Catholic Social Teaching
The Church's social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Modern Catholic social teaching has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents. The depth and richness of this tradition can be understood best through a direct reading of these documents. In these brief reflections, we highlight several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.
1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. Human life is threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding effective ways to prevent conflicts, and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society -- in economics and politics, in law and policy -- directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
3. Rights and Responsibilities
The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are the duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
4. Option for the Poor and the Vulnerable
A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property and to economic initiative.
We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brother's and sister's keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that "if you want peace, work for justice." The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.
7. Care for God's Creation
We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in a relationship with all of God's creation. This environmental challenges has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
Reflection on our Response to Mass Shootings
In light of the recent shootings, we offer this reflection and resources:
I am a friend and relative to those with mental illness and family members impacted by mental illness. The recent response of some policy makers to blame gun violence on mental illness is heartbreaking, and quite frankly, misguided. This language and thinking harms our brothers and sisters who have a mental illnesses. It stigmatizes them and makes them more reluctant to identify and seek treatment.
Hate crimes should not be confused with mental illness. This only further stigmatizes those with mental illness and further perpetuates the myth that mental illness leads to violence. It is too simplistic to label the gun violence problem as mental illness. In their 2016 review, forensic psychiatrist James L Knoll IV, MD and George D. Annas, MD, MPH, of SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse New York cite research that only a minority of mass shootings have been perpetrated by individuals with recognized mental disorders. In Knoll’s response to the recent crimes, he asks: Do we solve the matter by labeling it 'mental illness' and calling for greater scrutiny of 'troubled' individuals?" He continued. "I believe we solve nothing, and even risk making matters worse. This mindset makes us vulnerable to creating new, but misguided, laws. It furthers the medieval notion of equating mental illness with 'evil' or criminal behavior.
The vast majority of people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, rather than perpetrators.
For many suffering from mental illness the stigma and shame created prevents them from engaging meaningfully in their community – including their faith community. As Catholics, we are called to reach out and embrace all of our brothers and sisters suffering from illnesses. The Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of California on Caring for those who Suffer Mental Illness reminds us that Christ calls us to attend to those who suffer from mental illness and provide hope and healing. One way to do this is through the language we use and speaking up when we hear language that is hurtful and uninformed. Another way is by prayerfully accompanying those with mental health problems. We are also called to advocate for policies which are based on proven successes and not those which further perpetuate stigma. In Connecticut we have the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funded group Keep the Promise (KTP). KTP’s mission is to involve and empower all voices in Connecticut to influence public policy with the goal of expanding opportunities for full community integration. More information on KTP can be found on their website: http://www.ctkeepthepromise.
As Catholics, we have a responsibility to work together for a more just world where life and human dignity is protected and basic responsibilities are met. That means working for a safer society. It means working to improve mental health care. Let’s do this in an informed and educated manner.
Lynn Campbell, Executive Director
Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry
Archdiocese of Hartford
Gun Violence – USCCB backgrounder, January 2016
August 4, 2019
August 3, 2019