Social Justice

A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines

Mindful of the grave office we have from Jesus Christ, of guarding and guiding the flock He has entrusted to us; mindful also of the Apostle’s solemn command to preach the word insistently, to teach and exhort in all patience and doctrine, we feel it necessary to speak out to all Catholics of the Philippines, and to all men of good will, concerning the great crisis that is now swiftly descending on the Far East.  Already a vast sector in this part of the world has been engulfed by the tide of advancing Communism.  Already refugees, fleeing to these islands, warn us by their very presence that, even as this land is the nearest haven from the peril, so it is one of the next points threatened.  For a long time now the agents of that sinister peril have been among us, seeking to undermine our people from within; nor can the persuasiveness of their propaganda be checked by mere force.  For the appeal of that propaganda is to men’s consciousness of injustices done to them, and the use of force without repairing the injustices done can only be felt by them as a new and more flagrant injustice.

Genuine Re-Construction Needed

There can be, then, no effective defense against the Communist menace unless we remove that whereon Communism feeds and grows:  widespread grievous injustice, –injustice of the high against the low, of the strong against the weak, of the landlord against his tenants and the employer against his employees.  What our society cries for  in this emergency is a sound structure — not merely of theory, but of practice — whose unshakable foundation is justice and whose fair crown is charity.  Since this demand of a Christian society is primarily a moral one, it is the hierarchy’s duty, as divinely constituted guardians and teachers of Christian morality, to define what that morality prescribes, to urge on all their flock the fulfilling of those prescriptions, and in this way to take its part in the building of that sound social fabric which all good people desire.  On this subject, indeed, we have already spoken in a brief statement of social principles issued after our meeting in 1948.  What we do here is to reiterate those principles, to explain them in greater detail, and, as the peril draws nearer and grows more urgent, to call on all men and women of good will to enter the struggle for a truly Catholic social order.

True Basis for Social Peace

The true and lasting basis for social peace is to be found in the opening words of the prayer taught to us by our divine Lord Himself.  If all men, if even all leaders of men, would submit to the simple truth of those two wonderful words, all human strife, together with all the injustices, envy, and greed that are at the bottom of all human strife, would cease.  With every man subject to God as to loving Father, every man would become a brother indeed to every other man, recognizing in him not merely an equal nature with equal rights, but also an image of God to be honored and loved; not merely a joint-heir with himself of the earth and its fruits, but also of heaven and its happiness; one whose right to that heavenly happiness was bought by the Blood and Death of God Himself; and whose human nature has been exalted to a superhuman, to a divine dignity by the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

The Earth Meant for All Men

To all men during their time of pilgrimage and trial on earth God has given the means of living in accord with the lofty dignity and duties of their state as rational beings and as children of God.  The very first of the means He put at their disposal for this purpose was the earth and its resources.  To Adam and Eve as representatives of the whole race God said, “Subject the earth and rule over the fishes of the sea, the birds of the air, and all living things that move on the earth…  I have given you everything for your food”.  Not to any one race or nation or class were they assigned more than to any other; nor that a small minority should have plenty and be lords, while the vast majority of men should be hopelessly destitute and dependent; but to all were they given, that all might obtain from them a living in accord with their dignity as reasonable beings, rulers of the earth, sons of the one father Adam, and of the one Father God.  Such was God’s primary purpose in putting the earth and its resources at man’s disposal, and no subsequent property rights acquired by individuals or societies can invalidate that purpose.  Even in the hands of private possessors the earth and its wealth must serve the needs and rights of all men.

Material Requisites for Decent Living

Among the rights that God has given to man are the right to live in a manner proper to his dignity, and the right to marry and to live with his wife and children in simple comfort.

The family is a true society whose existence and constitution are prior to the state; indeed the family is the very foundation on which the state is built.  The state must protect the family, therefore, in order to protect itself.

If a man has the right to marry, and the duty to care for his family, he must also have the right to those material goods he needs to fulfill his duty in a manner befitting his human dignity.

He has therefore the right to a sufficiency of decent food and clothing for himself and his family; to a decent home; to the means whereby to educate his children properly; to a decent provision for sickness and old age; and to leisure and means for moderate and wholesome recreation.  Without these minimum standards of good living, a healthy family life, beneficial to its members and to the state, cannot flourish.


In the present economy the great bulk of the country’s land and wealth are possessed by a small minority to whom the rest must come for work.  Such an economy can be justified only if this great majority of the people can obtain in return for their work a wage that will supply them with the minimum human standard of living which we have defined above: a wage, namely, that will enable a man to provide a sufficiency of decent food and clothing for himself and his family, a decent home, security for sickness and old age, and the means and leisure for moderate and wholesome recreation.  To all of these every man has a strict right; and when the only means by which a man can obtain them is in exchange for his labor, he must be able to obtain them in exchange for his labor.  In other words, a man’s labor must be worth at least a wage that guarantees him all these.  Such a wage we call a “family wage”.  We say that every employer owes his employees in this sense a family wage, and that he owes it not in charity merely, but as a duty of social justice.

The necessity that drives mothers of families to work because their husbands’ earnings cannot support the family decently is a great social evil; for, in striking at the very constitution of the family, it strikes at the deepest foundation of the state.  Employers should ponder this fact.  They should also reflect that if they hire women in preference to men, because women are less conscious of their rights and more docile to exploitation; if they thus compel men to compete with women in the labor market, and by so doing force down the wages of both men and women, they are guilty not only of an iniquitous and shameful practice; they may also be hastening the hour of a terrible retribution on themselves.


To protect his right to a decent living and to cooperate in building a solid and equitable social order, every man has the right to enter into association with this fellowmen.  It is morally wrong,    (and in our country a crime punishable by law) for any one to interfere with this natural right either by threats or by discrimination against those who join such associations.  So long as these organizations are peaceful and seek their objectives by lawful means, they are of true benefit to their members and to society as a whole.  Labor, in fact, can have no effective voice as long as it is unorganized; to protect its rights it must be free to bargain collectively through its own chosen representatives.

True Leadership

All workers, whether their work be manual or mental, should jealously guard this right of association.  They should be especially watchful to see that they are led by honest and capable men who strive sincerely for the good of the worker and the good of society at large, rather than for their own enrichment at the expense of the worker, or for enhancing their power and prestige by exaggerating difficulties and deliberately fostering trouble between workers and employers.  Those workers who have had the benefit of a Catholic education have a special duty to protect their fellow-workers from such evil leadership, and to accept, when they can,  responsible positions in their organizations.  There is great need today for men eager to better the condition of the workers by intelligent methods; men ready to cooperate with those employers who want to deal fairly with their employees.

Far from being harmful, unions organized and led in a truly democratic fashion will be a great help to conscientious employers.  The social order too will move more effectively towards its proper goal, when associations of workers and associations of employers in a given industry unite harmoniously to study and solve the problems of that industry, and to coordinate it with other industries similarly organized into voluntary groups that represent both capital and labor.

The State’s Duty

It is the duty of the state to see that the benefits of the social order are distributed equitably among all its members, and that no man takes to himself so much wealth or control of wealth that others are deprived of their due share.  This function the state will perform partly by fostering the efforts of good men, partly by the efforts of its own representatives, –and, where it is needed, –by judicious social legislation that is vigorously carried into execution; but never should the state assume functions that belong by right to the family, or which can better be carried out by private persons or groups within the nation.  In acting thus to promote the peace and prosperity of all its members, the state does not act against individual property rights; it merely gives those rights a wider, fairer and more secure distribution.

The Citizen’s Duty

Where government is carried on by elected representatives of the people, it is the duty of all citizens to take a serious and intelligent interest in the government and to see that only men of solid moral worth and ability, — men who subordinate their private interests to the public good, — are chosen to be the people’s representatives.  Not by blindly supporting one faction against another will the citizen fulfill his obligations in a democratic community, but by carefully scrutinizing all candidates for public office, and by choosing only men of proved honesty and ability.  If a man does not respect the law of God in his private life, how can he be expected to govern according to the law of God the affairs of a great people?

When there is a manifest dearth of good men among the candidates for public office, good men with the needed ability must come forth from the shelter of private life.  They should not shirk the responsibility of office when their people need them, but should humbly and manfully  accept the obligation of leadership and make whatever scarifices are needed for the common good.

Citizens who are entrusted with the government of their people should realize that theirs is a sublime and sacred obligation, to be fulfilled courageously and to the best of their skill, without favoring privileged classes against the poor, or accepting personal advantages that might come from the betrayal of their trust.

Responsibility of the Vote

Divine Providence, by placing us in a democracy, has put in our hands the power of choosing the men who will exercise authority over us.  It is therefore the most sacred duty of the voter carefully to examine candidates and their policies, and, above all, irrespective of political parties or factions, to cast his vote only for those whose principles and conduct will advance the best interest, moral and social, of the people and the state.  We address our appeal particularly to you, the workers, whether agricultural or industrial.  Realize that the vote is your guarantee that you will have good men to govern you; it is your protection against abuse of office by false leaders.  Treasure that right to vote; exercise it freely, intelligently, and with the greatest vigilance, lest any man infringe on your legitimate liberty of choice.  Because of your economic dependence you are more easily exposed to pressure from unscrupulous men.  Rise to the dignity with which God has endowed you.  When men insult your intelligence and your dignity by trying to obtain your vote with bribes or threats, stand firm and scorn such disgraceful attempts.  By doing so, you will be able to place in office men who will improve your working conditions and lift your standard of living, enabling you to enjoy peace and simple comfort with your dear ones.

To men who have power, whether political or financial, we appeal also.  Respect the freedom and the right of those who are dependent on you.  Remember that to be elected representative of the people is properly an honor only for the man who was freely chosen by the people for his integrity and ability, and who has not found his way to office through crooked manipulations at the polls or by pressure brought to bear on defenseless men.  Our just God will one day judge with terrible rigor all such abuses.

Equitable Distribution

The government should foster by all reasonable means an increased production and a wider distribution of wealth.  In performing this task it should, other things being equal, lend its support more to the worker and to the small farmer, rather than to the big capitalist.  The wealthy usually are well provided with means to protect their rights; it is the poorer man, often helpless if left alone to defend himself against men of great wealth and power, who needs the government’s assistance to secure that peace and prosperity which is its government’s obligation to promote.

Pope Leo XIII expressed this principle forcefully in his immortal encyclical letter, “Rerum Novarum”:

• “The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should  be to induce as many  people as possible to become owners. Many excellent results will follow from this; and first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided.  For the effect of civil change and revolution has been to divide society into TWO WIDELY DIFFERENT  CASTES.  ON THE ONE SIDE THERE  IS THE PARTY WHICH HOLDS THE POWER BECAUSE IT HOLDS THE  WEALTH;  WHICH  HAS  IN   ITS GRASP ALL LABOR AND ALL TRADE; WHICH MANIPULATES FOR ITSELF ITS OWN  BENEFIT  AND   ITS   OWN   PURPOSES   ALL   THE SOURCES  OF  SUPPLY — AND  WHICH  IS  POWERFULLY REPRESENTED IN THE COUNCILS OF THE STATE ITSELF.  ON   THE   OTHER   SIDE   THERE   IS  THE  NEEDY  AND POWERLESS  MULTITUDE,  SORE   AND  SUFFERING, ALWAYS  READY FOR DISTURBANCE.  If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the result  will  be  that the gulf between vast wealth and deep poverty will  be  bridged  over,  and  the  two  orders will be brought nearer together.  Another result will be the great abundance of the fruits of the  earth.   Men  always  work harder and more readily when they work  on  that which is THEIR OWN;   NAY THEY LEARN TO LOVE THE VERY SOIL WHICH  YIELDS IN RESPONSE TO THE LABOR OF THEIR HANDS  –  NOT  ONLY  FOOD TO EAT, but an abundance OF GOOD THINGS FOR THEMSELVES AND THOSE THAT ARE DEAR TO THEM.”    Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum

In this and other encyclicals, letters so called because they are addressed to the entire Catholic world, the Popes, especially Leo XIII, Pius XI, and our present reigning Pontiff, Pius XII, have expounded the principles of a sane social order in a fashion recognized as masterly by fair-minded men the world over.  We have in this letter merely touched on certain major points of the Papal teaching.  At some future date we hope to explain more in detail the applications of these principles to our Philippine economy.

All good men must realize that the crisis through which our people are passing is very grave, hardly less grave than the emergency of war itself.  Men rightly demand a more equitable arrangement of our social economy, and they will not be satisfied with anything less than full justice.

Those Most in Need of Help

It is those at the bottom of the social order who need its benefits most.  Hence, those who are already enjoying a decent living standard should be patient while all cooperate to lift these others nearer to that level.  Afterwards there will be time to see what adjustments are proper for those whose skills or special talents entitle them to a still greater reward for their work.

The Crisis

During the emergency of war, good men did not think it too much to offer their lives to protect their homes, their families, their soil, and the freedom of their people.  At this time those homes and families, the proper use of the soil, and a reasonable freedom for all citizens are in real danger, not immediately from a hostile nation, but from gross distortions of charity and justice in the social order.  The men who in war’s emergency were ready to risk their lives, must not hesitate in this new emergency to strive at no matter what personal cost, (for what sacrifice of property or wealth can be compared with the offering of one’s life?) to keep faith with their slain comrades, and to honor their memory by building a social structure worthy of the supreme sacrifice that they made.

No good man can think without an aching heart of the bitter strife that is spilling on the soil of our beloved land the blood of men whom God intended to live together as brothers.  No man should think that more serious strife can be avoided unless the leadership of good men is forthcoming to lead the poor to a better standard of living.

Those who would defend a system of private property must take care that it is a system which brings private property to all, and not a system which means an ever increasing concentration of that property within the hands of a few, while millions of people are left with no private property at all.  It is not high-flown rhetoric that will stop the advances of Communism, but only the vigorous, sustained execution of reforms that will let men see the beauty, and experience the joy, of living in a truly Christian social order.  Compared with the warm and soul-satisfying Christian program of life, Communism is a godless and heartless scheme aimed at man’s total enslavement and degradation.  But that Christian program must dominate all the actions of men — their financial dealings as well as every other.  It is only a practical Christianity, lived and not merely praised, that can rescue men from pernicious social error and from ultimate disaster.

Responsibility of Leaders to God

Those who govern must never forget that the authority they possess is derived from God.  In exercising it therefore, they must strive always to mirror as perfectly as they can the justice, the fatherliness joined with firmness, and the wisdom, of God.  Any misuse of that authority He will judge severely.  He will regard as done to Himself every wrong done to one of His people; above all, any wrong done to His poor.

The Misuse of Wealth

Now more than ever before, the rich must keep in mind that their right to their wealth is not absolute or unlimited.  They are, as Christ forcibly warned the rich Pharisees of His day, merely stewards of that wealth for all mankind, under God to whom belongs the supreme property right over all His creation.  Consequently, they should manage the wealth at their disposal so as to benefit not only themselves but the common good.  This obligation they can discharge partly by the direct relief of those who are suffering; and this they should do generously, giving as to brothers in need.  But besides alms and similar temporary methods of relief, wealthy men should seek a more permanent solution by investing their wealth in enterprises that increase the output of useful goods and furnish productive employment to many men.  Thus they will enable the destitute to provide for themselves, and will lessen the need of providing alms and doles.

Vulgar and Useless Display

It is particularly to be deplored that in these critical times some men and women of wealth should persist in vain and vulgar displays, displays that provoke the disgust of good people and the indignation of those who lack even the bare necessities of life.  Is it a seemly thing that some members of God’s family should go hungry while others squander wealth in prodigal ostentation?  All sensible people can see that this abominable contradiction is totally alien to the Christian spirit of justice, charity and humility.

Let it be the glory of Christian men and women who have wealth that they do not attach their hearts to it, nor despise or forget the poor.  They should give all men an example of sober Christian living, and they should show by their behavior that in every human person, whether rich or poor, they see a living image of God.  How else can rich men act if they remember that the God they adore, when He clothed Himself with our human nature, passed by the wealthy and leisured classes and chose the poor, lowly, hardworking status of a village carpenter?  What other attitude befits the rich woman who recalls that Mary the Mother of God performed all the humblest tasks of a poor housewife, and did not find them out of keeping with her dignity as Queen of angels and men?

Invitation to Communists

To those of our beloved flock — (we say this from the bottom of our hearts), — to those who have been led by the injustices of the present social order to seek a redress in Communism, we say:  examine with a fair and open mind what we have said; study the true Catholic social teachings as they have been laid down by Leo XIII, Pius XI, and our present Pontiff, Pope Pius XII.  Then say honestly:  Do you find anything in those teachings that is prejudicial to the best interests of the worker?  Do you not rather find in them a noble, sound and practical basis for the rebuilding of society in a way that is fair to all men?  It is no opium of the people that those teachings offer!  On the contrary, they provide the strongest incentive men can have to make them vow never to rest until the earth’s wealth, destined by God for the whole human brotherhood, shall, in fulfillment of that destiny, provide a good living for every human being in the world.  We know well that men and women who make an outward show of piety while they refuse justice and charity to the worker bring discredit upon the religion they profess.  But this discredit  is undeserved.  When Catholics fail to fulfill what the Church plainly declares to be their grave duty, it is not their religion that is to be blamed, but the gross neglect of their religion.

We pray God to enlighten the minds and strengthen the wills of all men in these islands that we may combine our efforts for a full Christian reconstruction of social order.  Only thus can a social eruption be avoided, the very thought of which should suffice to goad all good men into action.

When men live in reasonable comfort, free from the depressing uncertainties of their economic status, then are they best able to raise their hearts to God.  Just as Communism exploits injustice and hatred to impose a program that would blacken out all human culture and all the divine aspirations of the human heart, so Christianity necessarily works for justice and charity that human culture may be increased and the divine aspirations of the human heart may be satisfied; or to use our Lord’s own beautiful words, that all men “may have life and have it more abundantly.”



May 21, 1949



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Social Justice A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines