Negotiable Moral Issues

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 166

The demands of the common good are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights. These demands concern above all the commitment to peace, the organization of the State's powers, a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom.

While moral principles are not negotiable, policy issues involving many contingencies and various possible means are politically Negotiable Issues. Individuals of good will can disagree regarding the best means to achieve the policy goal.

General Moral Principles

In determining what actions may morally be done, what means may morally be used, and what evils may morally be tolerated, reference should be made to what constitutes:

(a) A Good Moral Act, in the first place,

b) Moral Cooperation in Evil, and,

c) The Principle of Double Effect (i.e. whether bad effects can be tolerated)

The Virtue of Prudence

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going." (Prov. 14:15)


Moral Cooperation in Evil

We are accomplices in the evil of another by joining in their evil act in some fashion. In the cases of candidates who support intrinsic evils, we may never formally cooperate in their support of any intrinsic evil (Non-negotiables), nor may we lend them immediate material support in that regard.

Moral Cooperation in Evil

Principle of Double Effect

The Principle of Double Effect is used to determine when an action which has two effects, one good and one evil, may still be chosen without sin.

Double Effect

General Social Principles

Since the Negotiable Issues involve complex social circumstances, the Church provides a body of doctrine to guide the application of moral principles to social relationships, among individuals, between institutions, and between institutions and individuals, especially the most vulnerable in society. This body of doctrine can be found compiled in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued by the Holy See in 2004.

The General Principles of Catholic Social Teaching are:

1. Dignity of the human person,

made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ.

2. Common good,

as the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily; not to be confused with the particular good of individuals or groups.

3. Subsidiarity,

by which the recipients of economic or other assistance are not left out of decisions affecting them, by their assignment to institutions far removed from them and their need, when lesser, subordinate, and closer levels of organization can accomplish it.

4. Solidarity,

the concern for the proper development of all, which the unity of the human family and man’s social nature places upon all human beings.

These principles are to be applied in every case.

Solidarity with the poor, for example, without subsidiarity, undermines the dignity of the persons served, and by bureaucratizing charity undermines the common good, as well.

Social Doctrine

Some perennially significant Negotiable Issues

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 32

Prudential judgment is also needed in applying moral principles to specific policy choices in areas such as armed conflict, housing, health care, immigration, and others. This does not mean that all choices are equally valid, or that our guidance and that of other Church leaders is just another political opinion or policy preference among many others. Rather, we urge Catholics to listen carefully to the Church’s teachers when we apply Catholic social teaching to specific proposals and situations. The judgments and recommendations that we make as bishops on such specific issues do not carry the same moral authority as statements of universal moral teachings.

1. War and Peace

The preservation of peace between nations, while respecting moral principles, especially regarding innocent life, is subject to a variety of opinions as to the best means. This encompasses foreign policy and defense policy, as well.

War and Peace

2. Capital Punishment

Despite the Magisterium’s increasing skepticism and discouragement of its use on prudential grounds, especially in developed societies, the judgment regarding the necessity of its use in particular cases, like just war, is subject to different opinions.

Capital Punishment

3. Health Care

Catholic teaching counts basic health care as among the goods that should be available to everyone. How to achieve it, however, is a matter of policy. It may not, of course, include or mandate intrinsic evils, such as abortion, contraception and sterilization, which violate the essential goods of life and religious freedom.

Health Care

4. Economic Policy

The Church, while condemning both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism, has spoken positively of market economies within legal limits that circumscribe unjust practices. This provides a broad field for opinion as to the degree of freedom and the degree of regulation, for example, that best achieves the goal of a just and working economy.

Economic Policy

5. Immigration

Immigration policy must consider the rights of the people who are already present in a society, the requests of those who wish to immigrant, the obligation to those with urgent needs (refugees, the persecuted, and other displaced persons), and how best to integrate any newcomers into the society that already exists. Between the extremes of no immigration ever and anyone can come, there is room for a diversity of opinions.


6. Environment

The starting point for any consideration of the topic begins with the recognition that we do not own God’s creation, we are its stewards. This places certain moral obligations on us with respect to its care, and particularly with respect to the people who are affected by environmental issues. Considerations of the science, as well as the political, economic and technological possibilities of responding, make this a negotiable issue dependent upon the particular circumstances.


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