The option for the poor or the preferential option for the poor is the fourth of the key themes of Catholic social teaching. The phrase option for the poor was used by Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J. in 1968 in a letter to the Jesuits of Latin America. As a developed theological principle it was first articulated by Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P. in his landmark theological book, A Theology of Liberation, the principle is rooted in both the Old and New Testaments and claims that a preferential concern for the physical and spiritual welfare of the poor is an essential element of the Gospel. This principle was articulated by the Catholic Bishops of Latin America as well as by several popes, particularly Pope John Paul II.

Jesus taught that on the Day of Judgement God will ask what each of us did to help the poor and needy: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."[1] This is reflected in the Church's canon law, which states, "[The Christian faithful] are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources."[2]

Through our words, prayers and deeds we must show solidarity with, and compassion for, the poor. When instituting public policy we must always keep the "preferential option for the poor" at the forefront of our minds. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor."[3]

Pope Benedict XVI has taught that “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel”.[4] This preferential option for the poor and vulnerable includes all who are marginalized in our nation and beyond—unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and victims of injustice and oppression.


  1. Matthew 25:40.
  2. 1983 CIC, canon 222 §2.
  3. Option for the Poor, Major themes from Catholic Social Teaching, Office for Social Justice, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
  4. Deus Caritas Est §22.

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