What is Catholic Social Teaching?

Catholic Social Teaching is the response of the Catholic Church to ‘the social question’, that is the social, economic and political issues of the day. This body of teaching has taken the form of major teaching documents produced by the popes and bishops of the Catholic Church. As the late Saint Pope John Paul II reminds us, Catholic Social Teaching seeks to provide an ‘a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence . . . in the light of faith and the Church’s tradition’ (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41).

Whilst the social teachings of the Church serve as a basic orientation to the common good, they do not detail specific answers to every economic and political problem that we have or might face. The Church draws its social teaching from the insights of scripture, the early church fathers, medieval experience, theologians, philosophers, economists, political thinkers, countless witnesses, saints and activists throughout the ages.

What is Catholic Social Thought?

Catholic Social Thought tests the Catholic Church’s social teachings by applying them to modern life’s specific issues and complexities.

This broader, orbiting conversation involves those beyond the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and is inclusive of a range of other materials which are all attentive to the theological and social context that official teaching emerges within. Theologians, philosophers, economists, political scientists, management theorists, educators, sociologists and others have developed a tradition of thought which extends the Church’s social teachings into the specifics of the economic, social and political worlds.

Putting it into practice

For Catholic Social Teaching and thought to have an impact in the world, they both need to be put into practice.

‘Today more than ever, the Church is aware that her social message will gain credibility more immediately from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and consistency.’ Saint Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus

Motivation for action!

At the Charles Plater Trust, we believe that the Church’s social tradition flows from the Old Testament and draws upon everything in the life and thought of the church since. We have also been deeply influenced by the late Saint Pope John Paul II’s insight that Catholic Social Teaching and Thought cannot be considered as mere theory, ‘but above all else a basis and a motivation for action’ (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 57).

For this reason, we want to focus on Catholic Social Teaching, Thought and Practice as the work of the whole Church. We want to use our funding to promote the Catholic social tradition and to support the work of contemporary social justice thinkers and activists who are currently contributing to the development of the Catholic social tradition within our own context of the UK, in new and exciting ways. As a funder, we think of ourselves as part of a ‘reflective practice of justice’ with all our partners, who together make real our common commitment to the Catholic social tradition, across a wide range of important areas of domestic social concern.

The Legacy of
Charles Plater

Bishop Richard Moth, chair of CPT, reflects on the ongoing legacy of Fr Charles Plater on the 100th anniversary of his death.


Discover the treasure of Catholic Social Teaching, through groundbreaking writing and innovative projects.

CST reading list

Click on the button below to access the ultimate Catholic Social Teaching reading list and find out more.

Letters from the Popes

On Capital and Labor

‘Is it just that the fruit of a man's own sweat and labor should be possessed and enjoyed by any one else? As effects follow their cause, so is it just and right that the results of labor should belong to those who have bestowed their labor.’

Pope Leo XIII, ‘Rerum Novarum’, 1891

On Reconstruction of the Social Order

‘ … a true, genuine social order demands that the various members of a society be united together by some strong bond. This unifying force is present not only in the producing of goods or the rendering of services ... but also in that common good, to achieve which all Industries and Professions together ought, each to the best of its ability, to cooperate amicably.’

Pope Pius XI, ‘Quadragesimo Anno’, 1931

Peace on Earth

‘The world will never be the dwelling place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved.’

Pope John XXIII, ‘Pacem in Terris’, 1963

On the Development of Peoples

‘The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church. This is particularly true in the case of those peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance; of those who are seeking a larger share in the benefits of civilization’.

Pope Paul VI, ‘Populorum Progressio’, 1967

On Human Work

‘Work is a good thing for man - a good thing for his humanity - because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being".

Pope John Paul II, ‘Laborem Exercens’, 1981

The Gospel of Life

‘ ... every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart … Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.’

Pope John Paul II, ‘Evangelium Vitae’, 1995

Charity in Truth

‘Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine … It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones).’

Pope Benedict XVI, ‘Caritas in Veritate’ 2009

On Care for Our Common Home

‘The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.’

Pope Francis, ‘Laudato Si'’ 2015

Research for change

CPT have supported a range research projects which have developed and applied Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Social Thought, to improve public policy and practice. You can find out more about them below:

The Internet and End of Life

Art of Dying Well at St Mary's University & Demos

‘Our partnership was formed to listen to the voices of the dying, those who accompany the dying, and those who have been bereaved: to support a greater understanding of what those in the last stages of life, and those caring for them, need, and how this can best be provided, both online and offline.’

Discovering the Common Good in Practice:

The Catholicity of Catholic Charities

By Patricia Jones for the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University

‘This research examines a group of UK Catholic charities working in the field of homelessness and social exclusion in order to understand how their Catholicity is constituted and how this impacts on their practice.’

Catholic Social Thought and Catholic Charities in Britain Today

Need and Opportunity

By Ben Ryan, Theos

'By studying the relationship between Catholic Social Teaching and those Catholic charities, the author of the report presents an ideal opportunity to reflect on how this relationship can be developed for the mutual benefit of all.'
Cardinal Vincent Nichols