Navigating Rough Economic Waters
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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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