Catholic Social Teaching
CLINIC constitutes one expression of the Catholic Church’s commitment to welcome and defend newcomers in the United States. CLINIC’s work draws its inspiration from the Gospel mandate to serve the marginalized and the newcomer. It also reflects the Church’s own tradition of exile, flight and migration. Catholic social teaching identifies the Holy Family, in their flight to Egypt, as the “archetype of every refugee family.” It emphasizes that Jesus identified with newcomers (“I was a stranger and you welcomed me”), so that in the Catholic tradition, newcomers “image” God. It identifies the Church itself as a “pilgrim” Church. It views migration not as a divisive phenomenon, but as an occasion to build the human family. It recognizes a range of human rights for newcomers, based on their God-given dignity that extends far beyond those recognized by individual nations or international bodies. Finally, it teaches that civil authority draws its legitimacy from protecting and defending human rights and the “common good of the entire human family.” In this context, service to newcomers constitutes an obligation to persons of faith, not an option.
Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on the rights and dignity of all persons explains, in part, why CLINIC and its diocesan partners represent needy newcomers from all countries, religions, social groups, creeds and ethnic backgrounds. CLINIC and its partners serve non-Catholics precisely because of their Catholic identity.
The following are excerpts from Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions, released by the bishops in 1999.
Life and Dignity of the Human Person: The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Our belief in the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching.
Call to Family, Community, and Participation: The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society–in economics and politics, in law and policy–directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The family is the central social institution that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Rights and Responsibilities: The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities–to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
Solidarity: We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they live. We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. Learning to practice the virtue of solidarity means learning that “loving our neighbor” has global dimensions in an interdependent world.
Care for God’s Creation: We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
This summary should only be a starting point for those interested in Catholic social teaching. A full understanding can only be achieved by reading the papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents that make up this rich tradition.
Additional background information, including short podcasts on major themes, on Catholic social teaching can be found on USCCB’s website here.
Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope
On January 22, 2003 the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States issued a historic pastoral statement on immigration. The bishops’ letter provides a Catholic framework for responding to the ongoing migration phenomenon in the United States and Mexico. Catholics are involved in all aspects of the phenomenon—as pastors, parish staff, and social service providers who give support to migrants; as public officials and law enforcement personnel who enforce the civil law; and as migrants themselves. The Church, the bishops say, must bring these parties together to help reform immigration laws in both the United States and Mexico.
- Click here for the full statement.
- Click here for excerpts from Strangers No Longer.
- Click here for the Brochure Summary of Recommendations from the Pastoral Letter
- Compilation of World Day of Migrants and Refugees Messages, 1996-2013
- Statements of Pope Benedict XVI Regarding Immigration (April 15-20, 2008)
- Statements from the U.S. Bishops on Immigration
- CLINIC Presentation on Catholic Social Teaching and Migration
- U.S. Catholic Bishops and Immigration Educational Website
- Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States
Justice for Immigrants Campaign: Help Educate Catholics on Immigration Issues
On May 10, 2005, the U.S. Catholic Bishops launched the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) Campaign in an effort to educate Catholics, including Catholic public officials, and other people of good will, about Catholic social teaching concerning immigrants. The goals of the Campaign are to raise the awareness about the positive contributions of immigrants to our society and to advocate for changes in immigration law.
JFI needs your help to educate Catholics and others of good will about Catholic social teaching with respect to immigrants. Please help change hearts and minds by spreading what we teach:
- No person is a criminal in the eyes of God merely for being undocumented. No good Samaritan should ever be considered a criminal for providing humanitarian assistance to another person in need.
- All people regardless of their immigration status deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
- The Catholic Church does not support illegal immigration. It respects a nation’s sovereign right to control its borders for the common good. If the laws that control the border do not serve the common good, then they are not fair and just.
- Catholic social teaching instructs us that people have a responsibility to care for their families. People have a right to live in their own country. Yet, if society prevents them from caring for their families due to poverty or other circumstances, then they have a right to migrate to support their family. If our economy needs these workers to fill jobs that Americans will not take, a fair and just law would allow them to enter legally.
- People do not want to migrate illegally. People would migrate legally if they could.
- Catholics make up 23 percent of the U.S. population. We are an immigrant nation and an immigrant church. Immigrants are a positive force for our country.
The JFI Campaign needs your help to raise the awareness among Catholics. They must see the human face of undocumented immigration and recognize the positive contributions that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, make to our country.
Click here for more information.
American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives’ The American Catholic History Classroom: U.S. Catholic Bishops and Immigration
Aimed at both educators and researchers, the American Catholic History Classroom offers an exhibit on the U.S. Catholic Bishop and immigration. The site, which features between 20 and 40 primary documents and photographs and background information sections written by educators and historians, examines the role of the American Catholic Church in the debates over immigration policies that restricted entry into the U.S. based on ethnic background. Throughout the twentieth century, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its forerunner, the National Catholic Welfare Conference, have fought for fairer laws and greater justice for immigrants. The documents presented in this site explore the changing perceptions on immigration in the twentieth century, as well as the Church's involvement in shaping immigration policy.
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States
In 2007, the Catholic Bishops of the U.S. released the teaching document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. The Bishops’ Conference has again recently promoted this statement, which urges Catholics to form their consciences, to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue, and to shape their choices in the coming election in the light of Catholic teaching. The full statement and related documents are available online here.