The Catholic teaching of social justice reflects our obligation to love one another. It guides our conscience and actions with every person made in God’s image, regardless of how they may differ from us or even how they treat us. This broad teaching at its core, affirms the dignity of the person.
We hold that all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to natural death. The respect for human dignity is the basis of our social teaching. Simply put, every person is our brother or sister and should be treated accordingly by us individually and by government. We are one community in support of each other and the valid promotion of common good. We call this solidarity.
The poor and vulnerable are especially recognized as priorities. Often their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, employment, health care and education are neglected. Society must be structured to give everyone the opportunity to attain these foundational attributes of self-sufficiency. As the Church and individually, we are called to help as we are able to improve their circumstances. Governments must not deny rights or justice. This option for the poor is the true test of fulfilling the commandment to love one another.
If you cannot remember everything, instead of everything, I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs. If we have this attitude, we will certainly offer our money; and by nourishing Christ in poverty here and laying up great profit hereafter, we will be able to attain the good things which are to come, by the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom (be glory, honor, and might,) to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Saint John Chrysostom
Doctor of the Church
Justice also demands that all people have a fundamental right to participate fully in the economic, political and cultural life of society. Through this participation we form the community. Barring participation marginalizes people and is an affront to human dignity. Everyone counts.
Workers have a right to a fair and just workplace. Jobs must offer productive work, fair wages and safe working conditions. Organizing of unions must also be permitted. There are limits however, such as amassing excessive wealth at the expense of basic necessities for others. I would also argue that unionizing sole providers of critical services leads to societal harm outweighing the interests of the few.
We came into this world with nothing and will leave the same way. In the interim, most of us are temporarily entrusted with some level of property and other wealth. Simply being wealthy is not contrary to social justice. What is important is how we use our wealth and that we take prudent steps to preserve the environment for future generations.
Government is to have a constructive role in our lives by protecting human rights, promoting human dignity and building the common good. Large, all encompassing, central government is not an authentic means to social justice. Our principle of subsidiarity demands that governmental services, where necessarily provided by government, be provided at the lowest level possible. Doing so provides the services closer to those receiving them, tailored more specifically for their needs and input, and limits broad power being concentrated into the hands of a few.
Governments must also promote peace and avoid war. Catholic social teaching provides for just war in very limited circumstances. It may be engaged only by competent authority, to advance comparative justice, for a right intention (generally – a just cause), as a last resort, with a high probability of success, waged with proportionality of the good to be attain balanced by the damage caused, and by moral means (i.e. subject to “rules of war”).
This is part 1 of 2. Next week I will publish Not social justice – the warnings of popes and a Saint on socialism.