Catholic Identity and Social Teaching

The task of welcoming immigrants, refugees and displaced persons into full participation in the Church and society with equal rights and duties continues the biblical understanding of the justice of God reaching out to all peoples and rectifying the situation of the poor, the orphans, the widows, the disadvantaged, and especially in the Old Testament, the alien and the stranger.

Together a New People: Pastoral Statement on Migrants and Refugees.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1986

About Our Identity

CLINIC’s Catholic identity infuses every aspect of its work—how it is governed, who it serves, how it treats its clients, the way it works, and why it does the work that it does.

CLINIC was founded by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops and is governed by a board comprised of a majority of bishops, along with women and men whose professional backgrounds provide helpful context for our work. CLINIC serves as a legal support agency for diocesan immigration programs.

Second, the kinds of cases and advocacy positions taken by the network—involving family reunification, protection of the persecuted, empowerment through work, authorization, legal status and citizenship—have their roots in Catholic social teaching.

Third, CLINIC views newcomers in their full human dignity, not solely from a legal service perspective. This requires CLINIC and its affiliates to partner with programs and agencies that can meet the non-legal needs of newcomers.

Fourth, CLINIC takes the Catholic view that advocacy draws its legitimacy from service. Service allows advocates to give voice to newcomers, not to speak “for” them.

Fifth, CLINIC has adopted a principle of Catholic social teaching—subsidiarity—to guide its programmatic commitments. Subsidiarity leads CLINIC to respect the different roles and capacities of its local partner agencies and to encourage them to assume as much responsibility for newcomers as they can. This allows CLINIC to focus its limited resources on needs that local programs cannot meet. In this way, CLINIC seeks to leverage maximum legal representation for low-income newcomers.

Sixth, the CLINIC safeguards the rights and promotes the dignity of all newcomers. The network does not distinguish among prospective clients based on race, religion or ethnic background.

How does Catholic Social Teaching fit into immigration?

CLINIC reflects the church’s own tradition of exile, flight and migration. Catholic social teaching identifies the Holy Family, in their flight to Egypt, as the “archetype of every refugee family.” Jesus identified with newcomers (“I was a stranger and you welcomed me”), so that in the Catholic tradition, newcomers “image” God. It identifies the church itself as a “pilgrim” church. Catholic teaching views migration not as a divisive phenomenon, but as an occasion to build the human family. It recognizes a range of human rights for newcomers, based on their God-given dignity that extends far beyond those recognized by individual nations or international bodies. Finally, it teaches that civil authority draws its legitimacy from protecting and defending human rights and the “common good of the entire human family.” In this context, service to newcomers constitutes an obligation to persons of faith, not an option.

Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on the rights and dignity of all persons explains, in part, why CLINIC and its diocesan partners represent needy newcomers from all countries, religions, social groups, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds. CLINIC and its partners serve non-Catholics precisely because of their Catholic identity.

CLINIC constitutes one expression of the Catholic Church’s commitment to welcome and defend newcomers in the United States. CLINIC draws upon a rich tradition of Scripture and Catholic social teaching, which serve as the foundation for its guiding principles.


We offer many different resources on Catholic Social Teaching, including Parish level, Prayer Cards and Papal Messages.