The Church's Economic-Social Teachings

Ronald Rolheiser
Reproduced with Permission

Most of us have been raised to believe that we have right to possess whatever comes to us honestly, either through our own work or through legitimate inheritance. No matter how large that wealth might be, it’s ours as long as we didn’t cheat anyone along the way. By and large, this belief has been enshrined in the laws of democratic countries and we generally believe that it is morally sanctioned by the Christianity.

Partly this is all true, but it needs a lot of qualification. From scripture, through Jesus, through the social teachings of the churches, through papal encyclicals from Leo XIII through John Paul II, the right to private ownership and private wealth is mitigated by a number of moral principles. Let me list a number of those principles (which are taught with the weight of Ordinary Magisterium within Roman Catholicism and the ecclesial equivalent of that in most Protestant churches). For Roman Catholics, I will list the major references to church documents:

The church has history on its side in teaching these principles. The failure of Marxism in Eastern Europe highlights precisely that an attempt to create justice for everyone without sufficiently factoring in the place of private profit and private wealth (not to mention God or love) doesn’t lead to prosperity and justice, just as our present economic crisis highlights that an unregulated profit motive doesn’t lead to prosperity and justice either. There is a middle road, and the Church’s social teachings are that road-map.