Study: Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers “Most Overlooked” Element of Catholic Social Teaching

We’ve often heard it said that Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s best-kept secret. The Church’s social doctrine offers a radical critique of today’s institutions that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has broken into seven major themes, such as “Life and Dignity of the Human Person” and “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.”

Recently our partners in the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors commissioned a study by Dr. Tom Ryan of Loyola New Orleans that assessed awareness and reception of Catholic Social Teaching among the faithful. Dr. Ryan shared some of the key findings at the Roundtable’s recent Social Action Summer Institute.

As part of the study, this year more than 800 Catholics in the Archdiocese of New Orleans – from priests and parish social ministry leaders to people in the pews – answered a series of survey questions on the topic. One question presented readers with a list of the themes of Catholic Social Teaching and asked them to identify the themes “most overlooked in the Church today.”

The number one answer? The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.

This does not come as a complete surprise to me. Even though modern Catholic Social Teaching began with an encyclical addressing the dignity of work and the rights of workers (Rerum Novarum, 1891), the topic has long been eclipsed by others. In the U.S. Church, we’ve been very good at affirming the life and dignity of the human person, and pretty good at sharing the option for the poor and vulnerable, but I seldom hear a sermon on the dignity of work and the rights of workers. It’s not something I learned about in religious education, either.

We have a lot of work to do.

The study project, “Advancing the Social Mission of the Catholic Church,” was made possible through support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Publication of the full study is forthcoming.

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