The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued a kind of digest of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical and aimed it squarely at business leaders. CNS photo/Paul Haring

The Vatican's Justice council targets business leaders

  • April 11, 2012

TORONTO - Though we all participate in the global economy by buying things and services, it’s pretty hard to take personal responsibility for globalization — but somebody has to, says the Vatican.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued a kind of digest of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical and aimed it squarely at business leaders. “The Vocation of the Business Leader” is a 30-page booklet aimed at business professionals mentoring young employees and professors in business schools. It extensively quotes and summarize Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

Catholic business leaders in Toronto say the new document puts forward a valuable analysis of how business contributes to society and where it fails.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen in a long time a document or a booklet that alludes to the virtues. We need that,” said Peter Rebello, national sales manager at Louisiana Pacific, a building materials manufacturer.

The Pontifical Council’s emphasis on the practicalities of a vocation in business dovetails nicely with Rebello’s own Opus Dei spirituality.

“I’ve been a member of Opus Dei for quite a while. We try to live it, not that we’re perfect in living it,” he said. “Together with work, dealing with other people, you try to have a good influence on people.”

The manual worked up for a conference in Lyon, France, in February has some sharp criticism of the ways capitalism has developed in recent years.

“The opportunity to acquire enormous wealth in relatively short timeframes provides a strong incentive for dysfunctional behaviour,” according to the document.

Globalization, financialization, cheap and high-speed communication and accompanying cultural homogenization have pushed ethical judgment out of the picture in many cases.

“Some destructive business strategies, including corruption, exploitation of employees or destruction of the natural environment, might thereby lower short-term costs for (some businesses), while leaving the much higher long-term costs to future generations of the local society,” reads the manual. “If such strategies are legal, they create competitive advantages for less morally conscious enterprises at the expense of more conscientious competitors who act morally and thus incur the real, higher costs of such undertakings.”

Short-term, quarterly pressures are a constant challenge for a Christian business person, said Rebello.

“You’ve got two types of organizations — one where the street is scrutinizing every move you make and the other where you’ve got a shareholder who may be the owner who will scrutinize every move you make. The latter is, I think, the easier one to deal with,” he said.

The call for moral judgment in business decisions is a tough sell in many boardrooms, said David Walsh, Realco Property Limited and Carrot Common Corp. president.

“Business has its attention elsewhere. It’s a challenge to raise these themes,” he said. “But I think it’s good to start the dialogue and encourage it.”

Walsh was encouraged by the Vatican’s critique of a business mentality that rejects any form of regulation, reasonable taxation or social responsibility.

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