Catholic social principles for a synodal Church

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

Pope Francis describes seven main principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which taken together express the virtues of faith, hope and love, and provide a sound, ethical foundation for the development of people and communities.1

Although he did not say so explicitly, we can also think of these as basic principles for the development of a synodal Church, walking with the poor, working for the common good from local to global level.

1. Human dignity

The first principle and starting point is the Bible-inspired teaching that every human person is “created in the image and likeness of God” with an inalienable dignity that must be acknowledged.2

Every person is both “loved and capable of loving,” and is called to live in communion with God as well as with our sisters and our brothers, Pope Francis says.3

2. The common good

The second principle, which flows from the first, is that genuine social harmony can only be achieved by promoting the good of all, namely “the common good,” which enables social groups and their individual members to flourish and find their own fulfilment.4

This can only be achieved, Pope Francis says, by ensuring justice in the way the goods of the world are shared. Importantly, in today’s world, this also involves protecting the futures of our children and indeed of generations to come.5

3. Preferential option for the poor

The third principle is the preferential option for the poor based on the biblical teaching that “in the first place… the Lord listens to the poor who cry out to him.”

This divine preference also has implications for the faith life of all Christians, Pope Francis explains. Therefore, no Christian is “exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.”

4. The universal destination of goods

The fourth Catholic Social Teaching principle, which is the “universal destination of goods” and “the right to common use of them,” is a further development of the principle of preferential option for the poor.

What it means in practice is that the right of any person to private property is always subject to ensuring that the needs of others, particularly the poor, are met.

5. Solidarity

In turn, this gives rise to the fifth principle, which Pope Francis characterises as the “imperative” of solidarity,6 which is lived out by ensuring that we do what is necessary to “restore to the poor what belongs to them.”

Here again, Pope Francis insists on the need to go beyond “intragenerational solidarity” and to ensure “intergenerational solidarity,” meaning concern both for our elders and for our children and even their children7

6. Subsidiarity

Pope Francis’ sixth principle of Catholic Social Teaching is subsidiarity, which is once again based on respect for the human person.

It means that we need to ensure that each individual, as well as every family, community and social group has the opportunity to participate in society and to serve the common good. Decision-making processes therefore start from the grassroots rather than from the top.

7. Care for our common home

The seventh and final principle of Catholic Social Teaching according to Pope Francis emphasises the need to care for “our common home,” namely the Earth on which we live.

Here Pope Francis highlights the problems of pollution, climate change, depletion of natural resources as well as loss of biodiversity as well as growing inequality. We must therefore listen not just to the “cry of the poor” but also to “the cry of the earth,” he says.

Conclusion

These are the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching proposed by Pope Francis to enable us to address to the problems of society and the world today.

Stefan Gigacz

NOTES

1Pope Francis, Catechesis: “Healing the world” – 1. Introduction, General Audience, 5 August 2020.

2Gaudium et Spes, Chapter 1, The Dignity of the Human Person.

3Pope Francis, Catechesis: “Healing the world” – 1. Introduction, General Audience, 5 August 2020.

4Gaudium et Spes, §126, 1965.

5Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, §159, 2015.

6Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, §189, 2013.

7Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, §162, 2015.

SOURCE

This is a slightly modified version of an article I wrote for the Catholic Development Fund, Australia.


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