Invest Your Funds Upon This Rock?

A new Vatican document proposes to give guidance for Catholic investors based on Catholic social teaching, but often falls into regurgitating liberal talking points on redistribution and environmental awareness.

In light of the scandals exposing the Vatican’s misuse of money, its recent release of ethical investing guidelines might seem like too little too late. Nonetheless, Mensuram Bonam, from Cardinal Peter Turkson and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, is news. Before its publication, faith-guided investment had been promulgated at the national level, such as the USCCB’s 2021 document. But Mensuram Bonam, Faith-Based Measures for Catholic Investors: A Starting Point and Call to Action (MB), which translates into English as “Good Measure” (a reference to Luke 6:37-38), is the first such guidance from a Vatican entity. The forty-five-page document attempts to advise Catholic investors on how to use Catholic Social Teaching [CST] in their decision-making.

The good news? Cardinal Turkson and his staff write about important issues and try to apply Catholic principles to market problems and opportunities. A November 26, 2022, Wall Street Journal article by Francis X. Rocca states it this way: “Vatican Tells Catholics How to Make ‘Faith-Consistent’ Investments: New guidelines discourage investment in mining, contraceptives and violent videogames.” A small detail is that the text’s footnotes are found on each page, giving quick access to references.

The bad news? Imagine having Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and his distribution of bread to the masses in lieu of the Gospel running your investment portfolio.

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Consider this summarizing statement from MB 22: 

A synthesis of the Church’s social teaching and tradition is found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church…and in current papal encyclicals and teaching, as well as in the teachings of Episcopal Conferences. CST draws upon the gifts of human reason, including insights from philosophy, economics, ecology, the sciences and politics, etc. Juxtaposed and brought into synthesis with the teachings of faith and theology, these insights contribute to a social doctrine that places the human person at the centre of all world systems of thought and activity.

What is missing? We should ask who is missing—the Lord Jesus Christ. MB in its entirety is deficient in referring to Christ in His sovereignty and salvific mission. CST is redefined and watered down until it is little more than a squishy do-gooder manifesto with only the most tenuous connection to the robust teaching of Leo XIII and other pre-Vatican II popes. But even Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI in his teaching (especially in Caritas in Veritate, which is much-cited in MB) offered much deeper insights into the Gospel and society’s economic activities.

Cardinal Turkson sets the document’s trajectory in his introduction, where he suggests a form of dualism: “The Church’s social teaching is a particular application of this encounter between the light of faith and the light of reason.” He then refers to “dysfunctional social systems” before proceeding to endorse the Holy Father’s agenda: 

But Pope Francis also sees this crisis as an opportunity to look at the future which we can dream about together and to discover values and priorities in the teaching of our faith and its wisdom for building such a future and inspiring our investing with faith-consistent criteria.

Do we really need to “discover” the Catholic truths of twenty centuries? Apparently, some of that discovery has already been done for us. 

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have each added new elements to social teaching to illumine current realities with the light of living faith. Concepts of sustainability, integral ecology, social justice, care for the poor, and care of our common home have been identified as critical points of reference from the Church’s discourses on contemporary issues. All spheres of human activity, including finance, are enmeshed in these issues. (MB 22). 

This is a bait-and-switch, with current concerns substituted for timeless Catholic teaching. Again and again we read about “human development,” “integral human development,” “human dignity,” our “common home,” and “social justice.” When traditional terms are used, they are often utilized in ways that resist traditional hierarchical aspects of the Church and instead—echoing modern ideas like collegiality, active participation, and synodality—focus on horizontal relationships. 

Subsidiarity is much more than simple delegation, which often allows the larger body-politic or corporation to retain power and ultimate control. When delegated-to, persons are accountable to leaders or superiors or managers for outcomes. Solidarity distributes roles and power horizontally, creating mutual accountability from all levels towards the common good. In fact, there is a deep correlation between the moral authority entrusted to leaders and the agency achieved through subsidiarity. Leaders of large organizations give expression to the social possibilities simmering in the common good, and they set vision as well as parameters for governance. (MB 23)

We also get some turgid social-scientific prose like this: 

Measuring dignity or vulnerability is as vexing as formulating definitive metrics for sustainability. However, we know these qualities intimately as human persons—from our own lives and souls. Human common sense, enlivened by sense from faith in the Incarnated Son of God, provides qualitative norms that can effectively anticipate quantitative metrics. (MB 28)

Or this tedious combination of jargon and fluff: 

Investing with the good measures of faith is by definition polyvalent: investing in prayer and reflection; investing in learning, especially from nonfinancial sources; investing in inclusion; investing in listening and dialogue; investing in compassion and understanding for the stranger; and investing in dreams which seem improbable from foresight yet are essential in hindsight. (MB 29)

Why these redefinitions? “Hagan lío” (make a mess) as Pope Francis often says. “The new order Jesus personifies disrupts the human norms for justice and righteousness” (MB 16). Going deeper into the text we run up against what should be intrusive concepts in an ostensibly Catholic document. 

Distributive justice is not charity. It cannot be left only to philanthropy. All involved in governance, especially in politics, but also in all other spheres of society, are charged with contributing to social justice to renew and grow common good. The good measure here involves giving precedence to the disadvantaged—by redistribution—so that everyone is accorded the dignity of being included. (MB 23) 

In addition to redistribution, we get the in-vogue ESG—Environmental, Social, and Governance—(MB 42) and a new environmental awareness: “The environmental sensibilities now inscribed on global consciousness are a social awakening to the long-ago revealed truths about God’s creation in the sacred Scriptures” (MB 23). Added to that are a novel bit of Church teaching on our planet: “The earth is not a dead resource. It is a living organism with untold creatures and materials in constant flow to serve life.” It is easy to guess what comes next…a paean to St. Francis of Assisi, the hippie ecologist.

There are too many examples spread throughout the forty-five pages of Mensuram Bonam. The document rightly notes that “it is often assumed that mixing faith and ethics with investment criteria may compromise returns” (MB 40). Pope Francis has answers, MB’s authors inform us. He “has introduced a methodology for reading the signs of the times that can be also fruitfully applied to the exigencies of faith-consistent investing. His three steps are contemplate, discern, and propose” (MB 33). 

One might wonder: If, in fact, the Holy Father is listening to God’s voice, why is there discerning and proposing but no obedience and action? Or why is “animal abuse/experimentation” included on a list of considerations about “upholding the intrinsic dignity of human life?” Or why, in notes about marriage and contraception, unitive precedes procreative? 

The answer can be found in the very first sentence of Cardinal Turkson’s introduction. “The Council Fathers, at the second session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), gave the Church a mandate to engage with the entire human family, with whom she is connected, in conversation and dialogue about its various problems.” Instead of a godly kingdom destroying hellish enemy hordes, the vision of the Church spread by Vatican II and continued in Mensuram Bonam is instead like that in the classic Charlie Brown animated Christmas special in which Lucy provides advice (a child’s version of psychiatric help) to the public.

Loaf of bread, anybody?

[Photo Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA]

  • Greg Cook

    Greg Cook is a writer living with his wife in New York’s North Country. He earned two master’s degrees, including one in public administration from The Evergreen State College. He is the author of two poetry collections: Against the Alchemists, and A Verse Companion to Romano Guardini’s ‘Sacred Signs’.

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