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By Fr. Angelbert Chikere, Director of Life, Justice, and Peace |  Fall 2023

A Summary of the Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

In a world filled with ideas and opinions that are increasingly socially, politically, and economically polarized, the Church looks to her long-standing faith tradition for guidance in responding to our deeply divided world. Taking inspiration from the dismissal blessing at Mass, “Go in Peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives,” the Church reveals what is often called her best-kept secret: Catholic Social Teaching (CST).


For over a century, numerous papal writings have called for Catholics to examine their personal and communal role in navigating the intersection of faith and socio-politics. Seven guiding principles or themes run throughout CST.

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Human life and dignity are the foundation upon which all other principles are built. Life is sacred, and the right to life is inalienable. Every person is precious, and this foundation explains why we are called to promote the culture of life. “Therefore, every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart.” (St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 3)

Care for God’s Creation

We are called to be stewards of our common home as the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us, “On this earth there is room for everyone … At the same time, we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it.” (Caritas in Veritate, 50)

Rights and Responsibility

Each individual possesses fundamental rights, especially the right to life, and should have the means for its proper development.  Basics such as food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, etc. ensure all human dignity. We are responsible for working for these means for others, for ourselves, and for the universal right to them. “To claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down with the other.” (St. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 30)

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

Being inherently social, we live and care for one another in community, starting in our family. We are obliged to help form and participate in our society in a way that affirms the dignity of all. As St. John Paul II teaches, the Christian family “places itself at the service of the human person and the world… to form persons in love and also to practice love in all its relationships, so that it does not live closed in on itself, but remains open to the community, moved by a sense of justice and concern for others, as well as a consciousness of its responsibility towards the whole of society.” (Familiaris Consortio, 64)


Catholics are called to continuously love our neighbor anew by seeing ourselves in them, and to be willing to suffer with them, regardless of anyone’s race, ethnicity, nationality, or creed. We are always called to walk with them. “Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people …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.” (St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 157)

Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers

Work must be understood as a gift to participate in God’s act of creation, and we have a right to share in that gift. Work exists for people and not people for work. In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because opportunities for gainful employment are limited or humans are being exploited, “because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 63)

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

In a society scarred by deepening division between the poor and the rich, our Catholic tradition calls us to prioritize extending care to the poor and marginalized as Jesus did. This consists in offering them a hand up, rather than a handout, while asking the more profound questions: Why are these persons poor? What are the systemic reasons we can address as a Church and society? The Holy Father Pope Francis constantly reminds us that “love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel.” (Address to the First World Meeting of Popular Movements, October 28, 2014)

These seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching continue to guide the Church. The Church’s nurturing message, which is ever ancient and ever new, continues to be relevant despite changing times. May we all embrace the call to work for solutions that respect human dignity and foster solidarity through her earthly mission, and in imitation of Christ.

Based on “The Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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