In his book Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action, Jesuit priest and scholar Thomas Massaro provides nine basic concepts that have characterized Social Catholicism since the time of Rerum Novarum.
- The dignity of every human person and human rights: Made in the image and likeness of God, humans deserve respect and dignity from conception to natural death. This idea means Catholics reject abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. This teaching calls for equality on all fronts. Human rights are a way of expressing what belongs to humans by virtue of their dignity.
- Solidarity, common good, and participation: This idea balances the first, rejecting rampant individualism. Solidarity means we are dependent upon each other; we must be committed to the well-being of others. The common good, which seeks the benefit of all, and participation, meaning both the right and obligation, are part of our social life. Catholic social teaching says government is the privileged agent of the common good.
- Family life: Family life is where people learn; it is the domestic church. Families are where God’s unconditional love is reflected in everyday life and activity.
- Subsidiarity and the proper role of government: Coined by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, subsidiarity speaks of the proper division of labor among human institutions, believing that those institutions closest to the people, that is the lowest level, should be engaged first. Government definitely has a significant role to play to coordinate and make things possible, but the state is only one facet of a larger society.
- Property ownership and modern society-rights and responsibility: The church follows the middle road of Thomas Aquinas, who believed in the right of private property with consideration for the common good. From Rerum Novarum forward, the church has supported the right of private ownership of property. Still, the common good at times requires expropriation of lands from their owners.
- The dignity of work, the rights of workers, and support for labor unions: Catholic social teaching suggests that despite some problems, a world without organized labor would be a less favorable environment for achieving justice and an equitable sharing of the earth’s resources. Labor is believed to be something intrinsically good for humans; it allows us to use our talents to contribute to the wider society. Thus, human work is more than a commodity or a job; it is our vocation.
- Colonialism and the economic environment: Disturbing inequities between rich and poor in the world prompt the church to offer two important teachings. First, the church says we have a moral obligation to care deeply about world poverty and to act to address this issue. Additionally, people are invited to ponder this issue and offer suggestions.
- Peace and disarmament: Social justice has long been allied with peace. Two prominent teachings on peace are pacifism and the just-war theory. Advocates for pacifism have been rare, although more recently there has been a greater movement toward pacifism because many question the validity of the just-war theory and its application to contemporary warfare. Nonetheless, the just-war theory has been used to justify Christian conflict for many centuries.
- Option for the poor and vulnerable: This idea is relatively new, appearing in a church document only in 1979 and in a papal document in 1987. On the other hand, the sense of this teaching has been part of the church from the very outset. Living the Gospel message means simultaneously meeting people’s spiritual and material needs.