The Poor and Vulnerable

“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours.  More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

– St. Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis. 3, 21: PL 77, 87


The goods of this world were created for all of mankind. Wealth, property, and their distribution do not exist in a moral vacuum. Deep injustice occurs when the poor and the vulnerable are not able to access what is due to them–food, water, shelter, medical care, and other basics needed to live a life consistent with their God-given human dignity. While the Church recognizes the right to private property, She also teaches that it is not an ultimate end. Scripture and tradition repeatedly affirm the need to prioritize, or have a preferential option for, the needs of the poor before the wants of the rich.

Public policy has a role to play in creating a more just society, where all peoples are able to access what is due to them as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. Private charity is essential, but given man’s fallen state, must be supplemented with laws and initiatives that address the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Our policies should aim to merelyy to provide material goods to people; they should also help people fully participate

The preferential option for the poor and vulnerable is not optional. A basic moral test for society is measuring how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst. In a society with a growing gap between rich and poor, Scripture gives us the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and reminds us that we will be judged by our response to the “least among us.”

Poverty is not simply a lack of basic food and financial resources. It also includes deeper deprivations, such as:

  • A denial of full participation in the economic, social, and political life of society
  • The inability to influence decisions that affect your life
  • A lack of access to basic healthcare
  • An absence of opportunities to help ourselves, through such means as employment opportunities with fair wages

We seek public policy solutions that create a healthy economy and society, including employment opportunities that promote human dignity, increase social solidarity, and promote self-reliance for the poor.

For more, see our nation’s bishops Economic Justice for All (1986) pastoral letter.

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