WASHINGTON (CNS) — In “Laudato Si,’ on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis condemns a culture of self-interest and overconsumption, leading some to claim the pontiff is anti-business.
While the characterization is inaccurate, the pope is “vigorously proclaiming” the need for business leaders to adopt a deepened sense of responsibility for those on the peripheries and to implement spiritually based ideas of progress, Cardinal Peter Turkson told around 200 businesspeople, clergy and religious leaders gathered at The Catholic University of America in Washington for a March 16-18 conference.
We cannot continue with “business as usual,” said the cardinal, who focused on the pope’s 2015 encyclical on the environment during the three-day event, titled “Human Ecology: Integrating 125 Years of Catholic Social Doctrine.” The conference was sponsored by Catholic University’s School of Business and Economics and the Napa Institute, a California-based organization promoting Catholic leadership in secular society.
Talks centered on three encyclicals celebrating anniversaries this year: “Laudato Si'”; Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 “Rerum Novarum,” on capital and labor; and St. John Paul II’s 1991 social encyclical, “Centesimus Annus.”
Speakers argued that the Catholic social teaching contained in the documents offers comprehensive guidance for Catholic business leaders by affirming the sacredness of the individual and the interconnectedness of humanity.
In afternoon talk March 17, Cardinal Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, addressed the question: “Is business to care for our common home?”
“My answer is of course going to be ‘yes’ and an unqualified ‘yes,'” said the cardinal.
Repeatedly emphasizing that Pope Francis does not condemn business, the cardinal quoted from the pope’s 2014 address to the World Economic Forum: “Business is, in fact, a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.”
The cardinal said that since the start of his papacy, Pope Francis has denounced economic success that excludes vast portions of the world’s population; “Laudato Si'” adds another warning.
“Not only is there poverty and social exclusion in the world in the midst of plenty, but economic activity is also degrading the natural environment, even to the point of threatening the nature of human life,” said Cardinal Turkson.
The encyclical teaches that how we interact with the natural world “is deeply related to how we interact with our fellow human beings,” he said.
The cardinal explained that “Laudato Si'” follows in tradition of “Rerum Novarum” and “Centesimus Annus,” with all three addressing the “new things of our current time.”
Business leaders are called to respond to our current challenges by orienting their “activities toward the common good,” he said. “Profit has a legitimate role to play in any business activity, (but) businesses must always strive to meet genuine human needs, rather than feed a culture of consumerism.”
Cardinal Turkson said putting jobs before short-term profits is a key concern for Pope Francis. “One of the ways business can help care for our common home is by providing decent work,” he said.
The cardinal concluded by reminding attendees that caring for creation requires not only an economic and technological revolution, but also a cultural and spiritual one.
“Do not enslave your eternal values to temporal goods,” he said. “Instead, deploy the spiritual principles that you hold dear in your effort to improve the here and now.”
Prior to the cardinal’s talk, a panel discussion focused on “Centesimus Annus” and explored how business leaders can integrate people in the peripheries.
Max Torres, a business and economics professor at Catholic University and director of its management program, said that no matter what we do, “there will always be poverty.”
It is possible to feed someone forever and still not resolve their poverty, said Torres. When the church talks about poverty it “also is talking about all of us — some of us are materially poor, some spiritually poor, some educationally poor,” he said.
The state’s job is to create conditions in which “we can solve our own problems,” said Torres.
In trying to help the poor, they are often treated as objects of others’ pity or aid, said panelist Michael Miller, research fellow and director of media at the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based research organization dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by faith.
When objectification is mixed with secular humanitarianism, it becomes “a hollowed-out vision of Christian love that doesn’t see the good of the other,” said Miller.
He said three things are missing for many of the disenfranchised and are essential to their progress: a legally binding title for their land; access to courts of justice; and free exchange. “When the economy becomes highly regulated, it’s big business that writes those regulations and it’s the poor (who) suffer,” said Miller.
In his talk “How Do We Integrate the Environment, Business and Faith?” Juan Jose Daboub — founding CEO of the Global Adaptation Institute in Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to adapting to climate change — said material and spiritual success are not in contradiction. “There’s nothing wrong with having ambition; we couldn’t resolve many of today’s challenges without it,” he said.
He believes businesses have a critical role to play in combating climate change, which disproportionately affects the poor. We cannot wait for global organizations or politicians to solve climate disasters, said Daboub. “It has to come from the innovation and creativity of private individuals.
“Being successful in business is not a bad thing,” he said. But we must look to the church, which offers a “constant balance between faith, the environment and business.”
Businessman Leo Clarke of Axia Home Loans came from Seattle to attend the conference and learn how to translate Catholic social doctrine into his everyday work life.
“What stood out to me was how important interdependence and solidarity is,” he told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.
The conference affirmed how important it is in business to “focus on the person in front of you,” added Emma Teller, vice president of marketing and business development at Catholic Vantage Financial in Michigan. “Because true prosperity comes in relationships, not transactions.”