US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Choosing the path of social justice in our economic policy

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Last month, before we had wind of his resignation, Pope Benedict said in his World Day of Peace message that “Peacemakers … engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good and they experience this commitment as something transcending their self-interest, for the benefit of present and future generations.”

This theme was also found in the keynote address of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. given by Dr. Charles Clark, professor of economics at St. John’s University. Clark, who calls himself a “Catholic economic hitman,” reminded everyone that economics began as a branch of moral philosophy and that gospel values should serve as a guide for economic policy.

“Do no harm” as a motto should apply not only to our medical professionals, but also our economy. Solidarity, ethics, and regulation are what should be running economics, Clark said. However, though morals and ethics should serve as the standard in economics, Clark noted that Catholic social thought is not an alternative economic policy or a third way between capitalism and socialism.

Real issues that are paralyzing and polarizing our country are poverty and inequality. By focusing on social protection and inclusion, we can make sure that more people can participate in society. Through economic growth, welfare reform, and careful crafting of public policy, we can help make sure that self-interest and greed do not continue to exclude certain groups from accessing their share of the “economic pie.”

Clark’s words came to my mind the next day at a visit to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Inscribed next to bronze statues showing the suffering, hungry, and unemployed were FDR's words: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

It’s been generations since FDR guided the nation through the Great Depression. But as Clark noted in his talk, though the ways we help the poor have changed, the necessity of helping the poor has not. The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering has been an inspiring conference attended by many who have recognized the ongoing necessity of speaking for the poor and vulnerable.

The challenge of helping the poor in our global economy while respecting human life and dignity will definitely face whoever becomes our next pope. It may be helpful to take a look back at another of FDR’s quotes that can serve us all well as we continue to move forward: “In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.”

Photos by Elizabeth Lefebvre