By Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
On Thursday, May 17, two Vatican departments — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development — released a jointly issued document from Jan. 6 entitled “Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones: Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System (hereinafter, CED).”
Big title, big topic! Before analysts and pundits of every stripe put their spin on the document, permit me, as Bishop, to offer a few comments of my own. It is a very strong statement.
CED attempts to address a complex subject — our global economic system — from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching, a major and difficult undertaking to be sure. The resulting document is not for the “economic” faint of heart!
The two primary pillars or themes of its analysis are (1) human dignity and (2) the common good. Critics will immediately object that its authors are not experts in financial or economic systems — true enough — but they must admit at the same time that their expertise in matters of human morality/ethics merits some thoughtful consideration. The economy is, after all, a moral reality warranting moral reflection/evaluation since economic choices affecting human society always have a moral dimension. “The current state of our world economic systems has focused only on the need to create wealth and have ignored the worldwide crisis of inequality so pronounced in the world today (CED, no. 6).” Reasonable, honest economists would be hard pressed to deny that assertion although they might debate specific details.
Understanding human morality requires a prior understanding of the human person. Social scientists tell us that human beings are “relational” by nature and not merely a collection of disconnected “individuals.” For that reason, the common good looms large in any authentic moral evaluation of current economic realities as well as in the creation of a legitimate moral framework upon which economic systems are or can be rightly constructed in pursuit of right goals.
“Money must serve, not rule (CED, no. 6).” Financial and economic systems must make sure that the dignity of the human person with a view toward the common good — not entrenched power and wealth in the hands of a few — is at the center of every economic structure, system and institution. This is not an option but, rather, a moral imperative. Markets need such a moral framework to avoid any deception in design, decision and practice and to ensure fairness and balance that prevents exploitation, fraud and corruption at any and every level.
The production of wealth through moral economic initiatives must help “the concrete well-being of all of us, rejecting whatever harms it” ... in a way that is “consistent with our relational nature and tends toward an integral development of the human person (CED, no. 33)" in order to “serve all of humanity (CED, no. 34).”
Summaries and commentaries of Vatican documents such as mine are not intended to replace a careful reading of the texts themselves. Hopefully this brief analysis will serve to spark an interest in reading what is only a 16-page publication of the Holy See, especially by those whose professional responsibilities invite such moral consideration. In the end, “every gesture of our liberty, even if it appears fragile and insignificant, if it is really directed toward an authentic good, rests on Him who is the good Lord (CED, no. 34).”