: Bryant : CST
Catholic Social Teaching and the way we work
A version of this article appeared in Uniya's Meeting
Place, Winter 2007
Workplace rights and ethics have been ongoing concerns for me
as a social worker employed in the not–for-profit sector
for more than eighteen years. The introduction of the new workplace
relations legislation in 2006 again brought the issue into the
public arena for debate and consideration. However, it is not
the legal framework or industrial landscape that I wish to focus
on. Rather, it is the ideological and moral choices we make as
managers, board members and staff in the workplace.
The question that has haunted me for most of my career is how
do we treat each other as staff members? How do we treat each
other every day in tea-rooms, in meetings and in the decisions
we make? And does our behaviour in the workplace mirror and confirm
the values we proclaim to the wider community in regard to justice
In her “Brief Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching”,
Sandie Cornish writes:
Catholic Social Teaching sums up the teachings of the Catholic
Church on social justice issues. It promotes a vision of a just
society that is grounded in the Bible and in the wisdom gathered
from experience by the Christian community.
These teachings are expressed formally in the teaching documents
of the Church, such as Papal Encyclicals and the pastoral letters
Cornish identifies six themes as foundational to Catholic Social
Teaching (CST). Managers, board members and staff may ask themselves
how each of these apply to the decisions they make in their work.
Human dignity and human family unity
Human dignity is the starting point and central concern
of Catholic thinking about human rights. Each person is created
in the image and likeness of God and so has an inalienable,
transcendent, God- given dignity.
It follows that the Catholic tradition is opposed to anything
that is anti-life or that “violates the integrity of the
She continues, “From this principle we can derive the following
criteria to help judge a social situation: ‘Does this situation
respect and promote human dignity?’, and, ‘What is
happening to people, and to their human dignity?’”
As a board member, manager or colleague, one is asked to consider
the implications and consequences of decisions, communication
and/or policies and procedures, taking into account the human
dignity of each person. Do the policies and procedures, decision
or communication under consideration respect and promote the dignity
of each person affected by it or do they devalue it?
The document continues:
The principle of solidarity means that we are all …
responsible for each other. It is not about a vague sort of
compassion or shallow distress at others’ misfortune,
but involves a determination to commit oneself to working for
change so that everyone will be able to reach their potential.
It is about respect for, and the promotion of, the dignity and
rights of our sisters and brothers.
This principle has significant implications for managers, board
members and staff. It asks them to consider how they can be part
of the solution to issues faced by their colleagues. It offers
the opportunity to act collegially in a genuine and principled
fashion to create policies and procedures that include rather
Managers might ask how accessible their organisation is. This
question might include consideration of physical access. But it
is not limited to that. How have we changed our organisation to
include the needs of women, parents, people who live with a mental
illness, or Indigenous people? The principle asks organisations
to consider the decisions they make in recruitment, organisational
culture, policies and procedures, employment practices and the
governance models that are operating. The question challenges
managers, board members and staff to act in a way that advances
the other, avoiding language and communication that marginalises,
stereotypes and/or judges.
The common good
The common good is understood as the collection of social
conditions that make it possible for each social group and all
of their individual members to achieve their potential. It means
that each social group must take account of the rights and aspirations
of other groups, and of the well-being of the whole human family.
The rights and duties of individuals and groups must be harmonised
under the common good.
Questions that flow from these principles when judging a
social situation might include: ‘Are the benefits enjoyed
by some groups attained only at the cost of other groups?’,
and, ‘What are the consequences of this policy for those
living in poor countries?’ 
This principle asks organisations to consider how they work with
and within the larger community. For example, how do they network
with other agencies? How do they consider the impact of their
work policies and procedures on the larger community? Do they
consider the impact of their employment policies on the families
of their employees?
Universal destination of goods
Next she states:
The universal destination of goods refers to the fact that
God intended the goods of creation for the use of all. Everyone
has the right to access the goods of creation to meet their
needs. People and nations have no right to squander resources
when others are in need. The key question is: ‘Does everyone
have access to a large enough share of resources to meet their
This principle invites managers, council members and staff to
consider how the policies and procedures, which they have in their
organisation, impact on the larger community. For example, they
may question how they use and/or conserve energy? What is the
organisation’s commitment to the care of creation? What
policies and procedures have they developed that illustrate their
Catholic tradition teaches that because of our intelligence
and free will, people have both “a right and a duty”
to participate in those decisions that most directly affect us.
They are active in shaping their own destinies rather than
simply accepting the decisions of others. This right to participate
belongs not only to individuals but also to groups and communities.
One way to reflect on participation is to ask: Who wins? Who
loses? Who decides?”
This is a critical question for managers, board directors and
staff and one that has been particularly relevant to me in my
career as a woman in this still patriarchal society. Who decides
who has the power? Who has no power and why? What policies and
procedures have been developed to ensure that all staff have a
voice in the work and direction of the organisation? The idea
that one person or small group of people have authority over all
staff and decisions appears to be in direct conflict with this
principle. The question might be asked, who is invited on to boards
and on what basis? For example, if running a refugee organisation,
how many of the board members are actually refugees? In any organisation,
how many board members are women? Then, ultimately, who has a
voice and who makes the decisions?
On this principle she writes:
The principle of subsidiarity places responsibility as close
as possible to the grassroots. The people or groups most directly
affected by a decision or policy should have a key decision-making
role. They should only be interfered with in order to support
them in cases of need, and to help coordinate their activities
with the activities of the rest of society with a view to the
This principle logically comes from a philosophical position
that, unless an issue is beyond the capacity of an individual,
those affected by that issue within an organisation should make,
or at least be directly involved in making, the decision. Further,
consumers and/or clients should be involved on working parties
and be consulted regarding work that affects them and/or their
Catholic Social Teaching provides a framework for human service
organisations in the not-for-profit sector, particularly those
in the Catholic social justice arena. They might consider evaluating
their commitment, authenticity and integrity in practicing, in
their own organisational operations, the values that they espouse
to the public. We need to ensure that we act with integrity in
doing justice – and more importantly, that we value the
rights and opinions of those we work with.
In the absence of a uniform commitment to professional standards,
the application of CST principles in a Catholic workplace offers
managers, boards and staff a benchmark, guideline and reference
point to consider when they are making decisions, developing policy
and managing staff.
I have suggested only prompts and examples from each of the principles
that Cornish identifies. The challenge is now for organisations,
board members and employees to ask themselves these questions
and indeed for all of us to commit to practising what we preach.
 Sandie Cornish, “Brief Introduction to Catholic Social
Teaching”, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website,
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
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