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The Catholic Faith and Free Markets

A note from Al:

Tim Busch serves the Church in many capacities. He has integrated his faith with his work in the world as attorney, entrepreneuer, lay leader and much more. He, along with Fr. Spitzer, are the founders of the Napa Institute which just finished its fifth annual gathering. At Napa, Catholic leaders, thinkers, activists and educated laity arrive for a week of prayer, worship, conversation and hearing great speakers like Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop Aquila, Bishop Boris Gudziak as well as lay communicators like Scott Hahn, Tim Gray, Ted Sri and dozens of others. Nick and I have been attending from the first and find it to be a rich environment for conversation, ideas, worship and interviews.

Tim recently published this WSJ column on the compatibility of Capitalism and Catholicism within the framework of the moral law. The Church is committed to the poor  as well as the universal distribution of goods, protection and development of private property and freedom, promotion of the common good and the elevation of human dignity.

This was also true in the New Testament. When Paul discusses how the Jerusalem Council okayed the gospel that he and Barnabas had been proclaiming, he added that the apostles in Jerusalem “gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which was the very thing I was eager to do.”

Any Catholic evaluation of economic arrangements must always ask, among other questions, how does this impact the poor. Catholics often use the phrase, “the preferential option for the poor.”  This piece is a good primer.

– Al Kresta


The dean of the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics recently approached me with an idea: A research and educational program focused on the compatibility of capitalism and Catholicism. On Thursday the university announced a $3 million grant to fund this vision.

It makes perfect sense that CUA would want to teach this topic to business leaders. Free markets have liberated more people from poverty than any other force in history. But they must also be buttressed by moral principles, such as those taught in the Catholic Church.

The notion of such compatibility is troubling for some. In 2013, the Charles Koch Foundation pledged grants at CUA’s request for similar studies exploring principled entrepreneurship, which prompted condemnation from a number of Catholic “social justice” groups. Catholic “activists” sent the university a letter alleging that free-market positions “are in direct conflict with traditional Catholic values.”

Catholic University president John Garvey and Business School Dean Andrew Abela responded in these pages by arguing that returning the grant would “stifle debate by pretending that genuinely controversial positions are official church teaching.” Happily, the Charles Koch Foundation is among the supporters of this new program, along with business leaders such as Frank Hanna, Sean Fieler and Michael Millette.

Lest more controversy swirl, it is important to point out that the principles behind this initiative and the principled entrepreneurship program are consistent with Catholic teaching. Consider the seminal text on Catholicism and economics, Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which discusses at length the “rights and duties of capital and labor.”


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