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Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic social teaching (CST) is a guide for how to live as a people of justice and mercy that brings the teachings of Jesus to the larger societal conversation about social justice. 

The seven major themes of CST are: Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Preferential Option for and with People who are Poor; Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God's Creation. These are explored in more depth in the Questions and Tools for Engagement section. 

A Fruitful Relationship

As Catholic theologians will attest, there is a fruitful relationship between CST and restorative justice. Both aim at attaining and restoring justice as right relationship. Both seek to accompany those who have been harmed toward wholeness and healing. Both include a prophetic dimension that names harm and injustice, fosters accountability, and opposes social structures that perpetuate exclusion. 

For more than two millennia, the Catholic Church has exercised the ministry of charity and justice in various ways. As Pope Benedict XVI noted in "Deus caritas est," the ministry of charity is a task agreeable to the church and as integral to the mission of the church as proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments. 

More recently, Pope Francis has called Catholics to oppose a globalization of indifference by building a culture of encounter and accompaniment. In his latest encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti," Pope Francis exhorts Christians and all people of goodwill to follow the example of the Good Samaritan by stopping to render aid and care to those wounded on the side of life’s road.

Themes for the Modern Era

Beginning with the groundbreaking encyclical "Rerum novarum" in 1891, modern Catholic social teaching emerged to offer important principles that can be applied to subjective situations to bring about a more just and humane social order.

The fundamental principles of CST are derived from Scripture, tradition, nature, and experience, and are offered to both people of faith and all people of goodwill. These principles transcend political party and ideology and work effectively to build social bridges and promote inclusive dialogue. 

From Pope Leo XIII to Pope Francis, successive popes have offered important contributions to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The meta principles of CST are the dignity of the human person and the common good, which challenge all to respect the inviolable dignity of each and every human life, and to work for conditions in society that promote human flourishing.

Lastly, CST encompasses a prophetic dimension which exhorts all people of goodwill to foster greater social solidarity and stand against unjust social structures.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. Which principle(s) of Catholic social teaching most influence your engagement with restorative justice? 
  2. How would you describe the alignment between restorative justice and CST?
  3. What are some unique gifts that Catholic tradition and ministry lend to restorative justice practices in the U.S.?
     

Handout

Catholic Social Teaching and Restorative Justice (Catholic Mobilizing Network)

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 
Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations, Kenneth Himes
Content contributors to this section included Father Daniel Griffith.