To Do the Work of Justice:

A Plan of Action for the

Catholic Community in the U.S.

Approved May 4, 1978

United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops

Christian faith continually calls the Church and each of its members to decisive action to bring faith alive in the concrete circumstances of human history. Throughout the world today churches are bearing witness to Christ's saving presence by courageous efforts to speak God's word boldly; to renew themselves; and to confront with hope and courage the critical issues of human rights, social justice, and world peace. Sharing and having shared in this renewal, we seek here to identify some of the work which remains to be done in the years ahead. This plan of action springs from our vision of our Church's ministry to the pressing needs of all the world's people. A challenge to us and our people, it is also an invitation to every bishop, priest, religious and lay person in the Catholic Church in the United States to join in a deliberate, systematic effort to be of service to all people in their struggle for dignity, justice, and peace.

A year ago we issued a preliminary response to the consultation on social justice entitled "Liberty and Justice for All," which we conducted on the occasion of our national bicentennial. This consultation, in which the bishops listened to the voices of many groups and individuals, was intended to help us formulate a plan to establish goals and programs in the area of social justice over the next five years. As bishops we were called both to listen and to exercise judgment in teaching an extremely vital part of the Gospel of Jesus pertaining to the mission on behalf of social justice. Through this process of structured public dialogue, we learned much about the needs of our own people and about the problems of justice and peace which they face in their own lives and communities. Convinced that this program could bear much fruit in the Church today, we undertook a detailed evaluation of all of the recommendations through the committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference. In addition, we directed the President of the NCCB to appoint an ad hoc committee to coordinate the evaluation process and develop a five-year pastoral plan of action based on its results. We are now prepared to set forth this plan and we invite the cooperation of the entire Catholic community in its implementation. We do so in the firm conviction that our growth as the community of God's people and our ministry of service to the world are inseparable dimensions of our common Christian commitment. We must, and we will, continue to grow in love and care for one another even as we enter more actively into the pursuit of justice and peace. Our participation in that result, indeed, will be authentic and productive only if it truly reflects the quality of our life of fellowship with one another.

The programs and activities proposed here are not our only response to the needs expressed during the bicentennial consultation. Our continuing, collective commitment to the social mission of the Church and the achievement of a more just social order has long been evident in the work of our episcopal conference, its secretariats and committees. Resolutions adopted by the Call to Action conference on such issues as full employment, human rights, disarmament, housing, political responsibility, the aged, criminal justice and world hunger echo similar positions adopted and advocated by the USCC and the NCCB in recent years. The Campaign for Human Development, the Catholic Relief Services, the USCC Migration and Refugee Services and other social services, education and advocacy programs carried out under the auspices of the bishops reflect our determination to meet human needs and to serve the cause of social justice.

Since our meeting a year ago, we have responded to many of the concerns reflected in the Call to Action program. We have creaed a new Secretariat for the Laity and we have launched new initiatives pertaining to parish life and the family. We have engaged in consultation and articulated principles on teacher unionization in parochial schools, adopted standards for fundraising within the Church and issued statements of concern on the American Indian, human rights in Eastern Europe, the Panama Canal treaties, the U.S. defense policy and crime. Our sponsorship of the Segundo Encuentro Pastoral, a national conference designed to identify and promote the pastoral and human needs of our Hispanic people, and our continuing consultation on increasing leadership opportunities for women in the Church are illustrative of the wide range of activities in our episcopal conference designed to renew the life of the Catholic community in this nation.

Many dioceses, parishes, schools and Catholic organizations have already undertaken programs of response to the Call to Action conference. Some dioceses, for example, have sponsored consultations focusing upon its recommendations, while others have instituted significant pastoral and social programs which respond to the needs articulated. Still other dioceses and organizations have incorporated the program's results into their planning processes. These various responses are in keeping with our statement last spring inviting action at every level of Church life.

During the bicentennial consultation, we found that the vision of the universal Church as an effective agent of social justice and as an advocate for human rights lives in the people of our dioceses and parishes. In expressing, from their living experience, their aspirations for the Church in our day, they reaffirmed their hopes for justice and peace. We began our bicentennial consultation as part of an attempt to implement the directive of Pope Paul VI that each Christian community, through a process of reflection and action, should apply the norms of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church to the conditions in its nation and local communities. The issues which people specified for us reflected the abiding interests of the Church today: the dignity of the person, the welfare of the family, the quality of life in cities and rural areas, the horror of modern war and the need to abolish hunger and poverty from our land and our world.

We cannot address all these issues -- or indeed any of them -- as a conference of bishops. The call to a ministry of justice and peace is a call to the whole Church. It is a call for the Church to do the work of justice in society and, equally important, a call for the Church to be just in its own life. In shaping a response by NCCB/USCC we have selected six major areas of emphasis. They do not exhaust the total agenda in the ministry of justice and peace, but they do reflect some of its major components. These issues are both local and national; they touch our own land and our relations with other nations. They are chosen because of their intrinsic significance and because they symbolize the larger range of issues which we challenge others in the Church and in the nation to address, even as we try, with others, to address them.

I. Education for Justice

We believe that to realize the goal we have set we must expand and improve our programs of education for justice. This education must cut across generational lines, institutional structures and various educational agencies. It requires teaching and learning the tradition of Catholic social thought, the creation of an environment for learning that reflects a commitment to justice and an openness on the part of all Catholics to change personal attitudes and behavior. In Catholic thought, social justice is not merely a secular or humanitarian matter. Social justice is a reflection of God's respect and concern for each person and an effort to protect the essential human freedom necessary for each person to achieve his or her destiny as a child of God. Because education for justice is such a vast and All-encompassing process, we choose, within the framework of the principle of subsidiarity, to suggest here only a few of the actions we can take at the national level to encourage and complement local programs in families, schools, parishes, and dioceses.

We shall establish within the USCC Office of Social Development and World Peace a center for the coordination of ongoing activities in justice education. A staff person, working closely with other national agencies concerned with education for justice, will identify areas in which further initiatives are needed, make available consultative services, facilitate the exchange of information among diocesan and regional offices of social justice and provide materials and resources for schools, workshops, symposia, and other programs requested by diocesan offices and other appropriate agencies. Recognizing the indispensable role of catechesis in forming individuals and communities in the Church, we request that social justice be given appropriate attention and treatment in catechetical programs, using the National Catechetical Directory as a base, particularly Chapter VII, "Catechesis for Social Ministry."

The NCCB/USCC will invite scholars and universities to undertake serious research into issues of justice and peace. In doing so we will seek funding from potential sources of research grants, besides cooperating, as circumstances may dictate, in the establishment of a structure for the selection of grantees and a method of collaboration with associations involved in Catholic higher education. We shall co-sponsor with appropriate groups seminars on topics, such as shared responsibility, which are central to the full development of this plan of action.

To those responsible for directing seminaries, we encourage in-service courses, workshops and seminars for faculties and administrators to help them develop programs of justice education and we request that these programs be strengthened. Seminarians and others preparing for ministry should continue to be instructed in the social thought of the Church and have a variety of experiences with social problems and cultural conditions in order to deepen their awareness of injustice and develop the knowledge and skills which will enable them to provide leadership in the Church's ministry of justice and peace.

We request that preparation for ministry for justice continue to be included as an integral part of pastoral preparation in seminaries. Commitment to the promotion of justice should continue to be among the criteria used in evaluating candidates for ordination. We ask the NCCB Committee on Priestly Formation to assess carefully the commitment to justice ministry on the part of a seminary within the committee's regular program of seminary visitation.

We also request that preparation for ministry for justice be continued; and where intensified, as an integral part of diaconate training programs and that positions in ministry for justice be identified and supported as works for permanent deacons. Commitment to the promotion of justice should be among the criteria used in evaluating candidates for ordination.

We urge Catholic colleges and universities to develop degree programs in justice and peace education and to provide resource centers for local justice education projects. We ask all Catholic educational institutions, including elementary and secondary schools, to insure that their students are exposed to fundamental Catholic social teaching as reflected in papal encyclicals and pronouncements, conciliary and synodal documents and episcopal teaching. At the same time, we strongly urge dioceses to seek actively to extend career opportunities in the areas of social ministry and justice education.

We request each diocese to initiate an in-service justice education program for teachers, school administrators and school boards, as well as health care personnel. We request that diocesan offices of religious education develop programs of preparation for the sacraments which will highlight their social as well as individual dimension. Finally, in dioceses where such instrumentalities do not exist, we recommend that consideration be given to the establishment of agencies to promote and coordinate justice education and social action; or, where this is not possible, that the sharing of resources and programs on a regional basis be investigated instead. In this connection, we pledge the assistance and support of the USCC Department of Social Development and World Peace.

II. Family Life

The Church's mission to create and sustain community runs as a theme throughout the Call to Action resolutions. The resolutions place special emphasis on the basic community of the family. Participants in the bicentennial consultation called upon their Church to support family life, foster reconciliation within and among families, enhance the family's teaching, sacramental and social ministries. The family is a vital agent in both Church and society; it preserves tradition and develops the value sof the past; it supports persons in their present responsibilities and actively prepares them to meet the challenges of the future. Effective family ministry supports these indispensable functions while embracing all the diverse living situations in which people find themselves.

At this time our episcopal conference is preparing to undertake a special plan of pastoral action for family ministry designed as a response to the report of the USCC Commission on Marriage and Family Life. This plan takes into account the results of the bicentennial consultation and involves a comprehensive approach to family ministry -- one that sees the development and strengthening of family life as integral to the total mission of the Church in society. It seeks as well to extend the impact made by Christian families on the formation of public policy and social legislation.

A diocesan family life committee or advisory board, under the direction of the family life officer, will be asked to assess family needs and to evaluate present diocesan ministry and social involvement programs. Programs to be taken into account include marriage preparation, family planning, human sexuality education, marriage and family enrichment practices, family social policy, education and leadership training for couples and families.

The 1980 Family Year will highlight parish programs of family ministry and encourage assessment of them. This assessment and subsequent planning should give consideration to ministry to six groups: the premarried, including young adults and engaged couples; married couples, including newlyweds, middle-aged, and retired couples; parents, including the widowed, parents of the very young, expectant parents, parents of adolescents in crisis, with particular attention to the unique pastoral and social needs of single-parent families; "developing" families, including those facing the needs of beginning their families, issues pertaining to family spirituality and technological pressures upon and within families; "hurting" families, including those confronting the problems of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, issues of sexuality, separation and divorce; and "leadership" families, including parish coordinating couples and couples engaged in family social action and the family apostolate, together with their children.

While this plan of action for total family ministry is designed to involve the Church at all levels, it places special emphasis on the parish. The year 1979 has been designated as a year of special diocesan preparation and planning, leading to a Family Year in 1980 and to a decade of family research and renewed ministry thereafter. The USCC, through its departmental agencies, will design educational programs for family social missions and family involvement in social policy formation. It will also continue preparation for the 1980 White House Conference on Families through a special coordinating committee involving other Catholic agencies, organizations and movements.

This parish-level action plan will reach out to involve families in parish ministry, small support groups and social action programs. The aim of the plan is to renew the family, the neighborhood, and the parish community, a goal vital to the Church and society.

III. The Church: People, Parishes and Communities

The Church is the community of God's people sharing a common faith while engaged in responding to the needs of all. A pastoral plan of action for justice must involve efforts to deepen our life as a community and improve our ways of living and working together. This present plan recognizes certain basic pastoral principles designed to strengthen our community as we go forth to serve. These include the creative interaction of bishops, theologians and Church leaders and the people and their authentic representatives; specification of pastoral needs based on listening to one another in parishes and dioceses and in the nation; and careful efforts to develop consensus through open and informed discussion, prayerful deliberation and equitable procedures for making decisions. In this section we recommend programs to bring our people into closer touch with one another and to strengthen our ability to establish pastoral objectives based upon people's real needs. Community at the local level, especially in the parish, will have our closest attention during the next five years; it is there that all of us participate most directly in the life and mission of the Church.

The NCCB has already established an Ad Hoc Committee on the Parish to carry out a parish renewal project. Enlisting the cooperation of every diocese, this program will be a major priority of our episcopal conference. It will consider pastoral care, liturgical life, ethnic, cultural and doctrinal pluralism, parish councils and their roles in the mission of the Church. Its work will involve not only studies of parish life, but the preparation of aids, identification and communication of successful renewal programs and the gathering of parish personnel to share experiences.

In reporting to the episcopal conference on its work, we suggest that the Ad Hoc Committee on the Parish highlight progress in the following areas: (a) steps by which parishes can become more creatively involved in the life of their communities; (b) effective models for parish programs of social service and social action; (c) steps by which the rich multicultural heritage of the Church can be strengthened at the local level; and (d) proposals for policies which will insure to every Catholic, whatever his or her income, sex, age, race, or social status, the right to share fully in the life of a vital Christian community, and through that community, to participate fully in the mission of the Church.

While continuing our support for the work of the NCCB/USCC Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs, we shall also seek means to encourage development of a National Hispanic Research Center. We request that our Committee for Liaison with the National Office for Black Catholics report by 1980 on further steps which may be taken, beyond those recommended elsewhere in this plan, to improve and encourage community life among black Catholics. Committees of our conference have indicated that they will be striving to improve ministry to diverse ethnic communities so as to incorporate multicultural awareness in Christian education and to insure adequate formation of candidates for ministry in the social teachings of the Church. We will request that these committees provide annual public reports on their programs.

Each diocese is asked to undertake an evaluation of its rural ministry, profiling the social and pastoral needs of its rural people and assessing current resources and programs. Each diocese is encouraged to designate a person to coordinate this program and to make recommendations to diocesan agencies concerning needed reform.

Interested in the quality of Catholic citizenship, we shall ask our Catholic conference directors to undertake a consultation on political responsibility with the goal of devising programs and methods to promote a greater understanding of the way public policy is made and the duties of citizenship.

IV. Economic Justice

Catholic social teaching has consistently maintained that economic life must serve people's needs and be governed by justice. Over the past century, papal encyclicals, conciliar documents and the statements of bishops have often called attention to the social and moral dimensions of economic life. In its teaching, the Church has noted a number of basic human rights in economic life, including the right to productive employment, the right to just wages, the right to an adequate income, the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, the right to own property for the many as a protection of freedom and the right to participation in economic decisions.

Each of these rights carries with it responsibilities, such as the duty to work, the duty of property owners to exercise ownership for the common good and the obligation to provide a just wage. These rights and responsibilities are still not fully guaranteed in our society. While poverty and joblessness still plague millions, workers are subject to harassment for their attempts at collective bargaining, and full employment and economic security are not yet operative goals of public policy. The Christian community must intensify its efforts on behalf of these human rights. We propose the following program to make our rich heritage of Catholic teaching come alive in the ministry of the Church and the life of every believer.

Our episcopal conference will continue to speak out for full employment, adequate income, the rights of workers to organize and defense of the poor and the victims of economic injustice. IN particular, we shall seek to make our voice heard more effectively in our own Catholic community and where public policy is made. E Economic injustice will be a major concern in our teaching ministry and in our relations with the government. In addition, economic justice as well as s economic development will continue to be a major emphasis of concern of our Campaign for Human Development. We shall continue to call for a more responsible rate of economic consumption on the he part of the people in our nation in order to effect economic justice for the poor in our country and throughout the world.

In 1981, the USCC will convene a major consultation on economic justice. We will bring together leaders of government, business, labor and consumers, economists and theologians to dialogue on how the Christian community can best apply its teaching of economic justice to contemporary conditions. The consultation will focus on ways by which the Church, business, labor and government, as well as individual citizens, can contribute to greater respect for human rights and basic justice in our national economy and in the international economic order. In all such discussions, the poor and those suffering from economic injustice will share. From these discussions may come the feasibility of forming a National Commission on Economic Justice. Such a commission might contribute to broadening and deepening our involvement in the moral and social dimensions of economic issues, make our efforts more effective, visible and productive and provide an on-going forum for dialogue over Catholic principles and economic life. The scope and purpose of such n undertaking will be dependent upon the above planned consultation.

V. Human Rights

The Church has seen increasingly the defense and promotion of human rights as inseparable from its Gospel mandate. The tradition of Catholic social teaching is clear and emphatic in calling the community to justice. It is also consistent in linking justice to the protection of human rights and the satisfaction of human needs on the local, national, and international levels. The recent USCC publication, Human Rights/Human Needs -- An Unfinished Agenda, provides a tool for educating the community to the wide range of human rights addressed by and rooted in Catholic tradition. We call for a coordinated educational effort in the Catholic community regarding this significant topic during 1978, the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The right to life, as a most fundamental human right, is and will remain the object of priority efforts on the part of the Church. We are committed to this work by our vision of human life and destiny, by the teaching of the Church and, in a special way, by our own Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities. Therefore, in speaking of our determination to work for human rights, we deem it fitting to speak first of our intention to strive to win greater recognition and respect for this right, which had a prominent place among the Call to Action recommendations. Further consideration of human rights in this section, however, will be limited to only a few of the issues emphasized in the Call to Action recommendations.

Racism remains a major concern. This blight on American society is of special concern for the Church because of its deep moral implications. We hope to issue a pastoral letter dealing with this issue in 1979 and anticipate that it will treat such themes, noted in the Call to Action recommendations, as discrimination in both Church and society, pluralism, as well as the distinction between race and ethnicity and the need to enhance and strengthen cultural pluralism. We shall attempt to address individual, cultural, and institutional racism and to initiate a process aimed at overcoming all forms of racism in the Church and in society.

Discrimination based on sex, because it radically undermines the personal identity of both women and men, constitutes a grave injustice in our society. At this point in history, marked, as Pope John indicated in Pacem In Terris, by the growing struggle of women to achieve full development, it is urgent that the Church give tangible evidence of its commitment to the rights of women, affirming their dignity as persons and promoting their expanded participation in ecclesial and civic life. W e will further purposefully study and dialogue regarding issues of concern to women and the eradication of sexist discrimination in current practices and policies.

Cutting across race, ethnicity, sex, and age, discrimination in American society urgently demands our attention. In addition to the pastoral letter we shall undertake the following actions: (1) A USCC statement will be issued by the fall of 1979 which will analyze the pluralism of the American experience, affirm it as a positive value in our culture with profound moral implications for social justice and peace and include appropriate pastoral directives. (2) A set of guidelines for affirmative action will be published by mid-1979 for diocesan evaluation and implementation. Our own conference offices, in their hiring practices, are prepared to take leadership in the implementation of such guidelines. (3) An organized program of action based on the USCC statement, Society and the Aged: Toward Reconciliation, will begin in mid-1980. Action will emphasize parish programs of ministry to the elderly and advocacy programs by Church agencies to assist the elderly and to protect their human rights, especially as they are affected by legislative and governmental action.

In order to ensure an increasingly effective response to the pressing needs of the handicapped, we will continue our work with them through the National Advisory Committee on Ministry to the Handicapped and other appropriate groups. The advisory committee, it is to be noted, came into being as a result of our direct invitation, and the conference continues to serve the committee in the role of both convenor and participant. Our pressing efforts in this regard are focusing on a mutual determination of the most effective approach to ensuring across-the-board involvement of our national conferences as well as that of other Church organizations at the regional and local levels.

This involves, as a necessary precondition, an in-depth needs analysis to identify more specifically the priority concerns of this important segment of the Church and of society in general. Although more specific action awaits completion of this present stage of dialogue, one important item already of our forward agenda is a pastoral letter on ministry to the handicapped.

Better understanding of the international dimensions of human rights is urgently needed. A consultation of diocesan representatives on this topic, sponsored by the USCC, by the spring of 1979, will assist the Church at the local level to engage its constituents in this vital work. From such a consultation, specific programs for promoting human rights internationally should emerge; e.g., the celebration of a World Day of Peace and the formation of groups for disarmament, for opposition to the arms race, for promotion of international economic structural changes and for providing support to the suffering Church in the Third World and in Eastern Europe.

VI. World Hunger

The basic human right to eat continues to be denied to hundreds of millions of people in the United States and overseas.

In an effort to combat world hunger, our offices at the United States Catholic Conference will continue to monitor U.S. food policy, including constant appraisal of national policies affecting food exports, domestic food programs (e.g., food stamps, school lunch programs) and agricultural policies. W e shall also continue to prepare educational materials on these matters and to present testimony before appropriate congressional committees.

Dioceses are urged to continue to support local efforts to provide remedial programs such s food banks and food kitchens for the needy, advocacy support for persons eligible for government assistance and support for programs such as the Catholic Relief Services, Operation Rice Bowl, Bread for the World, and World Food Day.

On the domestic level, the USCC will provide dioceses and parishes with a Lenten program in 1980 designed to provide American Catholics with a prayer period for examining their personal lifestyles in elation to eating habits and patterns of energy consumption.


In setting forth this six-part program, we pledge ourselves for the next five years to an ongoing effort to monitor and evaluate its implementation. At the end of that five-year period there will be an evaluation and review of the plan of action which we have set forth in terms of its impact on the Church and society. Further, we call upon the Department of Social Development and World Peace, the Department of Education and the Department of Communication of the United States Catholic Conference to assist in the implementation of this plan by calling together national, regional, and diocesan social ministry, catechetical and communications personnel to enlist their aid in publicizing and implementing this plan of action.

We are all learning how to live the Gospel anew today. We have truly heard a "call to action" both from our Holy Father and from our Catholic people across the land. The programs we have outlined offer a sufficient challenge to all our leadership groups to engage in generous service to the word.

Ultimately, the call is directed to each Catholic in America. It is an invitation to each to make a personal commitment to seek justice and to live justly. There is no "program" for bringing this about. T he action needed does not lie essentially in plans, projects or statements. Rather, we know as Christians that the most effective response to the ills of the world is ours to make, the duty to seek justice and equality resides with each of us. Here, in the painfully slow changing of our own lives and in the agony of living out our vocations, lies the essential key to a more decent and more human world.

We pray and we trust that God's love, alive in the hearts of our people, will fire their imaginations and enkindle in them a desire for a more simple way of life, free from dependency on luxuries mistaken for necessities; that it will liberate them from prejudgments about others which are an obstacle to sharing the faith with them; and will enable them to view with an objective eye the deleterious effects on human beings of unjust social structures and to strive with courageous hearts to change these for the better; that it will intensify their commitment to service out of love for the One Who has first loved us. So also we pray and truth the same for ourselves.