Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) offers a way of thinking, being and seeing the world. It provides a vision for a just society in which the dignity of all people is recognised, and those who are vulnerable are cared for. It consists of an interrelated body of Catholic social thought and principles which can be used to reflect on and guide how we relate to one another in our local and global communities.

The perspective and principles of Catholic Social Teaching are a rich heritage, developed as the Church has engaged with key social issues throughout history. Catholic Social Teaching includes insight from the Scriptures, as well as understanding from the thinking, reflections and lived experience of people throughout the life of the Church.

“An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.”

(Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)

See, Judge, Act

The tradition of Catholic Social Teaching encourages a process of:

  • Looking at the social justice issues as they affect society – SEE
  • Understanding what is happening and why it is happening – JUDGE
  • Discerning the actions needed to respond – ACT

There a number of key principles (below) which inform this process of reflection.

Catholic Social Teaching and CSSA

Catholic Social Services Australia’s (CSSA) vision, mission and day to day work are informed by Catholic Social Teaching. The key principles of Catholic Social Teaching shape CSSA’s policy and advocacy work responding to key social justice and social service issues. CSSA advocates with and on behalf of vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our society, whom CSSA member agencies serve every day through ongoing social programs.

Key Principles

There are four foundational principles of Catholic Social Teaching:

Human dignity

We recognise the sacredness of life and that every person has inherent dignity and worth. Our human rights and responsibilities are founded in this essential, shared human dignity.

The common good

We have responsibility for one another in our life together, and are called to work for the common good of all. We must advocate for a just society in which all people, particularly the vulnerable and marginalised, are able to flourish and meet their needs.


The capacity and capabilities of people and communities ought to be respected, with decisions made at the lowest local level possible. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to decision processes that closely affect them.


Humans are social by nature and depend on one another. We seek to stand in unity with each other, particularly those who are powerless or disadvantaged, and recognise each persons’ rights regardless of our differences.
Other principles include:

Preferential option for the poor

The needs of the socially disadvantaged and vulnerable are prioritised.

Stewardship of creation

Care for the earth, recognising that all of creation is inter-connected and we are part of and dependent on the environment. Pope Francis has recently referred to this as integral ecology.

Papal Encyclicals

The following Papal Encyclicals are just some of the key Church documents which have contributed to the development and application of CST. Other relevant Papal documents are available here.

Further information

Further information and resources on the core principles and application of Catholic Social Teaching are available at the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website, and the Caritas Australia website.

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