Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Challenge to Catholic Social Thought Posed by Pope Francis: His Strong Moral Messages to Business

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Challenge to Catholic Social Thought Posed by Pope Francis: His Strong Moral Messages to Business

Article excerpt

THE CATHOLIC INTELLECTUA L TRADITION is broader than the Catholic social tradition because the latter strives to enact the social dimension and implications of the gospel, whereas the Catholic intellectual tradition consists in an ongoing conversation between faith and reason in all fields of life. (1) Certainly, on a practical level, every Christian intellectual also has to be social-minded in the sense of finding the means to live out charity in a real and tangible way. There is thus no true Catholic intellectual tradition if separated from the corresponding social tradition. (2) However, it is just as true that every good deed originates in good ideas: orthopraxis requires orthodoxy and vice versa. (3) The Catholic social tradition thus needs the Catholic intellectual tradition in general, and Catholic social thought and Catholic social teaching in particular as theoretical foundations. (4)

Catholic social thought should make visible that Christian Revelation and the Church's magisterium are compatible with personal, intelligent, serious--and thus attractive--reasoning that is capable of participating in contemporary political, cultural, and social discourses. In this endeavor a Catholic intellectual must not strive to create a segregated and parallel "Christian" world, into which he or she can withdraw from the evils of this world. Such a refuge would be an illusory castle in the clouds made out of dreams, or worse, a ghetto. A Catholic intellectual interested and engaged in the service of society seeks a dialogue between faith and reason that renders the Christian version of natural social ethics plausible in the really existing world, especially for his or her contemporaries who perhaps are not believers. Many of our fellow citizens have no access to the sources of Christian wisdom--the self-communication of God in his Word--and could rediscover them through an attractive explanation of the consequences of charity for practical application in everyday life. (5)

Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have contributed to this aim, in different ways and styles.

Even though he manifestly is no professor of economics, Pope Francis is making an important cultural impact on the world, and also on that of business. He has frequently addressed G7 and other summits, as well as the World Economic Forum through envoys and messages. In them he has praised business as a noble vocation, while simultaneously scourging exclusion, inequity, and other negative aspects of our present economic system. His main stress is on the common good, and in particular the creation of jobs and employment.

In his economic messages, generally speaking, he has been hailed as a supporter of the left. Conservatives are disappointed, even though they may love and appreciate his person and gestures of mercy and compassion. At the very least, they find his teachings difficult, and many turn away, especially from those concerning business and the economy. Francis has spoken of building not walls but bridges as part of what it is to be Christian, but aspects of his message seem to be constructing only a wall between the Holy Father and groups of the faithful.

In this article, I hope to break through this wall, showing that the pope's writings contain moral messages that are important for the role of business in society in particular, and for Catholic social thought in general. (6) The pope raises his voice as a prophet in order to denounce injustice and the suffering of the poor. When pointing at an evil he does not offer an exhaustive analysis but wishes to provoke public awareness, debate, and action. I will analyze his message by making three general considerations that characterize Francis's social teachings as a whole and three special challenges for business. The three general considerations explain the novelty of Francis's contributions to Catholic social teaching, and also some of its provocative nature. …

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