Many Catholics today continue to be unaware of a simple sentence in the famous 1986 pastoral letter of the U.S. bishops, “Economic Justice for All,” which proclaimed that economic life is one of the “chief areas where we live out our faith, love our neighbor” and “fulfill God’s creative design.” (#6)
More recently, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI reiterated this same principle in encyclicals. Economic justice, in short, focuses on whether an economy values the dignity inherent in all human beings, meets the basic needs of the whole person – physical, spiritual and intellectual and calls us beyond selfishness to the common good by including full participation and sharing of power.
And Pope Francis I recently stated, “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons.”
In the U.S., we often overlook what our Founders specified in the Declaration of Independence: that people deserve from their society at least three basic rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We understand, therefore, that we share a common obligation to address challenges to these rights through sustained individual, community, business and government engagement.
As Americans living in a free and open society, we have many opportunities to influence public policy regarding economic justice. A good way to start is to reflect on several questions: Does our economic system place more emphasis on maximizing profits than on meeting human needs and fostering human dignity? Does it promote excessive materialism and individualism to the detriment of justice for all and the common good? Does it adequately protect the environment and the nation’s natural resources? Does it do all it can to alleviate poverty?
Internationally, our economic system has disproportionately benefitted large corporations and their shareholders while millions of U.S. laborers, family farmers in the global south and others struggle in poverty. We have allowed a widening gap between rich and poor. Unrestrained capitalism has created systemic inequality both within the U.S. and between industrialized nations and the developing world. The disparities and injustice in this system must be met with policies that promote economic justice and equity, especially policies that enhance the influence of low-income and middle-income people to ensure that the interests of the common good are served.
NETWORK views these and other economic justice issues in the context of the global nature of the world in which we live. Our focus is more strongly domestic (national), but we also work on global issues such as trade justice and peacemaking.
In order to help more people achieve the dignity that is rightfully theirs and to allow every person the opportunity to flourish, NETWORK is pursuing the following economic justice issues:
Each person also has a right to the conditions for living a decent faith life and family life, food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing. We also have a duty to secure and respect these rights not only for ourselves, but for others, and to fulfill our responsibilities to our families, to each other, and to the larger society. -- U.S. Catholic Bishops, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.