A Reflection on Business Ethics
In the Light of Catholic Social Teaching
A Reflection on Business Ethics
By Bishop Salvatore Cordileone
Bishop Salvatore Cordileone spoke to the Oakland chapter of Catholics at Work on September 8, 2009.
In his talk Cordileone referred to the major documents of Catholic social teaching in the last 100 years, but included references to the “spiritual, transcendent nature of the human person and the sanctity of life,” the “common good” (as defined in Gaudium et Spes), and to the latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).
Here are the final paragraphs of the bishop’s talk:
As most of you probably know, I was an active promoter of Proposition 8 from very early on in the process. I knew it was controversial, and I knew it would probably lead some people to stereotyping me politically. But I also understood how foundational marriage is to everything. Children need to be connected to their parents, especially to their fathers, and marriage is the only mechanism society has found to do that. It should be abundantly clear that so much of the social ill that we are experiencing today is because this is not happening. So I did not let controversy or the risk of being stereotyped slow me down.
Yes, just about everyone by now knows that about me. What people don’t know about me is that I was part of an inter-faith coalition that met with the District Attorney of San Diego to urge her to place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. People also don’t know that I was part of a year-long ecumenical discussion group which reflected theologically on local issues, and - living in a border city - most of our discussion centered on the plight and rights of immigrants. Most (perhaps all) of those pastors opposed me on the Prop 8 issue, some even actively so. Yet, we still respect each other. Again, there is a hierarchy of values, but we Catholics do not fit perfectly into any convenient political pigeonhole.
What, then, do we do? Certainly not stay out of the political process. On the contrary! It will take faith to transform our nation, so this is no time for us Catholics to waver or be lukewarm in our faith. Our nation needs us! We must then, return to and solidify what most defines us as Catholics, and bring that into the public forum.
I started out this talk by explaining that the genesis of Catholic social teaching was not so much the invention of some brand new school of thought as it was a development of the truths which the Church has always believed, drawing out more into the open what is already contained in the sources of revelation (Scripture and Tradition), shedding light on them and further developing them within the context of particular historical circumstances. So let us not lose our focus: the definitive moment of revelation is the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming man in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, to rescue us from sin and death and win for us eternal life and the true freedom of living as God’s sons and daughters. In the Incarnation we see already all the principles of Catholic social teaching: God did not remain aloof, He in His own world and we in ours. The Incarnation is the ultimate act of solidarity: God, Who has no need of our love, enters into our world by sharing in our human nature in every way except sin, with all of its pains and hardships, joys and sorrows; he interacted in the relationships of human societies at every level. Moreover, not only did God endow us with an inalienable dignity by creating us in His image and likeness, but, after we tarnished that image by original sin, He went even further by dignifying our nature in becoming one of us, so that we could have a share in His divine nature.
And there is more: from the truths of our Catholic faith we know that the Son of God willed that his Incarnation not remain an isolated historical event, but rather a mystery which would continue to be present through the Church at every moment until he returns at the end of time. That is why, the night before he died, he gave us the gift of the Eucharist. When we celebrate his death and Resurrection in memory of him, he makes himself substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine: God continues His ultimate act of solidarity, entering into our world to be present with us, and even entering into our very bodies so that our life and His may become one. But the mystery we celebrate in his memory and receive in a ritual we must live out every day of our lives. In other words, Jesus embodied those principles we associate with Catholic social teaching; therefore, if we dare to receive his Body, we in turn must embody those principles by the way we live.
All of this should make clear that the ultimate end of Catholic social teaching is not simply a more prosperous or even more just society, even though this would result if it were to be faithfully adhered to. But as noble and worthy as these goals are, they are really only a means to the ultimate end: to bring people to God, to help them attain their human vocation of divine beatitude. As members of the Church and people of the Eucharist, we have a role and responsibility to play in this. The needs of the world in which we are living at this moment of history are urgent, many and great, but so are the opportunities. We must, then, remain firmly rooted in our Catholic faith, and translate that faith into action in the contemporary circumstances of our day-to-day lives.
You, as leaders in the business world, have a particular role to play in this. I would therefore like to offer some suggestions - really, they are earnest requests - for some very concrete practices you can follow to help realize this mission of the Church in our diocese [and in dioceses across the nation].
1) None of this will ever happen without prayer. In times of trial and hostility, the Church has always relied on the rosary for her defense. I would therefore ask you, if you are not doing so already, to pray the rosary every day, and - because we are a Eucharist-centered people - to pray it at least one day a week, if at all possible, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
2) There can be no renewal in the sacrament of the Eucharist without a renewal in the sacrament which helps us prepare to receive the Eucharist worthily. I would therefore ask you, if you are not doing so already, to avail yourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month. Regular, frequent sacramental Confession is indispensable to helping us put our faith in to practice without compromise.
3) In your professional lives, keep these principles in mind and follow them in your business dealings and workplace policies with increased attentiveness.
4) In your faith lives, be involved in ministries of your parish, and especially take advantage of the opportunity to educate your fellow parishioners about these issues. As I mentioned, very many of our own people do not understand this Catholic perspective, and we have an urgent need to help them do so.
Most of all, God has to be at the center of our lives, and at the center of the public square in our society. Only in relation to God can each individual, and society as a whole, realize all that God has created us for. Returning to Charity in Truth, we can conclude our reflections with the following quote from Pope Benedict:
“… development requires a transcendent vision of the person, it needs God: without him, development is either denied, or entrusted exclusively to man, who falls into the trap of thinking he can bring about his own salvation, and ends up promoting a dehumanized form of development. Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that ‘becomes concern and care for the other’” [n. 11].