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July 4: Food for Thought

From childhood on, when we recite the pledge of allegiance to our United States flag we proclaim it represents “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That ideal of equal justice was earlier implied in the Declaration of Independence when Thomas Jefferson proclaimed the colonies had, without avail, appealed to the native justice and magnanimity of our British brethren.

The struggle to achieve justice for all has been long and difficult. It has embraced our Civil War and the fight to end slavery. The establishment of women’s suffrage, the passage of labor laws, laws to protect the rights of disabled people and to guarantee equal opportunities for employment, and legislation forbidding discrimination in education and civil life have also been steps along the way to a just society.

The presence of so many who are unemployed and homeless, the plight of sweatshop workers and millions of children without health insurance, and the hard life of thousands of migrant farmworkers are reminders that the quest for justice for all is not ended.

After pondering the inequities in our society and the needs of the disadvantaged, our United States bishops issued a statement entitled Economic Justice for All: A Catholic Framework for Economic Life. They offer this statement as a guide for reflecting and source of criteria for judgment and directions for action. In this month of July, St. Anthony Messenger brings their statement to your attention.—N.P.

Economic Justice for All:
A Catholic Framework for Economic Life

As followers of Jesus Christ and participants in a powerful economy, Catholics in the United States are called to work for greater economic justice in the face of persistent poverty, growing income gaps and increasing discussion of economic issues in the United States and around the world. We urge Catholics to use the following ethical framework for economic life as principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and directions for action. These principles are drawn directly from Catholic teaching on economic life.

1. The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.

2. All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.

3. A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.

4. All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security).

5. All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.

6. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.

7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.

18. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs and pursue justice in economic life.

19. Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice.

10. The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.

According to Pope John Paul II, the Catholic tradition calls for a “society of work, enterprise and participation” which “is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state to assure that the basic needs of the whole society are satisfied” (Centesimus Annus, #35). All of economic life should recognize the fact that we are all God’s children and members of one human family, called to exercise a clear priority for “the least among us.”


The sources for this framework include the Catechism of the Catholic Church, recent papal encyclicals, the pastoral letter Economic Justice for All and other statements of the U.S. Catholic bishops. They reflect the Church’s teaching on the dignity, rights and duties of the human person; the option for the poor; the common good; subsidiarity and solidarity.

The Catholic Framework for Economic Life © 1996 United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC 20017 is available in English and Spanish on 3-5/8" x 8-1/4" cards and 17" x 22" posters. To order, call 1-800-235-8722.


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