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Navigating Rough Economic Waters

Bishop's Column

Bishop Matthew Harvey Clark
Bishop of Rochester, New York

June 3, 2009

In navigating the storms of our times, such as the worrisome economic crisis affecting our nation, we, like every good sailor in a tempest, need a reliable compass that will enable us to find our way.

In the current economic realities, I find such value, and think you will, too, in "A Catholic Framework for Economic Life" -- a listing of 10 key principles to help Catholics reflect on the values that should shape our participation in and understanding of economic life. The principles were written by the bishops of the United States based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal encyclicals, the pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All," and other statements of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

I include the preamble and 10 principles here in their entirety because I believe they express the church’s moral convictions about economic issues. I truly hope they will stimulate discussion in our parishes, at our dinner tables and wherever people of faith congregate.

"As followers of Jesus Christ and participants in a powerful economy, Catholics in the United States are called to work for greater economic justice in the face of persistent poverty, growing income-gaps, and increasing discussion of economic issues in the United States and around the world. We urge Catholics to use the following ethical framework for economic life as principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and directions for action. These principles are drawn directly from Catholic teaching on economic life.

"1. The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.

"2. All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.

"3. A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.

"4. All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, and economic security.

"5. All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.

"6. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.

"7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.

"8. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.

"9. Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice.

"10. The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe."

These principals, which are clear and to the point, also call us to ask certain questions of the society and government we each have a hand in shaping, and in the economic system we build and maintain.

For example, do we truly know who the poor and vulnerable are in our midst, and do we do all that we can as a society and as individuals to help them?

How do we individually and as a community of faith strengthen and support families devastated by sudden unemployment? Yes, there are programs, but are we doing enough?

As "workers, owners, managers, stockholders, and consumers" are we contributing to the goal of improving the economy for the benefit of all through our decisions, creativity and participation? Are we providing ideas, encouragement and support -- or alternatives -- to government officials trying to unravel this thorny problem?

In his encyclical Centesimus Annus, (issued on the hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s groundbreaking encyclical Rerum Novarum on capital and labor), Pope John Paul II said the Catholic tradition calls for a "society of work, enterprise and participation" that "is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state to assure that the basic needs of the whole society are satisfied." All of economic life should recognize the fact that we all are God’s children and members of one human family, called to exercise a clear priority for "the least among us."

If you would like further resources on this subject and materials to share with others in your circle, the Campaign for Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a special Web site to enhance your knowledge. The Web address is www.usccb.org/jphd/economiclife.

I continue to pray that the hardships will ease and that we will lick this crisis as a nation, and I especially ask God to uphold and comfort those most affected and most vulnerable.

Peace to all.

 

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