The Best-Kept Secret of the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church has a very big secret. It is so powerful, challenging and relevant, that if every bishop, priest, religious and layperson was committed to communicating and implementing this secret, it would turn society upside-down and literally transform the world!
However, revealing its contents, and urging the full application of its message, would surely cause great controversy. The church’s leaders would come under attack from both conservatives and liberals. They would be characterised as naïve and acting outside the acceptable bounds of church leadership.
Therefore, most church leaders have opted to tread lightly, sadly guaranteeing that “Catholic social teaching” will remain our best-kept secret.
125 Years of Justice & Peace Documents
The best-kept secret is that the Catholic Church is deeply blessed with over 125 years of outstanding social justice and peace documents authored by popes, Vatican Council II, world synods of bishops and national conferences of bishops. Sadly, they attract more dust than readers.
Because Catholic social teaching’s foundational tenets of love, justice and peace boldly challenge governments, corporations and societies, as well as rich and powerful individuals to fairly share their wealth and power with the everyone – especially the poor, the vulnerable and mother earth – and because these teachings insist that war preparation and war-making must give way to peacemaking, Catholic social teaching is to put it mildly: a tough sell.
We need to put the effort into learning the wisdom of Catholic social teaching and selflessly, courageously put it into practice in our personal, political, economic and societal lives. It needs to be put above the status quo of ourselves, our nations, our corporations and our culture.
Like the Gospel, Catholic social teaching is countercultural. And, therefore, we must get out of our comfort zones and be countercultural as well!
But sadly, because Catholic social teaching is so challenging, the path of least resistance is most often used. For example, from time to time a passing reference is made to it in a homily, but such token efforts are too weak and too infrequent to make much difference for the unborn, poor and war-torn of our world. And our faith is all the weaker for it.
Catholic social teaching has at its core a set of principles designed to help guide us in applying the liberating message of the Gospel to the social, economic, and political problems facing modern humanity.
These principles are:
- The protection of all human life and the promotion of human dignity
- The call to participate in family and community life
- The promotion of human rights and responsibilities
- The preferential option for the poor and vulnerable
- The safeguarding of workers’ dignity and rights
- The building of global solidarity and the common good
- The care for God’s creation
- The universal destination of goods
- The call to become peacemakers.
Among the most important documents of Catholic social teaching are the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” , St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals “On Social Concerns” and “The Gospel of Life”, and Pope Francis’ encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home .
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services offer an excellent video introductory overview of Catholic social teaching (see: https://www.crs.org/resource-center/CST-101).
Catholic social teaching could become a tremendously effective tool for building a just and peaceful world, if we would regularly read it, pray with it, teach it, preach it, and live it!
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan and parish gatherings from Santa Clara, Calif. to Baltimore, Md. Tony can be reached at