Through its social teachings, the Church has provided guidance for the building just societies in a very wide variety of forms.  Forms of governance, economic structures, international relations, and mechanisms for empowering each individual to have a voice and to seek truth in their own way are all addressed, so that whatever the global and contemporary context, 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, especially in Western-style liberal democracies.  We present seminars and workshops, publish podcasts, videos, and notes, on a variety of topics intended to stimulate discussion.  Take a look:  if you don’t see what you’re looking for, or have questions, let us know!  We are here to help.

The Duty to Vote:

If you live in a democracy, the Catholic duty to participate carries with it the obligation to vote when you can.  Each Catholic is called to inform her- or himself, pray, and vote responsibly.  Those who are able should also join parties and use their voices to influence platform development and candidate nominations.  We can each of us also write e-mails and letters to those who have been elected, to remind them of options for the common good and promises they may have made in campaigning.

The duty to vote includes the obligation to vote according to your own properly-formed conscience.  That means familiarizing yourself with the social teachings of the Church, keeping up with the news, and prayerfully applying the social teachings to the issues of the day, in order to form your positions conscientiously, and to vote accordingly.

Except in extreme circumstances, no one – including the Church – should tell you specifically who to vote for, or which way to vote on most issues.  Rather, you should constantly consult – and support – responsible news sources to find out what you can about the candidates, parties, and issues; consider what the candidates say and how they relate to the Gospels and the Church’s teachings; pray; and vote in accordance with your own best conclusions – your conscience, in other words.

PRINCIPLES, VALUES, VIRTUES & SINS
OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL THOUGHT

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) sets out a comprehensive framework for participation of Catholics in the life of the world, both as individuals and as the Church, based on the Gospels and other sources.  This includes voting and political participation as well as participation in society as a whole.

An over-riding concept is proper stewardship, which Christ taught us to practice both as individuals and as societies.  His parable of the talents and his explanation of the judgment of nations are fundamental.

Our Catechism, the Popes and our Bishops, and their teachings also provide guidance.

Within the over-riding contexts of wisdom, charity, prudence, and proper stewardship, the Compendium sets out four permanent principles and four fundamental values for social life.  Both tradition and the Compendium supplement these principles and values with broader Christian virtues and the concept of social sin.,

We should 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.

The Permanent Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

  • Dignity of the Human Person
    The dignity of the human individual derives from the source and nature of this life, and our primary universal mission within it: to seek truth, which for Catholics is God, and to grow more like God by attempting to grow closer to Him.
    If this is our life’s work, and if it is everyone else’s life work also, then it follows that we can neither take part nor acquiesce, in any action which might hinder it, either as individuals or society.

    • The sanctity of life, from birth to natural death
    • Human rights & duties
    • Dignity of work
  • The Common Good
    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.” Compendium [164]  “…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 [166]

    • Care for the environment & environmental sustainability
    • Economic justice & sustainability; distributive justice
    • Commitment to peace
    • Citizenship and participation in society
  • Subsidiarity:  Things should not be bigger than they need to be
    In order to ensure that individuals, and smaller cells of society, are empowered to make their own decisions, and chart their own courses toward God, things should be decided and done at the lowest level responsibly possible.  Corporations, governments, and other organizations should not be bigger than necessary; and no higher authority should make any unnecessary decision on behalf of a lower authority that is responsible capable of deciding for itself.
    “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]
  • Solidarity: All people and all societies dependent upon one another
    We are all different members of the body of Christ.  What affects one affects all.Solidarity is an authentic 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… 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]

    • Migration
    • Politics of divisiveness
    • Oppression, economic exploitation; slavery and human trafficking
    • Citizenship and participation in society

The Fundamental Values of Catholic Social Life

  • Truth
    People 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 [198]
  • Freedom
    We must all be free to seek our own path to God.”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 [199]
  • Justice
    “According to its most classic formulation, 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 [201]
  • Love
    “Love must be considered in its authentic value as the highest and universal criterion of the whole of social ethics… 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. 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.” Compendium [204, 205]”Love presupposes and transcends justice, which must find its fulfillment in charity.” Compendium [206]

Catholic Virtues

  • Prudence
    “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 to clarify and evaluate situations, to inspire decisions and 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.”  Compendium [547]
  • Proper Stewardship
    In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ explained to us that God, the creator, is still the owner of creation. We are simply his stewards, and are meant to use the many gifts God has entrusted to us for God’s purposes. This includes each of the gifts God has given us in common, in addition to 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 looking 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.
  • Humility
    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’.”
  • Wisdom
    “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]

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.

Social Sin

The principles, values, and virtues taught by the Church consist in relatively broad, positive, general exhortations to seek and do good. In keeping with the requirements of subsidiarity, the Church acknowledges and encourages the desirability of 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.’” Compendium [117]
“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, 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, provided 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 aggression.
    • Disrespect of future generations through the creation of non-sustainable social, economic, or legal structures.
  2. Misuse of Creation:
    • Abuse of the environment.
  3. Society of hate or indifference:
    • Religion of hate, fear, or exclusion
    • Indifference to others
  4. Acquisition or retention of unjust wealth:
    • Promoting poverty.
    • Contributing to unjust distribution of social produce; increasing the gap between rich and poor.
    • Accumulation of unnecessary wealth.
  5. Commerce or industry without morality:
    • 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. Science without humanity, e.g.:
    • Interference with life between conception and natural death.
    • Creation, possession, or use of weapons biological weapons, or weapons of aggression or of mass destruction.
  7. Exploitation of ignorance; acquiescence in ignorance:
    • Unprincipled education.
    • Promotion of entertainment without conscience, e.g.,
    i. Substance abuse.
    ii. Salacious media.
    • Promotion of vanity and self-centeredness.
    • Misuse of news, irresponsible journalism.