Can we have a Catholic Capitalism?

I was recently asked, “What makes up a Catholic Budget?”  In short, I believe the answer is: we all do best when we’re doing best together. Budgetary battles are about priorities, but so often we let them fall into the drudgery of “us-against-them” politicking. Faith leaders have an important responsibility to remind the 100% that the 47% and 1% are both harmed by the growing gap in our society.

The Holy Father aptly explains how “growing instances of inequality between the rich and the poor” are creating “hotbeds of tension and conflict.”  He cites “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset” as the source behind this great inequality, which he also sees as the source of international crime and terrorism. These statements should raise a series of moral questions for Catholics who view the market as a player in morality.

We’re forced to remember the standard set by Jesus and wonder how our society will be judged based on our treatment of the vulnerable.  We must ask ourselves, “Can we be both Catholic and Capitalists?”

Unregulated (and inadequately regulated) capitalism has created a culture of “profits before people”—certainly at odds with our Catholic faith.  Many have tied the creation and retention of wealth to the concept of hard work, generating the idea that monetary rewards must be the result of hard work, and those who are poor simply do not work hard enough. As Catholics, we share in the responsibility of lifting up the voices of the poor who are working hard to provide for their families, but are still left behind in an unforgiving system.

What we are afraid to admit is that capitalism isn’t the problem; too often, we Catholics are. We go to mass on Sunday and hear the Gospel message—and then we go on with our week. We do not do enough to stand against a culture of greed, in favor of a more inclusive culture of “common good” policies.

Capitalism can be a system for good, and globalization has the potential power to elevate the developing world so that they can meet the needs of their people. Yet these remain economic systems in a world of economic realities. Catholics must heed the Pope’s call to live as a witness for the marginalized and provide the human dimension to our political practices.