A Catholic Florilegium for Tax Day

A few texts on taxation, plus bonus references to the universal destination of goods and distributive justice.

Catechism of the Catholic Church,  #2240


Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country: Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #355

Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance for every civil and political community.  The goal to be sought is public financing that is itself capable of becoming an instrument of development and solidarity.  Just, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects on the economy, because it will encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities to help to increase the credibility of the State as the guarantor of systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.

Public spending is directed to the common good when certain fundamental principles are observed: the payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity; a reasonable and fair application of taxes; precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources.  In the redistribution of resources, public spending must observe the principles of solidarity, equality and making use of talents.  It must also pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose. 


John XXIII offered the most explicit Papal teaching on taxation, which is cited in the Compendium. 

Mater et Magistra,  #132.

In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing. 


The US Bishops applied these teachings to the American Economy in Economic Justice for All, #202

The tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor. This evaluation should be guided by three principles.

First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.

Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation. Action should be taken to reduce or offset the fact that most sales taxes and payroll taxes place a disproportionate burden on those with lower incomes.

Thirdly, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.


For those shocked by the notions of redistribution implicit in these texts.  It is worth noting that distributive justice is an ancient Catholic principle.  Benedict  XVI used the term 8 times in Caritas in Veritate.  The most germane is #36

Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

The Church defends private property, but always within the context of the principle of the “Universal Destination of Goods”  (See Compendium #171-184).

John Paul II said it clearly in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis #42

It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all.  The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a "social mortgage," which means that it has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods.”


So, as you pay your taxes out of proper submission to authority and as an exercise of your responsibility for the common good, however imperfectly it is realized; fulfilling your social mortgage out of justice and charity with your private property, thank God for the richness of Catholic social doctrine.





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Craig McKee
6 years 9 months ago
The USA alone spends 43% of the entire planet's military budget!
J Cosgrove
6 years 9 months ago
Just what is fair?  And just what rate of taxation contributes the most to the social good?  Redistribution is only useful if it helps the poor.  And by the way just what is poor.  The Catholic document above fails to take into account the differences between descriptions of the poor from country to country.  Some poor in the US are rich compared to most in many countries of the world.

And if the use of your tax money is not to help the poor but to establish something that is inimical to helping the poor, what should be your response?

Maybe Mr. Miller should answer these questions because a couple months ago he pointed everyone to a definition of subsidiarity which was in sync with Republican party policies.  And I do not think Mr. Miller is here advocating the Paul Ryan budget which is more in line with Church thinking than is what the Democrats are proposing.

Maybe we can have a little more depth in the OP's here that might be informative to the readers. 
David Cruz-Uribe
6 years 9 months ago
What if it is clear that taxes are not being directed to the common good?  A very large percentage of the total budget, and more than 1/2 of the discretionary budget, is spent on the military.  This includes a never ending war in Afghanistan and the continued development and stockpiling of nuclear arms.  Is it moral and just to pay taxes under these circumstances?
Jim McCrea
6 years 9 months ago
All prudential statements made in support of a pre-conceived political agenda by a bunch of non-American foreigners!      { ;<}}

Not like this:

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."   John Kenneth Galbraith


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