How will these resources help you? 

It can sometimes be challenging when teaching ethical themes within the RE GCSE specifications, as some topics (for example, 'fair pay', within AQA A Theme F) have to be taught well first before students can effectively apply religious beliefs to them. It may be tempting to teach a short Bible quote for students to use to back up their points. However, we could use the social teachings of the Catholic church to deepen students’ understanding of the topics, which will allow them to go further in their explanations and evaluations. Catholics have three sources of authority that guide their conscience: Scripture, tradition and magisterium. Catholic social teaching (CST) is the term for how the church applies scripture to the modern world, so studying these will help students to understand the social issues as well as how Catholics are guided to live in relation to them. By referring to more than short quotes from scripture, teachers will be able to present Catholicism more accurately, and to encourage valuable discussion among students. 

Where did Catholic Social Teaching originate?

Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret

by Edward P. DeBerri, James E. Hug, Peter J. Henriot, Michael J. Schultheis, published by Orbis Books, (2003), 9781570754852

CST addresses issues of social justice, human rights, and ethical living from a Catholic perspective, which is all based in scripture and comes from a range of magisterium (official teaching authority of the church) documents. This book provides an overview of CST, so is a great starting point for any teacher who wishes to enhance their curriculum with these religious teachings. This book presents outlines of both recent and historic key documents, such as the main papal encyclicals (letters to Catholics from the Pope). It can be used directly as a reading resource in the classroom or as a source for teachers to enhance their subject knowledge when planning to introduce students to CST as a religious teaching.

How can CST be applied to themes of workers’ rights and uses of wealth?

Rerum Novarum: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor

by Pope Leo XIII, published by The Vatican, (1891)

In Catholic tradition, popes write encyclicals (letters) to address concerns of the day. These are based on scripture and become part of magisterium teachings which Catholics use to inform their conscience. RE teachers can of course use these as ‘religious teachings’. This encyclical is often cited as the first example of CST in which the Pope addresses the conditions of labour, workers' rights, and social justice, written in the rapidly changing industrial society of the late-19th century. Pope Leo emphasises the inherent dignity of every individual as a creation of God, condemns the exploitation of workers and asserts that both employers and workers have a duty to recognise and respect each other's humanity. He goes on to discuss the role of the state, promotes the idea of solidarity, introduces the principle of subsidiarity, which suggests that social and economic issues should be addressed at the most local level possible, allowing individuals and communities to take charge of their own affairs. He also calls on the Catholic Church to play a role in addressing social issues and advocating for the rights and dignity of workers. RE teachers could plan to use this after their students have studied the Industrial Revolution in History, so that they have the prior knowledge to promote deeper engagement. Teachers could give students a short extract (for example paragraph 20) and challenge them to pick out CST themes and what this could mean for Catholics today in how they live their lives (for example in relation to fair pay and conditions). Many of the topics with the GCSE theme human rights and social justice can be found within this encyclical. 

How can CST be applied to themes of modern social justice issues such as people trafficking?

Caritas in Veritate

by Pope Benedict XVI, published by The Vatican, (2009)

In this encyclical, there is a comprehensive examination of contemporary social and economic challenges, offering a Catholic perspective on how to address them in a way that upholds human dignity, promotes justice, and encourages responsible stewardship of the Earth's resources. It's a call to integrate charity and truth into all aspects of human life and to work together for the common good of all people. Teachers could give students paragraph 62, which is specifically related to the dignity of migrants and calls governments to work together; and then paragraph 79 which calls for Catholics to turn to God in prayer. Teachers could pose the question, ‘Which strategy is more likely to help people who suffer as a result of human trafficking?’ and then plan answers from different worldviews, for example, that of a Christian, an atheist and a person suffering its direct effects. 

What are the main principles of Catholic Social Teaching?

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) resources for secondary schools

by CAFOD, (2023)

CST is based on the belief that every human has inherent dignity and therefore should be treated as such. From this come the principal ideas that the poor and marginalised should be protected and all Catholics should work to uphold their rights and opportunities. CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development) is a global charity with a long-term vision to end poverty and achieve global justice, ‘so that every woman, man and child can live a full and dignified life’. Although there is not one official list of principles, CAFOD’s list is probably the easiest for teachers to use. Its website is excellent for teachers as it offers a variety of free useful resources such as videos, assembly plans, posters, fact sheets and card games. There are videos on each of the CST principles, which offer explanation and historical context in appropriate language for students. Teachers can also contact CAFOD to request a visit from a volunteer to run sessions on themes relating to social justice (for example, water emergencies). 

Further materials

Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction by Gerald O’Collins, published by Oxford University Press, (2008), 9780199545919 Find this book
Catholic Social Teaching: A New Synthesis by Daniel Schwindt, published by Agnus Dei Publishing, (2015), 9780692470381 Find this book
Common Good and Christian Ethics by David Hollenbach, S.J., published by Cambridge University Press, (2008), 9780521894517 Find this book
Jesuit Social Research Institute, published by Loyola University New Orleans, (2023) Visit this website
Jennifer Knight is Head of RE in a Catholic school where she teaches AQA Syllabus B and has previously taught AQA Syllabus A in non-faith schools. 

Text © Jennifer Knight, 2023.