Financial and economic decisions ranging 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 has said.
“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,” says the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The text, Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System, was approved by Pope Francis and released today, May 17, at a Vatican news conference with Archbishop Luis 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 insists that every economic activity has a moral and ethical dimension.
Responding 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.
Pope 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 marginalised’ 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 says.
The size and complexity of the global economy, it says, 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.
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, saying that a healthy economy promotes all those goods and realises 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.