Expectations from the Next Bishops’ Pastoral

The Next pastoral of the American Bishops will express moral judgments on the socio-economic order. In particular, it will closely study the merits and problems of “Capitalism.” Although it will certainly be easier to confine the content of the pastoral to the socio-political level of analysis, to study the matter at the level of the individual would better meet genuine expectations for pastoral guidance as well as contain genuine opportunities to trigger changes in the American economic system.

It is fair to assume that the pastoral will have, as a central concept, that of justice. Most social ethics studies of the economic order have centered around this concept, whether from a political, ideological or theological view-point. To study justice in this sense is to study a condition of society. It is to study the particular, and most often times present state of implementation of a global and abstract model. Any recommendations for change that such studies may include depend, for their implementation, on having the definition of the model widely accepted. “Capitalism” as a model, does not have a widely accepted and precise definition. Max Weber defined it as the product of the lesser virtues, like thrift and hard work, exercised in particular by Protestants. Karl Marx defined it in purely economic terms and from the narrow perspective of the matter of ownership of means of production. Amintore Fanfani defined it as lust for profit unbridled by moral considerations. Michael Novak has his own definition of Democratic Capitalism. A socio-economic pastoral will undoubtedly rekindle the interest of scholars in defending their own definitions of Capitalism.

Catholic social documents that had a practical impact in the economic sphere addressed specific social problems which were the causes of great injustice and for which Catholics sought moral leadership: the right to unionize, child labor, etc. To be effective, the next pastoral would also need to expound specific teachings on specific economic issues. That is not easy to do when economists themselves are quite unsure of the effectiveness of government interventions to improve the lot of the needy who seem to be squeezed between the cancer of inflation and the tragedy of unemployment. The temptation is to remain general and to denounce globally the whole “Capitalist” system.

But justice is also a moral virtue. If it is moral renewal that is sought, justice-as-virtue is a much more pregnant concept. Instead of a social document ending in moral judgments, what is needed is a moral document with indications of application in the economic sphere. The document could re-emphasize Catholic moral obligations in a general manner, then show how they should more specifically be met by different groups. For example, it could be more specific than previous Church documents in the matter of consumer materialism, perhaps linking the matter to the need for mortification and spiritual renewal.

I hope the pastoral will, in particular, address the virtue of justice in the private business sector. Businessmen and executives have the power to affect the socio-economic order; they are also in more direct contact with the people whose life they can affect. But they are not easily swayed by academic, political or economic, arguments. In addressing them, one needs to relate to the nature of their professional duties. The discipline of “business ethics,” in which I specialize, attempts precisely to study the specific applications of the virtue of justice in management. However, due to the state of confusion in modern-day ethical theories, the discipline is in dire need of guidance. I hope the Bishops will consider drafting a firm and loving pastoral statement dealing with the Catholic doctrine of justice in management.

Justice in management is also a most complex matter. This is why executives and businessmen certainly have great expectations for the next pastoral. They need help and I believe that they are quite receptive to any well-developed and positively-oriented study of the question which can give them practical guidance.

By borrowing some concepts from the Church’s own Doctors, it is possible to build a framework of justice in management. St. Antoninus of Florence, following St. Thomas Aquinas, distinguishes between ‘general justice’ and the two particular justices: ‘commutative justice’ and `distributive justice.’ General justice is the virtue that each individual should exercise towards the whole of society; com-mutative justice is to be between individuals; distributive justice is the justice which society should render to individuals. These are the well-known three types of justice. Justice in management needs these three types and needs to go further in making distinctions.

If we consider that commutative justice is bi-directional, we can translate the three types into four oriented `vectors’ of justice. Let us consider what they mean at this point. Take an executive dealing with an employee in a specific situation: Is he under the precepts of distributive justice (is he implementing corporate policy?) or under those of commutative justice (is he acting as another individual employee?). The executive must decide the question, in view of the situation, for himself. The employee must also decide for himself from his viewpoint. There will be conflict within each individual when they ponder on the question. After reflection, the executive and the employee may disagree with one another’s conclusions of the types of justice involved. This is the source of conflict between individuals. There is in addition to this conflict the possible conflict over the question of remedies. Further, in real life situations, chances are that both types of justice are involved in the same situation (the executive is both acting as a representative of the corporation and as an individual employee): it is for him both a matter of distributive justice and of commutative justice. Conversely, for the employee it is both a matter of general justice and of commutative justice. How are both types of justice to be articulated when they are simultaneous in a specific situation?

The corporate decision-maker is more typically con-fronted with many more than four vectors. If we consider that a corporation is a whole for individual employees, but also an individual within the larger social context where other organizations are also individuals, the number of vectors increases dramatically. There are vectors going to individual people within other organizations (e.g. hiring away a competitor’s top employees), vectors going from the general society down to the employees of the corporation (e.g. employment laws), across two levels, vectors going back and forth to individuals in the general public, etc. I have counted 32 different vectors, all proto-typical of the different types of relationships in the managerial order which fall under different precepts of justice.

The 32 vectors of relationships are distinguished only according to precepts of justice, not of managerial functions. Any one of these relationships may be further subdivided according to whether the relationship is in matters of buyer-seller relationship, the management of production, personnel relations, etc. In addition, in the international business sphere, the national society is within the global society, adding a third level of analysis and multiplying the vectors again probably by a factor of ten (I do not have the courage to count). The total complexity increases exponentially.

The above, I hope, suggests how an over-simplification of justice-as-virtue in management can be unfair to decision-makers in the private sector. An over-simplification, consequently, takes the risk of making the study which contains it lose its credibility. For these two reasons I am looking forward to a good exposition on these difficulties of justice in management in the next pastoral.

Justice-as-virtue also begs the question of the other moral virtues. In the patristic tradition, especially of St. Augustine, the four cardinal virtues are treated as different elements of the true Virtue. This means particularly that no justice is true unless prudent, strong and temperate. Does not fostering justice in management require that business executives be also taught the virtue of courage, as in decision-making under uncertainty or in the launching of new ventures to avoid the morass of the bureaucratic mentality? They would seem to be entitled to expect pastoral advice on how to be prudent, strong and temperate in corporate settings, if they are to be truly just.

Justice-as-virtue also begs the question of the theological virtues. Catholic business executives can expect to be told how corporate justice can be ordered to the virtues of hope, faith and charity, so as to gain life everlasting. I sincerely pray that the next pastoral will fulfill, with superabundance, these legitimate expectations.


  • Jean-Francois Orsini

    At the time this article was written, Orsini was doing doctoral work at The Wharton School.

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