Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about the Vatican, this happens. With a little help from its American friends, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, that same body that came out months ago with a recommendation for a single, overarching, global, financial authority, has just come out with a document titled “Vocation of the Business Leader, A Reflection” and it’s fan-friggin-tastic.
This is – frankly – a document long overdue. The theology from which it draws has been there in the Church’s social doctrine for decades. It quotes heavily from Gaudium et spes and Laborem exercens. At the same time, it is a document that is supremely contemporary and addresses the reality and the challenges of trying to do business ethically in our day and age.
I’ve not the time to provide a thorough explanation of it, but I thought I would quote some highlights and provide a bit of commentary. I’ll start with paragraph 3 which draws on the Church teaching around the role of the employer.
Some time ago I had a post on the duties of the employer based on how these are laid out by Pope Leo XIII. It is clear that in the vision for the social teaching, the employer has a major role in the building and maintenance of the common good in society. This document about the vocation of the business leader expands on this. So we read:
When managed well, businesses actively enhance the dignity of employees and the development of virtues, such as solidarity, practical wisdom, justice, discipline, and many others. While the family is the first school of society, businesses, like many other social institutions, continue to educate people in virtue, especially those young men and women who are emerging from their families and their educational institutions and seeking their own places in society.”
I love that the well-run business is spoken of like a family. In terms of the potential influence on those involved with the business, it can very well be like a family. Indeed, this is why the family business is such a ubiquitous institution. And I love the fact that it says business educates “people in virtue.” This says at once that the business does not only exist for profit, that the business has a transcendent meaning, and it also says that at the heart of a just society and a just business is virtue.
Here’s another good little bit from the document. The Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace argues that a business is only as good as its owner, its leader. Thus a poorly-run business must have some problems at the top because the owner or entrepreneur is not fulfilling his vocation to the full.
How does this happen?
Chief among these obstacles at a personal level is a divided life, or what Vatican II described as ‘the split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives.’ The Second Vatican Council saw this split as ‘one of the more serious errors of our age.’”
When I go give talks to high school groups about the social teaching of the Church I start with this point. Kids hate hypocrites. They’ve no time for the guy who says one thing but lives his life another way. So at the heart of the social teaching of the Church is the notion that we, as self-proclaimed Christians, want to live consistent Catholic lives. We want to live our faith on Sunday, yes, but also on every other day of the week and in every other day. Thus, I should be able to see my small business as an extension of my Catholicism. And if I don’t or won’t or can’t, then there is a division within me that will ultimately undermine me, my capacity for authenticity and thus my capacity to lead others in a business venture.
I could go on, but I’ll save it for later. This is wonderful news, and this is exactly what the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace should be doing. Now, if only we can get Catholic business schools to teach this stuff.