The ACSJC has prepared a series of discussion guides on principles of the Church’s social teaching and some important encyclicals related to this topic. They have been prepared for individuals and groups seeking to engage with current social justice issues, using the Church's social teachings to inform their judgement and action.

This material has also been collected in our Catholic Social Justice Series paper No 70, Reading the Signs of the Times: A basic introduction to Catholic social teaching.

The following is a list of individual discussion guides:

  • Reading the signs of the times, PDF
  • Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labour), PDF
  • Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order), PDF
  • Mater et Magistra (On Christianity and Social Progress), PDF
  • Octogesima Adveniens (A Call to Action), PDF
  • Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), PDF
  • Centesimus Annus (On the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum), PDF

Two articles of interest are:

  • An introduction to Catholic Social Teaching PDF
  • From Rejection to Proclamation PDF

Catholic Social Teaching

The permanent principles of the Church's social doctrine . . . are: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. These principles, the expression of the whole truth about the human person known by reason and faith, are born of "the encounter of the Gospel message and of its demands summarised in the supreme commandment of love of God and neighbour in justice with the problems emanating from the life of society".

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par.160

61. Confronting the death penalty 40. Death penalty 41. Life: Creation or Commodity 73. Where do we stand? 66. Work and Dignity


The Dignity of the Human Person

God has imprinted his own image and likeness on human beings (cf. Gen 1:26), conferring on them an incomparable dignity ... In effect beyond the rights which one acquires by one's own work, there exist rights which do not correspond to any work performed, but which flow from one's essential dignity as a person.

John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991, #11

The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself. This image finds, and must always find anew, an ever deeper and fuller unfolding of itself in the mystery of Christ, the Perfect Image of God, the One who reveals God to the human person ... The whole of the Church's social doctrine, in fact, develops from the principle that affirms the inviolable dignity of the human person.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par. 105, 107

Human Dignity

  • Recognises the sacredness of life and the dignity of each individual human person as inviolable
  • Ensures that every person, especially the most disadvantaged and marginalised, has reasonable access to more than just the basic necessities of life
  • Promotes the human rights especially of those who lack access to services, or who may not have the opportunity to participate in significant community activities and discussions
  • Brings with it natural rights and duties.

73. Where do we stand 67. Women in the Catholic Church 69. The Love that Surprises 65. Refugees and Australia's Response 53. Ending Hunger


The Common Good

It grows increasingly true that the obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according to one's own abilities and the needs of others, also promotes and assists the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.

Gaudium et Spes, 1965, #30

The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily".

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par. 164

The Common Good

  • Actively seeks conditions that enhance the good of all and contributes to the achievement of a common life
  • Requires that the poor and marginalised should be the focus of particular concern
  • Ensures a response to injustice at local and global levels
  • Takes the issue of poverty beyond charitable acts and into the questioning and challenging of social values and structures
  • Fosters collaboration rather than hierarchical management, ensuring a cohesive engagement of all involved
  • Takes responsibility for the environment.

60. Trauma and Forgiveness 69. The Love that Surprises 27. Politicians and Citizens 71. Take Off Your Shoes 58. Choice for Whom



Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do.

Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1931, #79

The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties. This principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par. 187


  • Enables participation of and among those who make up the community or organisation
  • Fosters life within the group, without undue social control and unwarranted interference
  • Ensures participation in decision-making processes affecting personal and organisational life
  • Promotes decision-making that is empowering of those involved in and affected by the process
  • Ensures that decision-making processes include consultation with those who will be most affected by them.

54. Trade Justice 59. To Each as Any Have Need 71. Take Off Your Shoes 62. Palestine and Israel 73. Where do we stand



Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue ... In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. One's neighbour is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit.

John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987 #40

Solidarity highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights and the common path of individuals and peoples towards an ever more committed unity.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par. 192


  • Acknowledges that our responsibilities to each other cross national, racial, cultural, economic and ideological differences
  • Respects and promotes personal, social, economic, cultural and political rights
  • Presents a spiritual and material solidarity with all people, especially those who are marginalised, vulnerable or distressed, giving priority to those in greatest need.


Let us pray ...

Creator God, Your image is alive
in every human person
giving to each of us an inviolable dignity.

Create in us a desire to act in solidarity,an energy to work together
and a willingness to share with others
our time, our energy,
our skills and talents and our wealth.

As we share and enjoy
the fruits of your creation,
restore in us your vision
of a world made whole,
and inspire us to commit ourselves
to the common good.

Gracious God,
give us ears to hear, eyes to see
and hearts to love,
so that we reflect you in our way of life,
and in our choices, words and actions.

Jesus is the good news to the poor.
As his followers, may we recognise
the call to be the same. Amen