From the Vatican to Catholics: Don’t be afraid of finances!

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Published on December 1, 2022


This is the text that has been awaited for years and was published by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences for the Vatican on November 25, 2022: mensuram bonam.

This document is dedicated to spiritual advice for Catholics regarding financial investments. It is often said that Catholics are not very comfortable with money. Of course, adaptation was necessary because Jesus himself was comfortable with this, encouraging investment and risk-taking and not letting money lie dormant (the parable of the talents) and explaining that money can be used for good (the parable). from the good Samaritan).

But it is also true that the great principles on which the Church’s social doctrine is based (personal dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, common good…) have been silent, except for currency, finance and money in general, with very rare exceptions.

Liberals often believe that the Church is too hostile to markets and economic freedoms.

The reality is more complex, since official texts (such as social encyclicals) outside the Magisterium’s authority cannot be confused with occasional speeches or even press conferences where the pope freely expresses himself without exercising the authority of the Magisterium. It is often these latter interventions that worry liberals, because by their spontaneous nature they inevitably reflect what popes experience in their own countries: it is easy to understand that John Paul II, who lived through Nazi and Communist totalitarianism, was very sensitive to it. freedoms, including in economic matters, while Pope Francis criticizes capitalism because he experienced a consensus capitalism in his country where politics and economics are mixed together and he did not experience a free market economy.

But if we examine the official texts (social encyclicals) to see the entire social doctrine of the Church, they outline a market economy (or “free economy” as John Paul II called it). that it is based on the rule of law and strong ethics.

What is mensuram bonam?

But about the text Mensuram bonam? This is a very special text by its authors and recipients. It is not an encyclical written by the Pope.

Indeed, the encyclicals are addressed not only to Catholics, but to all “people of good will” because they are based mainly on reason.

mensuram bonam first developed by disasters (ministries), including for whole human development, later by professional experts (such as Pierre de Lauz) under the chairmanship of Cardinal Turkson; then it was finally published by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (of which Cardinal Turkson is chancellor – he wrote the foreword to the document). That is, since it does not come directly from the Magisterium, it has an intermediate status, no encyclical authority, but is nevertheless a Vatican text.

What is new is that it does not essentially aim to appeal to all on the basis of reason, but to give Catholics moral advice based primarily on faith in matters of financial investment.

This is not to say that it has no interest for non-Catholics, but the goal is clear: to encourage Catholics to invest in finance by giving them ethical criteria.

The subtitle of the document is also clear: “Faith-based measures for Catholic investors: a starting point and a call to action.”

The existence of this document is a message in itself: because finance plays an important economic role, it should not be neglected, or even slightly condemned. The text explains the necessity and benefits. There is the first message: do not be afraid of finances and, on the contrary, take care of them, because we can act there respecting the moral rules that come from the Catholic faith. In itself, this is nothing new for a religion, and we know the importance of Islamic-derived rules (such as the prohibition of interest-bearing loans) to develop an extremely dynamic Islamic finance (representing several trillion dollars). Why not Catholics? even if it is advice, it is not binding and binding rules: it is not a turnkey user guide, and even less binding rules, but elements of differentiation.

We appreciate the funding

Cardinal Turkson explains all this very well in his newspaper interview Le Figaro From November 25, 2022:

“We do not want to moralize the financial world in any way, on the contrary, we want to show that we appreciate this human activity. […] Making money requires ethical conditions […] The idea of ​​our document is to create an investment culture in the Catholic world with investment criteria related to our Christian faith.”

In general, the cardinal comes to put everything about the Church and the economy into perspective:

“The Church does not point the finger of accusation at the business community, on the contrary, it reiterates the nobility of its profession. Entrepreneurs are often criticized, but we see them as co-creators […] Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the enterprise and the business world.

When asked about Pope Francis’ harsh criticism of capitalism, he answered:

“I don’t believe the Pope is condemning capitalism, but he appeals to remind us that people, not money, should be at the center of the economy” (it’s just a tool).

The financial industry should do the same. A tone that wants to be positive about the economy and finances: it is not about condemning, but about why and under what circumstances Catholics should play a role.

After these reminders, the text therefore moves into practical applications for the use of Catholics, setting out criteria, propositions that those who do not share the Catholic ethos may dispute.

In general, as Cardinal Turkson reminds us, the goal is to “produce quality goods produced in decent conditions for workers. The profit must be shared by all involved in production: good work, good product, good profit! “.

More specific criteria are addressed to diocesan churches, religious orders that manage investments, and all Catholics who have savings to manage, and “financial professionals who ask themselves about the meaning of their work,” as well as teachers and students in the field. business and financial field.

Therefore, it is not a theory, but a “call to action for ethical criteria to be at the center of investment choices”, based on the principles of the Church’s social doctrine, along with faith.

Questionable exclusion criteria

The text has a very practical, immediate scope, even for episcopal conferences and religious orders, by defining eight ethical financial criteria, including, of course, “the dignity of the human person”, but also subsidiarity, the common good, solidarity, the inclusion of the most. sensitive, etc., that is, the main principles of the social doctrine of the church.

He insists that finance should not be disconnected from the real economy. In a fairly standard way, proposals for ethical investments are based on the criterion of excluding sectors that would be contrary to Christian morality. This includes life-threatening industries such as abortion or addictive industries such as pornography, drugs, tobacco, alcohol or electronic games. But there is also the production of armaments or minerals when the conditions of extraction are inhumane or even corrupt activities.

There are 24 exclusion criteria in total.

Speaking with believers and more so with religious institutions, we understand the meaning and practical scope of the approach. However, through a more nuanced analysis, we know that the objections that can be made when an entire sector is excluded, rather than a particular company, are more difficult to implement.

For example, we understand that we do not want to invest in weapons designed to cause death, invade territory, or engage in terrorism. But it can be argued in the opposite direction that guns can be used to enforce the rule of law against terrorists or criminals, to defend a country unjustly attacked: should we not support the efforts of the Allies to arm themselves against Nazi barbarism? close to us, the weapons given to Ukraine by the West? The same is true for alcohol: as an excuse, it can create addiction or even drama in certain cases, should we refuse to finance alcohol at all, when the Church gives wine an important role in human life and even in its liturgy? Should Jesus have stopped turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana?

Consciousness and freedom

Therefore, we can legitimately discuss this or that specific proposal.

The spirit of the paper is well summed up by the idea that “no investment algorithm can ever simulate the human mind.” Hence the propositions do not decrease as a checklist of permission and prohibition. The text also points out that making ethical choices is not contrary to profitability, but rather ethics helps create an environment of trust that benefits companies.

What are we to think of this text as a whole, other than the casual criticisms that might be made of such and such a proposition?

For Catholics, especially if this text is distributed in dioceses and movements (soon to be translated into French and currently only available in Italian and English), we can hope that it will lead them away from utopias and simplistic or ideological views of economics. : economics and finance are not “evil”. They are what men make of them, they reflect our choices, and so we can invest in them without denying our faith and morals.

Liberal Catholics will appreciate a return to realism about finance and financial markets, and a reminder that personal conscience prevails over advice or guidance.

In general, liberals will think on the one hand that it is better to have more market and financial supporters than opponents; on the other hand, due to their freedom of choice and subjectivity in matters of consumption or investment, they can only criticize for the sake of their freedom and values ​​that some choose differently than their own.

Indeed, liberals know that it is the customer or saver who determines the value of goods or services, or even finance, and that everyone is free to choose in this area, as in others.

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