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 th