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The common good is a concept which has been one of the cornerstones of social teaching of the Catholic Church for centuries.

The Second Vatican Council defined the common good as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and easy access to their own fulfilment” (The Church in the Modern World # 26). The common good is served, then, when all people have relatively easy access to what they need to live a fully human life - that is, to achieve their potential as human beings. The pursuit of the common good is seen as one of the roles of government.

Most people in Australian society enjoy this easy access to what they need, and it should be a matter of pride for us that this is the case. However, it is self evident that a large minority of people have no such access. These people are effectively excluded from full participation in society and from achieving their potential by, for example, unemployment, poverty, inadequate housing and a number of other factors.

In the Church’s social teaching, these excluded and marginalised people are a central focus, as they were in the life of Jesus. As long as such disadvantage exists, the common good is diminished. This focus on the poor and the consequent commitment to take action to eliminate poverty is often referred to by the Church as the “option for the poor”. This option is indispensable if the common good is to be achieved.

In the context of an election campaign, the common good can serve as a criterion against which the policies and programs of each political party can be judged. Does this policy promote the common good? In other words, is it a step towards ensuring that all people in society (especially those currently excluded) have easy access to what they need to live a decent human life?

Good Resources

The Australian Catholic Bishops' Statement for the 2004 Election - Having Faith in our Democracy: Building a Better Australia

Catholic Welfare Australia - COMMON Wealth Issue Papers

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council - Social Justice in Everyday Life

Catholic Social Teaching - Notable quotations from Catholic Social Teaching on the topic of the Common Good

Compare Policies Australia - Just the Policies (not politics)

 

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