By Fred Kammer, S.J.
In their 1986 pastoral letter on Economic Justice for All, the U.S. bishops remind their readers of the three classical forms of justice: commutative justice (dealing with fairness in contracts among individuals and private social groups), distributive justice, and social justice. In the context of the nation’s recent awakening to economic inequality—prompted in large part by the Occupy movements—it is most helpful here to revisit the meaning and roots of the concept of distributive justice. In the bishops’ words:
"Distributive justice requires that the allocation of income, wealth, and power in society be evaluated in light of its effects on persons whose basic material needs are unmet. The Second Vatican Council stated: 'The right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The fathers and doctors of the church held this view, teaching that we are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of our superfluous goods.' Minimum material resources are an absolute necessity for human life."
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