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TitleCST CH.1
TagsCatholic Social Teaching Catholic Church Jesus Dignity Image Of God
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Document Text Contents
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C AT H O L I C S O C I A L

T E A C H I N G

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PRINCIPLES OF
CATHOLIC SOCIAL
TEACHING

In their 1998 document, Sharing Catholic
Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions—
Reflections of the U.S. Catholic Bishops,5 the
American bishops highlighted seven principles
that serve as the foundation of the Church’s
social teaching. Knowing and adopting these
principles for our own lives can motivate us to
action, help us to make correct choices, and ulti-
mately lead us to be “principled” people in the
area of social justice.

The purpose of the Sharing Catholic Social
Teaching document is to alert Catholics to the
fact that the Church’s teaching on social
justice—sometimes ignored—is an essential part
of our Catholic faith. We must teach social jus-
tice. We must learn about social justice. We
must put the principles of social justice into
action if we are to be “good” Catholics
and faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

To aid memory, the diagram
below presents the principles of
Catholic social justice in the
form of an image—the wheel
of justice. Think of the wheel
as taking us on a journey.
Our ultimate destination is
God’s kingdom. Along the
way, there are obstacles.
These include evils like
poverty, prejudice, abor-
tion, war, hunger, and so
forth. The wheel of justice
comes into play by rolling
over these barriers leading us
to God’s kingdom. The prin-
ciples on the wheel need to be
applied to smooth out the road,
to help us on our common task
of working to bring about God’s
kingdom.

Sharing Catholic Social Teaching
listed seven principles. Our wheel image
divides the bishops’ first principle—“life
and dignity of the human person”—into two

principles: dignity of the human person and
respect for life. The reason for this is to empha-
size the inherent dignity of the human person as
the foundational principle that leads first and
foremost to the respect for human life, but to all
the other principles as well. In other words, the
hub of the wheel is human dignity—from it all
other principles flow. We have dignity because we
are made in God’s image and likeness (the trian-
gle in the hub represents the Triune God in whose
image we are made). Human dignity means we
have worth and value. This is why all the other
principles that follow are true.

Our wheel also includes the principle of the
common good, another principle that flows from
and to the dignity of each person.

A brief introduction to each principle follows.

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C A T H O L I C S O C I A L J U S T I C E : A N O V E R V I E W

SOLIDARITY STEWARDSHIP

RESPECT
FOR LIFEWORK &

WORKERS

OPTION FOR
THE POOR

FAMILY
COMMUNITY

PARTICIPATION

RIGHTS & DUTIESCOMMON GOOD

HUMAN
DIGNITY

1

8 9

2

3

7

6

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WHEEL OF JUSTICE: CATHOLIC
SOCIAL JUSTICE THEMES

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C AT H O L I C S O C I A L T E AC H I N G

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE DIGNITY
OF THE HUMAN PERSON

This foundational principle holds
that every person—regardless of
gender, race, age, nationality, religion,
or economic status—deserves respect.
Our dignity does not come from what
we have or what we do; it comes from
being God’s special creation. As the
document puts it, “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” (Sharing Catholic Social
Teaching, p. 1).

THE PRINCIPLE OF RESPECT FOR
HUMAN LIFE

Every stage of a human’s life—
womb to tomb—is precious and wor-
thy of our respect and protection.
Unless human life is treated as sacred
and respected as such, we simply can-
not have a just society. According to
the document: “Every person, from
the moment of conception to natural
death, has inherent dignity and a
right to life consistent with that dig-
nity” (Sharing, pp. 1–2).

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE CALL TO
FAMILY, COMMUNITY, AND
PARTICIPATION

The document lays out this prin-
ciple: “In a global culture driven by
excessive individualism, our tradition
proclaims that the person is not only
sacred but social. . . . The family is
the central social institution that
must be supported and strengthened,
not undermined. . . . We believe peo-
ple have a right and duty to partici-
pate in society, seeking together the
common good and well-being of all”
(Sharing, pp. 4–5).

Related to this principle, govern-
ments must guarantee and protect
human life and dignity and promote
the common good and the well-being
of all citizens, especially the poor and
weak among us.

THE PRINCIPLE OF RIGHTS AND
RESPONSIBILITIES

The essential, fundamental right is
the right to life—the right that makes
all other rights possible. Every person
also has a right to the necessities that
make for human decency—faith and
family life, food and shelter, education
and a job, and health care. Rights have
corresponding responsibilities to each
other, to our families, and to the larger
society. “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” (Sharing, p. 5).

JOURNAL WRITING

Dignity is defined as “the
quality of being worthy of
respect or esteem; inherent
worth.” Write a portrait of the
person for whom you have
the most respect. Share
reasons why you especially
esteem this person.

rights—Claims we can make on each
other and on society to guarantee
attaining certain basic minimum
conditions to live a truly human life.

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C AT H O L I C S O C I A L T E AC H I N G

REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. What is the most pervasive violation of human rights worldwide today?
2. Where can we find Catholic social teaching?
3. What is Catholic social teaching? What are its three aspects?
4. List and briefly discuss nine principles of Catholic social teaching.
5. What does it mean to be made in God’s image and likeness?
6. List two consequences of being made in God’s image.
7. What powers does the human soul possess?
8. What does it mean to call humans “social beings”?
9. Explain how humans are flawed. Give three examples.

10. What does Jesus reveal about our true identity?
11. Explain what it means for you to be a friend of the Lord.
12. How does Jesus want us to manifest justice?
13. What is a right? Why are rights inalienable?
14. List ten human rights and a corresponding duty for each of the rights you list.
15. What is the fundamental human right? Why doesn’t it have to be earned? Explain.
16. Does the media have the “right” to exhibit pornography without any limits? Why or why not?
17. Why does the Christian community consider Mother Teresa of Calcutta a model of justice?

RESEARCHING ON THE INTERNET

There is no doubt, however, that the document [Universal Declaration of Human Rights]
represents an important step on the path towards the juridical political organization of all
the peoples of the world. For in it, in most solemn form, the dignity of a human person is
acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a funda-
mental right, the right of every man freely to investigate the truth and to follow the norms of
moral good and justice, and also the right to life worthy of man’s dignity, while other rights
connected with those mentioned are likewise proclaimed.

— Pope John XXIII, Peace on Earth, §144

1. Search for and read the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
• List five rights that you were not aware of before reading the Declaration.

2. Search and look up all of the following websites:
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
UNICEF
United Nations Development Program
Amnesty International
The International Committee of the Red Cross
Human Rights Watch

Based on information you find on these websites, do the following:
What would you judge to be the most serious human rights crisis currently facing the world?

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C A T H O L I C S O C I A L J U S T I C E : A N O V E R V I E W

Gather five facts about this current crisis.
Locate a country where this crisis is taking place and note some basic facts about the
demographics of this country.

3. Prepare a short report for your classmates. Locate the “World Service” pulldown from the BBC web-
site (www.bbc.co.uk) and select one of the human rights issues from around the world discussed here.
Write a research report on your findings.

PRAYER REFLECTION
Pray these words of Blessed Mother Teresa:
Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nurs-
ing them, minister unto you.

Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the
unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say, “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve
you.”

Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many
responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or
impatience. . . .11

NOTES
1. World Hunger Education Service, “World Hunger Facts 2004,” <http://www.worldhunger.org/

articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm> (17 February 2005).
2. Charlotte Bunch, “The Intolerable Status Quo: Violence against Women and Girls,” report found

at UNICEF, “The Progress of Nations 1997.”
3. Cited by Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a speech given on the

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, 17 October 2000.
4. Statistics cited by National Right to Life.
5. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and

Directions—Reflections of the U.S. Catholic Bishops (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic
Conference, 1998). The adaptation of the summary below was inspired by one of the consultants
for the bishops in the writing of the document: William J. Byron, S.J. See his excellent article,
“Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching,” America, October 31, 1998, pp. 9–12.

6. Christifideles Laici: On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in
the World.

7. Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Vatican City, May 7, 1989, XXIII World
Communications Day.

8. See Alice Leuchtag, “The Culture of Pornography,” in Taking Sides: Clashing Values in Crime
and Criminology (Guilford, CT: Dushkin Publishing Group/Brown & Benchmark Publishers,
1996), p. 135.

9. TopTen Reviews, Inc., “Internet Pornography Statistics.”
10. Committee for Communications, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing the

Mind of the Media (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1998).
11. Quoted in The Book of Jesus, edited by Calvin Miller (New York: Touchstone, 1998), p. 465.

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