Handbook of Catholic Social Teaching
1. What is the Christian perspective on economic life?
"Every perspective on economic life that is human, moral, and Christian must be shaped by three
questions: What does the economy do for people? What does it do to people? And how do people
participate in it?" U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 1.
Reflections on the Christian perspective on economic life.
a) What should economic life focus on?
b) Do you think the focus of the American economy is more on people or more on things?
c) Can a businessperson or politician strive after an economy that is both 'strong and vigorous' and
'human, moral, and Christian,' or must he strive after one or the other?
2. What is the fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies, and institutions?
"The fundamental moral criterion for an economic decisions, policies, and institutions is this: They must
be at the service of all people, especially the poor." U.S. Bishops. Economic Justice for All (1986) 24.
Reflections on the fundamental moral criterion for economic activity.
a) Give an example of an economic decision. An economic policy. An economic institution.
b) Why must they serve all people, and not just some people?
c) Why must they be of special service to the poor?
3. What are the moral dimensions of economic life based on?
"The basis for all that the Church believes about the moral dimensions of economic life is its vision of
the transcendent worth the sacredness of human beings. The dignity of the human person, realized in
community with others, is the criterion against which an aspects of economic life must be measured."
U.S. Bishops. Economic Justice for All (1986) 28.
Reflections on the basis for economic morality.
a) Do you believe that there is a moral dimension to economic life? Why?
b) What are some ways in which an economy might show lack of respect for the dignity of the human
4. What are some of the basic principles of economic life?
"Catholic teaching on economic issues flows from the Church's commitment to human rights and
human dignity. This living tradition articulates a number of principles which are useful in evaluating our
current economic situation. Without attempting to set down an all-inclusive list, we draw the following
principles from the social teachings of the Church and ask that policymakers and citizens ponder their
implications. (a) Economic activity should be governed by justice and be carried out within the limits of
morality. It must serve the people's needs. (b ) The right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for
oneself and one's family belongs to everyone. (c) Economic prosperity is to be assessed not so much
from the sum total of goods and wealth possessed as from the distribution of goods according to norms
of justice. (d) Opportunities to work must be provided for those who are able and willing to work. Every
person has the right to useful employment, to just wages, and to adequate assistance in case of real need.
(e) Economic development must not be left to the sole judgment of a few persons or groups possessing
excessive economic power, or to the political community alone. On the contrary, at every level the
largest possible number of people should have an active share in directing that development. (1) A just
and equitable system of taxation requires assessment according to ability to pay. (g) Government must
play a role in the economic activity of its citizens. Indeed, it should promote in a suitable manner the
production of a sufficient supply of material goods. Moreover, it should safeguard the rights of all
citizens, and help them find opportunities for employment." U.S. Bishops, The Economy: Human
Dimensions (1975) 5.
Reflections on the basic principle of economic life.
a) What does it mean to say that the economy should be "governed by justice"?
b) How are two economies likely to be different if one is "carried out within the limits of morality" and
the other is not?
c) If everyone has the right to a sufficient share of earthly goods, is it ever moral and just for a person to
starve to death?
d) What about living in extreme poverty: Can it be justified or does it violate this right?
e) Two islands are each inhabited by 100 people. The economy of island A is worth $5 million; the
economy of island B is worth $3 million. Island A has two millionaires and about three dozen people
living in poverty. Island B has no millionaires and a few individuals living in poverty, In your opinion,
which has the healthier economy?
f) Does an individual owe it to society to work? Does society owe it to an individual to make sure that he
g) Answer this multiple choice question and then explain the reasons for your answer: The economy of
an area should be run by (1) the elected leaders supported by the people; (2) the people supported by
their elected leaders; (3) those within the area who are politically and economically strongest; (4) those
within the area who have the greatest economic expertise.
h) In the previous question, what is wrong with the three answers you rejected?
i) Do you agree that a person earning $100,000 a year should pay a lot more taxes than a person earning
$10,000 a year?
j) What do you think of the proposition that, when it comes to the economy, the government that
governs less, governs best?
5. List six basic human rights in economic life noted by the Church in its teaching.
"In its teaching, the Church has noted a number of basic human rights in economic life, including the
right to productive employment, the right to just wages, the right to an adequate income, the rights of
workers to organize and bargain collectively, the right to own property for the many as a protection of
freedom, and the right to participation in economic decisions." U.S. Bishops, To Do the Work of Justice
Reflections on six basic human rights in economic life.
a) Give an example of the violation of the right to productive employment.
b) Give an example of the violation of the right to just wages.
c) Give an example of the violation of the right to an adequate income.
d) Give an example of the violation of the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
e) Give an example of the violation of the right to own property.
f) Give an example of the violation of the right to participation in economic decisions.
g) Have you had a personal experience of the violation of any of these rights? If so, describe it.
6. What are the priorities established in Catholic teaching on the economic order?
"The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the
maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion;
production to meet social needs over production for military purposes." Pope John Paul II, Address on
Christian Unity in a Technological Age (Toronto, Canada, 1984).
Reflections on priorities in the economic order .
a) Explain what each of these four priorities means.
b) Explain in each case the reason why the first item is of greater importance than the second item.
c) How does this statement of Pope John Paul II strike you: Does it express your feelings, or does it
represent a point of view that is different from yours?
7. Do individuals have a right to private property?
"The right of private property, including that pertaining to goods devoted to productive enterprises, is
permanently valid. Indeed, it is rooted in the very nature of things, whereby we learn that individual men
are prior to civil society, and hence, that civil society is to be directed toward men as its end. Indeed, the
right of private individuals to act freely in economic affairs is recognized in vain, unless they are at the
same time given an opportunity of freely selecting and using things necessary for the exercise of this
right." Pope John XXIII, On Christianity and Social Progress (1961) 109.
Reflections on the right to private property.
a) There seem to be two basic justifications for private property given in this statement. Can you point
b) Basing your explanation on the above statement, tell what happens to an individual when his/her right
to ownership is denied.
8. Is private property an absolute right?
"Private ownership confers on no one a supreme and unconditional right. No one is allowed to set aside
solely for his own advantage possessions which exceed his needs when others lack the necessities of
life." Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples (1967) 23.
"Christian tradition has never upheld this right (to ownership) as absolute and untouchable. On the
contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right com mon to all to use
the goods of the whole of creation: The right to private property is subordinated to the right to common
use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 14.
"No one can ever own capital resources absolutely or control their use without regard for others and
society as a whole. This applies first of all to land and natural resources. Short term profits reaped at the
cost of depletion of natural resources or the pollution of the environment violate this trust." U.S.
Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 112.
Reflections on private property as an absolute right.
a) Explain in your own words what it means to say that the right to private property is not absolute.
b) Restate Pope Paul's second sentence in your own words and explain what sounds right or wrong
c) What does Pope Paul seem to be saying to an extremely rich person living in our society?
d) The American bishops bring up the issue of the misuse of natural resources. What does this have to do
with private property?
e) What does Pope John Paul mean by "the right to common use"?
9. What does it mean to say that we are trustees of God's creation?
"Our faith teaches us that 'the earth is the Lord's' (Ps 24) and that wealth and private property are held
in trust for others. We are trustees of God's creation, and as good stewards we are required to exercise
that trust for the common good and benefit of our brothers and sisters." U.S. Bishops, The Right to a
Decent Home (1975) 10.
Reflections on trusteeship of God's creation.
a) Using something you own in your explanation, tell what it means to hold private property in trust for
b) Do you agree with the notion that I should use my personal belongings not just for my good but for
the common good, and not just for my benefit but for the benefit of my fellow human beings? Why?
10. How does the Church view the pursuit of possessions?
"An ever growing supply of possessions is not to be so highly valued either by nations or by individuals
as to be considered the ultimate goal. For all development has a twofold effect: on the one hand it is
necessary for man so that he develop himself as a human being more and more, on the other it imprisons
him as it were if it is sought as the highest good beyond which one is not to look. When this takes place
hearts are hardened, minds are closed, men unite not to foster friendship but to gain advantage and as a
consequence easily fall into opposition and disunity. Consequently the exclusive quest for economic
possessions not only impedes man's development as a human being but also opposes his true greatness.
For both nations and men who are infected with the vice of avarice give clearest evidence of moral
underdevelopment." Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples (1967) 19.
Reflections on the pursuit of possessions.
a) According to this statement, our ultimate goal is not to own more and more things. Do you agree or
b) "All development has a twofold effect," in other words, bettering yourself economically is a
legitimate human goal, and yet it brings problems with it. What is the bright side of bettering yourself
financially? What is the dark side of bettering yourself financially?
c) Pope Paul, in a much quoted statement, refers to avarice (greed) as "evidence of moral
underdevelopment." What do you suppose he meant by that?
11. Does everyone have a basic right to the necessities of life?
"The right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family belongs to everyone.
The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this view, teaching that men are obliged to come to the
relief of the poor, and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods." Vatican II, Church in the
Modern World (1965) 69.
Reflections on the right to the necessities of life.
a) What right does the council say belongs to everyone? Do you agree? Why?
b) Do you agree that we have an obligation to come to the relief of the poor? Why?
c) What does it mean to say that we should help the poor "not merely out of (our) superfluous goods"?
12. What right does a person in extreme necessity have?
"If a person is in extreme necessity, he has the right to take from the riches of others what he himself
needs." Vatican II, Church in the Modern World (1965) 69.
"As the Roman pontiffs have repeatedly emphasized in their recent encyclicals, and as accepted Catholic
morality has always taught, whenever a person or a group is deprived of its basic necessities,
expropriation is justified. In such an extreme case the poor have not chosen social warfare; it is imposed
upon them by the injustices of the possessors." U.S. Bishops, Pastoral Letter on Marxist Communism
Reflections on the right of a person in extreme necessity.
a) What right is expressed in both of the above statements?
b) How does each statement express the condition under which the right exists?
c) Some people would say that it sounds like stealing to them. Obviously the Catholic bishops of the
United States and the world do not believe in stealing. Why do you think they would say that, under the
circumstances described, it is not stealing?
13. What are those to do who have received a greater share of goods?
"Whoever has received from the bounty of God a greater share of goods, whether corporeal and external,
or of the soul, has received them for this purpose, namely, that he employ them for his own perfection
and, likewise, as a servant of Divine Providence, for the benefit of others." Pope Leo XIII, On the
Condition of Workers (1891) 36.
Reflections on those who have more goods.
a) According to this, what is a person supposed to do if he or she has more than others? Do you agree?
b) What are the two purposes in having physical and spiritual goods?
14. Is equality of income and wealth a demand of justice?
"Catholic social teaching does not maintain that a flat, arithmetical equality of income and wealth is a
demand of justice, but it does challenge economic arrangements that leave large numbers of people
impoverished. Further, it sees extreme inequality as a threat to the solidarity of the human community,
for great disparities lead to deep social divisions and conflict." U.S. Bishops. Economic Justice/or All
Reflections on equality of income and wealth.
a) Does justice require that everyone have exactly the same amount of income and wealth? Why?
b) Granted that we all have different amounts of income and wealth, when do those differences become
c) Why is extreme inequality in income and wealth a serious problem in society?
15. How can you tell if a society is just or unjust?
"The way society responds to the needs of the poor through its public policies is the litmus test of its
justice or injustice. U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All ( 1986) l23.
"The justice of a socioeconomic system and, in each case, its just functioning, deserve in the final
analysis to be evaluated by the way in which man's work is properly remunerated in the system. A just
wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case,
of checking that it is functioning justly. It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly
important one and in a sense the key means." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 19.
Reflections on telling if a society is just or unjust.
a) What does each statement say about how we can tell if a society is just or unjust?
b) The two answers are obviously not identical. Is there or is there not a relationship between the two
c) If you had to choose one or the other, which of the two gives the best way to test the justice of a
society? Explain why you chose it.
d) Based on what you know of American society, would you say that it meets the criterion of the first
statement? of the second statement? Give the reasons for your decision.
16. How important is it to care for the needs or the poor?
"The obligation to provide justice for all means that the poor have the single most urgent economic
claim on the conscience of the nation." U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 86.
"The fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is of the highest priority. Personal decisions, policies of
private and public bodies, and power relationships must all be evaluated by their effects on those who
lack the minimum necessities of nutrition, housing, education, and health care. In particular, this
principle recognizes that meeting fundamental human needs must come before the fulfillment of desires
for luxury consumer goods, for profits not conducive to the common good, and for unnecessary military
hardware." U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 90.
"Decisions must be judged in light of what they do for the poor, what they do to the poor, and what they
enable the poor to do for themselves." U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 24.
Reflections on caring for the needs of the poor.
a) Restate each of the three passages in your own words.
b) Do you agree that the most urgent moral task facing us is caring for the poor? Why?
c) Give an example of how we in our society sometimes put the desire for luxury items ahead of meeting
basic human needs. Why is this wrong?
d) What is meant by "profits not conducive to the common good"? When is profit-taking wrong?
e) Give an example of doing something for the poor. Give an example of doing something to the poor.
Give an example of the poor being enabled to do something for themselves.
17. What is meant by the 'preferential option for the poor'?
"Such perspectives provide a basis today for what is called the 'preferential option for the poor.' Though
in the Gospels and in the New Testament as a whole the offer of salvation is extended to all peoples,
Jesus takes the side of those most in need, physically and spiritually. The example of Jesus poses a
number of challenges to the contemporary Church. It imposes a prophetic mandate to speak for those
who have no one to speak for them, to be a defender of the defenseless, who in biblical terms are the
poor. It also demands a compassionate vision that enables the Church to see things from the side of the
poor and powerless, and to assess lifestyle, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on
the poor. It summons the Church also to be an instrument in assisting people to experience the liberating
power of God in their own lives, so that they may respond to the Gospel in freedom and in dignity.
Finally, and most radically, it calls for an emptying of self, both individually and corporately, that allows
the Church to experience the power of God in the midst of poverty and powerlessness." U.S. Bishops,
Economic Justice for All (1986) 52.
Reflections on the 'preferential option for the poor.'
a) Whose side did Jesus take during his life? Why do you think he took their side? Did he care about the
b) What does it mean to "speak for those who have no one to speak for them"? Give an example of how
this might be done.
c) What does it mean to "see things from the side of the poor"? Give an example of how this might be
d) How does taking a look at my lifestyle help the poor?
e) Do you agree that our society and our Church should evaluate all of their policies on the basis of their
impact on the poor?
f) What do you think the bishops mean when they say that the power of God can be experienced in the
midst of poverty and powerlessness? Do you agree with them? Why?
18. What obligation does the preferential option for the poor place on the more fortunate in
"In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special
situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place
their goods more generously at the service of others." Pope Paul VI, A Call to Action (1971) 23.
Reflections on the obligation of the more fortunate in society.
a) What is meant by the more fortunate renouncing some of their rights? Do you agree that that should
be done? Why?
19. What is the purpose of the preferential option for the poor?
"The prime purpose of this special commitment to the poor is to enable them to become active
participants in the life of society. It is to enable all persons to share in and contribute to the common
good." U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 88.
Reflections on the purpose of the preferential option for the poor.
a) When is a person an active participant in the life of society? Give examples.
b) When is a person not an active participant in the life of society? Give examples.
c) Give an example of something society can do to "enable" everyone to participate in society.
20. Does the preferential option for the poor pit one class against an other?
"The 'option for the poor' is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another.
Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The
extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These
wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves." U.S.
Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 88.
Reflections on the option for the poor and class warfare.
a) What do you think the bishops mean when they speak of the deprivation and powerlessness of the
poor wounding the entire community? How do the poor hurt those of us who are not poor?
b) Describe the cure recommended for those wounds.
c) Do you agree that giving priority to the poor does not pit one class against another? Why?
d) In Latin America people were killed because they tried to organize the poor. Why do you think rich
people tend to look on solidarity among the poor as a dangerous threat?
21. What must be done beyond the helping of the poor and the hungry?
"But these appeals and projects, just as funds privately and publicly allocated, gifts, and loans are not
sufficient. For it is not simply a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not enough to
combat destitution, urgent and necessary as this is. The point at issue is the establishment of a human
society in which everyone, regardless of race, religion, or nationality, can live a truly human life free
from bondage imposed by men and the forces of nature not sufficiently mastered, a society in which
freedom is not an empty word, and where Lazarus the poor man can sit at the same table as the rich
man." Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples (1967) 47.
Reflections on going beyond helping the poor and the hungry.
a) Why is it not good enough to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty?
b) What would a society be like in which "the poor man can sit at the same table as the rich man"?
c) Do you think such a society is possible? Why?
22. Under what circumstances is private or public spending morally wrong?
"While so many people are going hungry, while so many families are suffering destitution, while so
many people spend their lives submerged in the darkness of ignorance, while so many schools, hospitals,
homes worthy of the name, are needed, every public or private squandering, every expenditure either of
nations or individuals made for the sake of pretentious parade, finally every financially depleting arms
race, all these we say become a scandalous and intolerable crime. The most serious obligation enjoined
on us demands that we openly denounce it." Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples (1967) 53.
Reflections on the morality of private and public spending.
a) Why is private squandering morally wrong as long as there is hunger, poverty, ignorance, and
inadequate medical care?
b) What is meant by "pretentious parade" on the part of individuals and nations? Why is it morally
wrong as long as there is hunger, poverty, ignorance, and inadequate medical care?
c) Why is the arms race "a scandalous and intolerable crime" as long as there is hunger, poverty,
ignorance, and inadequate medical care?
23. When is a productive, well distributed economy unjust?
"If the organization and structure of economic life be such that the human dignity of workers is
compromised, or their sense of responsibility is weakened, or their freedom of action is removed, then
we judge such an economic order to be unjust, even though it produces a vast amount of goods, whose
distribution conforms to the norms of justice and equity." Pope John XXIII, On Christianity and Social
Progress (1961) 83.
Reflections on the justice of a productive, well distributed economy.
a) What are the three circumstances under which an economy is to be judged unjust?
b) Explain why each circumstance makes an economy unjust?
24. What is the ultimate and basic purpose of economic production?
"The ultimate and basic purpose of economic production does not consist merely in the increase of
goods produced, nor in profit nor prestige; it is directed to the service of man, of man, that is, in his
totality, taking into account his material needs and the requirements of his intellectual, moral, spiritual,
and religious life; of all men whomsoever and of every group of men of whatever race or from whatever
part of the world." Vatican II, Church in the Modern World (1965) 64.
Reflections on the purpose of economic production.
a) Why can't the basic purpose of economic production be the increase of goods produced?
b) Why can't profit be the basic purpose of economic production?
c) How is economic production supposed to take into account all of our requirements: material,
d) Why must economic production take into account the requirements of all people everywhere?
25. What does the dignity of work consist of?
"The description of creation, which we find in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, is also in a
sense the first 'gospel of work.' For it shows what the dignity of work consists of: It teaches that man
ought to imitate God, his creator, in working, because man alone has the unique characteristic of
likeness to God. Man ought to imitate God both in working and also in resting, since God himself
wished to present his own creative activity under the form of work and rest." Pope John Paul II, On
Human Work (1981) 25.
Reflections on the dignity of work.
a) In what sense is work an imitation of God?
b) Why does the pope refer to Genesis as the first 'gospel of work'?
c) Is there dignity attached only to work, or is there also dignity attached to rest? Why?
26. What determines the ethical value of human work?
"Human work has an ethical value of its own, which clearly and directly remains linked to the fact that
the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and free subject, that is to say, a subject that decides
about himself. The basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work
being done, but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work
Reflections on the ethical value of human work.
a) The statement says that work is ethical when it is done by a free person deciding about himself. Why
is it unethical when the person doing it is not free and deciding about himself!
b) Why is the person more important than the work he is do ing?
27. What is the ethical meaning of work?
"If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must
particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man, a good thing for his humanity because through
work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a
human being and indeed in a sense becomes 'more a human being.'" Pope John Paul II, On Human
Work (1981) 9.
Reflections on the ethical meaning of work.
a) What are the two reasons given for work being a good thing for people?
b) List several types of work with which you are familiar and explain what they have to do with
transforming nature and achieving human fulfillment.
28. What is the duty to work based on?
"Man must work both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which
requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others,
especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child and
the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at
the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of
history. All this constitutes the moral obligation of work, understood in its wide sense." Pope John Paul
II, On Human Work (1981) 16.
Reflections on the duty to work.
a) List the four reasons given for our obligation to work.
b) What does it mean to say that we are heirs to the work of generations?
c) What does our work have to do with those who will come after us?
29. How important is work in the whole area of social justice?
"Human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question, if we try to see that
question really from the point of view of man's good. And if the solution or rather the gradual solution
of the social question, which keeps coming up and becomes ever more complex, must be sought in the
direction of 'making life more human,' then the key, namely human work, acquires fundamental and
decisive importance." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 3.
Reflections on work in the area of social justice.
a) What do you think the pope meant by "the social question"?
b ) Why would work be the key to the solution of "the social question"?
30. Do workers have a right to form unions?
"The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their
rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to
associate. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we
firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing
unions and prevent workers from organizing. We vehemently oppose violations of the freedom to
associate, wherever they occur, for they are an intolerable attack on social solidarity." U.S. Bishops,
Economic Justice for All (1986) 104-05.
Reflections on the right to form unions.
a) Why does the Church support the right to form unions?
b) What image do you have of unions? Are they good for workers? Are they good for the country?
31. Do workers have a right to strike?
"One method used by unions in pursuing the just rights of their members is the strike or work stoppage,
as a kind of ultimatum to the competent bodies, especially the employers. This method is recognized by
Catholic social teaching as legitimate in the proper conditions and within just limits. In this connection
workers should be assured the right to strike, without being subjected to personal penal sanctions for
taking part in a strike. While admitting that it is a legitimate means, we must at the same time emphasize
that a strike remains, in a sense, an extreme means. It must not be abused; it must not be abused
especially for 'political' purposes." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 20.
Reflections on the right to strike.
a) Catholic social teaching recognizes the right to strike "in the proper conditions and within just limits."
What do you think would be improper conditions and unjust limits?
b) Do strikes help or hurt workers?
c) Do you agree that workers have the right to strike? Why?
32. What must be considered in determining an appropriate wage?
"In determining what constitutes an appropriate wage, the fol lowing must necessarily be taken into
account first of all, the contribution of individuals to the economic effort; the economic state of the
enterprises within which they work; the requirements of each community, especially as regards overall
employment; finally, what concerns the common good of all peoples, namely, of the various States
associated among themselves, but differing in character and extent." Pope John XXIII, On Christianity
and Social Progress (1961) 71.
Reflections on determining an appropriate wage.
a) Restate in your own words each of the four factors that should influence the determination of an
b) Explain why each is a legitimate factor that should be taken into account.
c) Using these criteria, when do you think the minimum wage is just, and when is it unjust?
33. Which has priority: capital or labor?
"We must first of all recall a principle that has always been taught by the church: the principle of the
priority of labor over capital. This principle directly concerns the process of production: In this process
labor is always a primary efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production,
remains a mere instrument or instrumental cause. This principle is an evident truth that emerges from the
whole of man's historical experience. The hierarchy of values and the profound meaning of work itself
require that capital should be at the service of labor and not labor at the service of capital." Pope John
Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 12, 23.
Reflections on the priority of labor over capital.
a) What does it mean to say that labor is a primary efficient cause and capital is an instrumental cause?
b) Why does labor take priority over capital?
c) Give an example of the violation of this principle.
34. What is the church's duty regarding workers?
"The church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to
condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide the
abovementioned changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society." Pope John Paul II, On
Human Work (1981) 1.
Reflections on the church's duty regarding workers.
a) Explain how each of the tasks listed is a proper function of the church.
b) Describe a situation in which the dignity and rights of workers are violated. What would need to be
done to correct the situation?
35. How important is full employment?
"Full employment is the foundation of a just economy. The most urgent priority for domestic economic
policy is the creation of new jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions." U.S. Bishops,
Economic Justice for All (1986) 136.
Reflections on the importance of full employment.
a) What does it mean to say that a just economy is based on full employment? Do you agree? Why?
b) Most of us would agree that it is unrealistic to expect for there to be 100 percent employment all the
time. What is full employment, then, or in other words, at what point do you not have full employment?
c) Do you agree that proper job creation is an urgent priority? Why?
36. Can high unemployment be tolerated in order to hold down inflation?
"There are those who insist that we must tolerate high levels of unemployment for some, in order to
avoid ruinous inflation for all. Although we are deeply concerned about inflation, we reject such a policy
as not grounded in justice." U.S. Bishops, The Economy: Human Dimensions (1975) 14.
Reflections on unemployment vs. inflation.
a) Why would the bishops say that unemployment is a more serious problem than inflation?
b) Do you agree with them? Why?
c) A contrary argument says that inflation is more important because it hurts everyone while
unemployment does not. Explain how unemployment hurts not just the unemployed but everyone.
37. What is the government's role in addressing the problem of unemployment?
"Government has a prominent and indispensable role to play in addressing the problem of
unemployment The market alone will not automatically produce full employment. Therefore, the
government must act to ensure that this goal is achieved by coordinating general economic policies, by
job creation programs, and by other appropriate policy measures." U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for
All (1986) 154.
Reflections on the government and unemployment.
a) Why won't the market alone produce full employment?
b) What are job creation programs? Many people do not think that the government should be involved in
such programs. What is your opinion?
38. What is the basis for the obligation to provide unemployment benefits?
"The obligation to provide unemployment benefits, that is to say, the duty to make suitable grants
indispensable for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families, is a duty springing from the
fundamental principle of the moral order in this sphere, namely the principle of the common use of
goods or, to put it in another and still simpler way, the right to life and subsistence." Pope John Paul II,
On Human Work (1981) 18.
Reflections on unemployment benefits.
a) Explain in your own words why workers should be given benefits while they are unemployed.
b) The pope implies that it is immoral not to help unemployed workers? Do you agree? Why?
39. Why are competition and private initiative insufficient to assure the success of development?
"The initiatives of individuals and the fluctuations of competition will not assure the success of
development. For it is not lawful to go to such lengths that the resources and power of the rich become
even greater, and the distress of the needy be increased and the enslavement of the oppressed
aggravated." Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples (1967) 33.
Reflections on competition and private initiative.
a) The statement says that it is unlawful for private initiative and competition to lead to a situation in
which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
b) What restrictions, if any, should be placed on private initiative?
c) What is meant by "enslavement of the oppressed"? Give examples.
40. Has the Church been critical of capitalism?
"From this point of view the position of 'rigid' capitalism continues to remain unacceptable, namely the
position that defends the exclusive right to private ownership of the means of production as an
untouchable 'dogma' of economic life. The principle of respect for work demands that this right should
undergo a constructive revision both in theory and in practice." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work
"In Quadragesimo Anno Pope Pius XI referred to the liberal theory of uncontrolled competition as a
'poisoned spring' from which have originated all the errors of individualism. The French hierarchy,
commenting upon the same pope's letter on communism, stated: 'By condemning the actions of
communist parties, the Church does not support the capitalist regime. It is most necessary that it be
realized that in the very essence of capitalism that is to say, in the absolute value that it gives to property
without reference to the common good or to the dignity of labor there is a materialism rejected by
Christian teaching." U.S. Bishops, Pastoral Letter on Marxist Communism (1980) 62.
Reflections on the church and capitalism.
a) The first statement rejects the proposition that the means of .production (factories, farms, mines, etc.)
should be owned exclusively by private citizens. What other kind of ownership is there? Do you agree or
disagree that there should be both types of ownership? Why?
b) Why do you think the pope sees a conflict between respect for work and the exclusive right to private
ownership of the means of production?
c) What do you think is meant in the second statement by uncontrolled competition? When is
competition in need of control?
d) Mention is made of the church's condemnation of communism. What do you think is the church's
argument with communism in the area of economic justice?
e) Do people have the right to do whatever they want with their property without having to be concerned
about how it affects society? Why?
f) Does a businessman have the right to run his company any way he wants without having to be
concerned with how it affects the people who work for him? Why?
41. Under what conditions does Catholic social teaching allow for socialization of the means of production?
"While we accept that for certain well founded reasons exceptions can be made to the principle of
private ownership in our own time we even see that the system of 'socialized ownership' has been
introduced nevertheless the personalist argument still holds good both on the level of principles and on
the practical level. If it is to be rational and fruitful, any socialization of the means of production must
take this argument into consideration. Every effort must be made to ensure that in this kind of system
also the human person can preserve his awareness of working 'for himself.' If this is not done,
incalculable damage is inevitably done throughout the economic process, not only economic damage but
first and foremost damage to man." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 15.
Reflections on socialization of the means of production.
a) Under what circumstances is 'socialized ownership' acceptable?
b) Do you think that there is some room for 'socialized ownership' within the framework of a capitalist
42. Under what condition can public ownership of goods be expanded?
"It is lawful for States and public corporations to expand their domain of ownership only when manifest
and genuine requirements of the common good so require, and then with safeguards, lest the possession
of private citizens be diminished beyond measure, or, what is worse, destroyed." Pope John XXIII, On
Christianity and Social Progress (1961) 117.
Reflections on the public ownership of goods.
a) According to this statement, what are the conditions for state ownership of property?
b) Give an example of state ownership which is in the interest of the common good.
c) Give an example of state ownership which is not in the interest of the common good.
43. What is required so that all peoples will have their right to development fulfilled?
"In order that the right to development may be fulfilled by action: a) people should not be hindered from
attaining development in accordance with their own culture; b) through mutual cooperation, all peoples
should be able to become the principal architects of their own economic and social development; c)
every people, as active and responsible members of human society, should be able to cooperate for the
attainment of the common good on an equal footing with other peoples." Synod of Bishops, Justice in the
World (1971) 71.
Reflections on the right to development.
a) Pick a Third World country and restate each of these rights in terms of that country.
b) Explain why that same country has each of these three rights.
c) Explain whether you think larger countries like the United States and Russia deal with
smaller countries "on an equal footing."
44. What is the Church's role in economic life?
"It is not the Church's role to create or promote a specific new economic system. Rather, the Church
must encourage all reforms that hold out hope of transforming our economic arrangements into a fuller
systemic realization of the Christian moral vision. The Church must also stand ready to challenge
practices and institutions that impede or carry us farther away from realizing this vision." U.S. Bishops,
Economic Justice for All (1986) 129.
Reflections on the Church's role in economic life.
a) What are the two roles outlined here for the church in the economic order? Do you consider them
legitimate roles? Why?
b) Give an example of an economic practice or institution which stands in the way of the realization of
the Christian moral vision.
c) Give an example of an economic reform which, in your opinion, would help realize the Christian
45. What principles apply to the Church as economic actor?
"All the moral principles that govern the just operation of any economic endeavor apply to the Church
and its agencies and institutions; indeed the Church should be exemplary." U.S. Bishops, Economic
Justice for All (1986) 347.
Reflections on the Church as economic actor.
a) Why is the Church subject to the same moral principles as any other economic institution?
b) Does the Church come across to you as an example of a just economic operation? Explain.
46. What should be the Church's attitude in its use of temporal possessions?
"In regard to temporal possessions, whatever be their use, it must never happen that the evangelical
witness which the Church is required to give becomes ambiguous. Our faith demands of us a certain
sparingness in use, and the Church is obliged to live and administer its own goods in such a way that the
Gospel is proclaimed to the poor. If instead the Church appears to be among the rich and the powerful of
this world, its credibility is diminished." Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World (1971) 47.
Reflections on the Church's use of temporal possessions.
a) What is meant by "a certain sparingness in use" of goods? Do you agree that our faith demands it?
b) What does the Church's administration of its goods have to do with the proclamation of the Gospel to
c) If someone told you that it is his or her perception that the Church is "among the rich and the
powerful of this world," what would be your response?
47. What questions should be asked about the lifestyle of Catholics and their Church?
"In the case of needy peoples it must be asked whether belonging to the Church places people on a rich
island within an ambient of poverty. In societies enjoying a higher level of consumer spending, it must
be asked whether our lifestyle exemplifies that sparingness with regard to consumption which we preach
to others as necessary in order that so many millions of hungry people throughout the world may be
fed." Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World (1971) 48.
"All of us must examine our way of living in light of the needs of the poor. Christian faith and the norms
of justice impose distinct limits on what we consume and how we view material goods." U.S. Bishops,
Economic Justice for All (1986) 75.
Reflections on the lifestyle of Catholics and the Catholic Church.
a) A connection is made in the first statement between our lifestyle and the fate of hungry millions.
Explain that connection as you see it.
b) Do you agree that "all of us must examine our way of living in light of the needs of the poor"? Why?
c) Is limiting what we consume good for the economy? Is it just or unjust, according to the bishops?
What is your opinion?
d) How are we supposed to reconcile the demands of justice with the requirements for a healthy