How Can Core Principles of Catholic Social Teaching Help Guide Our Civic Participation?
In the words of Pope Francis, “progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related to constant tensions present in every social reality. These derive from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, which serve as ‘primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena.’” The four principles include the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. Taken together, these principles provide a moral framework for Catholic engagement in advancing what we have called a “consistent ethic of life” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 22). Rightly understood, this ethic does not treat all issues as morally equivalent; nor does it reduce Catholic teaching to one or two issues. It anchors the Catholic commitment to defend human life and other human rights, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental obligation to respect the dignity of every human being as a child of God.
Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues and should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest” (USCCB, Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33).
1. The Dignity of the Human Person
Human life is sacred because every person is created in the image and likeness of God… Every human being “must always be understood in his unrepeatable and inviolable uniqueness… This entails above all the requirement not only of simple respect on the part of others… but even more, this means that the primary commitment of each person towards others… must be for the promotion and integral development of the person” (no. 131). “It is necessary to ‘consider every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity’ (Gaudium et Spes, no. 27).
It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, and local realities—in short, for those economic, social, cultural, recreational, professional, and political communities to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth. The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society. This sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children must not be redefined, undermined, or neglected. Supporting families should be a priority for economic and social policies. The principle of subsidiarity reminds us that larger institutions in society should not overwhelm local institutions; yet larger institutions have essential responsibilities when the more local institutions cannot adequately protect human dignity, meet human needs, and advance the common good.
3. The Common Good
The common good is comprised of “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.” “The common good, in fact, can be understood as the social and community dimension of the moral good” (FC 48-49).
Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” It is found in “a commitment to the good of one’s neighbor with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself’ for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to ‘serve him’ instead of oppressing him for one’s own advantage.” We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences… A moral test for society is how we treat the weakest among us—the unborn, those dealing with disabilities or terminal illness, the poor, and the marginalized.
[Excerpted from USCCB Handout, 2020]
Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph, Living in Perfect Community, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries