Church Documents

Church Documents (in chronological order)

Modern Catholic social teaching is the body of social principles and moral teaching that is articulated in the papal, conciliar (council), and other official documents issued since the late nineteenth century and dealing with the economic, political, and social order. This teaching is rooted in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as well as in traditional philosophical and theological teachings of the Church. The following is a list of the major documents that contribute to the ongoing development of Catholic social teaching.

On the Condition of Workers, Revolutionary Change: Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor (Rerum Novarum)

This encyclical (papal document) of Leo XIII was issued in 1891 and is considered to be the foundational social justice teaching document of the modern era. It was a response to the plight of workers in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. It calls for the protection of the weak and the poor through the pursuit of justice while excluding socialism and class struggle as legitimate principles of change. It affirms the dignity of work, the right to private property, and the right to form and join professional associations. Read more.

On the Reconstruction of the Social Order, The 40th Year On the Condition of Workers

An encyclical issued in 1931 by Pius XI, reflects on the response of the Church and the world to Rerum Novarum, 40 years after Pope Leo’s document was promulgated (declared official). Read more.

Christianity and Social Progress (Mater et Magistra)

An encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII in 1961, that proposes methodologies for the application of Catholic teaching to concrete issues. Read more.

Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris)

Issued by Pope John XXIII in 1963, this encyclical reflects on the rights of individuals and draws together two major strands of human rights thought — the Enlightenment ideals (of which the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are examples) and the older Catholic tradition of natural law rights. Read more.

Joy & Hope, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes)

Promulgated by the Second Vatican Council with Pope Paul VI in 1965, continued to build on the foundation of “apostles and prophets” in applying church teachings to the modern world. Read more.

On the Dignity of the Human Person (Dignitatis Humanae)

Promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, spells out the Church’s support for the protection of religious liberty and set the ground rules by which the Church would relate to secular states, both pluralistic ones like the U.S., and officially Catholic nations like Malta and Costa Rica. Read more.

On the Development of Peoples (Populorum Progressio)

Encyclical issued in 1967 by Pope Paul VI. It considers the social and economic development of peoples and calls upon rich nations to assist the poor. Read more.             

Medellin Conference Documents

Issued by the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) in 1968, sought how to apply the teachings of Vatican II to Latin America, and its conclusions were strongly influenced by liberation theology. Read more.

A Call to Action (Octogesima Adveniens)

Issued by Pope Paul VI in 1971, the Pope considers the Church in the City on the 80th anniversary of On the Condition of Workers. Read more.

Justice in the World (Justitia in Mundo)

Issued by the U.S. Synod of Bishops in 1971, this document is the source of the phrase, “Work for social justice is a constituent element of preaching the Gospel“. Read more.

Puebla Conference Documents

Issued by the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) in 1979, including the opening speech by Pope John Paul II. Read more.

Brothers and Sisters

A pastoral letter on racism by the US Conference of Catholic bishops in 1979. Read more.

On Human Work (Laboren Exercens)

An encyclical on a “theology of work” and “Christ the Worker” issued in 1981 by Pope John Paul II. Read more.

The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response

A pastoral letter on war issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 1983. Read more.

Economic Justice for All

A pastoral letter of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on the social teaching of the church issued in 1986. Read more.

On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis)

Issued by Pope John Paul II in 1987, this encyclical has an extensive discussion of solidarity and its role in Catholic teaching affirming the continuity of the Church’s social doctrine in its links with the Gospel and its constant renewal due to changing conditions and events. Read more.

The 100th Anniversary of “On the Condition of Workers(Centesimus Annus)

An encyclical of Pope John Paul II issued in 1991 that reflects on the hundred years of development of Catholic social justice teaching since the publication of On the Condition of Workers, containing important teachings on subsidiarity and the utility — and the limits — of markets. Read more.

The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae)

An encyclical issued by Pope John Paul II in 1995 that expresses the position of the Church regarding the value and inviolability of human life. Read more.

A Catholic Framework for Economic Life

A statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), issued in 1996 that summarizing 10 basic premises of the church’s social teaching such as “The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.” Read more.

Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio)

An encyclical from Pope John Paul II in 1998 stating that faith and reason are not only compatible, but essential together. Faith without reason, leads to superstition. Reason without faith, leads to nihilism and relativism. Read more.

Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for the New Millennium

A pastoral letter of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 1999 regarding the political responsibilities of Catholics. Read more.

A Place at the Table

A pastoral letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002, recommitting to overcome poverty and to respect the dignity of all God’s children. Read more.

Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life

Published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2002. Read more.

Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope

Issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Mexican Episcopal Conference in 2003 dealing with the issue of migration in the context of both the United States and Mexico. Read more.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004. Read more.

God Is Love (Deus Caritas Est)

An encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 that reflects on the concepts of eros (possessive, often sexual, love), agape (unconditional, self-sacrificing love), logos (the word), and their relationship with the teachings of Jesus. Read more.

Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate)

An encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 concerned with the problems of global development and progress towards the common good of all. Read more.

The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii gaudium)

An encyclical from Pope Francis issued in 2013 that touches on obligations Christians have to the poor, and the duty to establish and maintain just economic, political, and legal order, stating that the world “can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market and calls for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality” that “attacks the structural causes of inequality.” It also calls for a renewal of the church and is critical of the over-centralization of church bureaucracy, poor preaching, and excessive emphasis on doctrine. Read more.

The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei)

An encyclical from Pope Francis, issued in 2013 that completes what his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had previously written about charity and hope, the other two theological virtues, in his encyclicals. Read more.

Praise Be to You Lord, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si)

An encyclical from Pope Francis issued in 2015 critiquing consumerism and irresponsible development, and lamenting environmental degradation and global warming, calling all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action.” Read more.

Brothers All, On Fraternity and Social Friendship (Fratelli Tutti) 

In 2020, Pope Francis laid out a comprehensive vision for how the world should change after the coronavirus pandemic, imagining societies that are more caring, more focused on helping those in need and fundamentally less attached to the principles of market capitalism.
The pope addressed several topics including: trickle-down economics, the world’s unfair distribution of wealth, continued use of the just war theory and the death penalty, and populist leaders who appeal to people’s “basest and most selfish inclinations.”

Read more.