From the 24th to 26th of February 2011 a seminar entitled “Caritas in Veritate: The Logic of Gift and the Meaning of Business” was held at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP), in collaboration with the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas and the Ecophilos Foundation. The meeting followed the October 2010 conference “Caritas in Veritate and the USA”, which the PCJP held in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies of Los Angeles, and continued its study of business organizations in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Underlying both meetings is the Church’s firm conviction that every Christian is called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the polis (CIV, 7). Business men and women, university professors, and experts on the subject contributed to “Caritas
in Veritate: The Logic of Gift and the Meaning of Business” in an innovative way. Their discussions centered on a volume of texts, previously prepared and published, which facilitated the debate that took place during the three-day seminar at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The working days were intense and profitable. Indeed, the meeting resulted in the resolution to write out a kind of vade-mecum for business men and women, a handbook to be utilized by professors in formative moments and for instruction in schools and universities. This is the way in which the reflections contained in this volume, “The Vocation of the Business Leader”, came to light. The volume is intended to be an educational aid that speaks of the “vocation” of the business men and women who act in broad and diverse business institutions: cooperatives, multinational corporations, family businesses, social businesses, for-profit/ non-profit collaborations etc.; and of the challenges and opportunities which the business world offers them in the context of intense technological communications, short-term financial practices, and profound cultural changes.Business leaders are called to engage the contemporary economic and financial world in light of the
principles of human dignity and the common good. This reflection offers business leaders, members of their institutions, and various stakeholders a set of practical principles that can guide them in their service of the common good. Among these principles, we recall the principle of meeting the needs of the world with goods which are truly good and which truly serve without forgetting, in a spirit of solidarity, the needs of the poor and the vulnerable; the principle of organising work within enterprises in a manner which is respectful of human dignity; the principle of subsidiarity, which fosters a spirit of initiative and increases the competence of the employees—considered “co-entrepreneurs”; and, finally, the principle of the sustainable creation of wealth and its just distribution among the various stakeholders.
In these difficult times for the world economy, during which many business men and women suffered the consequences of crises that deeply reduced the income of their enterprises, risked their survival, and threatened many jobs, the Church does not relinquish the hope that Christian business leaders will, despite the present darkness, restore trust, inspire hope, and keep burning the light of faith that fuels their daily pursuit of the good. Indeed, it is worth recalling that Christian faith is not only the light that
burns in the heart of believers but also the propulsive force of human history.
Peter K. A. Cardinal Turkson
Bishop Mario Toso
THE LOGIC OF THE GIFT
2 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
When businesses and market economies function properly and focus on serving the common good, they
contribute greatly to the material and even the spiritual well-being of society. Recent experience, however,
has also demonstrated the harm caused by the failings of businesses and markets. The transformative
developments of our era—globalisation, communications technologies, and financialisation — produce
problems alongside their benefits: inequality, economic dislocation, information overload, financial
instability and many other pressures leading away from serving the common good. Business leaders who
are guided by ethical social principles, lived through virtues and illuminated for Christians by the Gospel,
can, nonetheless, succeed and contribute to the common good.
Obstacles to serving the common good come in many forms —lack of rule of law, corruption, tendencies
towards greed, poor stewardship of resources—but the most significant for a business leader on a
personal level is leading a “divided” life. This split between faith and daily business practice can lead
to imbalances and misplaced devotion to worldly success. The alternative path of faith-based “servant
leadership” provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps to balance the demands of the
business world with those of ethical social principles, illumined for Christians by the Gospel. This is
explored through three stages: seeing, judging, and acting, even though it is clear that these three aspects
are deeply interconnected.
SEEING the challenges and opportunities in the world of business is complicated by factors both
good and evil, including four major “signs of the times” impacting business. Globalisation has brought
efficiency and extraordinary new opportunities to businesses, but the downsides include greater inequality,
economic dislocation, cultural homogeneity, and the inability of governments to properly regulate capital
flows. Communications Technology has enabled
connectivity, new solutions and products, and
lower costs, but the new velocity also brings
information overload and rushed decision-making.
Financialisation of business worldwide has
intensified tendencies to commoditise the goals of
work and to emphasise wealth maximisation and
short-term gains at the expense of working for the
common good. The broader Cultural Changes of
our era have led to increased individualism, more
family breakdowns, and utilitarian preoccupations
with self and “what is good for me”. As a result
we might have more private goods but are lacking
significantly in common goods. Business leaders increasingly focus on
maximising wealth, employees develop attitudes of entitlement, and
consumers demand instant gratification at the lowest possible price.
As values have become relative and rights more important than duties,
the goal of serving the common good is often lost.
JUDGING: Good business decisions are those rooted in principles at the foundational level, such as
respect for human dignity and service to the common good, and a vision of a business as a community of
persons. Principles on the practical level keep the business leader focused on:
producing goods and services that meet genuine human needs while taking responsibility for the social
and environmental costs of production, of the supply chain and distribution chain (serving the common
good, and watching for opportunities to serve the poor);
organising productive and meaningful work recognising the human dignity of employees and their
right and duty to flourish in their work, (“work is for man” rather than “man for work”) and structuring
workplaces with subsidiarity that designs, equips and trusts employees to do their best work; and
using resources wisely to create both profit and well-being, to produce sustainable wealth and to
distribute it justly (a just wage for employees, just prices for customers and suppliers, just taxes for the
community, and just returns for owners).
ACTING: Business leaders can put aspiration into practice when they pursue their vocation, motivated
by much more than financial success. When they integrate the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues and
ethical social principles into their life and work, they may overcome the divided life, and receive the
grace to foster the integral development of all business stakeholders. The Church calls upon the business
leader to receive—humbly acknowledging what God has done for him or her —and to give—entering into
communion with others to make the world a better place. Practical wisdom informs his or her approach
to business and strengthens the business leader to respond to the world’s challenges not with fear or
cynicism, but with the virtues of faith, hope, and love. This document aims to encourage and inspire
leaders and other stakeholders in businesses to see the challenges and opportunities in their work; to judge
them according to ethical social principles, illumined for Christians by the Gospel; and to act as leaders
who serve God.
4 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
1. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us: “From everyone
who has been given much, much will be demanded; and
from the one who has been entrusted with much, much
more will be asked” (Lk 12:48). Businesspeople have been
given great resources and the Lord asks them to do great
things. This is your vocation. In this young century alone,
many businesses have already brought forth marvellous
innovations which have cured disease, brought people
closer together through technology and created prosperity in
countless ways. Unfortunately, this century has also brought
business scandals and serious economic disturbances, and an
erosion of trust in business organisations and in free-market
institutions generally. For Christian business leaders, this is
a time that calls for the witness of faith, the confidence of
hope, and the practice of love.
2. When businesses and markets as a whole are
functioning properly, and are regulated in an effective manner
by governments, they make an irreplaceable contribution to
the material and even the spiritual well-being of humankind.
When business activity is carried out justly and effectively,
customers receive goods and services at fair prices;
employees engage in good work and earn a livelihood for
themselves and their families; and investors earn a reasonable
return on their investment. Communities see their common
resources put to good use and the overall common good
3. 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. Those who come from socially disadvantaged
backgrounds and who are threatened with social isolation
may also find their places within companies. Furthermore,
businesses promote healthy interdependence among the
peoples of different nations by promoting interaction between
them in a way that is mutually beneficial. They may, thus,
become vehicles of cultural engagement and promoters of
peace and prosperity.
4. All of these potential benefits encourage the Church
to take a lively interest in business. Where businesses
succeed, people’s lives can be significantly improved; but
where they fail, great harm can result. A market economy
must be based on the pursuit of the common good in
freedom, but freedom without truth leads to disorder,
injustice and social fragmentation. Without guiding
principles and virtuous leadership, businesses can be places
in which expediency overcomes justice, power corrupts
wisdom, technical instruments are detached from human
dignity, and self-interest marginalises the common good.
5. We wish to speak specifically to Christian business
leaders, who have at the heart of their work the deep sense
of God’s calling to be collaborators in creation. Such leaders
play an important role in advancing and bringing to life
ethical social principles, drawing on the Catholic social
tradition where appropriate, in their day-to-day routines. We
also wish to speak to all business leaders of good will who
have an influence on the behaviours, values, and attitudes of
the people comprising their enterprises. From CEOs to heads
of teams to those with informal influence, business leaders
of all kinds play a critical role in shaping economic life and
creating the conditions for all people to develop integrally
through business institutions. Such institutions are broad and
diverse, including cooperatives, multinational corporations,
small entrepreneurial start-ups, employee-owned businesses,
family businesses, social businesses, partnerships, soleproprietorships,
joint ventures with government, for-profit/
non-profit collaborations. Some of these businesses are
publicly traded stock companies, while most are privately
held. Some have revenues larger than many countries, but
most are small. Some are owned by thousands of investors,
others are owned by a single person or family. Some are
legally defined as for-profit entities, others, in new legal
constructs, are termed “social businesses” with a special
status. Business is a diverse institution and Pope Benedict
XVI has indeed welcomed a mixing of institutional forms.1
6. The vocation of the businessperson is a genuine
human and Christian calling. Its importance in the life of the
Church and in the world economy can hardly be overstated.
Business leaders are called to conceive of and develop goods
and services for customers and communities through a form
of market economy. For such economies to achieve their goal,
that is, the promotion of the common good, they should be
structured on ideas based on truth, fidelity to commitments,
freedom, and creativity.
7. Business leaders have a special role to play in the
unfolding of creation—they not only provide goods and
services and constantly improve them through innovating
and harnessing science and technology, but they also help
to shape organisations which will extend this work into
the future. Blessed John Paul II reminded us in Laborem
Exercens: “Man, created in the image of God, shares by his
work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits
of his own human capabilities, man in a sense continues to
develop that activity and perfects it as he advances further
and further in the discovery of the resources and values
contained in the whole of creation”.2
8. Building a productive organisation is a primary
way in which businesspeople can share in the unfolding
of the work of creation. When they realise that they are
participating in the work of the Creator through their
stewardship of productive organisations, they may begin
to realise the grandeur and awesome responsibility of their
9. Businesses certainly have the potential to be a
force for great good in any society, and many do live up to
their moral and economic promise. Numerous obstacles,
however, may stand in the way of realising this potential.
Some of these obstacles are external to the business and its
leaders usually have a limited capacity to influence them,
such as the absence of the rule of law or international
regulations, corruption, destructive competition, crony
capitalism, excessive state intervention, or a culture hostile
to entrepreneurship in one or more of its forms. Others are
internal, such as treating employees as mere “resources”,
treating the business itself as no more than a commodity,
rejecting a proper role for government regulation of the
market place, making money out of products which are not
truly good, or services which do not truly serve, or exploiting
natural and human resources in a destructive way.
6 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
10. 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”.3 Dividing the demands of
one’s faith from one’s work in business is a fundamental error
which contributes to much of the damage done by businesses
in our world today, including overwork to the detriment of
family or spiritual life, an unhealthy attachment to power to
the detriment of one’s own good, and the abuse of economic
power in order to make even greater economic gains. In this
regard, the Church remains mindful of the words of Jesus
himself: “No one can be the slave of two masters. He will
either hate the first and love the second or be attached to
the first and despise the second. You cannot love both God
and money” (Mt 6:24). Business leaders who do not see
themselves serving others and God in their working lives
will fill the void of purpose with a less worthy substitute. The
divided life is not unified or integrated: it is fundamentally
disordered, and thus fails to live up to God’s call.
11. Fragmentation of this kind can ultimately lead to
idolatry, an all-too-common occupational hazard of business
life, one which threatens both individuals and organisations.
It means abandoning one’s call to relationship with a loving
Creator, as the Israelites did at the foot of
they crafted and worshipped a golden calf. The golden calf is
a symbol of misplaced devotion, born of a false idea of true
success.4 There are many surrogates for the golden calf in
modern life. They emerge when: “the sole criterion for action
in business is thought to be the maximization of profit”;5
when technology is pursued for its own sake; when seeking
personal wealth, or political influence fails to serve the
common good; or when utilitarian or consequential reasoning
becomes dominant. Each of these “golden calves” amounts
to a kind of fixation, usually accompanied by rationalization.
Each has the capacity to “en-trance” us as Pope Benedict
XVI says in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate,6 and
business leaders must pay careful attention to avoid the lure
12. The many pressures business leaders face may lead
them to forget the Gospel call in their daily professional
activities. It may seduce them to believe, falsely, that their
professional lives are incompatible with their spiritual lives.
It places excessive confidence in material resources and/
or worldly success. When this happens, business leaders
risk valuing status and fame over lasting accomplishment,
and consequently risk losing their good judgment. Business
leaders may be tempted, whether from self-centredness,
pride, greed or anxiety, to reduce the purpose of business
solely to maximising profit, or to growing market share or to
any other solely economic good. In this way, the good that a
market economy may do, for individuals and for society, can
be diminished or distorted.
13. Well-integrated business leaders can respond to the
rigorous demands placed upon them with a servant attitude,
recalling Jesus who washed the feet of His disciples.
Leadership in this servant spirit is different from the
authoritarian exercise of power too often present in business
organisations. It distinguishes Christian executives and
the work environment which they seek to foster. In living
business responsibilities in such a manner, in developing
true servant leadership, they give freely of their expertise
and abilities. In figuratively washing the feet of their
collaborators, business leaders realise more fully their
14. An important part of the business leader’s vocation
is practising ethical social principles while conducting the
normal rhythms of the business world. This entails seeing
clearly the situation, judging with principles that foster
the integral development of people, and acting in a way
which implements these principles in light of one’s unique
circumstances and in a manner consistent with the teaching
of the Faith.7 The rest of this document is organised
accordingly: see, judge, act.
SEEING THE WORLD OF BUSINESS:
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
15. The business leader faces a world which is
characterised by a complicated mix of factors. To try to
understand them, we need to follow the guidance given in
the document Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II; that is, we
need to scrutinize “the signs of the times and of interpreting
them in the light of the Gospel”.8 Some of these factors
limit what leaders can do to realise the good by constricting
their behaviour and closing down avenues of creativity.
Other factors create new opportunities for managers and
entrepreneurs to serve the common good and the possibility
for new circles of solidarity to infuse our social, political,
and economic life. The world around us, therefore, presents a
complex interplay of light and dark, of good and evil, of truth
and falsehood, of opportunities and threats.
8 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
16. Christian business leaders must be able to “see” this
world in a way which allows them to make judgements about
it, to build up its goodness and truth, to promote the common
good, and to confront evil and falsehood. The “judge” section
of this paper offers help in this kind of assessment. Here
the aim is to present a short summary of some key factors
affecting business activity today, indicating where possible
their good, bad, and context-dependent aspects from the
perspective of the business leader.
17. Among the many complex factors which influence
business locally and globally, there are four which stand
out as worthy of special mention, having fundamentally
changed the context of business over the last quartercentury.
The first three are closely related to each other:
(1) globalisation, (2) new communication technologies, and
(3) the financialisation of the economy. The fourth factor,
(4) cultural changes —and, in particular, the challenge of
individualism and accompanying moral systems of relativism
and utilitarianism—may arguably present the greatest
dangers to Christian business leaders. There are of course
many other factors which have a bearing on business today
(state regulation, the role of international authorities, unions,
environmental issues, work/family tensions, and more), all
of which deserve analysis, but in an effort to be succinct we
will only examine these four.
18. Globalisation: The emergence of a global economic
order has come to represent the most characteristic feature
of our age. The term “globalisation” identifies a worldwide
process of intensification of the movement of both outputs
and inputs, especially labour and capital, bringing with it
a increasing web of social interconnectedness. With the
end of the Cold War and the opening up of many emerging
markets, the marketplace for businesses around the world has
expanded enormously. This has created new opportunities and
new threats. Whole peoples who were previously excluded
from the world economic system can now participate in
and benefit from it. Greater efficiencies have made more
products and services affordable for more people. At the
same time, greater world output has been accompanied
by greater inequality in the distribution of income and
wealth, both within countries and between them. Regional
economic zones, with free movement of goods and even
single currencies, encourage trade and stimulate innovation.
They are not, however, always accompanied by equally free
possibilities for the movement of working people in the
search for employment. Especially where there is a single
currency, the resulting limitations that national or local
governments encounter when trying to promote an effective
economic policy, especially during a localised crisis, may
put whole political systems under strain. At the same time,
markets have gone from relatively culturally homogeneous
to highly diverse. This is positive in that it brings different
cultures into more communication with one another, but in
the presence of aggressive competition, and the effects of a
loss of diversity through the global marketing of standardised
products, the danger of cultural imperialism should be
carefully examined. Benedict XVI has summarised these
divergent forces by observing that, “as society becomes ever
more globalised, it makes us neighbours
but does not make us brothers”.9
19. Behind all these changes is the fundamental reality
that capital has acquired new freedom: no longer does it
have to account to the people in the countries where its
profits are made.10 It is as if economic power had acquired
an extraterritorial status. Companies are able to react to
profit opportunities quite independently of their national
authorities and in so doing they play a key role not only
in the organisation of the economy —but of society.
Thus globalisation is modifying the foundations of the
economy and the polity, reducing the degrees of freedom
of nation-states: the familiar nation-state’s politicaleconomic
instruments are tied to a well- defined territory,
whereas multinational companies can produce goods in one
country, pay taxes in another, and claim assistance and state
contributions in yet a third. Business has become much more
influential in this changed context and consequently carries
the potential for great good or bad.
20. Communication technology:11 The revolution in
communications technology brought by the Internet has
had significant impacts, both positive and negative, upon
business management. On the positive side, Internet-based
collaboration is developing new products and solutions to
age-old problems. Such products and solutions have reduced
the costs for people to connect globally. New business
models combine collaboration and competition in unique
ways to meet needs which were previously inadequately
served or completely unsatisfied. Consumer/ stakeholder
groups are empowered to apply pressure on global businesses
and raise the profile of poor practices in issues ranging
from respect for human rights to environmental protection
in poorer parts of the world. This activism reduces the cost
penalty born by those companies that have always aimed to
behave responsibly in these parts of the world.
21. On the negative side, we now live in a world of
instant gratification and an overabundance of information.
In such a world, as is commonly noted, the urgent can drive
out the important. Every message becomes a priority when
instant communication insists on our attention. We seem to
have no time for well-studied and thoughtful decisions on
complex matters. Decisions—even important ones—are
increasingly made without adequate consideration and with
too little shared information. Faced with more difficulty in
preparing for and explaining decisions, leaders rely on their
experience. Thus, their personal values and beliefs become
even more critical in framing their decision-making.
22. Financialisation of the economy: The combination
of globalisation with its expansion of markets and earnings
and new communications technologies has brought to
great prominence the financial sector in business. The term
“financialisation” describes the shift in the capitalist economy
from production to finance. The revenue and profits of the
financial sector have become an increasingly large segment
of the world-wide economy. Its institutions, instruments and
motives are having a significant impact on the operations
and understanding of business. While the recent financial
crisis has brought about a wave of criticisms of the negative
effects of financialisation, the financial sector has also: given
millions of people easier access to credit in consumption
and production; sought to spread risk through derivative
instruments; created ways to leverage capital to make it more
productive; and more. The financial sector has also produced
social or ethical funds allowing investors to support or
avoid certain industries or certain companies, with the aim
of strengthening sustainable business systems. This sector
represents an important and fast-growing development that
is set to grow further after some promising results during the
financial crisis. Caritas in Veritate points out that this type
of investment should be the norm: “Efforts are needed—and
it is essential to say this—not only to create ‘ethical’ sectors
or segments of the economy or the world of finance, but to
ensure that the whole economy—the whole of finance—is
ethical, not merely by virtue of an external label, but by its
respect for requirements intrinsic to its very nature”.12
23. Despite these positive developments, financialisation
has contributed to a whole assortment of negative trends and
consequences. We will address only two—commoditisation
and short-termism. Financialisation has tended to completely
commoditise businesses, reducing the meaning of this human
enterprise to only a price. In particular, the financial sector
has contributed to this commoditising trend by equating the
purpose of business to shareholder wealth maximization.
Shareholder value has become virtually the sole metric by
which business leaders determine their performance and
their worth. In the current climate, the call to “maximise
shareholder wealth” remains dominant and is the leading
theory taught in many business schools. Along with this commoditisation
have come short-term mentalities under which
leaders are tempted to become fixated on the upside potential
of short-term success, and undervalue the downside risk of
excessive risk-taking and strategic failure. It is perhaps not
surprising that the opportunity to acquire enormous wealth
in relatively short timeframes provides a strong incentive for
dysfunctional behaviour. Pope Benedict XVI has noted these
dangers when he wrote: “Without doubt, one of the greatest
risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively
answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social
value…. [I]t is becoming increasingly rare for business
enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels
responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the
life and results of the company”.13
10 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
24. Cultural changes: As already discussed, the
impact of new levels of contact between nations through
globalisation, and of individuals through technology, has
resulted in significant cultural change. For the Christian
business leader, two related key cultural changes have been
the turn to individualism in the West and higher levels of
family breakdown than in the past. Linked to a resurgence in
a strongly utilitarian view of economics and even of society,
whole populations are encouraged to focus on achieving
“what works for me”, independently of the effects on others,
with results which negatively impact family life. “Values” are
seen as relative, measured by their contribution to individual
preferences and business gains. Work becomes simply
a means to afford the pleasures of life that each person
chooses. Rights become much more important than duties;
sacrifice for a larger good is no longer considered. These
attitudes fuel the drive of top management to take a share
of the wealth created, for employees to foster an attitude of
entitlement, and for customers to foster a culture of instant
25. Fortunately, new movements and programs have
been developed in an effort to take more seriously the
moral and spiritual life in relation to business. Faith and
work groups, spirituality of work programs, business ethics
training, social responsibility projects, are all helping
business leaders to manage their companies in the spirit of
good” (1 Thes 5:21).14 Many of these groups and movements
are enabling business leaders to recognise their work as a
vocation and the role their businesses play in contributing to
the common good.
26. There is no doubt that globalisation, enhanced
communication, and financialisation can have positive
consequences for the human community. A healthy respect
for short-term financial performance can also be positive, if
it contributes to, rather than solely drives, decision-making.
All these trends, however, need to be guided by ethical
social principles, illumined for Christians by the Gospel,
and embedded in sound cultural institutions. Without such
a constant influence, societal trends risk being detrimental
to “integral human development”.15 This is where the social
teachings of the Church and our belief in God’s love can
offer an authentic perspective, enabling business leaders to
fulfil their Christian calling.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ETHICAL SOCIAL PRINCIPLES
27. Dealing with the complex context of business
described in our last section requires good judgment on the
part of its leaders, judgments which are wise and rooted in
reality and in truth. The ability to make reasoned judgments,
however, must be nurtured in the moral and spiritual culture
from which business leaders come, namely their families,
religion, educational institutions, and the larger communities
to which they belong. For the Christian business leader, at the
heart of that culture is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
28. This Gospel is a message of love which is found
not primarily in a theory or an ethic, but in a relationship
with Christ.16 It is this relationship, this vocation to love,
which, if we allow it to, animates and strengthens the life
of every Christian. It has ethical and religious implications
for all Christians and for business leaders in particular.
These implications are identified in what the Church calls its
social tradition, a living dialogue between faith, reason, and
action. This tradition has grown through a complementary
relationship between authoritative teachers (Catholic social
teachings), insightful scholars (Catholic social thought),
and effective and principled practitioners (Catholic social
practice). Like all traditions, it is constantly developed,
purified, and readjusted as Christians, including business
leaders, seek discernment and excellence in their
29. An important part of this tradition for business
has been an articulation of ethical social principles at both
foundational and practical levels, and a vision of a business
as a community of persons. Together these provide guidance
for true business excellence, since they are founded on who
the human person is, and what human flourishing can be in
business, the wider community, and the world.
I. FOUNDATIONAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLES
FOR BUSINESS: HUMAN DIGNITY AND
THE COMMON GOOD
30. Human dignity: At the very foundation of the
Church’s social tradition stands the conviction that each
person, regardless of age, condition, or ability, is an image
of God and so endowed with an irreducible dignity, or value.
Each person is an end in him or herself, never merely an
instrument valued only for its utility—a who, not a what; a
someone, not a something.17 This dignity is possessed simply
by virtue of being human. It is never an achievement, nor a
gift from any human authority; nor can it be lost, forfeited,
or justly taken away. All human beings regardless of
individual properties and circumstances therefore enjoy this
31. Thanks to this human dignity, each person has the
right—indeed the obligation—to pursue his or her vocation
and to strive for personal fulfilment in communion with
others. In turn, this also entails that each of us has a duty to
avoid actions which impede the flourishing of others and, as
far as possible, a duty to promote that flourishing, for “we are
all really responsible for all”.18
32. More specifically, human beings demonstrate that
they bear the image of the Creator in their capacities to
reason and to choose freely as well as in their inclination
to share their lives with others (their social nature). Human
flourishing, therefore, always involves reasoning well,
choosing freely in accord with reason and living in society.
Indeed, it is only in community, that is, in communion with
others, that a person can genuinely develop in ability, virtue,
33. To be sure, because each person has a transcendent
destiny to share forever in the life of God, earthly flourishing
will never be complete, but this does not mean that it is
unimportant. On the contrary, not only is earthly flourishing
an important element of a good human life, but also the lack
of material resources, as well as their overabundance, are
often obstacles to, or distractions from, the pursuit of virtue
12 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
34. Common good: The social nature of human beings,
reflecting the community of the Trinity, points to another
foundational principle, the importance of the common good.
The Second Vatican Council defined the common good in
the following way: “the sum total of social conditions which
allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach
their fulfilment more fully and more easily”.19 Common
goods are developed between human beings whenever they
act purposefully together towards a goal which they share.
So building a friendship, a family, or a business creates a
common good shared between friends, family members, and
all the various people involved in a business. Common goods
are possible because we are relational beings who do not only
have individual goals, and who do not only grow individually.
We also participate in truly shared and common projects that
generate shared goods from which all participants benefit.
The common good embraces and supports all the goods
needed to allow each human being and all human beings to
develop, individually and communally.
35. Businesses produce many of the important
conditions which contribute to the common good of the
larger society. Their products and services, the jobs they
provide, and the economic and social surplus they make
available to society, are foundational to the good life of a
nation and of humanity as a whole. Countries which do not
have enough business activity tend to lose their best trained
people to other countries because they cannot see a future for
themselves or their families in their present situations. Some
societies do not produce enough collective and public goods
to ensure human life in dignity. Businesses are therefore
essential to the common good of every society and to the
whole global order. They contribute best when their activities
are allowed to be oriented toward, and be fully respectful
of, the dignity of people as ends in themselves who are
intelligent, free, and social.
36. Truly prosperous businesses and markets depend
upon any number of contributions from the larger society.
From public goods such as the rule of law, property rights,
free and open competition, to the provision of public goods,
sound currencies and fiscal policies, to critical transportation
and communication infrastructures, businesses simply cannot
operate effectively outside the structures of a good society.
Where these public goods and elements of the common good
are absent or do not function properly, businesses suffer. And
it is not only upon sound government that business depends.
Even before the State, one needs a healthy moral-cultural
environment in which to educate the young, to develop them
in skill and virtue, and to prepare them for employment.
Benefiting from the resources society makes available,
business and commercial activities, in turn, conduct
themselves so as to respect and sustain the common good.
37. Businesses also support the well-being of
members of society through their other key functions.
At the very least, a good business carefully avoids any
actions which undermine, locally or globally, the common
good. More positively, these businesses actively seek ways
to serve genuine human needs within their competence
and thus advance the common good. In some cases they
actively promote more effective regulation on a national,
international, or branch level. For example, some destructive
business strategies, including corruption, exploitation of
employees or destruction of the natural environment, might
thereby lower short-term costs for themselves, while leaving
the much higher long-term costs to future generations of
the local society. 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. Such a “race to the bottom” usually cannot be
overcome by individual moral engagement alone; rather it
calls for a better institutional framework for all participants
in the market.
II. PRACTICAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS
38. Respect for human dignity and the common good
are foundational principles which should inform the way we
organise the labour and capital employed, and the processes
of innovation, in a market system. The deep and abiding
purpose of individual businesses and commercial systems
is to address real human needs, which is to say the relevant
needs of everyone who is served in some way by a business.
In particular, there are three interdependent activities which
businesses should take up:
development, and production of goods and services;
in sustainable ways.
39. The Church’s social tradition addresses these three
interdependent activities by providing practical principles to
help guide decision-makers in the good they may do. These
practical principles build on the foundational principles, and
aim to respect the multi-cultural, multi-faith situations which
are characteristic of business today. They also help clarify the
vocation of the Christian businessperson and the role of a true
MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE WORLD THROUGH
GOODS AND SERVICES
40. Successful businesses identify and seek to address
genuine human needs at a level of excellence using a great deal
of innovation, creativity, and initiative. They produce what has
been produced before but often—as in the arenas of medicine,
communication, credit, food production, energy, and welfare
provision—they invent entirely new ways of meeting human
needs. And they incrementally improve their products and
services, which, where they are genuinely good, improve the
quality of people’s lives.
In contribution to the common good:20 As the Compendium of
the Social Doctrine of the Church puts it: “Businesses should
be characterised by their capacity to serve the common good of
society through the production of useful goods and services”.21
Business is inherently other-centred: a business joins together
people’s gifts, talents, energies, and skills to serve the needs of
others which, in turn, supports the development of the people
who do the work. The tasks they perform in common bring
forth the goods and services needed by a healthy community.
“The business leader is not a speculator, but essentially an
innovator. The speculator makes it his goal to maximise profit;
for him, business is merely a means to an end, and that end
is profit. For the speculator, building roads and establishing
hospitals or schools is not the goal, but merely a means to the
goal of maximum profit. It should be immediately clear that the
speculator is not the model of business leader which the Church
holds up as an agent and builder of the common good”.22
Rather, the Christian business leader serves the common good
by creating goods which are truly good and services which
WORLD NEEDS LD
14 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
41. The goods and services which businesses produce
should meet authentic human needs, which include not only
those things which have clear social value—such as lifesaving
medical devices, microfinance, education, social investment,
fair trade products, health care or affordable housing—but also
anything which genuinely contributes to human development
and fulfilment, ranging from simple products, such as bolts,
tables and fabrics, to complex systems such as waste removal,
roads and transportation.
42. In 1931, Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical letter,
Quadragesimo Anno, of the importance of businesses “producing
really useful goods” for others.23 The good entrepreneur “gives
first thought to service and second thought to gain, who [. . .]
employs workingmen for the creation of goods of true worth;
who does not wrong them by demanding that they take part in the
creation of futilities, or even harmful and evil things; who offers
to the consumer nothing but useful goods and services rather
than, taking advantage of the latter’s inexperience or weakness,
betrays him into spending his money for things he does not
need, or that are not only useless but even injurious to him”.24
Needs ought to be contrasted with mere wants, which might be
characterised as satisfying desires which do not contribute to
human well-being. In extreme cases, meeting such desires may
even be detrimental to human well-being as, for example, in the
sale of non-therapeutic drugs, pornography, gambling, violent
video games, and other harmful products. This preoccupation
with wants, often called “consumerism,” severs production
and consumption from the common good and impedes the
development of the person.25 Goods which are truly good serve
the needs of consumers in a hierarchical order; the need for
nutritious goods, for example, clearly outweighs the wants of
gambling entertainment. This is an objective order, which is why
the production of goods and services must abide by truth instead
of mere utility.
43. In solidarity with the poor: The production of
goods and services has “a progressively expanding chain of
solidarity”, which raises several critical issues and opportunities
for the business community.26 One is the importance of
identifying, in a spirit of solidarity, the real needs of the poor
and the vulnerable, including people with special needs, which
are often overlooked by other businesses in a marketplace
driven by short-term profit.27 The Christian business
leader is alert for opportunities to serve these otherwise
underserved populations and sees this not only as a proper
social responsibility but also as a great business opportunity.
Developments in the field of the “bottom of the pyramid”
products and services—such as microenterprises, microcredit,
social enterprises, and social investment funds—have played
an important role in addressing the needs of the poor. These
innovations will not only help lift people from extreme poverty
but could spark their own creativity and entrepreneurship and
contribute to launching a dynamic of development.28
dimension, not in the objective one”.31 When we regard work
from that perspective, we should find a joint commitment
from both the employer and the employee to elevate work to
that splendid vision. It is the unity of sound business practice
46. Recognising the subjective dimension of work
acknowledges its dignity and importance. It helps us to
see that “work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work’”.32
Employees are not mere “human resources” or “human
capital”. Consequently, work must be designed for the
capacities and qualities of human beings, and so we
must not simply require that people adapt to their work
as if they were machines. Good work gives scope for the
intelligence and freedom of workers, its context promotes
social relationships and real collaboration, and it does not
damage the health and physical well-being of the worker.
This requires from leaders the ability to develop the right
person in the right job and the freedom and responsibility to
do just that. Good work is directed toward satisfying genuine
human needs so that the worker, while providing for himself
and his family, also serves the flourishing of others. Good
work must be sufficiently well-organised and managed to
be productive so that the worker can indeed earn his living.
Moreover, reward structures should make sure that those
workers who do engage their labour in a sincere way also
receive the necessary esteem and compensation from their
companies. The encyclical Mater et Magistra is perfectly
clear on this point: “if the whole structure and organisation
of an economic system is such as to compromise human
dignity, to lessen a man’s sense of responsibility or rob him
of opportunity for exercising personal initiative, then such
a system, We maintain, is altogether unjust—no matter how
much wealth it produces, or how justly and equitably such
wealth is distributed”.33
ORGANISING GOOD AND PRODUCTIVE WORK
44. Businesses create goods and services and organise
the work people do together. Successful businesses design
work which is good and effective, efficient and engaging,
autonomous and collaborative. The way human work is
designed and managed has a significant impact on whether
an organisation can compete in the marketplace and whether
people will flourish through their work. Blessed John Paul
II explained that “whereas at one time the decisive factor
of production was the land, and later capital— understood
as a total complex of the instruments of production—today
the decisive factor is increasingly man himself, that is, his
knowledge, especially his scientific knowledge, his capacity
for interrelated and compact organisation, as well as his
ability to perceive the needs of others and to satisfy them”.29
Within increasing globalisation and a rapidly changing
marketplace, the vibrant organisation of work assures an
organisation’s agility, responsiveness, and dynamism. This
includes sensible regulation, which ensures that economic
relations and mentalities can develop in a sustainable way,
and that virtuous business can effectively profit and excel
through its achievements.
45. Foster dignified work: “It is a scandal,” Pope Pius
XI wrote in 1931, “when dead matter comes forth from
the factory ennobled, while men there are corrupted and
degraded”.30 The grandeur of one’s work not only leads to
improved products and services, but develops the worker
himself. The Catholic social tradition has been particularly
outspoken about the nature of work and how it affects
the person. Blessed John Paul II spoke of “the subjective
dimension of work”, distinguishing it from its “objective
dimension”. He set forth a beautiful vision, indicating that
when people work, they do not simply make more, but they
become more. The changes brought about by work cannot be
fully accounted for by its objective dimension. The worker,
the subject of work, is also greatly affected by his or her own
work. Whether we think about the executive, the farmer,
the nurse, the janitor, the engineer, or the tradesman, work
changes both the world (objective dimension) and the worker
(subjective dimension). Because work changes the person, it
can enhance or suppress that person’s dignity; it can allow a
person to develop or to be damaged. Thus “the sources of the
dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective
16 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
Clearly define the realm of autonomy and decision
rights to be made at every level in the company,
leaving these as wide as possible. Limits should be
set such that decision rights do not exceed a person
or group’s ability to access the information required
to make the decision, and so the consequences
of the decisions would not overstep their realm
have the right tools, training, and experience to
carry out their tasks.
responsibilities have been given will make their
decisions in freedom and, thereby in full trust,
the risks of their decisions. Subsidiary business
structures therefore should nurture mutual respect
and responsibility and allow employees to attribute
good results to their sincere engagement.
This last point, taking on the risk of the decisions, is
what makes subsidiarity different from delegation.
One who delegates confers power, but can take it
back at any time. In such a situation, employees
are not called to the same level of excellence and
participation as in a situation governed by the
principle of subsidiarity, and are less likely to grow
and accept their full responsibility.
47. Create subsidiary structures: The principle of
subsidiarity is rooted in the conviction that, as images of
God, the flourishing of human beings entails the best use
of their intelligence and freedom. Human dignity is never
respected by unnecessarily constraining or suppressing
that intelligence and freedom. The principle of subsidiarity
recognises that in human societies, smaller communities
exist within larger ones. For example, a family, as a
community, is part of a village or a city, which in turn is part
of a county, a state or province, then a nation, and so on. The
principle insists that the freedom and input of those closest
to the effects to be felt should not be arbitrarily disregarded.
As Blessed John Paul II pointed out “a community of a
higher order should not interfere in the internal life of
a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its
functions, but rather should support it in case of need and
help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest
of society, always with a view to the common good”.34
48. The principle of subsidiarity applies to the
structures of the State as well as business organisations. We
develop in our work best when we use our intelligence and
freedom to achieve shared goals and to create and sustain
right relationships with one another and with those served
by the organisation. In other words, the more participatory
the workplace, the more likely each worker will be to
develop. Employees should have a voice in their work,
especially in the day-to-day work. This fosters initiative,
innovation, creativity, and a sense of shared responsibility.
49. The principle of subsidiarity holds great insight for
business leaders. It encourages leaders to use their power
at the service of their collaborators, prompting them to
question whether their authority serves the development
of all their employees. Specifically, subsidiarity provides
business leaders with three practical steps:
50. Under the principle of subsidiarity,
employees on a lower level who are trusted, trained,
experienced, know precisely the extent of their
responsibilities, and are free to make decisions, can
fully use their freedom and intelligence, and thus
are enabled to develop as people; they are indeed
“co-entrepreneurs”. For business leaders on every
level, from team leader up to chief executive, this
is very demanding but rewarding. Working under
the principle of subsidiarity calls for restraint, and a
humble acceptance of the role of a servant leader.
CREATING SUSTAINABLE WEALTH AND
DISTRIBUTING IT JUSTLY
51. Entrepreneurs exercise their creativity to organise
the talents and energies of labour and to assemble capital and
other resources from the earth’s abundance to produce goods
and services. When this is done effectively, well paying jobs
are created, profit is realised, the resulting wealth is shared
with investors, and everyone involved excels. The Church
acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indicator
that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a
profit, it generally means that the factors of production have
been properly employed and corresponding human needs
have been duly satisfied.35 A profitable business, by creating
wealth and promoting prosperity, helps individuals excel and
realise the common good of a society. Yet creating wealth is
not restricted to financial profit alone. The very etymology of
the word “wealth” reveals the broader notion of “well-being”:
the physical, mental, psychological, moral, and spiritual
well-being of others. The economic value of wealth is
inextricably linked to this wider notion of well-being.
SIX PRACTICAL PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS
The principles of respect for human dignity and pursuit of the common good are the foundations
of the Church’s social teaching. Joined with the six practical principles of business, they can offer more
Meeting the Needs of the World through the Creation and Development of Goods and Services
the common good.
2. Businesses maintain
Organising Good and Productive Work
3. Businesses make a contribution to the community by fostering the special dignity of human work.
subsidiarity, opportunities for employees to exercise appropriate authority as they
contribute to the mission of the organisation.
Creating Sustainable Wealth and Distributing it Justly
5. Businesses model stewardship
6. Businesses are justsuppliers,
and the community.
18 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
52. Stewarding resources: Scripture teaches that good
stewards are creative and productive with the resources placed in
their care.36 They do not merely take from creation’s abundance;
instead they use their talents and skills to produce more from
what has been given to them. One manifestation of this within
the business context is financial profit—the surplus of retained
earnings over expenses which enables an organisation’s
sustainability. The best business leaders use resources effectively
and maintain reasonable levels of revenue, margin, market share,
productivity, and efficiency, in order to ensure the viability of
the organisation. If financial wealth is not created, it cannot be
distributed and organisations cannot be sustained.
53. While profitability is an indicator of organisational
health, it is neither the only one, nor the most important by which
business should be judged.37 Profit is necessary to sustain a
business; however, “once profit becomes the exclusive focus, if
it is produced by improper means and without the common good
as its end, it risks destroying prosperity and creating poverty”.38
Profit is like food. An organism must eat, but that is not the
overriding purpose of its existence. Profit is a good servant, but it
makes a poor master.
54. While financial resources are important, so too is
stewardship of the environment, both physical and cultural.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “The environment is God’s
gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility
towards the poor, towards future generations and towards
humanity as a whole”.39 Creation is endowed with an order
which we discover but do not create. Living creatures and the
natural world may reasonably be employed to serve genuine
human needs. As collaborators with God in the unfolding of
creation, however, we have a duty to respect and not to attack
the world around us. We are free to cultivate this world,
but not to devastate it. Or as the early chapters of Genesis
suggest, we are called to exercise a careful dominion over the
world, to cultivate it and make it fruitful, but we do not have
license to exploit it as we please.
55. Distribute justly: As creators of wealth and
prosperity, businesses and their leaders must find ways
to make a just distribution of this wealth to employees
(following the principle of the right to a just wage),
customers (just prices), owners (just returns), suppliers
(just prices), and the community (just tax rates).40
56. If one accepts that God’s creation is intended for
everyone—rich and poor, powerful and weak, now and in the
future—then it follows that all resources are conferred on
humankind with a “social mortgage”.41 The Catholic social
tradition understands this obligation as applying to property
as well as capital. While property and capital should as a
rule be privately held, the right to private property should
be “subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact
that goods are meant for everyone”.42 This principle urges
business leaders to consider the distributive effect of the way
they set prices, allocate wages, share ownership, distribute
dividends, manage payables, and so on. Their decisions
should aim not at an equal but at a just distribution of wealth,
which meets people’s needs, rewards their contributions and
risks, and preserves and promotes the organisation’s financial
health. Denying people legitimate access to the fruits of
the earth, especially the means to sustain life, amounts to
a negation of God’s command to humanity to discover,
cultivate, and use its gifts.
III. BUSINESS AS A COMMUNITY OF PERSONS
57. These six principles point us to the purpose of
business, which Blessed John Paul II states “is not simply
to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a
community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring
to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group
at the service of the whole of society”.43 While the phrase
“community of persons” is not common in business literature
today, it actually best expresses the full realisation of what
a company and corporation can be. The etymology of the
words “company” and “companions”—cum (with), and panis
(bread) suggests “breaking bread together”. The etymology
of the word “corporation”—the Latin corpus (body) suggests
a group of people “united in one body”.
58. When we consider a business organisation as a
community of persons, it becomes clear that the bonds which
hold us in common are not merely legal contracts or mutual
self-interests, but commitments to real goods, shared with
others to serve the world. It is dangerous and misinformed
simply to consider business as a “society of shares”,
where self-interests, contracts, utility, and financial profit
maximisation exhaust its meaning. An inherent characteristic
of work is that “it first and foremost unites people. Therein
lies its social power: the power to build a community”.45
This understanding helps avoid the spiritual poverty which
often arises in market economies from a lack of human
relationships within and around a business.46
59. Building a company as a community of persons
based on the six principles above is no easy task. Large
multinational corporations in particular can find it
challenging to create practices and policies to foster a
community of persons among its members. Yet leaders in
large or small firms are greatly helped by the practice of
personal virtue, those life-enhancing habits and qualities of
character essential to any profession. Two very important
virtues for the business professional, which we discuss in
further detail in the next section, are practical wisdom and
justice. There is, in practice, no substitute for sound judgment
(practical wisdom) and right relationships (justice). The
six principles above do not provide all that is needed for
“WITNESS OF ACTIONS”:
TAKING ASPIRATION INTO PRACTICE
60. “Today more than ever,” Blessed John Paul II wrote,
“the Church is aware that her social message will gain
credibility more immediately from the witness of actions
than as a result of its internal logic and consistency”.47 These
witnesses of action, the great majority of whom are among
the lay faithful, are not “solely passive beneficiaries but
are the protagonists of the Church’s social doctrine at the
vital moment of its implementation. They are also valuable
collaborators of the pastors in its formulation, thanks to
the experience they have acquired in the field and to their
own specific skills”.48
good judgment in response to the challenges of daily work.
They do not provide blueprints or technical solutions, nor
are they meant to do so. Ethical social principles, illumined
for Christians by the Gospel, provide direction for good
businesses, but the navigation falls to the seasoned and
intelligent judgments of virtuous business leaders who
can wisely manage the complexity and tensions arising in
61. Christian business leaders are men and women of
action who have demonstrated an authentic entrepreneurial
spirit, one which recognises the God-given responsibility to
accept generously and faithfully the vocation of business.
These leaders are motivated by much more than financial
success, enlightened self-interest, or an abstract social
contract as often prescribed by economic literature and
management textbooks. Faith enables Christian business
leaders to see a much larger world, a world in which God is
at work, and where their individual interests and desires are
not the sole driving force.
62. Business leaders are supported and guided by the
Church as well as by Christian business organisations to live
out the Gospel in the world.49 Without these practitioners and
the organisations which support them, the Catholic social
tradition would become merely inanimate words rather than a
lived reality. As St. James tells us, faith without works is dead
63. Unfortunately, there are people of faith within
the world of business who have failed to witness to and
be inspired by their faith and moral convictions. We have
witnessed many scandals involving leaders who have
misused their positions of authority and leadership. They
have succumbed to sins of pride, greed, lust, and other deadly
vices. It is not only these major cases which are so painful to
witness; what is also tragic is that there are Christians who,
while not committing illegal or scandalous activities, have
accommodated themselves to the world, living as if God
does not exist. They not only live in the world, but they have
become of the world. When Christian business leaders fail
to live the Gospel in their organisations, their lives “conceal
rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion”.50
20 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
64. Faith has social implications; it is not merely a
private reality. The Church’s social doctrine is “an essential
part of the Christian message, since this doctrine points
out the direct consequences of that message in the life of
society and situates daily work and struggles for justice in
the context of bearing witness to Christ the saviour”.51 The
social principles of the Church call upon business leaders to
act, and because of the current challenging environment, how
they act is more important than ever.
65. Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate provides a
vision for action. He explains that charity—“love received
and given”—is at the heart of the social teachings of the
Church.52 Charity “is the principal driving force behind
the authentic development of every person and of all
humanity”.53 So when we speak of business leaders acting,
this implies both “receiving” and “giving”.
66. Receiving: The first act of the Christian business
leader, as of all Christians, is to receive; more specifically,
to receive what God has done for him or her. This act
of receptivity, particularly for business leaders can be
particularly difficult. As a group, business leaders tend to be
more active than receptive, especially now in a globalised
economy, under the effects of sophisticated communications
technologies and the financialisation of business. Yet without
receptivity in their lives, business leaders can be tempted by
a quasi-Nietzschean “superman” complex. The temptation for
some is to regard themselves as determining and creating their
own principles, not as receiving them.54 Business leaders
may only see themselves as creative, innovative, active, and
constructive, but if they neglect the dimension of receiving,
they distort their place within the world and overestimate
their own achievements and work.
67. Pope Benedict XVI, prior to his papacy, wrote that
the person “comes in the profoundest sense to himself not
through what he does but through what he accepts”,55 not
through what he achieves but through what he receives.
Indeed, human accomplishment taken alone leads only to
partial fulfilment; one must also know the power and grace of
receptivity. This refusal to receive is found in our origins, in
the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, when God commanded
them not to eat “of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil” (Gen 2:17). The moral law is given by God, and we
can only receive it.56 The social principles of the Church
explained above are the Church’s reflection on this moral law
for business. When business leaders receive their vocation,
they are also open to receiving principles which foster the
integral development of those affected by the business.
68. When the gifts of the spiritual life are embraced and
integrated into the active life, they provide the grace needed
to overcome the divided life and to humanise us, especially in
our work. The first act to which the Church calls the Christian
business leader is to receive the sacraments, to accept the
Scriptures, to honour the Sabbath, to pray, to participate in
silence and in other disciplines of the spiritual life. These
are not optional actions for a Christian, not mere private acts
separated and disconnected from business.
69. The Sabbath, for example, is not simply a
break from work. Perhaps paradoxically, it is only in our
detachment from work that we see its deepest meaning.
Pope Benedict XVI explains this connection by stating that
“the biblical teaching on work finds its coronation in the
commandment to rest”.57 To rest in God places our work in
a new context—the context of the continuous unfolding of
God’s abundant gift of creation. Sacramental worship is not
an escape from the world of business—it gives us the space
70. The divine dimension in our daily lives can be
hidden and repressed, especially in a globalised, highly
technological, and financially driven economy, and in
situations in which the Church fails to preach and live
its social message. This is why Blessed John Paul II asks
business leaders and employees to develop a spirituality
of work, enabling them to see their role in God’s creative
and redemptive purpose, and giving them the strength and
virtue to live out His call.59 Without a deep well of prayer
and reflection, it is hard to see, for example, how business
leaders can resist the negative dimensions of information
technology, driving speed and efficiency at the expense
of thoughtful reflection, patience, justice, and practical
wisdom. Information technologies encourage us towards
instantaneous decisions; thus they can create their own logic
which undermines the application of the social principles
of the Church, unless they are used in an ordered way by
71. Giving: The second act to which the Church calls
the business leader is giving in a way which responds to
what has been received. This giving is never merely the legal
minimum; it must be an authentic entry into communion with
others to make the world a better place. The self-gift of the
person inquires not “how far it must go, but how far it may
go”.60 Giving moves business leaders to profound questions
about their vocation: How does receptivity to God’s love
animate the relationships of the various stakeholders of a
business? What kind of business policies and practices will
foster the integral development of people?
22 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
72. We have observed business leaders who give
themselves through the goods and services they create and
provide, as they organise good and productive work, and as
they create sustainable wealth and distribute it justly. The
social principles of the Church help orient the institution of
business toward a set of behaviours which foster the integral
development of people. This entails addressing the demands
of the organisation with practices and policies which
promote: personal responsibility, innovation, fair pricing, just
compensation, humane job design, responsible environmental
practices, social and socially responsible (or ethical)
investment, and a host of other issues such as hiring, firing,
board governance, employee training, and supplier relations.
73. In addition to these internal opportunities, business
leaders (alongside governments and non-governmental
organisations) influence larger issues, such as international
regulations, anti- corruption practices, transparency, taxation
policies, and environmental and labour standards. They should
use this influence, individually and collectively, to promote
human dignity and the common good and not merely the
narrow interest of any particular stakeholder.
to see more deeply into the reality of the world and
to contemplate God’s work. God’s revelation, which can
only be received and not achieved, discloses that His Spirit
pervades materiality, that grace perfects nature, and that
worship makes work holy. This is why the Eucharist is the
most profound expression of the Sabbath. It is where we
see most deeply and most profoundly “the work of human
hands” in cooperation with the salvific work of God: in
human work, elevated by divine work, the bread and the
wine are transformed into the Real Presence, a presence
which has the power to redeem the world.58
74. It is not the place of the Church to prescribe
in detail the actions of business leaders. Prescription is
the work of practitioners, and is largely carried out by
lay people. The Church’s magisterium does not have
technical solutions to offer or models to present; yet, the
Church teaches that “there can be no genuine solution of
the ‘social question’ apart from the Gospel”.61 The Pope
and the bishops, the official teachers within the Church,
preach its social doctrine to business leaders not to impose
a burden upon them, but to reveal to them the spiritual
importance of their actions and the social significance of
business as an institution. As Pope Benedict XVI says in
Caritas in Veritate: “Man’s earthly activity, when inspired
and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the
universal city of
which is the goal of the history of God
the human family”.62 When the Gospel informs the “new
things” which the business leader faces in our increasingly
global, technological, and financial economy, it sees them
not simply in their technical or market dimensions, but in
their impact on the integral development of the person.
75. This is why an important part of the vocation
of Christian business leaders is the practice of virtues,
especially the virtues of wisdom and justice. Wise business
leaders act virtuously in their practical affairs, cultivating
wisdom in concrete practices and policies, not just in
abstract mission statements. This is what makes it practical
wisdom: institutionalising effective and just practices which
foster right relationships with stakeholders, creating policies
which put the social principles of the Church into practice
in creative ways which humanise the organisation.
76. When business leaders face particular problems
which need specific solutions, their actions are informed by
“a prudential evaluation of each situation”.63 This prudential
judgment is not only a market-based or technical assessment.
Prudence has often been reduced to the clever actions of
leaders that advance their own private interests. This is
not the virtue of prudence, but a vice separated from the
requirements of justice. True prudence informs the mind
of the business leader by asking the right questions and
discerning the best courses of action for building good and
just companies which can contribute to the common good.
77. Developing a prudential mind entails recognising
the available resources of the organisation and understanding
its unique circumstances. Practical wisdom requires that
the ought of ethical social principles be translated into the
realistic and possible of a concrete situation (given available
means and resources). Practically wise teaching regarding
a living wage, for example, always implies a wage which
is sustainable for an enterprise. If, however, a living wage
is not immediately sustainable for a business, virtuous
businesspeople do not stop there and simply defer to market
forces. They rethink how they are doing business and how
they can change their situation creatively so as to be in right
relationships with their employees. This could mean changes
at the level of work organisation or job design; it could
mean moving into different product markets, or rethinking
pay differentials. If it is really not possible for a company
to reach a just wage after having made such efforts, it
then becomes the role of indirect employers such as
the state, unions, and other actors to supplement the
78. As important as indirect employers are within
the economy, they must never absorb the responsibility of
the direct employer. Companies must not delegate their
responsibility completely, for example, to the law or to
a contract. As a direct employer, the virtues of practical
wisdom and justice help the business leader to see the
increasing importance of business’ social responsibility in
a globalised economy. At this time in our history, as Pope
Benedict XVI explains, there is “a growing conviction
that business management cannot concern itself only
with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume
responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute
to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the
suppliers of various elements of production, the community
of reference”.65 This growing conviction has produced a
significant amount of theory and practice in business ethics
and corporate social responsibility. In many countries we
see that subsidiary processes of “self-regulation” are taking
place in the context of business associations and branch
federations on a regional, national, or international level.
Many regulations for protecting customers, employees or
the environment are effectively grounded in the business
sector itself, even if they may also occasionally need to be
reinforced by government regulation. The practical wisdom
of entrepreneurs already plays an important role here, not
least to show that the Catholic social tradition has much to
learn from these fields of thought and action—and much to
79. When business ethics and corporate social
responsibility are invoked to do what is contradictory to the
Church’s social doctrine, they have disconnected us from
a proper recognition that we are made “in the image of
God” (Gen 1:27), and they lead us to fail to appreciate “the
inviolable dignity of the human person and the transcendent
value of natural moral norms. When business ethics
prescinds from these two pillars, it inevitably risks losing its
distinctive nature and it falls prey to forms of exploitation”.66
When not grounded in the deep soil of human culture, the
otherwise helpful role for business ethics and corporate social
responsibility will instead be prone to being instrumentalised,
and thus will ultimately fail to promote integral human
development within business.
80. Giving and receiving express the complementarity
of the active and contemplative life. These two fundamental
dimensions of our lives call not principally for balancing, but
for a profound integration born of the realization that we need
God and that God has done great things for us. In return God
asks us to be His hands and feet, to continue His creation and
make it better for others. For the business leader, this entails
creating goods which are truly good and services which truly
serve; organising work where employees develop their gifts
and talents; and creating sustainable wealth so that it can be
distributed justly (see the Appendix for “An Examination of
Conscience for the Business Leader”, which reflects on these
three objectives in day-to-day life).
24 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
83. To live out their vocation as faithful stewards
to their calling, businesspeople need to be formed in a
religious culture which shows them the possibilities and
promise of the good they can do and which they ought to
do —the good which is distinctively theirs. Family, Church
and school are critical institutions in this formation. Like
all people, Christian business leaders come into the world,
not through a contract or a market exchange but through a
gift. No-one is born into a corporation, but into a family,
baptised in a church, educated in schools, and welcomed
into a community.
84. One critical part of this formation is university
education, where future business leaders are often first
introduced to the experiences, skills, principles, and purposes
of business. With close to 1,800 institutions of higher
learning world-wide, and approximately 800 of these with
business programs, the Church has invested herself in the
formation of future business leaders. Some of these programs
rank among the best in the world. This education seeks the
unity of knowledge and a rich dialogue between faith and
reason, which provides the resources to meet the modern
challenges found in business and the wider culture.67 Catholic
business education has achieved a lot, but has ever new
challenges to address.
85. An education in business, like every professional
education, does not merely constitute training in specific
skills or theories. Faithful to its own tradition, Catholic higher
education cannot fail to be a formation in the moral teaching
and social principles of the Church and the dimensions of
prudence and justice proper to business. A proper business
education includes all appropriate theoretical material,
training in every relevant skill and a thorough treatment of
the moral teaching and social principles of the Church which
must animate professional practice. Exaggerated emphasis in
one of these areas cannot compensate for the neglect
81. In concluding this reflection, we may acknowledge
that the challenges confronting business and the larger
culture are substantial. Business leaders may be tempted by
self-doubt about their personal ability to integrate the Gospel
within their daily work. Weighed down by the challenges
which often confront them, business leaders may wonder
whether the Church’s social tradition can offer guidance in
their professional lives.
82. Business leaders need to be open to receiving
support and correction from fellow members of the living
Church, responding to their doubts and hesitations not with
fear or cynicism, but with the virtues coming from their
with faith that sees their actions not just in terms of the
impact on the bottom line, but in the larger context of the
impact of those actions, in collaboration with others, on
themselves and the world, in the light of God’s ongoing
with hope that their work and institutions will not be
predetermined by market forces or legal constructs, but
rather that their actions will give witness to God’s kingdom;
with love, so that their work is not merely an exercise in
self-interest, but a cultivation of relationships, building
communities of people.
86. In our own time, business students are informed by
powerful theories and highly trained in technical skills but
some unfortunately leave university without the ethical and
spiritual formation which would ensure that their insights and
skills are used for the welfare of others and the support of the
common good. Indeed, some leave with a formation which
predisposes them to live the divided life rather than giving
them the fundamentals which could help them build an
integrated life. Consideration of the ideas presented here can
contribute to a more complete formation of these students,
educating them to be highly principled and effective business
leaders. Teachers need to inspire their students to discover the
good which is within them and to follow the call they have to
use their professional skills and judgment as a force for good
in the world.
87. Entrepreneurs, managers, and all who work in
business, should be encouraged to recognise their work as
a true vocation and to respond to God’s call in the spirit of
true disciples. In doing so, they engage in the noble task
of serving their brothers and sisters and of building up the
inspiration and encouragement to business leaders, calling
them to ever deepen their faithfulness at work. We are
inspired by the many contributions lay leaders and business
professionals have made to the implementation of the
Church’s social doctrine. We invite educators and catechists
at parochial and diocesan levels, and specifically business
educators, to make use of the document here presented
with their students, inspiring them to respect and encourage
human dignity and to pursue the common good in their
management undertakings. We hope that this message will
stimulate discussions in businesses and universities, helping
business leaders, faculty, and students to: see the challenges
and opportunities in the world of work; judge them according
to the social principles of the Church; and act as leaders who
26 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
Do I recognise the importance of strong and lively “indirect
employers” to ensure the right levels of labour protection
and community dialogue?
Am I sensitive to the fact that if corporate decisions are not
deeply grounded in the dignity of the human person, they
will be prone to instrumentalist and utilitarian constructs
which fail to promote integral human development within
Do I regularly assess the degree to which my company
provides products or services which address genuine human
needs and which foster responsible consumption?
ORGANISING GOOD AND PRODUCTIVE WORK
employees appropriate autonomy at each level? In other
words, am I organising human resources mindful of the
subsidiarity principle in my company management system?
- Am I assuming the risk of lower level decisions to assure
that his autonomy is genuine?
- Are jobs and responsibilities in my company designed
to draw upon the full talents and skills of those doing
A DISCERNMENT CHECKLIST FOR THE
Do I see work as a gift from God?
Is my work as a “co-creator” truly a participation in God’s
original creative act?
Do I promote a culture of life through my work?
Have I been living a divided life, separating Gospel
principles from my work?
Am I receiving the sacraments regularly and with attention
to how they support and inform my business practices?
Am I reading the Scriptures and praying with the will to
avoid the risk of a divided life?
Am I sharing my spiritual path with other Christian business
practitioners (my peers)?
Am I seeking to nourish my business life by learning more
about the Church’s social teaching?
Do I believe that taking seriously the dignity of the person in
my business decision-making will promote integral human
development while making my company more efficient,
more agile, and more profitable?
MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE WORLD
Do I see the responsibilities of my company as extending to
all the participants who contribute to its life, not simply to
the interests of the owners?
Am I creating wealth, or am I engaging in rent-seeking
Am I engaging in anti-competitive practices?
Is my company making every reasonable effort to take
responsibility for externalities and unintended consequences
of its activities (such as environmental damage or other
negative effects on suppliers, local communities and
As a Christian business leader, am
I promoting human dignity and
the common good in my sphere
Am I supporting the culture of life,
justice; international regulations;
transparency; civic, environmental,
and labour-standards; and the fight
Am I promoting the integral
development of the person in my
- Have employees been selected and trained to be able to
meet fully their responsibilities?
- Have these responsibilities and their scope been
Am I making sure that the company provides safe working
conditions, living wages, training, and the opportunity for
employees to organise themselves?
Have I embedded a set of comprehensively defined values
and integrated that into my performance measurement
process? Am I honest with my employees about their
In all countries where my company is engaged, is it
honouring the dignity of those indirectly employed and
contributing to the development of the communities
hosting these operations? (Do I follow the same standard
of morality in all geographic locations?)
Do I place the dignity of all workers above profit margins?
CREATING SUSTAINABLE WEALTH AND
DISTRIBUTING IT JUSTLY
As a business leader, am I seeking ways to deliver fair
returns to providers of capital, fair wages to employees,
fair prices to customers and suppliers, and fair taxes to
Does my company honour all its fiduciary obligations to
providers of capital and to local communities with regular
and truthful financial reporting?
In anticipation of economic difficulties, is my company
taking care that employees remain employable through
appropriate training and variety in their work experiences?
When economic difficulties demand layoffs, is my
company giving adequate notifications, employee transition
assistance, and severance pay?
Does my company make every effort to reduce or eliminate
waste in its operations, and in general to honour its
responsibility for the natural environment?
28 ~ THE VOCATION OF THE BUSINESS LEADER
1Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (2009), 38, 40.
2John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (1981), 25.
3Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes
4Deuteronomy 5:6–8: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the
out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before Egypt
me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form sof anything
that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water
under the earth.”
5Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 71.
6“Entranced by an exclusive reliance on technology, reason without faith is
doomed to flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence. Faith without
reason risks being cut off from everyday life”, Benedict XVI, Encyclical
Letter Caritas in Veritate, 74.
7See John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra (1961), 236.
8Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et
9Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 19.
10Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate.
11Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, Chapter 6.
12Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 45.
13Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 40.
14See the Economy of Communion from the Focolare movement, UNIAPAC,
Legatus, Woodstock Business Conference, Compagnia delle Opere from the
Communion and Liberation movement, as well other movements that have
taken seriously the relationship of faith and business.
15Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 11.
16See Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (2005), 1.
17Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine
of the Church, 108.
18John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), 38.
19Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 26.
20Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine
of the Church, 164–167.
21Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine
of the Church, 338.
22See Cardinal Bertone, “A Goal Greater than Profit”, Executive
Ethics for the Business World,
, June 16, 2011 (http://www.vatican.va/ Rome
23Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno (1931), 51.
24Oswald von Nell-Breuning, Reorganization of Social Economy, (
The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936), 115-116.
25John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1991), 36.
26John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 43.
27Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of
the Church, 192-196.
28Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 45.
29John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 32.
30Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno, 135.
31John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, 6.
32John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, 6.
33John XXIII, Encyclical Letter , 83.
34John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 48; see also Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the
Church, 185 –186 and Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883.
35John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 35.
36Mt 25:14 30.
37John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 35.
38Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 21.
39Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 48.
40Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of
the Church, 171–181.
41John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42.
42John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, 14.
43John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 35.
44John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 43.
45John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, 20.
46Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 53.
47John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 57.
48Benedict XVI, Address to Participants on the 50th Anniversary of the
Encyclical “Mater et Magistra” (May 16, 2011),
49Some of these organisations are UNIAPAC and its affiliates, Legatus,
Woodstock Business Conference, as well as new movements such as
Focolare’s Economy of Communion, Comunione e Liberazione’s Compagnia
delle Opere initiatives, or investor groups such as the
for Interfaith Center
Corporate Responsibility, and other organisations and movements.
50Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 19.
51John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 5.
52Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 5.
53Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 1.
54Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (
Press, Oxford University
55Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J.R. Foster
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 266.
56John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 35.
57Benedict XVI, “Man Is Subject and Protagonist of Work.” Homily on Feast of
58See John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dies Domini (1998).
59John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, 24.
60Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian State of Life, (
Ignatius San Francisco
Press, 1983), 48.
61John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Centesimus Annus, 5.
62John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Centesimus Annus, 7.
63Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 47.
64John Paul II coined the term “indirect employer,” which is an important reality
for the businessperson (Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercencs, 19). When a
particular market system is so competitive and so dysfunctional that treating
employees justly is penalised, rather than rewarded, employers and managers
cannot be expected to create a fully just work situation. The right to a living
wage, for example, is the responsibility of all people, not just direct employers.
If a particular company is in a highly price-sensitive, commoditised market,
pressures to reduce labour costs may become so great that a particular employer
would be forced to pay the so-called market wage, which may be below a living
or family wage. An employer in such a system may be forced to pay lower
wages, provide fewer benefits, and let working conditions deteriorate in order
to compete with others in the industry. Failure to do this would place the
particular company at a competitive disadvantage. No matter how much direct
employers may want to pay a living or a family wage, they may be forced to pay
the going rate or go out of business. This scenario is most evident in developing
countries where labour protection is minimal, labour unions are suppressed, and
labour markets are flooded, although it also still exists in developed countries.
This is why so-called indirect employers are so critically important in the
determination of pay.
65See Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 40.
66Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 45.
67See John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990).
FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
Dr. Michael J. NAUGHTON, University of St. Thomas, Director, John A. Ryan Institute for
Catholic Social Thought-Coordinator
Sr. Helen ALFORD, O.P., Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences,
of Pontifical University
St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum)
Msgr. Anthony FRONTIERO, Rector, Cathedral of
Dr. Kenneth GOODPASTER, Endowed Chair in Business Ethics,
Dr. André HABISCH, Professor of Christian Social Ethics and Civil Society,
Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
Dr. Robert KENNEDY, Chair, Department of Catholic Studies,
University of St. Thomas, MN
Mr. Pierre LECOCQ, UNIAPAC President (International
Union of Christian Business
Executives Associations); President and CEO of INERGY Automotive Systems
Rev. Domènec MELÉ, Chair of Business Ethics,
of Navarra, IESE Business
Dr. Stefano ZAMAGNI, Professor of Economics, University of
Mark HARRINGTON, Mary CHILDS, Elizabeth BRIEL
FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
FL-10230-Eng 03/2012 2,000__