The answer to the question in the headline: knowing and implementing the Church’s social teaching. Many business leaders are surprised to learn that the Church’s rich social teaching didn’t start with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891); it goes back to Sts. Thomas and Augustine, the Church Fathers and the apostles. It goes back to the radical charity that Jesus himself described in John 13:35: “ is is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
As scholars have studied, meditated upon and lived Christ’s social teachings through the centuries, they’ve synthesized them into nine basic classic principles:
1. Human dignity: Men and women are made in God’s image and destined for eternal life.
2. Justice: This cardinal moral virtue consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor.
3. Social justice: Groups and individuals must receive what is rightly owed them.
4. Common good: All the conditions in society must allow individuals and groups to reach their fullest human potential, both in this life and the next
5. Solidarity: is is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.
6. Subsidiarity: Social functions should occur at the lowest possible level so that individuals and groups have a true sense of purpose.
7. Universal destination of goods: God gave the good things of the earth to the entire human race, not just a select few.
8. Charity: Charity disposes us to love God above all creatures for Himself, and to love ourselves and our neighbors for the sake of God.
9. Preferential option for the poor: Charity requires us to place the needs of the poor before our own.
It’s not always clear to us as individuals how and where to apply these principles in running our businesses. Should our actions as Catholic leaders be different from those of our non-Catholic peers? If so, how? How much do Catholics even know about social doctrine? I did some research to find out how well the average Catholic knows these principles. My survey posed 16 questions to a nationally representative sample of U.S. Catholics. The key findings surprised me.
• U.S. Catholics appear to lack knowledge of the core principles of Catholic teaching on social and economic matters.
• Catholics responding correctly ranged from a low of just over 10% (on the meaning of the common good) to a high of 45% (the meaning of the universal destination of goods).
• The typical Catholic is also unclear about social teaching on wages, hiring and firing — even social justice and charity.
• Catholics’ knowledge differs little from that of non-Catholics.
• Sunday-Mass-attending Catholics’ responses were similar to those of non-practicing Catholics.
• Catholic schools appear to be the most important channel through which people gain knowledge of Catholic social teaching
The good news? My research found that the vast majority of Catholics are open to learning more. A proper understanding of the human person is the necessary first step to making business “a force for good.”
At the Art & Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship within the Busch School of Business & Economics, we aim to ignite and lead not only a rediscovery of these principles, but their deeper and richer understanding — and real-life application. We are calibrating a baseline of how Catholic business leaders apply Catholic social teaching in their businesses today. We would be grateful to hear from you in order to build our curricula and non-degree programs based on the experiences and actual needs of current leaders. Therefore, please help us answer these questions:
• What situations or issues most cause you to struggle to reconcile your faith with your business priorities and actions?
• What questions do you have related to the practice of Catholic social doctrine in the workplace for which you don’t find adequate answers?
• What Church teaching(s) do you struggle to apply the most?
• How have you come to understand what you know about Catholic social doctrine?
• How might the Church and our group at CUA more effectively pass on the Church’s wisdom in these areas today?
The vocation of the businessperson is a genuine human and Christian calling. Pope Francis calls it “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”
Join us in pursuing this vision! Please send me your ideas and suggestions: cioccacenter@cua. edu. It will be your act of solidarity with the next generation of Catholic business leaders as you help us build Catholic business education for the 21st century.
ANDREAS WIDMER is the director of the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at the Busch School of Business & Economics, Catholic University of America