Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic social teaching offers a crucial lens for understanding the realities of incarceration, shaping ministry that is rooted in dignity, and advocating for true justice for all.

What is "Catholic Social Teaching."

Catholic social teaching (CST) refers to the collection of official magisterial documents of the Catholic Church which discuss a range of social issues such as economic justice, war and peace, and sustainability. 

These teachings have been synthesized in the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church.  CST documents are accompanied by the contributions of scholars, practitioners, and the living witness of persons committed to enacting the Gospel.

What are the core concepts of CST?

Altogether, this Catholic social tradition is anchored by core concepts including human dignity; call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; preferential option for the poor; dignity of work and rights of workers; solidarity; and care of God’s creation.  

Furthermore, CST recommends a three-step process for engaging issues of social concern:  See, Judge, Act.

Catholic Social Teaching 1

Our society seems to prefer punishment to rehabilitation and retribution to restoration thereby indicating a failure to recognize prisoners as human beings.

- U.S. Catholic bishops: Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration (2000) -

Three primary Catholic Social Teaching core concepts that are directly linked to the criminal justice system and incarceration:

Resources on CST
and Incarceration

Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice – A Statement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States (2000)


Redeeming a Prison Society: A Liturgical and Sacramental Response to Mass Incarceration

Amy Levad

The Christian Virtue of Justice and the U.S. Prison

Journal of Catholic Social Thought, Kathryn Getek Soltis, Volume 8, Issue 1 (Winter 2011), 37-56.

General Resources
on CST

Catholic Social Teaching page from USCCB site


Fratelli Tutti

Pope Francis

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church


Jesuit Social Research Institute’s page on Catholic Social Thought


University of Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns page on Catholic Social Thought

University of Notre Dame

NETWORK – Catholic Social Justice Lobby page on Catholic Social Justice


Ministry, community, and advocacy

Pope Francis and Criminal Justice

Pope Francis
And Criminal Justice

Pope Francis: Prison without hope of reentering society is "torture"

Crux Now

Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Cuba, to the United States of America and Visit to the United Nations Headquarters

Pope Francis, (19-28 SEPTEMBER 2015), Visit to Detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility

Address of the Holy Father

Philadelphia, Sunday, 27 September 2015

Address of Pope Francis to Participants in the National Meeting of Prison Chaplains

Aula Paul VI Audience Hall, Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Address of Pope Francis to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law

Hall of Popes, Thursday, 23 October 2014

Pastoral Visit to the Dicoceses of Campobasso-Boiano and Isernia-Venafro

Meeting with Detainees

Address of Pope Francis

Local penitentiary (Isernia), Saturday, 5 July 2014

Pastoral Visit to Cagliari

Meeting with the Poor and Prison Inmates

Address of the Holy Father Francis

Cathedral of Cagliari, Sunday, 22 September 2013
Catholic Social Teaching 1

But let us not forget that for the punishment to be fruitful, it must have a horizon of hope. Otherwise, it is enclosed within itself and is only an instrument of torture, it’s not fruitful.

- Pope Francis -