On November 25, 2022, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences published a document, entitled Mensuram bonam (1), explicitly translating for the first time the principles of action of the Catholic faith into 24 exclusion criteria for investors in the financial markets.
At first glance, in addition to the fact that the authors of the document often justify their exclusions without always referring precisely to the magisterial corpus, we note that certain categories are debatable both in form and in substance. On the form, given the hierarchy between the texts, how can one fail to notice that the prohibition of nuclear weapons is based on a simple message from the Holy Father to the participants of a meeting, and that of mines and mineral raw materials, on an equally simple message from Cardinal Turkson to seminar participants.
Arms trade and the death penalty
On the merits, one could oppose the unlimited restriction of the arms trade with the Compendium of the social doctrine of the Church, which lays down “the principle of sufficiency, by virtue of which a State can possess only the means necessary for its self-defence , (principle which) must be applied both by the States which purchase arms and by those which produce and supply them” (n. 508). In terms of armaments, the Conference of Bishops of France is thus content to advocate the simple respect of international conventions (2).
Similarly, with regard to the death penalty, if the conviction of the Church seems accomplished, its translation into the texts is not yet completely so. The Compendium thus specifies that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if the latter proves to be the only practicable way in the effective defense of the life of human beings in the face of ‘unjust aggressor’ (n. 405).
What about “Laudato si”?
Moreover, it is also surprising that CSR themes such as the exclusion of fossil fuels, support for renewable energies or the non-integration of disabled people are absent. The encyclical Laudato si’, however, specifies that “technology based on highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser extent, gas – needs to be replaced, gradually and without delay”. (no. 165).
Similarly, Pope Francis said on June 14, 2019 that “there is an urgent need to develop policies in order to (replace) fossil fuels with renewable energy sources”. Finally, the Compendium states that “persons with disabilities are fully human subjects, holders of rights and duties (and must) be helped to participate in family and social life in all its dimensions and at all levels accessible to (their) possibilities” (n. 148).
Americans have other criteria
Finally, how not to note that the American bishops carried out a similar exercise in November 2021 (3) and, if they too arrived at 24 exclusion criteria, they are not the same… They do not exclude not explicitly include investments in companies or organizations involved directly or indirectly in the death penalty, abuse or experimentation on animals, dehumanizing computer games and toys, corruption, violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, genetic manipulations (GMOs), or having relations with totalitarian regimes, unfair commercial practices, even producing or marketing dangerous chemical products or mineral raw materials and not promoting the diet of the most vulnerable.
Is Christian ethics variable geometry? Would the USCCB have considered the political weight of the 26 federated states that still practice the death penalty or the economic weight of certain sectors (agri-food, mining and metals, entertainment, fertilizers and pesticides, etc.)? We have known since Bernard de Mandeville and his Fable of the Bees (1714) that “vice is as necessary in a flourishing state as hunger is necessary to force us to eat”.
In vitro fertilization, human cloning…
It can also be noted that, on the contrary, the USCCB document explicitly opposes in vitro fertilization, human cloning, the inaccessibility of certain drugs or vaccines, human trafficking and forced labor, to the denial of sexual identity, to that of marriage or traditional sexuality, to the media that do not promote human dignity, to the adversaries of CSR, to the financial institutions that are not inclusive, to those that do not practically invest impact, and tech companies that do not promote human dignity. Does this mean that the Vatican considers these activities to be consistent with the Catholic faith?
This simple question shows how dangerous it is to enter into a logic of exclusion: we know where to start, but we don’t know where to stop. Defining socially responsible investment (SRI) as an inner ethic, as Caritas in veritate does (n. 45), is however not to suggest that it is an objective list of responsibilities established by society, from the outside, therefore from a moralism (4).
Engage before excluding
Even if Mensuram bonam reverses the criteria of discernment of the USCCB by calling to first engage and improve before excluding, one will consequently regret that, under the pretext that “the Church has no technical solutions to to propose”, it does not take sides between the three underlying ethics, namely the ethics of principles which seeks to combat evil (exclude), the ethics of consequences which privileges best practices (improve) and the ethics virtues that aims for the greatest social or environmental impact (commitment). A priori, only the latter leads to the achievement of the human telos, namely a happy life for one’s own account, and for others.
CSR professionals, including the author of these lines, are well aware that their discipline is still a science in its infancy, as was, for example, medicine in the time of Molière, but is this a reason for to treat all the current ills of society by bleeding, purging and enemas? Like Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice, we tend to interpret the law: a pound of flesh, yes! but not a drop of blood!
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