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How the Vatican misunderstands finance

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Earlier today, the Vatican released Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones, a statement on “ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system.” The document outlines sound general principles, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg, but also reflects the Church’s present struggle to comprehend modern finance:

Over the past decade, various Vatican offices have produced several documents addressing the vexed topic of finance and banking. Given the turmoil and scandals characterizing the world’s financial sectors over the past two decades, such interventions are to be expected, even welcomed. But while these texts often set out useful principles for approaching this topic, they’ve tended to reflect a selective and, at times, questionable grasp of the subject-matter. This pattern is, alas, replicated in the Church’s latest official statement about the financial sector, this time jointly issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Entitled “Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones [Economic and Monetary Questions]: Considerations for an ethical discernment on certain aspects of the current economic-financial system,” this text is divided into four parts. The first, second, and fourth sections contain what I think is a sound set of criteria for analyzing the morality of finance and financial markets. These are the parts in which the CDF’s imprint upon this document is very obvious.

In the third section, however, the document offers what it calls “Some Clarifications in Today’s Context.” But clarity isn’t the strong point of this section. It muddles some helpful observations with questionable claims about the present state of financial markets, incomplete analyses of particular questions, and truncated discussions of some of the financial sector’s biggest problems.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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