The following is excerpted from an outline by the National Council of Catholic Bishops of the first draft of a pastoral letter. WHY WE SPEAK

The theme of human dignity is central to Catholic social thought and forms the basis for our perpectives and recommendations in this letter. Every perspective on economic life that is human, moral and Christian must be shaped by two questions: What does it do for people? What does it do to people? The poor have a special claim on our concern because they are particularly vulnerable and needy.

In writing this letter, we accept the challenge of the Second Vatican Council -- to scrutinize the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel. We present these reflections on Catholic social teaching and the U.S. economy with the conviction that our nation's great wealth and economic power give it a special responsibility in helping to establish a just economic order. Human Rights: The Minimum Conditions

If the economy is to function in a way that respects human dignity, then it should enable persons to find self-realization in their labor; it should permit persons to fulfill their material needs through adequate remuneration, and it should enhance unity and solidarity within the family, the nation and the world community.

In its relatively short history, the United States has made impressive strides in providing material necessities and economic prosperity for its people. However, there remain major problems and injustices that infringe upon human dignity. The nation must take up the task of framing a new national consensus that all persons have rights in the economic sphere and that society has a moral obligation to take the necessary steps to ensure that no one among us is hungry, homeless, unemployed or otherwise denied what is necessary to live with dignity.

The experiment in political democracy carried out by America's founders did a great deal to ensure the protection of civic and political rights in our nation. The time has come for a similar experiment in economic democracy: the creation of an order that guarantees the minimum conditions of human dignity in the economic sphere for every person. Justice, Power and Institutional Priorities

Justice demands the establishment of minimum levels of participation by all persons in the life of the human community . . . . A certain inequality in the distribution of economic resources can sometimes be justified, but subject to several stringent constraints:

* There is a strong presumption against inequality of income or wealth as long as there are poor, hungry and homeless people in our midst.

* Unequal distribution of income, education, wealth, job opportunities or other economic goods on the basis of race, sex or other arbitrary standards can never be justified.

* Increased participation for those on the margins of society takes priority over the preservation of wealth, talent and human energy. Responsibilities and Rights

Working People and Labor Unions. All people have a right to employment, to just wages and to collective bargaining. People also have a duty to work, and workers and unions have responsibilities to their employers and to society as a whole.

Managers, Investors, Business Unions. Persons who own, invest and manage financial resources make important contributions to society. In using economic resources, a fundamental principle should be that, whatever one's legal entitlement, no one can ever own these resources absolutely or use them without regard for others.

Catholic social teaching defends the right to private ownership of property, but it is not an absolute or unconditioned right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need when others lack necessities.

Citizens and Government. All people have obligations to overcome the wounds of injustice by acts of charity, the sharing of possessions and other forms of voluntary action. At the same time, all have a larger responsibility to remove the causes of injustice -- through their actions as citizens and through government and the political process.

Government has a positive moral function: that of protecting basic rights, ensuring economic justice for all and enabling citizens to coordinate their actions toward these ends. While Catholic social teaching provides a positive affirmation of the role of government, it does not advocate a statist approach to economic activity . . . .

Consumers. Our Christian faith and the norms of human justice impose distinct limits on what we consume and how we view material goods. Such limits on consumption and the accumulation of wealth are essential if we are to avoid what Pope Paul VI called "the most evident form of moral underdevelopment," namely avarice or greed.

The Church. All the moral principles that govern the just operation of any ecomomic endeavor apply to the church and its agencies and institutions. All church institutions must fully recognize the rights of employes to just wages and to organize and bargain collectively through whatever association or organization they freely choose. Both individual Christians and the church as a community can make very important contributions to achieving greater economic justice. POLICY APPLICATIONS Employment

The most urgent priority for U.S. domestic economic policy is the creation of new jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions. The prime goal must be to make it possible for everyone who is seeking a job to find employment which befits human dignity.

By almost any measure -- individual, social, economic or political -- the costs of unemployment are enormous. Current levels of unemployment are morally unjustified.

. . . Efforts to generate employment should be aimed specifically at bringing marginalized persons into the labor force; should give priority to long-term jobs; should produce goods and services needed by society; should be as economically efficient as possible; and should include both the private and public sectors.

The nation should make a major new policy commitment to achieve full employment -- to reduce unemployment to the range of 3 or 4 percent. The government should increase support for direct job-creation programs targeted on the structurally unemployed. Job training and apprenticeship programs in the private sector, supported by business, labor and government, should be expanded. Local, state and national coalitions to press for job creation should be formed. Job-placement services should be improved and expanded. Poverty

The fact that more than 15 percent of our nation's population live below the official poverty level is a social and moral scandal that must not be ignored.

Racial and Ethnic Discrimination. The rates of poverty are higest among those groups who have historically borne the brunt of racial prejudice and discrimination.

Feminization of Poverty. Families with female heads now have a poverty rate six times that of two-parent families. Many women work full time outside the home but are still poor, because of low wages and discrimination in employment opportunity.

Distribution of Income and Wealth. The distribution of income and wealth in the United States is so inequitable that it violates the minimum standard of distributive justice. In 1982 the richest 20 percent of Americans received more income than the bottom 70 percent combined. The disparities in the distribution of wealth are even more extreme.

Dealing with poverty is an imperative of the highest order. The following are some of the elements necessary for a national strategy to deal with poverty:

Building a healthy economy to provide employment opportunities for all; action to remove barriers to full and equal employment for women and minorities; reforms in the tax system that would reduce the burden on the poor; programs and policies to foster self-help programs among the poor; improvements in the quality of education for poor children and improved child-care services.

The present welfare system is woefully inadequate and in need of major reform. We propose six guidelines for reform:

Welfare programs should be adequately funded and provide adequate support. National eligibility standards and a national minimum benefit level for public assistance programs should be established. Welfare programs should strengthen rather than weaken marriage and the family. Welfare programs should encourage rather than penalize gainful employment. The design of public assistance programs should involve the participation of recipients and should avoid stigma to clients. The administration of public assistance programs should show respect for clients. NEW AMERICAN EXPERIMENT

America needs a new experiment in cooperation and collaboration to renew a sense of solidarity, enhance participation, and broaden the sharing of responsibility in economic society.

Management and workers should develop new forms of partnership and cooperation, such as cooperative ownership and worker participation in ownership and decision-making.

Government, business, labor and other institutions can work together at the local and regional levels to develop new cooperative structures to promote such goals as job creation and community economic development . . . . Catholic social teaching supports the need for society to make provision for overall planning in the economic domain, but it must be done in a way that strikes a balance between individual initiatives and the common good. THE U.S. AND THE WORLD

The U.S. economy has enormous influence on the rest of the world. Recognizing the fact and meaning of global interdependence is central to assessing the role of the United States in the world economy. Linked together in a finite world, we can help or hurt one another by the policies we adopt.

Our challenge is to shape the conditions of interdependence according to the standards of justice, equity and charity . . . .

There is an urgent need for a change in the U.S. approach to developing countries -- in terms of perspective, policy and posture. Our nation has a moral obligation to help reduce poverty in the Third World.

Trade Relations. International trade has been and continues to be a key component of economic progress for the developing countries . . . . We lean toward an open trading system, but we recognize that there are new situations in the 1980s and new challenges that require a trading system that is both free and fair.

Third World Debt. We recommend that the United States take immediate steps to help relieve the debt burden, especially of the poorest and least developed nations.

Development Assistance. The United States should increase its commitment to foreign aid, both in quality and quantity. Though still the largest single donor, our nation lags behind most other industrial nations in the relative amount of aid we provide to the Third World.

Private Foreign Investment. Direct foreign investment can provide needed capital for Third World nations, but it can also create or perpetuate dependency and become a particular danger to people at the bottom of the economic ladder. We support efforts to ensure that private foreign investment contributes to the appropriate development of Third World nations and to the common good of those societies.

The international economic order is in crisis; the gap between the rich and poor countries, and between rich and poor people within countries, is widening. The United States is the most powerful actor on the international scene, and it has a commensurate responsibility to use that power in the service of human dignity.