Resources for Catholic Social Teaching
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
February 2002

Where do the bishops get this stuff? This is a question I am often asked. Whether it is the bishops’ positions on abortion, farm policy, cloning, property rights, minimum wage, the right to unionize, assisted suicide or a host of other issues, people wonder from where do the bishops derive their conclusions on public policy issues. The simple answer is Catholic social teaching.

Where do we find Catholic social teaching? In Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Unfortunately, many Catholics are not familiar with the actual teachings. They might be surprised to find that some of the teachings are very accessible and usually easy to understand.

Through the years I have compiled a short reference guide to Catholic social teaching. Since Lent is a time for study, as well as prayer and penance, I thought it might be timely to provide some of those references. I encourage all persons and church groups to examine some of them during this Lenten season.

The Catechism is a great place to start. Part Three -- the Life in Christ contains most of the Catechism’s references to social issues, especially paragraphs:

1700-1715 on the dignity of the human person
1877-1943 on the human community, the common good, responsibility and participation, social justice, solidarity
2207-2231 on the family and society
2234-2245 on the authority and duties of civil authorities, citizens, and political community
2258-2230 on life and peace issues
2401-2463 on the universal destination of goods, respect for persons and goods, wages, types of justice, integrity of creation, the social doctrine of the church, economic activity and justice, solidarity among nations, love for the poor.

Perhaps the best web site is the Office of Social Justice -- Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul at:

The North Dakota Catholic Conference Web Site (at, especially the North Dakota Catholic Conference Catholic Social Teaching and Continuing Education page at In addition to information, this site contains links to other sites concerning Catholic social teaching.

Many feel intimidated by papal encyclicals and the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Others enjoy them. Everyone should give it a try. Some of the “social” encyclicals are:

Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor; 1891)
Quadragesimo Anno (Reconstruction of the Social Order; 1931)
Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress; 1961)
Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth; 1963)
Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples; 1967)
Laborem Exercens (On Human Work; 1981)
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concerns; 1988)
Centesimus Annus (On the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum; 1991)
Evangelium Vitae (On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life; 1995)

Other encyclicals with social implications include:

Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man; 1979)
Veritatis Splendor (Splendor of Truth; 1993)
Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth; 1968)
Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason; 1998)

The Documents of the Second Vatican Council with social implications include:

Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World; 1965)
Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Freedom; 1965)
Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education; 1965)
Contains some discussion on social aspects of education policy.

There are other documents and addresses concerning social issues such as “On the Ecological Crisis” (1990)
A statement issued by the Pope on the World Day of Peace, and “Ecclesia in America” (1998) Pope John Paul II’s address to the Synod of America. More can be found on the above mentioned web sites.

Too busy to read all that? Looking for something simpler? Perhaps this is for you:
“The Busy Christian's Guide to Catholic Social Teaching.” This document can be found at It describes the highlights of each social document with reference to its historical - secular and church - context.

Even the busy Christian can grow in the Lord by discovering the Church’s social teachings.