After reading Economic Justice for All, reflect on the following questions and consider posting your responses on our blog to engage with others in this very important conversation. Click the title to download a .pdf of the reading selection.
Chapter 5: A Commitment to the Future
A Decade After “Economic Justice for All:” Continuing Principles, Changing Context, New Challenges
1. The bishops call the laity to holiness in the world, in the family, in the community, in friendships, in work, in leisure, and in citizenship. They emphasize the laity’s vocation to bring the light of the Gospel to economic affairs. Discuss how the biblical and ethical vision of justice and love influences your way of life. In what ways is economic life an important arena in the search for holiness?
2. The bishops suggest that being a disciple of Christ may demand being countercultural. In what ways is Catholic teaching on social ethics, on economic justice, and on materialism a countercultural message?
3. The bishops end their letter with a call to continued reflection and action. How can you, your family, and your parish continue to learn more about Catholic social teaching and its implications for economic life? What immediate steps can you take in your own life, within your family, and in your community to promote greater economic justice?
Introduction & Chapter 1: The Church and the Future of the U.S. Economy –
1. The pastoral letter begins by saying that "Every perspective on economic life that is human, moral, and Christian must be shaped by three questions: What does the economy do for people? What does it do to people? And how do people participate in it?"
In what ways do you see the economy helping or hurting people in your own life? In our community? In the nation? In the world?
2. The bishops say that "The fundamental moral criterion for all economic decisions, policies, and institutions is this: They must be at the service of all people, especially the poor." Who are the poor and vulnerable in your community? How are they served or not served, by the economy?
3. The bishops say, "Sustaining a common culture and a common commitment to moral values is not easy in our world . . . Strengthening common moral vision is essential if the economy is to serve all people more fairly." How would you describe the "common moral vision" that the bishops call for? What elements of our culture and our society hinder or enhance the development of that moral vision?
Chapter 2: The Christian Vision of Economic Life –
1. In the pastoral letter, we read, “Creation is a gift; men and women are to be faithful stewards in caring for the earth. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator’s work.” In your own work, how do you see yourself as helping to “unfold” the gift of creation? What are some of the economic factors in today’s society that either enhance or betray this “gift of creation”? What did the early church writers mean when they said that “whatever belongs to God belongs to all”?
2. The bishops propose an ethical framework for guiding economic life today. They describe the duties we have to one another and to the community as a whole, the human rights of every person, and several priorities that should guide economic choices. What are some of these duties? What constitutes basic human rights? Why are economic rights important for the protection of human dignity? How are they different from civil and political rights? What are some contemporary examples of human rights violations?
3. What is meant by the term “social sin”? In what sense do our moral obligations extend beyond personal responsibilities to social realities?
4. The bishops say, “It is in their daily work . . . that persons become the subjects and creators of the economic life of the nation. Thus, it is primarily through their daily labor that people make their most important contributions to economic justice.” What implications does this have for your own life?
Chapter 3A Selected Economic Policy Issues – Employment
1. The pastoral letter says that the most urgent priority for domestic economic policy is the creation of new jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions. Why is full employment such an important goal? What are some of the social and human costs of unemployment as evidenced in your community? How can the private and public sectors work together to reduce unemployment? What programs are in place in your community to assist the unemployed and to provide job training and job creation?
2. In addition to the specific issues treated in the pastoral letter, the bishops urge continuing exploration of important questions concerning our economic system and the values it expresses. For example, does our economic system place more emphasis on maximizing profits than on meeting human needs and fostering human dignity? Does our economy distribute its benefits equitably or does it concentrate power and resources in the hands of a few? Does it promote excessive materialism and individualism? Does it direct too many scarce resources to military purposes?
Chapter 3B Selected Economic Policy Issues – Poverty
US Poverty - Issue Brief 2014 (US Department of Health & Human Services)
The War on Poverty (US News & World Report)
Who's poor in America? (Pew Research Center)
1. While lower than what it was in 1964 (19%), when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, the current poverty rate (14.5%) is significantly higher than it was at its lowest point in 1973 (11.1%). What do you think is the cause for the lack of progress in reducing poverty in the United States?
2. Why are some groups – racial minorities, children, female-headed families – especially hard-hit by poverty?
3. What myths and misconceptions about the poor have you witnessed in your community?
4. What can be done in your parish to assist the poor?
5. How can you enable the poor to help themselves?
6. How can you address the deeper causes of poverty through public advocacy and through the political process
Chapter 3C: Selected Economic Policy Issues – Food and Agriculture
Supplemental Readings & Resources:
Faith, Food & the Environment Symposium - highlights from the Catholic Rural Life symposium held in November 2014 on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, explores current day issues regarding food and agriculture.
Catholic Rural Life - a national, Catholic nonprofit organization dedicated to the vitality of the American countryside since 1923. While the issues that affect rural communities have changed over the decades, CRL continues to advance their mission through three distinct but inter-related Areas of Impact:
Discuss the agricultural crisis facing American farmers today in light of the historical context the bishops present in their overview, along with the issues identified by CRL:
1. How does the farm crisis affect the entire economy and the society?
2. What are some of the “external” factors that continue to aggravate the current farming situation?
3. What action can your community/parish take to ease the plight of American farmers?
Chapter 3D: Selected Economic Policy Issues – The U.S. Economy and the Developing Nations: Complexity, Challenge, and Choices
Supplemental Readings & Resources:
Caritas Internationalis is the global confederation of over 160 national Catholic charities, serving all poor people, of all faiths, all over the world. Caritas North America consists of three organizations from the United States and Canada: Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and Development and Peace Canada.
In 2000, the world came together to make its biggest promise ever – to build a better world for humanity by 2015. The Millennium Declaration was a milestone in cooperation, committing the 189 member states of the United Nations to ambitious but achievable targets. Caritas Internationalis made a promise and a deep moral commitment to work on behalf of Catholics worldwide to meet the Millennium Development Goals. As a result, the lives of millions of people around the world have already improved. Plans are currently under way to develop new goals to be met by 2030. Check out the following for more information:
Caritas Voices Against Poverty - a website with a wealth of information
Caritas Voices Against Poverty: Action Overview - ideas for taking action
Millennium Development Goals: 2014 Progress Chart (United Nations, 2014)
The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet (United Nations, 2014)
1. The bishops speak of global interdependence and describe “the scandal of the shocking inequality between the rich and the poor” in the world. In what ways is global interdependence increasingly evident in our world?
2. How do problems such as Third World debt, famine and starvation, and ecological neglect affect us as Americans?
What personal and social actions can Americans take to assist the poor of the Third World? Why is such action in our own interest?
3. The bishops point out that many of the reforms suggested in this chapter would be expensive. They conclude by saying “the question is not whether the United States can provide the necessary funds to meet our social needs, but whether we have the political will to do so.” What do you think it will take for the United States to muster the necessary political will to implement some of the proposals the bishops recommend?
Chapter 4: A New American Experiment: Partnership for the Public Good
Supplemental Readings & Resources:
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States
Basic Principles of Catholic Mission as They Are Applied by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development
Partnerships for the Common Good: A Partnership Guide For Faith-Based and Neighborhood Organizations (to learn more about the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ofbnp
You may also want to take a look at Common Good, a nonpartisan reform coalition that offers Americans new ways to look at law and government. Its mission is to overhaul governmental and legal systems in order to allow people to make sensible choices and to simplify government so that it will cut budget deficits and create more jobs in our economy.
1. Over two hundred years ago, the founding fathers launched the “American Experiment.” Now, the bishops are calling for a “New American Experiment.” What do they mean by this term? How can you contribute to this “New American Experiment” as a member of a family? As a member of a community? As a member of a local church? As a member of the workforce? As a voting member of a democracy? As a taxpayer? As a member of the international community?
2. The bishops urge continued experimentation with new ways of developing cooperation and partnership in firms and industries (e.g., profit sharing, employees as company shareholders, greater participation of employees in determining working conditions, and cooperative ownership). What benefits do workers, managers, and owners gain from such arrangements? How do they benefit society?
3. The bishops also call for increased cooperative efforts at the local, regional, national, and international levels. Do you know of organizations or programs that exemplify the kind of cooperation and partnership called for by the bishops? How would you rate the company you work for in terms of the criteria of participation and cooperation?