet communism in Poland and was instrumental in liberating Poland from Soviet Communism and in the fall of the Soviet empire. Benedict XVI grew up in Nazis Germany and risked his life in resistance to the Nazis regime. The Catholic Church promotes personal Christocentric love and respect of your neighbor in all affairs and social dealings under the principle of subsidiarity and has strongly opposed all Government efforts at socialism as an unacceptable remedy for social ills.

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