Living Lives for Others

The Basics of Catholic Social Teaching


“That’s not fair!” You can hear that cry on any playground from coast to coast. Kids have an innate sense of justice. Even though they may not always live up to this innate sense, this inner guide, they know that it’s wrong to treat others badly, to exclude others, and to rig the rules of the game so that one side always loses.

Over time the arena of the playground gives way to other arenas of society—home, work, neighborhood, civic life, and so on. Yet the same basic truths of this inner guide apply. These basic truths form the core of what is called Catholic Social Teaching. This body of teaching by the pope, bishops, and other church leaders addresses the most fundamental questions of human coexistence: Who are we? What do we owe one another? How should we live together? How can we establish peace and freedom for all?

The Church has developed great wisdom to help society address the most pressing situations facing an increasingly shrinking—and often turbulent—global community in years to come. Because we as Catholics are a worldwide community of faith, the more we can embrace and internalize this growing wisdom and enact it in our own lives, the more we will serve the Kingdom of God and help bring it into fullness.

These are the basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching.

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

The Catholic belief in the life and dignity of the human person is the foundation of our moral vision. All life is sacred, and all people must be treated with dignity.

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

Participation in family and community is central to our faith and to a healthy society. From this foundation people participate in society, fostering a community spirit and promoting the well-being of all, especially those who are poor or vulnerable.

Rights and Responsibilities

The Catholic Church teaches that every person has a right to life as well as a right to those things required for human decency. As Catholics, we are responsible for protecting these fundamental human rights in order to achieve a healthy society.

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

As Catholics, we are called to pay special attention to the needs of poor people. We can follow Jesus’ example by making a specific effort to defend and promote the dignity of those who are poor or vulnerable and to meet their immediate material needs.

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

The Catholic Church teaches that the basic rights of workers must be respected: the right to productive work, to fair wages, and to private property, and the right to organize and join unions and to pursue economic opportunity. Moreover, Catholics believe that the economy is meant to serve people, not the other way around.


Because God is our Father, we are all brothers and sisters with the responsibility to care for one another. This spirit of solidarity unites all people whether they are rich or poor, weak or strong. It also helps to create a society that recognizes that we live in an interdependent world.

Care for God’s Creation

God is the creator of all people and all things, and he wants us to enjoy his creation. We are called to make the moral and ethical choices that protect the ecological balance of creation both locally and worldwide.

Adapted from Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops