The Permanent Principles of Catholic Social Doctrine

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2422 The Church's social teaching comprises a body of doctrine, which is articulated as the Church interprets events in the course of history, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the whole of what has been revealed by Jesus Christ.

I. The Dignity of the Human Person

Compendium 37

The Book of Genesis provides us with certain foundations of Christian anthropology: the inalienable dignity of the human person, the roots and guarantee of which are found in God's design of creation; the constitutive social nature of human beings, the prototype of which is found in the original relationship between man and woman, the union of whom "constitutes the first form of communion between persons"; the meaning of human activity in the world, which is linked to the discovery and respect of the laws of nature that God has inscribed in the created universe, so that humanity may live in it and care for it in accordance with God's will. This vision of the human person, of society and of history is rooted in God and is ever more clearly seen when his plan of salvation becomes a reality.

The dignity of man is rooted in the fact that human beings are made in the image of God. They possess reason and free will, so that they can know the natures of things (truth) and live morally exercising charity. No objective, and no political program or policy, may morally violates the dignity of man.

Compendium 48

The human person cannot and must not be manipulated by social, economic or political structures, because every person has the freedom to direct himself towards his ultimate end. On the other hand, every cultural, social, economic and political accomplishment, in which the social nature of the person and his activity of transforming the universe are brought about in history, must always be considered also in the context of its relative and provisional reality, because "the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor 7:31). . . . Any totalitarian vision of society and the State, and any purely intra-worldly ideology of progress are contrary to the integral truth of the human person and to God's plan in history.

II. The Common God (Compendium 164 – 170)

The common good is "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily". This is a general good, the good of all individuals, not the sum of the particular goods of individuals or group. Everyone has a responsibility for the common good, but governments have a specific responsibility to harmonize the interests of its citizens. (Compendium 166)

Among the specific principles of the Common Good are A) the universal destination of all goods, B) the universal right to the use of the goods of the earth, and C) the right of private property. There is also a special primacy of charity for the poor, a preferential option for the poor, as the neediest of society.

A. The universal destination of goods.

God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone (Gen. 1:28-29). Man should have a providence for those things in his dominion after the pattern of God’s providence. (Mt. 5:48, Mt. 6:26)

B. The universal right to use the goods of the earth.

Along with the universal destination of goods comes a universal right to their use for the sake of the purposes for which God gave them. Not all things are at the disposal of everyone, practically speaking. This requires, therefore, "a common effort to obtain for every person and for all peoples the conditions necessary for integral development, so that everyone can contribute to making a more humane world."

C. Private Property serves a purpose in the divine plan.

Private property "assure(s) a person a highly necessary sphere for the exercise of his personal and family autonomy and ought to be considered as an extension of human freedom."

However, private property is "[s]ubordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone." We are stewards of a portion of God’s gift, so as to provide for ourselves, our families, our nations; we are not absolute owners. A clear example of this is the civil principal of eminent domain, by which private property is taken for the good of the community.

The Preferential option for the poor

A special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness.

"You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me" (Mt 26:11; cf. Mk 14:7; Jn 12:8). The poor remain entrusted to us and it is this responsibility upon which we shall be judged at the end of time (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

III. The Principle of Subsidiarity (185 – 191)

Subsidiarity requires that economic, institutional or other assistance is offered through lesser social entities, in preference to greater and higher order associations, if the lesser and subordinate organizations can accomplish it.

In Rerum novarum, Pope Leo XIII saw a role for the State in remedying "the condition of the poor in accordance with justice." Pope St. John Paul II explained this further:

Encyclical Centesimus Annus 11

This should not however lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the State to solve every social problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the State's intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the State, and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them."

Subsidiarity and Political Corruption

When Subsidiarity is not respected, large bureaucratic institutions removed from the people develop and perpetuate themselves.

Compendium 400

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending"

This Social Assistance State can even become the occasion of significant political corruption.

Compendium 411

Corruption radically distorts the role of representative institutions, because they become an arena for political bartering between clients' requests and governmental services. In this way political choices favour the narrow objectives of those who possess the means to influence these choices and are an obstacle to bringing about the common good of all citizens.

Government intervention may be advisable in certain circumstances, and then only as long as the circumstances last, when there is a serious social imbalance or injustice where only the intervention of the public authority can create conditions of greater equality, justice and peace (Compendium 188). Unfortunately, institutions once created seldom voluntarily dissolve themselves when the need is met, or reform themselves when the need goes unmet.

Participation is a characteristic implication of Subsidiarity (189)

It is part of human dignity and subsidiarity to afford to citizens means by which they may, either as an individual or in association with others, contribute to the cultural, economic, political and social life of the civil community to which they belong. This is especially obliged when the decisions regards them personally, or their families, or the institutions of which they are a part. As noted above, "political choices (which) favour the narrow objectives of those who possess the means to influence these choices . . . are an obstacle to bringing about the common good of all citizens" (Compendium 411). Political corruption, therefore, deprives citizens of their right to participation.

IV. The Principle of Solidarity (191 – 196)

John 15:13

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1869

[S]in makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. "Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin." The unity of the human family places certain demands of concern for the proper development of all. The common good requires it. The universal destination and right to use the goods of the earth requires it. Participation requires it.

First formulated by Pope St. John Paul II in Sollicitudo rei socialis, solidarity is both a social principle and a virtue, by which we seek to overcome "structures of sin" in society that dominate relationships between individuals and peoples, purifying and transforming them into structures of solidarity. It looks beyond personal interest, or group interests, to the interest of all.

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