The Catholic Political Platform

by brianpetry on

The purpose of this essay is to outline the Catholic Political Platform.  This will be demonstrated through Catholic Social Teaching.  Unfortunately, many Catholics are unaware of catholic social teaching.  This is proclaimed by the United States Catholic Bishops in 1998 when the bishops said, “Our heritage is unknown by many Catholics.  Sadly our social doctrine is not shared or taught in a consistent and comprehensive way in too many of our schools, seminaries, religious education programs, colleges, and universities.”[1]  This point is made even more clear in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 2004 when it states, “above all, it is indispensable that they have a more exact knowledge of the Church’s social doctrine.  This doctrinal patrimony is neither taught nor known sufficiently, which is part of the reason for its failure to be suitably reflected in concrete behavior.”[2] 

            “The Church’s social teaching is born of the encounter of the gospel message and its demands with the problems emanating from the life of society.”[3]  The gospel message is succinctly  summarized in Matthew when Jesus said, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”[4]  As the Church states in the Catechism, “Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.”[5]  

The second principle of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of the human person.  As humans we have dignity because, “God created man in His own image.”[6]  As the Compendium states, “A just society can become a reality only when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person.”[7]  It is also important to note that “all people have the same dignity as creatures made in his image and likeness.”[8]  This important fact is made clear in Paul’s letter to the Galatians when he said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[9]

Common Good

            The Catholic Church defines the common good as “ the sum total of the conditions of social life which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their own perfection more fully and easily.”[10]  There are two levels of the common good: substantive common good, and instrumental common good.

Substantive common good refers to goods “belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains ‘common,’ because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it and safeguard its effectiveness.”[11]  Examples of substantive common good includes things like: “practice of faith, character formation in schools, forgiveness and reconciliation among racial and ethnic groups, the promotion of fidelity in marriage, courtesy, the prohibition of euthanasia, and the commitment to the poor.”[12]

Instrumental common good is defined in the catechism as consisting of three essential elements: “respect for and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person; prosperity, or the development of the spiritual and temporal goods of society; the peace and security of the group and of its members.”  Examples of instrumental goods include: “food, clothing, shelter, a transportation system, and civil liberties.”[13]

One important implication of the common good is that “each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his development.  The right to the common use of goods is the ‘first principle of the whole ethical and social order’”[14]  Since all humans have the same dignity it logically flows that the common good should be for all, this principle is known as the universal destination of goods.  “The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the state, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists.”[15]  This means that it is the duty of the state to ensure that the common good is accessible by all.

There are two essential ways of facilitating participation in the common good: subsidiarity and solidarity.  Subsidiarity is the concept that “all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help (subsidium) –therefore of support, promotion, development –with respect to lower-order societies.”[16]   The purpose of subsidiarity is to “protect people from the abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties.”[17]

Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.”[18]  This means that you act with the knowledge that we have an “intrinsic social nature”[19] and that we are all connected and interdependent on one another both collectively and individually.

Virtue and Justice

            “While may things contribute to the attainment of the common good, virtue (including wisdom) and grace deserve special mention.”[20]  “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.”[21]  There are two types of virtues: cardinal virtues and theological virtues.

The theological virtues are faith, hope, and love.  “The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God.”  These virtues help us to “love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”[22]

            “Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.”[23]  These are known as the human virtues and allow us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”[24]

 Justice is a very important virtue in Catholic Social Teaching.  “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.”[25]  There are several different types of justice: commutative, distributive, legal, and social.[26]  Commutative justice is also known as contract justice “because the parties agree to some fair exchange.”[27]  Distributive justice is “distributing common goods proportionately.”[28] Legal justice is defined by Thomas Aquinas as “the virtue that directs the acts of all the virtues to the common good.”[29]  Social Justice is a rather new construct, “no theologian or philosopher prior to the nineteenth century ever spoke of social justice.”[30]  Social justice “is worldwide in scope, concerns the social, political, and economic aspects and , above all, the structural dimensions of problems and their respective solutions.”[31]  However, social justice has come to be the “title in whose name the individual demands things as his rights.”[32]


The Church’s definition of marriage is based on Christ’s word’s “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”[33]  This means that marriage is not a human construct but was rather “established by the creator and endowed by him with its own proper law”[34]  This means that although some may argue that the law should be open to homosexual marriage, it is impossible because it is not marriage to begin with, and second because it goes against the common good.. “And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.’”[35]


            “The foundation of the family is marriage, because the latter is ‘ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom it finds it’s crowning”[36]  Family has four main tasks:  the communion of persons, procreation, character formation, and the community of life and love.  The family is a “communion of persons, brought about and continuously developed over a lifetime by love.”[37]  The family as a communion of persons is tasked to bring children into the world, and educating them.  Society needs families who “not only bring children into the world, but also provide them with the kind of character formation and education to make them capable of love, friendship, and dedication to the common good.”[38]  Once the children are formed in character, they need to be spiritually developed.  As St. Pope John Paul II said, “the future of evangelization depends in great part on the church of the home.”[39]  The family should operate in respect to subsidiarity.  This being that the “larger entities [such as the parents] are to support and encourage the smaller ones [such as children and younger siblings], so that the initiative, freedom, and responsibility of all will be in play.”[40]                                                                                                            


            “Since one of the fundamental elements of the common good is the protection of life, the work for social justice must include efforts to protect life and to promote a culture of life.”[41]  Protection of life starts with conception and ends with natural death.  Although parents should be “open to the acceptance of life”[42]  it is also necessary that they do this in a responsible manner.  “Concerning the ‘methods’ for practicing responsible procreation, the first to be rejected as morally illicit are sterilization and abortion.”[43]  As stated before all humans have equal dignity and all human life should be protected, and abortion takes that life which is why it is immoral.  As Mother Teresa said, “any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.  This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”[44]  Another life issue is Euthanasia, also known as mercy killing.  As you might have guessed this is not acceptable by Catholic Social Teaching.  “Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.”[45]  Euthanasia is the furthest thing from mercy, because true compassion “leads to sharing another’s pain; it doesn’t not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.”[46]  Catholic Social Teaching states that all humans have equal dignity, and that common goods are those which perfect us, and the universal destination of goods shows us that these goods belong to everyone, which makes it wrong to take the life of anyone unnecessarily.


            “The economy has as its object the development of wealth and its progressive increase, not inly in quantity but also quality; this is morally correct if it is directed to mans overall development in solidarity and to that of the society in which people live and work.”[47]  This means that good business “respect the dignity of workers, produce a good product or service without damaging the environment, make a sufficient profit, pay a just wage, and create an atmosphere in which their workers can develop as persons and live in solidarity with one another, while making a genuine contribution to society by their work.”[48]

 To produce a good product without damaging the environment is to respond to God’s call in Genesis when it says that “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”[49]  It is our duty to be good stewards of the land, it is even stated that “the relationship man has with God determines his relationship with his fellow man and with his environment.”[50]  This means that as we grow closer to God, so will we work together to take care of the land.  It is our duty to work, God told man that “through painful toil you will eat food… all the days of your life.”[51]  Paul restates this in his letter to the Thessalonians when he said, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”[52] 

It is necessary that workers are treated with dignity, this includes paying your employees a just wage.  In the bible it says, “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”[53]  This is similar to the account in Genesis when God asked Cane “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”  The reason for the similarity, is because not paying a just wage is a violation of the fifth commandment.  A just wage are relative based on what is sufficient to: “ensure what’s necessary and fitting for the worker”[54] “for the support of [his] family”[55] “proportionate to the productivity of the work of each company”[56] “in harmony with the requirements of the common good”[57] it must “allow the worker the possibility of acquiring property”[58] and “allow the worker to satisfy the noble human aspirations.”[59] 

International Relations and War

            The book states “a chapter on the international community is a near impossible task.”[60]  Well I am about to try the impossible and write a page on catholic teachings on both international relations and war.  The ideals that should guide the international relations include: “the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect fro the dignity of the human person, humanitarian cooperation and assistance.”[61]  As an international community our relations with one another need to be rooted in both subsidiarity and solidarity. A country has a moral obligation to follow these principles:

The sacredness of all life, the grave wrong of abortion, the importance of the traditional family, the foundation of rights and duties in the dignity of the human person, respect for rights and the fulfillment of duties as the path to genuine solidarity, the necessity of providing access to education and work, especially for women, limitations on the sovereignty of nations on the basis of “the responsibility to protect” citizens from their rulers’ abuse of power, respect for religious freedom, recognition of the political and social benefits flowing from the practice of sound religious belief, and the promotion of integral development coupled with respect fro the environment.[62]

             The most important thing in international relations is the promotion of peace.  “Peace is the goal of life in society.”[63]  The church has always “condemned the savagery of war”[64] However, there is not always peace in the world, and that everything has a season.  As it says in the scriptures, there is “a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal.”[65]  The only time it is permissible to kill is in the defense of peace.[66] 

            One of the worst enemies of peace is terrorism.  “Terrorism is one of the most brutal forms of violence traumatizing the international community today; it sows hatred, death, and an urge for revenge and reprisal.”[67]  It is important to not fall into this trap and if force is used against terrorists, that it is done in the defense of peace, not to extract revenge against them.


            In conclusion, we can see that the church has very clearly laid out social teachings.  The basis of Catholic Social Teaching is the dignity of the human person, because he is made in the image and likeness of God.  As a dignified person, it is our duty to pursue the common good, which is anything that can help perfect us both physically and spiritually.  The best way to attain the common good is through the practice of the virtues, particularly justice.  In order to foster a strong community, we need to have strong communities, families that practice virtue together.  These communities are built on the participation of solidarity and subsidiarity.  In order for the community to obtain instrumental common goods, it is necessary for them to work.  This is where the economic social teaching holds very closely to the concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity while making sure to treat all humans with proper dignity.  These same concepts apply on a much broader scope, in the international community.  In the international community, there are countries do not respect subsidiarity or solidarity.  One of the most important principles in the international aspect is the promotion of peace.  However, when peace fails there can be war, only if every other reasonable option is exhausted.  Even with war these same principles of human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the promotion of peace are critical.  Hopefully this essay has given you some insight into Catholic Social Teaching and has whet your appetite so that you may study more and come to know more about your faith.



Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011.

Church, Catholic. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican : Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004.

US Catholic Bishops. Sharing Catholic Social Teaching. Washington, D.C., 1998.

[1] US Catholic Bishops, Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions (Washington, D.C.:1998)

[2] Compendium Paragraph 528

[3] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 5

[4] Matt 22:37-40

[5] CCC 44

[6] Gen 1:27

[7] Compendium Paragraph 132

[8] Compendium Paragraph 144

[9] Gal 3:28

[10] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 81

[11] Compendium Paragraph 164

[12] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 82

[13] Ibid

[14] Compendium Paragraph 172

[15] Compendium 168

[16] Compendium 186

[17] Compendium 187

[18] Compendium 193

[19] Compendium 192

[20] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 113

[21] CCC 1803

[22] Matt 22:37

[23] CCC 1805

[24] Matt 22:39

[25] CCC 1807

[26] Compendium Paragraph 201

[27] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 147

[28] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 148

[29] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 153

[30] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 151

[31] Compendium Paragraph 201

[32] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 165

[33] Mark 10:6-9

[34] Compendium 215

[35] CCC 1604

[36] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 165

[37] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 258

[38] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 273

[39] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 277

[40] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 279

[41] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 179

[42] Compendium 230

[43] Compendium 233

[44] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 181

[45] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 192

[46] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 193

[47] Compendium 334

[48] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 316

[49] Gen 2:15

[50] Compendium Paragraph 464

[51] Gen 3:17

[52] 1 Thes 3:10

[53] James 5:4

[54] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 332

[55] Ibid

[56] Ibid

[57] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 3333

[58] Ibid     

[59] Ibid

[60] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 377

[61] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 384

[62] Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society. pg. 402

[63] Compendium 490

[64] Compendium 497

[65] Eccles 3:2-3

[66] Compendium 502

[67] Compendium 513

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