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A new catechism for business

Legate Andrew Abela creates a valuable resource for Catholic business leaders . . .

Amid the daily demands of running a company, few Catholic business leaders have time to plumb the depths of the Church’s social teaching when they are facing challenging ethical questions in their work.

Andrew Abela, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter and dean of the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, knows that well.

A former brand manager at Procter & Gamble, he spent seven years researching what the Church has to say about the challenges faced by people in business. His findings and those of co-editor Joseph Capizzi are consolidated in a new book, A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions and Insights from Catholic Teaching.

From concept to reality

Joseph Capizzi (left) and Andrew Abela pose with their new book

Joseph Capizzi (left) and Andrew Abela pose with their new book

Abela and Capizzi developed responses to such questions as: Do people have the right to strike? Is it moral to extend benefits to an employee’s same-sex partner? The duo came to their conclusions through an extensive search of Church documents that, while available online, are not necessarily easy to find.

For example, a question on the moral acceptability of using sexual imagery or innuendo in advertising cites two papal encyclicals, two papal messages from World Communications Day, plus the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Other sources quoted in A Catechism for Business include documents from the Second Vatican Council and various Vatican organizations.

Abela had already begun his research when Philadelphia Legate Jim Longon suggested he put it into a book. After listening to a presentation of Abela’s case studies, Longon told him, “What you’re doing is creating a catechism for business.”

Abela proposed the concept to Catholic University of America Press and engaged Capizzi, director of moral theology in the university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, to work with him on the project.

After the book was completed, Longon, who has followed and supported the project from its inception, said the book “is something that belongs on every CEO’s credenza and night stand.”

Positive response

Since its March 26 launch at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, the book has garnered positive reviews, and attention in radio interviews and from the National Review Online and The Washington Post. Both venues mentioned the book in the context of Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the HHS mandate, soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Capizzi said the response has been overwhelming and that he has been surprised at the level of need the book has tapped into. Lay people in particular — and not just those in business — have warmed to it, he said, adding that even some non-Catholics have expressed an interest.

“They had no idea the Church does this kind of stuff,” he said.

Among the 114 questions the book addresses are whether the Church recommends a specific economic model, whether it’s morally acceptable to offer employees health care benefits that cover abortion or birth control, and whether it’s moral to contribute to the consumer culture.

Questions are grouped into general concerns and those applying specifically to finance and investing, management, marketing and sales, manufacturing, international business and morally sensitive industries.

Abela and Capizzi present their answers using quotations from magisterial teaching with minimal editorial comment.

“With a lot of books on social doctrine, you get the feeling the author is twisting the teaching to present whatever the view is,” Abela explained. “We wanted to be very clear we were not doing that. We wanted to present all that the Church teaches and only what the Church teaches on each of the questions in the book.”

Among the questions that most intrigued Capizzi were those dealing with wages. “The just wage is one that American readers love sinking their teeth into,” he said. “It’s obviously provocative, and it engages the kind of concerns people have from across the political spectrum about the nature of justice itself.”

In the introduction to A Catechism for Business, Abela and Capizzi recommend that readers use the book by finding the question closest to the moral dilemma they’re facing, and then to read, pray and meditate on the quotations provided. If necessary, they suggest reading further in the documents cited and then applying them.

Valuable resource

John Hunt, Legatus’ executive director, said the book encourages business executives to make decisions in the context of their Catholic faith rather than on feelings or the general tone of the culture.

“It gives the interested and inquiring business person answers to questions, but it also provides a reassurance, a kind of support mechanism, for knowing that what I’m doing and trying to do is right, ethical and moral,” he said.

Hunt said he considers the book valuable for all executives, aspiring executives and business students — whether they are Catholics, faithful Christians or people of good will trying to be just in the marketplace.

Abela said he and Capizzi also hope to see the book used in study groups, possibly with the help of a study guide that may be developed in the future. Although it’s not written as an academic text, the co-editors would also like the book to be employed in educational settings, including Catholic University’s business and economics school.

Catholic University’s approach to teaching business seems to be resonating with students, faculty and supporters.

Abela said the school, which was upgraded from a department last year, is growing dramatically and currently has 560 students and 32 faculty and staff. Applications are up by 40% for the fall term, when four new faculty members will be added. And the school has raised more than $3 million in its first year.

According to CUA’s website, the school seeks to teach ethics by integrating morality, virtue and service into every aspect of its classes and research. This is in step with A Catechism for Business, which says: “Being a good Catholic business person means being a good person and being good at business. The two are not opposed.”

JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.

Excerpt from A Catechism for Business

Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II

Is it morally acceptable to be involved in the production or marketing of toys, video games or movies that have violent or sexual content?

Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II both condemn exaltation of violence and trivialization of sexuality in any form:

“Any trend to produce programs and products — including animated films and video games — which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents. How could one explain this ‘entertainment’ to the countless innocent young people who actually suffer violence, exploitation and abuse?” (Benedict XVI, Message for World Communications Day 2007, #3).

“Do not corrupt society, and in particular youth, by the approving and insistent depiction of evil, of violence, of moral abjection, carrying out a work of ideological manipulation, sowing discord!” (John Paul II, Message for World Communications Day 1984, #4).

“Nor can we fail, in the name of the respect due to the human person, to condemn the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, #5).