Church social teaching emphasizes respect for the dignity of every person. For this reason Catholics are obliged to consider the common good in their decision-making. I don’t make decisions based solely on what’s best for me, but what’s best for the human family. “The common good is the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1906). If that sounds like a huge responsibility, then you’re hearing it right.
Advancing the common good in the modern world involves five principles: defending the sanctity of human life; strengthening families; providing for the disadvantaged; welcoming the immigrant; and protecting the environment. Sometimes these principles seem to collide: What do we do when what’s good for one threatens the interests of another?
The most serious moral imperative is always to protect the basic right to life, which makes direct assaults on life and human dignity unjustifiable under any conditions. These assaults include but are not exhausted by abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, genocide, torture, racism, imprudent resorting to war, targeting noncombatants, human cloning, and destruction of embryos in genetic testing.
Other Catholic goals less familiarly chanted include providing assistance to families raising children, especially by ensuring quality education, guaranteeing living wages, addressing hunger, encouraging debt relief, widening health care, ending discrimination, promoting religious freedom, pursuing peace, and caring for creation as a whole. If we really are a “human family,” then taking care of the family should be our highest concern.
• Deuteronomy 24:17-22; Jeremiah 22:1-5, 13-17; Zechariah 7:9-14; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 4:16-21; 10:25-37; John 13:34-35; James 2:14-17
• Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II, 1993
• “Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University