CATHOLIC CIVICS: Good Government 101

Through its social teachings, the Church has provided guidance for the building of just societies in a very wide variety of forms, suitable for a wide variety of cultural, historical, and geographical contexts.  Forms of governance, economic structures, international relations, and mechanisms for enabling and empowering each individual to have a voice and to seek truth and God in their own way are all addressed, so that wherever and whenever we find ourselves, we are not left to grope or wander in the dark.

A primary goal of Catholic Conscience is to bring the values of the Gospel, as reflected in Catholic social teachings, into the center of social discourse.  We present seminars and workshops, and publish podcasts, videos, and notes on a variety of topics intended to stimulate discussion and to guide voters and other civic participants in making tough choices.  Take a look:  if you don’t see what you’re looking for, or have questions, let us know.  We are here to help.

  1. Introduction
  2. Truth
  3. Freedom
  4. Justice
  5. Social Love
  6. Christian Virtues
  7. The Beatitudes of the Politician 
1. Introduction

In its social doctrine, the Church speaks in terms of both social principles and the values that guide them.  Thus the Church's doctrine is founded upon four Permanent Principles and four Fundamental Values.  In this section we introduce the Fundamental Values.

The principles and values of Catholic Social Teaching inform one another: the social values are an expression of appreciation to be attributed to those specific aspects of moral good that the principles foster, serving as points of reference for the proper structuring and ordered leading of life in society.

These values require not only the practice, at the social level, of the fundamental principles of social life, but also the personal exercise of virtue.

All social values are inherent in the dignity of the human person, whose authentic development they foster. Essentially, these values are: truth, freedom, justice, and love.  Putting them into practice is the sure and necessary way of obtaining personal perfection and a more human social existence. They constitute the indispensable point of reference for public authorities, called to carry out substantial reforms of economic, political, cultural and technological structures and the necessary changes in institutions necessary to empower and encourage individuals in their search for the truth that is God.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 197


2.  Truth

Truth is fundamental to any just form of government. Without it, no democratic government can survive. Even when - as we always should - we seek consensus in our democracies, that consensus must be founded on truth, if it is to endure, and not on currently-popular fads or preferences. It is the firm conviction of the Church that there exists an eternal, external truth - a truth that exists outside of us and is not defined by humans - and that are bound to it. That truth is God, and is given to us through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Options and preferences based on current circumstances can vary over time, but not the deepest truth. The deepest truth is not subject to political whim or advantage.

Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons.  

Modern times call for an intensive educational effort and a corresponding commitment on the part of all so that the quest for truth cannot be ascribed to the sum of different opinions, nor to one or another of these opinions.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 198

It is a duty and an obligation of all those seeking good to arm themselves with and dwell in the truth.  We Catholics should inform ourselves not only about those issues that affect us personally, but also all those around us – including the poor and the marginalized, and those in distant parts of the world.  It’s a part of our Catholic call to charity, a part of what we will all be judged on, both as individuals and as nations.

Our first step is to inform ourselves about the full range of teachings provided by the Church for use in building our societies.  A variety of sources for this information exist, starting with the Gospels and the teachings of the Popes, including for example the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrines of the Church and the various encyclicals and exhortations of all popes since at least Paul III and Leo XIII.

We must also keep up with the news, informing ourselves responsibly concerning issues that are prominent (or which should be prominent) in civic discourse.   Getting to know those who have been elected to represent us is an effective way of not only coming to understand their positions on issues that should be important to us, but also of letting them know that we care and are engaged, and appreciate the good things they do, and of respectfully encouraging them in matters that we feel need change.   To that end, it is important to keep up with the news at all times – before, during, after, and between elections. In this age of pervasive electronic media, keeping up with headline news is not difficult, but doing so responsibly requires a bit of effort.  Relying on our friends’ social media posts is not responsible.

3. Freedom

Freedom and truth are the characteristic values of democracy, inextricably linked: freedom must be firmly grounded in truth, and truth must be freely available.

In the teachings of the Church, the truth is God and Jesus Christ, the living Word of God.  Thus in the true Christian sense freedom always exists within and is formed by the truth.  Thus, the ability to do whatever one wants, whenever one wants, regardless of its effect on the self or others, is not true freedom.

Man can turn to good only in freedom, which God has given to him as one of the highest signs of his image: “For God has willed that man remain ‘under the control of his own decisions', so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him…


Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person... Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. 

Compendium, 135, 199

All owe to each other a duty of respect that involves respect for the dignity and freedom of the other.   “Far from being achieved in total self-sufficiency and the absence of relationships, freedom only truly exists where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another.” Libertatis Conscientia, 26

The value of freedom, as an expression of the singularity of each human person, is respected when every member of society is permitted to fulfil his personal vocation; to seek the truth and profess his religious, cultural and political ideas; to express his opinions; to choose his state of life and, as far as possible, his line of work; to pursue initiatives of an economic, social or political nature.

Compendium, 200

Freedom must be granted within a “strong juridical framework,” within the limits imposed by the common good and public order, and, in every case, in a manner characterized by responsibility.  And it must also be expressed as the capacity to refuse what is morally negative, in whatever guise it may be presented, as the capacity to distance oneself effectively from everything that could hinder personal, family or social growth.

The fullness of freedom consists in the capacity to be in possession of oneself in view of the genuine good, within the context of the universal common good.

Compendium, 200

4. Justice

Justice consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.  "The Church's social Magisterium constantly calls for the most classical forms of justice to be respected: commutative, distributive and legal justice. Ever greater importance has been given to social justice, which represents a real development in general justice, the justice that regulates social relationships according to the criterion of observance of the law."  Compendium, 200

The Church's concept of justice includes the concept of distributive justice: "Justice is particularly important in the present-day context, where the individual value of the person, his dignity and his rights — despite proclaimed intentions — are seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to make exclusive use of criteria of utility and ownership."  Compendium, 202

The distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is labouring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the  unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice.

Pope Pius XI, 1931 

Nor does justice apply only to individuals: it applies also with respect to all social relations, including international relations.  "Indeed, justice requires recognizing and respecting not only the rights of individuals, but also social rights and the  rights of peoples.  This means finding a way to ensure the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress, a right which is at times severely restricted by the pressure created" by oppressive business practices adopted by powerful or affluent countries, or peoples, to the detriment of poorer or weaker peoples.  "If we accept the great principle that there are rights born of our inalienable human dignity, we can rise to the challenge of envisaging a new humanity. We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing and work for all."

Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, 126-127

5.  Social Love

Love is the greatest of Christian values.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

"The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

“Love, often restricted to relationships of physical closeness or limited to merely subjective aspects of action on behalf of others, must be reconsidered in its authentic value as the highest and universal criterion of the whole of social ethics. “ Compendium, 203.  “It is from the inner wellspring of love that the values of truth, freedom and justice are born and grow. Human life in society is ordered, bears fruits of goodness and responds to human dignity when it is founded on truth; when it is lived in justice, that is, in the effective respect of rights and in the faithful carrying out of corresponding duties; when it is animated by selflessness, which makes the needs and requirements of others seem as one's own and intensifies the communion of spiritual values and the concern for material necessities; when it is brought about in the freedom that befits the dignity of men and women, prompted by their rational nature to accept responsibility for their actions.”  Compendium, 205.

These values constitute the pillars which give strength and consistency to the edifice of life and deeds: they are values that determine the quality of every social action and institution. (Id.)

It is an indispensable act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one’s neighbour will not find himself in poverty.  It is an act of charity to assist someone suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know that person, to work to change the social conditions that caused his or her suffering.  

If someone helps an elderly person cross a river, that is a fine act of charity. The politician, on the other hand, builds a bridge, and that too is an act of charity.

While one person can help another by providing something to eat, the politician creates a job for that other person, and thus practices a lofty form of charity that ennobles his or her political activity.

Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, 186-187


The social doctrine of the Church is informed by the Gospels and by tradition, which provide virtues that apply to social as well as personal actions. These virtues include:

  1. Prudence
  2. Humility
  3. Wisdom
  4. Good Stewardship
  5. The Beatitudes of the Politician 


Prudence enables discernment of the true good in every circumstance, and selection of the right means for achieving it. “We can identify three distinct moments as prudence is exercised:

  1. to clarify and evaluate situations
  2. to inspire decisions, and
  3. to prompt action.

The first moment is seen in the reflection and consultation by which the question is studied and the necessary opinions sought. The second moment is that of evaluation, as the reality is analyzed and judged in the light of God's plan. The third moment, that of decision, is based on the preceding steps and makes it possible to choose between the different actions that may be taken.”   Compendium, 547

Prudence makes it possible to make decisions that are consistent, and to make them with realism and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's action. The rather widespread opinion that equates prudence with shrewdness, with utilitarian calculations, with diffidence or with timidity or indecision, is far from the correct understanding of this virtue.  It is a characteristic of practical reason and offers assistance in deciding with wisdom and courage the course of action that should be followed, becoming the measure of the other virtues.

Prudence affirms the good as a duty and shows in what manner the person should accomplish it. In the final analysis, it is a virtue that requires the mature exercise of thought and responsibility in an objective understanding of a specific situation and in making decisions according to a correct will.  

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 198



St. Thomas Aquinas defines humility as “consisting in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior." Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, ch. Lv.

In his message for the 52nd World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, Pope Francis noted that “Jesus tells us that, ‘if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mk 9:35). In the words of Pope Paul VI, ‘to take politics seriously at its different levels – local, regional, national and worldwide – is to affirm the duty of each individual to acknowledge the reality and value of the freedom offered him to work at one and the same time for the good of the city, the nation and all mankind’.”



“Is it not simply human wisdom, the fruit of knowledge and experience? The wisdom the Holy Spirit grants is the grace of being able to see things through God’s eyes. It is seeing the world, situations, problems, everything, with the eyes of God. And obviously this derives from intimacy with God, from the relationship of a son with his Father. When we are in communion with the Lord, it is through the Holy Spirit that our heart transforms and we are able to perceive all its warmth and predilection...

The heart of the man who is wise in this way has the taste, the flavor of God. We have the Holy Spirit inside us, in our heart; we can listen to it, or we can choose not to listen to it. If we listen to the Holy Spirit, He will teach us this way of wisdom, and will give us the wisdom to see through God’s eyes, to hear with God’s ears, to love with the heart of God, to judge with God’s judgment. This is the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives us, and all of us can have this.”

-- Pope Francis, General audience, April 9, 2014

Christ reveals to human authority, always tempted by the desire to dominate, its authentic and complete meaning as service. God is the one Father, and Christ the one Teacher, of all mankind, and all people are brothers and sisters. Sovereignty belongs to God. The Lord, however, “has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life.

“The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.”

Compendium, 383



In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ explained to us that God, the creator, is still the owner of all creation, including ourselves. We are simply stewards of all these things, meant to use them for God’s purposes. This includes each of the gifts God has given us in common, as well as the various levels of intelligence, ability, health, longevity, and wealth that have been entrusted to us individually. We are meant to use all of these gifts for God’s purposes.

In Chapter 22 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ taught us that God’s expectations are that we will each love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul; and that we will do that best by caring after one another, and enabling each other to put our gifts to work for God.

Finally, in Chapter 25 of Matthew, Christ sternly warned us that we will be judged, as nations, on the basis of the care that we have offered to one another.

Both individually and socially, human beings have a deep duty of proper stewardship.


The Bible teaches us that responsibility is inseparable from stewardship. We ultimately will be held accountable for the way in which we use what God gives us. In Luke 12:41-48, Our Lord reminds us that we are like stewards who are placed in charge of the household while the Master is away. "Who, then, is the wise and trustworthy steward whom the master will place over his household to give them at the proper time their allowance of food? Blessed is that servant if his master's arrival finds him doing just that." But if the servant abuses his master's trust, saying "My master is taking his time coming" and sets about beating the men-servants and the servant-girls,
and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know."

- Archbishop Thomas Cardinal Collins, Well Done Good & Faithful Servant 

The Beatitudes of the Politician

In his message for the 52nd World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, Pope Francis recalled us to the Beatitudes of the Politician proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận:

  • Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.
  • Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.
  • Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.
  • Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.
  • Blessed be the politician who works for unity.
  • Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.
  • Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.
  • Blessed be the politician who is without fear.


  1. Introduction
  2. Life & Dignity of the Human Person
  3. The Common Good
  4. Subsidiarity
  5. Solidarity


1. Introduction

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church[1] sets out a comprehensive framework for participation by Catholics in the life of the world, both as individuals and as the Church, based on the Gospels and other sources.  This includes principles for voting and political participation as well as broader participation in civic life.

Drawn from both the New and Old Testaments, and particularly the Gospels, as well as the Catechism and the writings of the Popes and our Bishops, the Compendium speaks of four Permanent Principles and four Fundamental Values, which are informed by traditional Christian virtues such as prudence, wisdom, and humility.

An over-riding concept is proper stewardship, which Christ taught us to apply to every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and as societies.  His parable of the talents and comments on the judgment of nations are fundamental. [2]

The Church's social doctrine must become an integral part of the ongoing formation of the lay faithful.
Compendium [549]

As conscientious Catholics, we must be familiar with each of these concepts, and strive constantly to put them into practice in our personal and civic lives.

This means that we should always consider at least the following issues while making voting choices and other public decisions.

As taught by the Compendium, the permanent principles of Catholic Social teaching are:

  • The Life & Dignity of the Human Person
  • The Common Good
  • Subsidiarity
  • Solidarity
2.  Life & Human Dignity

The dignity of the human individual derives from the source and nature of this life, the likeness to God given to each of us at birth, and our primary, universal mission within it: to seek truth, which for Catholics is God, and to grow as close to God as we are able.  The purpose of this life is to seek to return to God.

If this is our life’s work, and if it is the life’s work of everyone around us, then it follows that we can neither take part nor acquiesce in any activity that might hinder it, either as individuals or society.

For these reasons the dignity of the human person intimately involves questions of:

  • The sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death: God made us, God still owns us. As affirmed by the 5th Commandment, it is for God, not us, to decide when we, or others, will die.   Voluntary termination of life at any time following conception necessarily frustrates the duty of the individual to find his or her way back to God.
  • Human rights & duties, which arise immediately from the dignity God has granted each of us. “The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator.”  Compendium [153]  With our natural rights come corresponding duties: to love God, and to love one another as God has loved us.
  • The dignity of work:  the use of one’s gifts to seek and serve God necessarily includes work, by which humans cooperate with God in God’s continuing act of creation. Work has a place of honor because it is a source of the conditions for a decent life, and is, in principle, an effective instrument against poverty. But one must not succumb to the temptation of making an idol of work, for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life is not to be found in work. Work is essential, but it is God — and not work — who is the origin of life and the final goal of man.Work, and specifically dignified work within the scope of the talents entrusted to them by God, must be readily available to all who seek it.  This is a fundamental duty of society.  Those who are unemployed or underemployed suffer the profound negative consequences that such a situation creates in a personality, and they run the risk of being marginalized within society, of becoming victims of social exclusion… Compendium, 289
3. The Common Good

In the Church’s view, the “common good” means:

the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily...  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. Nor must one forget the contribution that every nation is required in duty to make towards a true worldwide cooperation for the common good of the whole of humanity and for future generations also. 

Compendium 164, 166

Again, this view is rooted firmly in acknowledgment that the purpose of this life is for every individual to seek her or his return to God:

The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation. God is the ultimate end of his creatures and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension, which moves beyond the historical dimension while at the same time fulfilling it. 

Compendium, 170

“Fulfilment,” in this sense, means progress in the individual’s return to God.  Society must do nothing to interfere with the ability of the individuals to seek her or his way toward God.

Examples of issues touching the common good include:

  • Economic justice & sustainability: an economy to serve people. “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity… the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits. God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone.”  Compendium, 171
  • Care for the environment & environmental sustainability. To misuse and wrongfully benefit from nature’s bounty is necessarily to interfere with rights of others, now living and in future generations, and to hinder them in their search for the Creator. Carried far enough, such behavior threatens the very survival of everyone.  We must work to ensure that we leave others at last the same opportunities that were given to us.
  • Commitment to peace. War, violence, and aggression fundamentally disrupt the rights of people to seek God in their own way. We must encourage each other, individually and through our governments, to emphasize peacekeeping, peace building, the peaceful resolution of conflict, safety, and defense, rather than aggression and violence.
A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral… To be licit, the use of [defensive] force must correspond to certain strict conditions: the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition… If this responsibility justifies the possession of sufficient means to exercise this right to defense, States still have the obligation to do everything possible “to ensure that the conditions of peace exist, not only within their own territory but throughout the world.

Compendium, 500


4. Subsidiarity: social institutions at all levels should cooperate in help to ensure that individuals and smaller groups are encouraged to chart their own course.

All social institutions - including governments, corporations, civil institutions and associations such as the Church and charities, and most importantly individuals and families - are called to maintain their proper place in the social order, each one helping and encouraging the others in fulfilling their proper roles.  If the overriding purpose of life is for individuals, working first of all through their families, to find their ways back to God, then it is imperative that all other social institutions serve first of all to encourage and enable them in that purpose, and in no way to hinder them in that pursuit.  Each should provide its help -  its subsidium - so that each individual, each family, and after them each next-lowest level of society be empowered to find its way to truth.

It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, local territorial realities; in short, for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth. 

Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church's social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical.

Compendium, 185 

Governments, corporations, and other social entities should not be bigger or more powerful than they need to be in order to accomplish their legitimate purposes; and no higher authority should make any decision on behalf of a lower authority than the lower entity can responsibly make for itself.

  • International organizations should not make decisions that can responsibly be left to national governments.
  • National governments should not make decisions that can responsibly be left to provincial or local governments.
  • No government should take on work that can responsibly be left to private individuals and organizations. Such interference deprives individuals and organizations of opportunities to practice charity and the dignity of work, and often turns love into resented duty.
5.  Solidarity:  Interdependence between peoples and societies

Solidarity consists in the acknowledgement that all humans are interdependent: that we are all unique parts of one body, the one body of Christ.  What affects anyone, for good or bad, whether they be sitting next to me or on the other side of the world, alive now or in distant future generations, affects me.

Solidarity is an authentic, living, practical moral virtue, not a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far.  On the contrary, 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.”   Compendium [193]

Solidarity must be seen above all in its value as a moral virtue that determines the order of institutions. On the basis of this principle the “structures of sin” [i.e., social sins – see below] that dominate relationships between individuals and peoples must be overcome. They must be purified and transformed into structures of solidarity through the creation or appropriate modification of laws, market regulations, and juridical systems.

Compendium, 193 

An important current example of an issue deeply rooted in the principle of solidarity is the displacement of peoples.  Those who live in peacefully affluent countries are not entitled to ignore the plight of those who live in places torn by conflict.  The plight of those displaced by war or by political or religious struggles is my plight also.  The causes of such displacement must certainly be addressed at their source, in accordance with all the principles and values of social teaching, but the fact that the resolution of such issues is outside our individual control does not excuse our complacency or entitle us to ignore the real and immediate needs of those who have been displaced.

The problem of refugees [and other migrants] must be confronted at its roots, that is, at the level of the very causes of exile. The first point of reference should not be the interests of the State, or national security but the human person, so that the need to live in community, a basic requirement of the very nature of human beings, will be safeguarded.

Progress in the capacity to live together within the universal human family is closely linked to the growth of a mentality of hospitality. Any person in danger who appears at a frontier has a right to protection. In order to make it easier to determine why such people have abandoned their country, as well as to adopt lasting solutions, a renewed commitment is needed to produce internationally acceptable norms for territorial asylum.”[3] 

Further examples include:

  • the displacement and disenfranchisement of those who are adversely affected by climate change,
  • those who suffer oppression and economic exploitation of any sort, including those who suffer job losses due economic factors they cannot control, and those who are enslaved and trafficked as chattels of others

Acting in accordance with the duty of solidarity includes the obligation to participate in society by voting and otherwise engaging in civic discourse, and in particularly the obligation to do so with the good of others in mind.  Only through such action can we put an end to the politics of fear, hate, force, and divisiveness.

[1]  Published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; available through Novalis, Amazon, and other sources, also free online at

[2] See, e.g., Matthew 25:14-46

[3] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, “Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity.”

Humans are created as social beings, originating from and being inseparably bonded to their their families and instinctively drawing together into larger groups, in order to nurture and support one another in seeking the path of truth that leads each back to God.  Every individual is a unique and unrepeatable imprint of the image of God, made by God to reflect unique aspects of God's infinitely complex being.  The individual and the family, being inseparably bound into one, are the source, center, and ultimate aim of all society.  All social institutions are founded on and directed toward support for the individual and the family.

Recognized social institutions include:

  1. The Family
  2. The Church
  3. Schools, Civil Society, & Cultural Organizations
  4. Business & the Economy
  5. The Media
  6. Governments 
The Family

The family is the primary unit in society. It is where education begins and the Word of God is first nurtured. The priority of the family over society and the State must be affirmed.

Compendium, 209-214

The priority of the family over society and over the State must be affirmed. The family in fact is the condition for the existence of the state and all society... The family possesses inviolable rights and finds its legitimization in human nature and not in being recognized by the State. The family, then, does not exist for society or the State, but society and the State exist for the family.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 214

The importance and centrality of the family with regard to the person and society is repeatedly underlined by Sacred Scripture. “It is not good that the man should be alone.”  (Gen 2:18). From the texts that narrate the creation of man (cf. Gen 1:26-28, 2:7-24) there emerges how — in God's plan — the couple constitutes “the first form of communion between persons”[458]. Adam and Eve are joined in order to form with him “one flesh” (Gen 2:24; cf. Mt 19:5-6), and are each involved in the work of procreation, which makes them co-workers with the Creator: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). The family is presented, in the Creator's plan, as “the primary place of ‘humanization' for the person and society” and the “cradle of life and love.”

It is in the family that one learns the love and faithfulness of the Lord, and the need to respond to these (cf. Ex 12:25-27, 13:8,14-15; Deut 6:20-25, 13:7-11; 1 Sam 3:13). It is in the family that children learn their first and most important lessons of practical wisdom, to which the virtues are connected (cf. Prov 1:8-9, 4:1-4, 6:20-21; Sir 3:1-16, 7:27-28).

A society built on a family scale is the best guarantee against drifting off course into individualism or collectivism, because within the family the person is always at the centre of attention as an end and never as a means. It is patently clear that the good of persons and the proper functioning of society are closely connected “with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.” Without families that are strong in their communion and stable in their commitment peoples grow weak.

May Nazareth remind us what the family is, what the communion of love is, its stark and simple beauty, its sacred and inviolable character; may it help us to see how sweet and irreplaceable education in the family is; may it teach us its natural function in the social order. May we finally learn the lesson of work” - 210 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, citing St Paul VI, Address at Nazareth (5 January 1964)


The Church

As the voice and the body of Christ in the world, the Church is mean to evangelize always, in both word and deed. This includes the duty of advising governments and peoples on moral aspects of their plans and activities.

The Church “serves the Kingdom by spreading throughout the world the ‘Gospel values' which are an expression of the Kingdom and which help people to accept God's plan.” …the Church is not to be confused with the political community and is not bound to any political system. The political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields, and both are, even if under different titles, “devoted to the service of the personal and social vocation of the same human beings.  Compendium, 50.

With her social teaching the Church seeks to proclaim the Gospel and make it present in the complex network of social relations. It is not simply a matter of reaching out to man in society but of enriching and permeating society itself with the Gospel... For this reason, the Church is not indifferent to what is decided, brought about or experienced in society; she is attentive to the moral quality — that is, the authentically human and humanizing aspects — of social life. 

Compendium, 62


Schools, Civil Society, and Cultural Organizations

Schools, civil society (charities and other non-governmental organizations, or "NGOs"), and other cultural organizations are meant to nurture and preserve flourishing cultures & national identities by providing shared, wholesome, and informed understanding and activities.

Maintaining employment depends more and more on one's professional capabilities.  Instructional and educational systems must not neglect human or technological formation, which are necessary for gainfully fulfilling one's responsibilities.  Young people should be taught to act upon their own initiative, to accept the responsibility of facing with adequate competencies the risks connected with a fluid economic context that is often unpredictable in the way it evolves.  Compendium, 289, 290

Faced with rapid technological and economic progress, and with the equally rapid transformation of the processes of production and consumption, a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed.  Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 376, 401

Civil society is the sum of relationships and resources, cultural and associative, that are relatively independent from the political sphere and the economic sector. “The purpose of civil society is universal, since it concerns the common good, to which each and every citizen has a right in due proportion”. This is marked by a planning capacity that aims at fostering a freer and more just social life, in which the various groups of citizens can form associations, working to develop and express their preferences, in order to meet their fundamental needs and defend their legitimate interests.  Compendium, para. 417.

It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, local territorial realities; in short, for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth.  This is the realm of civil society… This network of relationships strengthens the social fabric and constitutes the basis of a true community of persons, making possible the recognition of higher forms of social activity.  Compendium, 185

Modern times call for an intensive educational effort and a corresponding commitment on the part of all so that the quest for truth cannot be ascribed to the sum of different opinions, nor to one or another of these opinions, but will be encouraged in every sector …  The unscrupulous use of money raises ever more pressing questions, which necessarily call for greater transparency and honesty in personal and social activity.  Compendium, para. 198.

The political community and civil society, although mutually connected and interdependent, are not equal in the hierarchy of ends. The political community is essentially at the service of civil society and the persons and groups of which civil society is composed.  Compendium, 418

The political community is established to be of service to civil society, from which it originates… This vision is challenged by political ideologies of an individualistic nature and those of a totalitarian character, which tend to absorb civil society into the sphere of the State.

The State must provide an adequate legal framework for social subjects to engage freely in their different activities and it must be ready to intervene, when necessary and with respect for the principle of subsidiarity, so that the interplay between free associations and democratic life may be directed to the common good.

Compendium, 185, 417, 418


Business & the Economy

Industrial and commercial institutions are meant, through the organization of businesses and the economy, to provide the material benefits necessary to sustain the people in their search for truth, and to aid them in that effort in the care for one another.

 The economy has as its object the development of wealth and its progressive increase..  this is morally correct if it is directed to man's overall development in solidarity… Development cannot be reduced to a mere process of accumulating goods and services… accumulation by itself, even were it for the common good, is not a sufficient condition for bringing about authentic human happiness. (Compendium para. 334)

Goods, even when legitimately owned, always have a universal destination; any type of improper accumulation is immoral. Christian salvation means being freed not only from need but also in respect to possessions. “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith” (1 Tim 6:10).  The Church calls upon those who work in the economic sphere and who possess goods to consider themselves administrators of the goods that God has entrusted to them.  (Compendium, para. 328.)

Riches fulfil their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others and for society.  (Compendium, para. 329)  The right to private property is subordinated to the principle of the universal destination of goods and must not constitute a reason for impeding the work or development of others. Property, which is acquired in the first place through work, must be placed at the service of work.  (Compendium, para. 282.)

“I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs…’  Money must serve, not rule!”  

- Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, 57-58  


The Media

The media must be used to build up and sustain the human community in its different sectors: economic, political, cultural, educational and religious. “The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity”. The essential question is whether the current information system is contributing to the betterment of the human person; that is, does it make people more spiritually mature, more aware of the dignity of their humanity, more responsible or more open to others, in particular to the neediest and the weakest.  (Compendium, para. 415.)

Information is among the principal instruments of democratic participation. Participation without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable. It is necessary to guarantee a real pluralism in this delicate area of social life, ensuring that there are many forms and instruments of information and communications.

Compendium, 414



The Government’s purpose is to provide a legal and economic framework in which the common good can flourish, in order that the people may accomplish their mission, i.e., so that the people may use the freedom God has given them to seek the truth. The human person is the foundation and purpose of political life.   Compendium, 384.

Political parties have the task of fostering widespread participation and making public responsibilities accessible to all. Political parties are called to interpret the aspirations of civil society, orienting them towards the common good, offering citizens the effective possibility of contributing to the formulation of political choices. They must be democratic in their internal structure.  (Compendium, para. 413.)

The action of the State… must be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity and create situations favourable to the free exercise of economic activity. It must also be inspired by the principle of solidarity and establish limits for the autonomy of the parties in order to defend those who are weaker.  Solidarity without subsidiarity can easily degenerate into a “Welfare State”, while subsidiarity without solidarity runs the risk of encouraging forms of self-centred localism and self-absorption.

Compendium, 351


In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ taught us that we are meant to spend our time and all our strength on earth doing the work of the Lord; and that in the end we will be judged not only as individuals, but as nations, on the basis of how well we showed love and concern for those around us.  Matthew 25:14-46.

A scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:35-40  

This means that we must not only seek salvation for ourselves, through fervent prayer in devotion, that we must also participate as members of society, giving ourselves for the care of others.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

1913 It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person.

1914 Participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility: by the care taken for the education of his family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of others and of society.

1915 As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another. "One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom."

Note that we are each of us called to promote the common good according to our positions and roles in life.  Living in a democracy, as we do, this means that we must consider acting in multiple ways, through multiple roles.

At a minimum, we must vote.  We will only have governments that reflect the values we feel they should reflect to the extent that we meaningfully participate in voting.  This means that we must inform ourselves concerning the social teachings of the Church and concerning the relevant issues; must consider the positions and statements of the various candidates and their parties; prayerfully discern the vote that will be most pleasing to God, and then vote.

But that is only the minimum.  Many of us are capable of more.  We can, for example, and in accordance with our positions and roles in life:

  • Speak with those around us – always respectfully, and always from a place of humility –about the issues, the candidates, and appropriate social behavior. And we must remember that the first and last step in any speaking exercise is to listen to those around us.  The teachings of the Church are such that on very many issues it is possible to have differing points of view, each of them being in accordance with Church teachings.
  • Stay in touch with those we have elected, and those who seek to be candidates – always respectfully, and always from a place of humility, and always thankfully – about the good things they have done, about ythe things they have given up in order to serve others, and, when necessary, about any of their positions that we find challenging. We can write to them, e-mail them, call them, and we can pray for them.

And we can get involved.  For example, we can:

  • Volunteer to help campaigns
  • We can put our names forward as candidates for elections, or for appointed office
  • We can join organizations that promote any aspects of the common good: respect for life, respect for the environment, care for the marginalized, care for wildlife, educational institutions, visits to the homebound, the elderly, and the bed-bound

We can also participate by ‘voting’ in the democracies of the economy and the internet.

  • We can carefully consider each and every purchase we make. For example, do we really need to go to the big-box discount store, or the big clearinghouse website, to get the absolute bottom price available?  Sometimes practices like that put others out of work, or out of business.  Instead, can we consider the sources of the things we buy – the manufacturers, retailers, and middlepersons – to maximize just returns for producers, and dignified incomes for all those in between?  The more we do so, the better effect we may have on the economy.
  • We can carefully consider each keystroke we make while browsing the internet. Every choice we make on the web is a ‘vote’ for various types of content.  If we pick the salacious stories, with the racy photos of movie stars, we are encouraging that sort of content.  If instead we select responsible news sources, and responsible social media platforms, then we are encouraging those platforms.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.  But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  Matthew 6:19-21

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” 

Matthew 6:22-23

At this point in history, it is especially important for us, as Catholics, to be involved politically:

  • The world is shrinking, thanks to electronic communications and the ease of travel
  • Many cultures are coming together
  • Forces of greed are ridiculing all religions; might – in the form of economic power – is being accepted as right.
  • Its time for us to step back and reflect on the major organs of society
    • Government
    • Cultural institutions
    • Business
  • It’s not good for any one to have too much power – we need balance, or one way or another, dictators will arise.   We have an unholy alliance between Government and Business, where parties, candidates, and ideology are fueled by direct or indirect corporate contributions

THE NEW TESTAMENT PROVIDES A GREAT STARTING TEXT.  The Church does not have all of the answers, but it knows what questions to ask.  It’s up to us, as Catholic citizens, to influence society by acting gently and humbly at home, office, and in public, to bring Gospel values to the center of social discourse.

For the love of God is this, that we keep his Commandments.
And His Commandments are not burdensome...
- 1 John 5:3

The principles, values, and virtues taught by the Church consist in relatively broad, positive, general exhortations and guidance to seek and do good.  In keeping with the requirements of subsidiarity, the Church acknowledges and encourages public debate concerning the manner in which its teachings should be applied.

The Church also recognizes, however, that even within the confines of proper debate and diversity in application of its principles, there exist limits on what can legitimately be considered proper moral behavior.  Accordingly, the Church acknowledges the concept of social, or “structural,” sin.

[W]e can speak of personal and social sin. Every sin is personal under a certain aspect; under another, every sin is social, insofar as and because it also has social consequences… taking into account the fact that ‘by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual's sin in some way affects others.’

It is not, however, legitimate or acceptable to understand social sin… [as cancelling] the personal component by admitting only social guilt and responsibility. At the bottom of every situation of sin there is always the individual who sins.

Compendium 117

The concept of social sin has deep roots in the Gospel.  Christ indicated very clearly at Matthew 25:31-46 that nations will be judged on the manner in which they have treated the weakest, poorest, and most abused.

Social sin includes every sin against the rights of the human person, starting with the right to life, including that of life in the womb, and every sin against the physical integrity of the individual; every sin against the freedom of others, especially against the supreme freedom to believe in God and worship him; and every sin against the dignity and honor of one's neighbor. Every sin against the common good and its demands, in the whole broad area of rights and duties of citizens, is also social sin.  Compendium, 118

Actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God and the good of neighbor, as well as the structures arising from such behavior, appear to fall into two categories today: on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one's will upon others. In order to characterize better each of these attitudes, one can add the expression: ‘at any price.'  Compendium, 119

Seven Social Sins

The concept of a grouping of seven social sins, as a complement to the traditional seven deadly sins of the individual, appears to have originated in a sermon delivered by Canon Frederick Donaldson of Westminster Abbey in 1925.  Canon Donaldson’s listing was adapted by Mohandas Gandhi in the struggle for Indian independence.

In 2008, Bishop Gianfanco Girotti, the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Vatican, published a modified list.  The following listing was created by Catholic Conscience, with reference to the earlier listings of Canon Donaldson and Bishop Girotti and with special reference to the Compendium:

1.  Politics of fear, hate, or exclusion:

    • Government by fear, division, or abuse.
    • Derogation of conscience rights; interference with free, responsible speech.
    • Military or police oppression.
    • The adoption of unjust or non-sustainable social, economic, or legal structures.

2.  Misuse of Creation:

    • Abuse of our fellow living things.
    • Abuse of the environment.

3.  Cultures of indifference:

    • Religion of hate, fear, or exclusion
    • Indifference to others

4.  Unjust accumulation of wealth:

    • Promoting poverty in others.
    • Contributing to unjust distribution of social produce; increasing the gap between rich and poor.
    • Accumulation of unnecessary wealth.

5.  Industry without conscience:

    • Creation and exploitation of false needs, promotion of unsustainable consumption.
    • Exploitation of workers, or by workers.
    • Interference with dignified work, e.g., unnecessary automation.

6.  Technology without humanity, e.g.:

    • Voluntary termination of life between conception and natural death.
    • Creation, possession, or use of biological weapons, weapons of aggression, or of weapons of mass destruction.

7.  Promoting or profiting from ignorance:

    • Unprincipled education.
    • Promotion of entertainment without conscience, e.g.,
      • Substance abuse.
      • Salacious media.
    • Promotion of vanity and self-centeredness.
    • Misuse of news, irresponsible journalism.



Human Uniqueness

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