Session 18: The Social Teaching of the Church

Resources for participants



  • Who are the most caring and compassionate people you have known and why?
  • Can you give examples of how respect for human dignity has improved in recent decades?
  • Are there ways that human dignity is threatened in our society today? What examples can you share of people working to defend the dignity and rights of others?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?


  • What do you need to build a good society? What values or social structures or laws are most important?
  • Do you think Christianity requires you to be more “left wing” or “right wing”, more “socialist” or “capitalist”?
  • If you wanted to campaign and change something in society then how, practically, could you go about it most effectively?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?


  • Do you think you should always tell the truth?
  • Who are the most trustworthy people you know? What is it about them? Do you know what made them like this?
  • Do you have any experiences of feeling called to follow your conscience, even when it was difficult? (But without sharing anything too personal)
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?



If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

PLEASE NOTE: The readings for this session are longer than usual. If possible it would be better to split this reading over two weeks – Part A and Part B – so you can give proper time to each topic. Please find out from your leader or catechist whether they have been able to add in an extra week for this, and what the plan is for your group.


  • #367 to #399 – the family, citizenship, and human dignity [16 pages]


  • #426 to #461 – Catholic Social Teaching, truthfulness, and conscience [14 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).



If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.



18A – The dignity of the human person and the right to life

Christian teaching speaks about the dignity of the human person. Human beings have a special place in creation. We are “persons” not “things”, with body and soul, with freedom and intelligence, with creativity and a conscience.

Even if you don’t believe in God, you can believe that human life has a special value, an intrinsic worth. This is why we shouldn’t treat people as objects or as means to an end. Their dignity does not depend on what other people think about them; it doesn’t depend on their gifts or abilities. It depends on their humanity.

This dignity can never be taken away. That’s why we should honour someone’s life from beginning to end, from conception to their natural death. This is what it means to respect the sanctity of life.

In the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, God said to Moses, “You shall not kill”. It’s sometimes translated, “You shall not murder”. We have a right to self-defence, but it’s wrong to directly and intentionally kill an innocent human being. This is why Catholic teaching forbids murder, abortion, euthanasia and suicide.

There are so many other ways that we can defend human dignity. The right to life is not the only human or Christian value. But the foundation of every other human right and human duty is the right to life, which is why the dignity of the human person is the most important place to start.

18B – Christian teaching about family and society

The Catholic Church has developed a great body of social teaching to help us understand what makes a good and healthy society. One of the key themes is balance. It’s about individual human rights and the rights of the family and society. It’s about the rule of law and the right to conscientious objection. There is a place for private property and there is a place for recognising the common good of wider society. There is clear teaching about the rights of workers and about our duty to care for the sick, the stranger, the prisoner, and the poorest of the poor.

Catholic Social Teaching also involves caring for the environment. This is what Pope Francis calls an “integral ecology”, where justice, human rights and concern for the poor are intertwined with a concern for nature, the environment and the whole of creation. Everything connects.

There are religious implications too: As a Christian, I have a responsibility to build up the Kingdom of Christ and to infuse society with a Christian spirit. I also have a responsibility to respect the religious freedom of those who do not share my faith.

We learn these values as we grow up, especially in the family. And if we don’t, we struggle. This is why the institution of the family is so important. It is the fundamental unit of society, where we learn how to love and relate to one another. In the family we learn the basic social values of freedom, generosity, fraternity, justice, forgiveness, and this helps us to build a just and generous society.

Now life is complicated, and families are often complicated. But that doesn’t stop us recognising what a special gift it is when children can be brought up with the love of their parents, with a living faith, and with a spirit of generosity, love, forgiveness and joy in their homes.

The Christian family has so much to offer society because it can become a place of faith and hope and Christian love. That is not to judge other families, but just to acknowledge that the love of Jesus Christ really can make a difference to our lives and then to the lives of the people we meet.

18C – Speaking the truth and following conscience

Our moral conscience, in the Christian understanding, calls us to do good and to avoid evil, to do the right thing and to avoid what is wrong. It’s not just a feeling or an instinct. It’s like an understanding or an inner voice. It speaks to our freedom. It connects us with the goodness of God.

We have a duty to follow our conscience. If we don’t, something within us can never settle. We might pretend that everything is fine, but there is an inner conflict. We lose our spiritual peace and our integrity.

We also have a duty to form our conscience and to grow in virtue. Most of us inherit a lot of assumptions and prejudices, and pick up a lot of bad habits along the way. So we need to deepen our understanding about what is truly right and wrong. For a Christian, this involves prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit. It involves studying the bible, and following the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not just an inner voice, it’s an openness to the truth, wherever that can be found. It’s an openness to Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The truth is such an important value, and one that is often de-valued today.

Christian teaching is very clear, and it follows the Ten Commandments in the bible: “You must not bear false witness against your neighbour.” It’s wrong to lie. We are called to seek the truth and to speak truthfully. It doesn’t mean that in every situation we are required to share the whole truth – it depends on the circumstances, and not everyone has a right to know what we are thinking. But we must avoid outright lies.