IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Financial and economic decisions — everything
from where a family chooses to invest its savings to where a multinational
corporation declares its tax residence
— are ethical decisions that can be virtuous or sinful, a new Vatican document
“There can be no area of human action that legitimately
claims to be either outside of or impermeable to ethical principles based on
liberty, truth, justice and solidarity,” said the document from the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human
The text, “Considerations for an Ethical Discernment
Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System,” was approved
by Pope Francis and released May 17 at a Vatican news conference with Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria,
congregation prefect, and Cardinal
Peter Turkson, head
of the dicastery.
Based on principles long part of Catholic social teaching
and referring frequently to the teaching of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI
and Pope Francis, the document insisted that every economic activity has a moral
and ethical dimension.
to questions, Archbishop Ladaria said it is true that Catholic moral theology
has focused more on questions of sexual ethics than business ethics, but that
does not mean that the economy and finance are outside the scope of Catholic moral teaching. For example, he said, over the centuries the church and the popes repeatedly have intervened to condemn usury.
Francis, he said, supported the development of the document, but the idea of
writing it and examining the ethical and moral implications of the current
economic scene came from “the grassroots.”
“At stake is the authentic well-being of a majority of
the men and women of our planet who are at risk of being ‘excluded and
marginalized’ from development and true well-being while a minority,
indifferent to the condition of the majority, exploits and reserves for itself
substantial resources and wealth,” the document said.
The size and complexity of the global economy, it said, may
lead most people to think there is nothing they can do to promote an economy of
solidarity and contribute to the well-being of everyone in the world, but every
financial choice a person makes — especially if they act with others — can
make a difference, it said.
“For instance, the markets live thanks to the supply
and demand of goods,” it said. “It becomes therefore quite evident
how important a critical and responsible exercise of consumption and savings
Even something as simple as shopping can be important, the
document said. Consumers should avoid products manufactured in conditions
“in which the violation of the most elementary human rights is
normal.” They can avoid doing business with companies “whose ethics
in fact do not know any interest other than that of the profit of their shareholders
at any cost.”
Being ethical, it said, also can mean preferring to put
one’s savings in investments that have been certified as socially responsible
and they can join others in shareholder actions meant to promote more ethical
behavior by the companies in which they invest.
statement distributed at the news conference, Archbishop Ladaria said that
“the origin of the spread of dishonest and predatory financial practices”
is a misunderstanding of who the human person is. “No longer knowing who
he is and why he is in the world, he no longer knows how to act for the
good” and ends up doing what seems convenient at the moment.
strongest economic subjects have become ‘superstars’ who hoard enormous
quantities of resources, resources that are distributed less than before and
are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people,” he said. “It’s
incredible to think that 10 people can possess almost half of the world’s
wealth, but today that is a reality!”
Turkson told reporters, “a healthy economic system is vital to forge
flourishing human relationships.”
help generate such healthy system, this joint document reminds us that the
resources of the world are destined to serve the dignity of the human person
and must be commonly available for the common good,” the cardinal said.
The document takes aim at greed, not capitalism. In fact, it
praises economic systems and markets that respect human dignity and promote human
freedom, creativity, production, responsibility, work and solidarity.
A healthy economy, it said, promotes all of those goods and
realizes that the measure of progress is not how much money people have in the
bank, but how many people are helped to live better lives.
One key to judging how well the economy works is how many
decent jobs are created, the document said. But too often selfishness gets the
upper hand, the rich speculate and gamble, accumulating more money but not
creating more jobs.
“No profit is in fact legitimate when it falls short of
the objective of the integral promotion of the human person, the universal
destination of goods and the preferential option for the poor,” the document
is especially necessary to provide an ethical reflection on certain aspects of
financial transactions which, when operating without the necessary
anthropological and moral foundations, have not only produced manifest abuses
and injustice, but also demonstrated a capacity to create systemic and
worldwide economic crisis,” the document said.
global financial crisis that began in 2007, it said, created an opportunity to
review mechanisms of the economy and finance and come up with corrective
regulations, but very little has been done.
addition to the immorality of usury and tax evasion, the document signaled out other
ethically problematic practices or practices that require more regulation to
ensure ethical behavior: for example, executive bonus incentives based only on
short-term profit; the operation of “offshore” financial bases that
can facilitate tax evasion and the outflow of capital from developing
countries; “the creation of stocks of credit,” like subprime
mortgages, and credit default swaps; and the growth of the “shadow banking
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