William Schmitt
Freelance Writer
February 22, 2018 // Local

Business and faith work together for society, says ethics expert

William Schmitt
Freelance Writer

“It’s really important not to give in to the pressures to keep religion out of business,” said Andrew Abela, Ph.D., provost at The Catholic University of America, as he explored faith and the corporate world in his Servus Omnium lecture Feb. 13. The lecture is a signature event hosted annually by the University of Saint Francis in downtown Fort Wayne.

Christ’s loving presence in every circumstance of life means “all of our work, everything we do,” should help build up society, Abela said, speaking as a scholar of business ethics and co-editor of “A Catechism for Business.” He applied Catholic social teaching as a guide for business decisions made not merely to capture wealth, but to optimize the good for oneself and all stakeholders.

Dr. Andrew Abela, provost at The Catholic University of America, addresses University of Saint Francis, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and local community and business leaders Feb. 13 at the USF Servus Omnium lecture. Abela spoke on the arguments for incorporating Catholic social teaching into business practices. — Stephanie Patka

Such an approach is impossible without faith and Christ’s grace because original sin yields self-centered decisions. Social norms push us “to keep religion at arm’s length.” But “religion is the source of morality,” he said, so we must uphold its influence in the workplace, while respecting legal considerations and avoiding unjust discrimination. The goal is to foster better employers, employees, products and services.

“You’re not pressuring anybody. You’re just arguing for the freedom to be the best person you can be, and for everyone on the planet. Loving God makes them the best person they can be.” Noting that “modern ethics has no way to justify morality” without an appeal to faith in God, Abela cautioned against the often-heard stance that proved unsuccessful in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 deliberations in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, regarding employer mandates in health care reform.

Before the justices decided in favor of Hobby Lobby in that religious liberty case, lawyers arguing against the employer claimed business exists solely to maximize profits. “That’s completely absurd,” Abela said, noting the employer-mandate advocates were “telling business not to have a social conscience.”

Abela’s lecture was part of an annual USF series named for the Latin phrase, “Servus Omnium,” or “servant of all,” taken from a letter in which St. Francis of Assisi wrote, “Being the servant of all, I am bound to serve all and to administer the balm-bearing words of my Lord.”

The USF lecture series draws hundreds of people every year, including leaders from the diocese and the region, as well as the university and its founders, the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, who promote the school’s Franciscan values.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades opened the 7 a.m. event with a prayer invoking God’s blessings on The Catholic University of America and the University of Saint Francis “in their noble mission as institutions born from the heart of the Church.”

Abela praised the doctrines of Catholic social teaching as a source of wisdom he discovered during and after his pre-academic career in executive posts in marketing and management consulting. He left the corporate world to earn a Ph.D. in marketing and ethics and later joined The Catholic University of America.

He said Catholic social teaching, relevant to all walks of life, teaches that businesses should offer products and services that advance beauty, truth and goodness. Also, businesses should do everything possible to pay employees a just wage, supporting a decent life for the employee’s family, above the subsistence level. He acknowledged that the exigencies of the marketplace may not always make this an easy goal, but one avenue is to give employees development opportunities that raise their skills and productivity to result in a higher wage.

Catholic social teaching also supports the acquisition of private property but requires that it be used to support one’s family and the broader society, Abela said. That accountability includes charitable use of one’s wealth, as well as investments that bear good fruit, including higher employment.

Citing human nature’s imperfection and reliance on trust in Christ’s grace, Abela said business decision-makers will face differing prospects of success. But the key is to persevere toward the goals of Catholic social teaching with a people-centered, rather than profit-centered, approach to business. This pursuit can result in earthly success, as well as a deepening relationship with Christ in all circumstances.

“Doing good and doing well tend to go together,” he said.

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