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The Vatican’s new guidelines for ethical investing: A Q&A with Dr. Samuel Gregg

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences new document Mensuram Bonam, says Gregg, the author of The Next American Economy, “represents a significant improvement on previous semi-official Catholic forays into the area of the ethics of investment.”

Dr. Samuel Gregg is the author of several books on economics, culture, and history, including "The Next American Economy" (Encounter Books, 2022).

In his World Youth Day address of 2015, Pope Francis echoed the teaching of Pope Benedict when he posited that “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic act.” With this observation, he set the stage for a newly released Vatican document that calls Catholics to carefully consider the investment choices they make in their lives.

Issued by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the document outlines “faith-based measures for Catholic investors.” Mensuram Bonam (Good Measure), a 46-page guide to making wise and morally acceptable investment choices, urges investors to consider the values delineated in the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching (CST) when choosing a corporation in which to invest.

The document has been in development since 2016, when a working group of about a dozen economists, relying on over 60 experts in various fields related to finance, investment and ethics, crafted the beginning of a Vatican statement. The working group submitted their report in 2020; but publication was delayed until this year when a final revision was completed. The final document Mensuram Bonam is, according to the Foreword, “part of the tradition of Church initiatives seeking to dialogue with the human family about its various experiences and challenges.”

Among the positive criteria outlined by Mensuram Bonam are values such as social justice, respect for the human person, including the weakest among us, and respect for the common good. The statement also encourages investing in corporations which place a high value on preservation of the environment.

Mensuram Bonam also cites 24 exclusionary criteria – factors which make a potential investment unacceptable to faithful investors. These exclusionary criteria fall into four categories:

  1. Intrinsic dignity of human life. In this category are investments which support abortion, armaments, nuclear weapons, capital punishment, contraception, embryo stem cell research, and animal experimentation.
  2. Patterns leading to addiction and abuse. Among these patterns are addictive substances or services, dehumanizing computer games/toys which encourage violence, and pornography.
  3. Global impacts and sustainable development. Areas of concern include breaches of labor law, corruption, discrimination, human rights violations, the overlooked rights of indigenous peoples, totalitarian violence and oppression, and unfair/unethical business practices.
  4. Environmental protection. Included here are investments in stocks supporting climate change, exploitation of the environment, food and agricultural commodities, green/genetic engineering, hazardous chemicals and climate damaging substances, mining and mineral commodities, and clean water.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is a Distinguished Fellow in Political Economy at the American Institute for Economic Research, an affiliate scholar at the Acton Institute, and the author of several books, including The Next American Economy. He talked recently with Catholic World Report regarding Mensuram Bonam.

CWR: The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which released the document last month, had relied on over 60 experts in various fields to craft their statement. In your opinion, how well does Mensuram Bonam articulate Catholic social teaching and theology?

Dr. Samuel Gregg: Mensuram Bonam represents a significant improvement on previous semi-official Catholic forays into the area of the ethics of investment. I’ve always thought that the Chancellor of Pontifical Academies of Sciences and of Social Sciences, Cardinal Peter Turkson, has a much clearer understanding of the particularities of things like business and finance than some of his confreres, and I suspect that this document reflects that.

God, Christ, and the demands of Catholic faith are in the front and center of the analysis of Mensuram Bonam. The document also reflects the input of faithful lay Catholics who understand the world of business and the insights into reality offered by the social science of economics. The first chapter is particularly strong in this area.

That reflects, I imagine, the efforts of working group members involved in the drafting of Mensuram Bonam like Robert G. Kennedy, Pierre de Lauzun, Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu, and Stefano Zamagni, all of whom have written extensively on these matters.

CWR: Is Mensuram Bonam too highly politicized in some areas?

Gregg: The document doesn’t strike me as especially political. Yes, there are the usual invocations of climate change that everyone apparently feels to obliged to echo these days. But even these don’t reflect the alarmist and apocalyptic rhetoric that usually surrounds that subject.

I also liked the fact that the document recognizes that there are limits to what private and institutional investors can know about what is happening in the marketplace at any one time. Such limits don’t let us off the moral hook, but they don’t often get acknowledged in much of the ethical investment literature.

CWR: Do you have any concerns with this document?

Gregg: There are two things about Mensuram Bonam of which I am critical.

One is its approach to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing. The document, albeit with some reservations, sees ways in which Catholic Social Teaching can be integrated into ESG approaches to investment. But in a number of places, I and others have argued that ESG is internally incoherent, is extremely susceptible to various woke agendas (which are usually incompatible with orthodox Catholic ethics), fosters virtue-signaling that often serves to disguise serious wrong-doing inside companies, undermines the legal accountability of directors and managers to shareholders, and tends to result in businesses morphing into an odd and ultimately unsustainable combination of lefty-NGO and commercial enterprise.

There is also growing evidence that the measurement criteria typically employed by ESG funds and approaches are unstable and inconsistent in their application. The Church has, I would argue, very little to learn from ESG because of these and other problems with its genesis, design, and implementation.

My second critical observation concerns the absence of any substantive reference to scholastic thought and reflection on questions of money and investment. Catholic moral theologians wrote extensively about finance, banking, and money between the 12th century and the late seventeenth century, and many of the insights they developed could easily be applied to investment questions today. I would have liked to have seen more of those insights applied and referenced in this text.

CWR: How much of an effect do American business practices, such as ethical investment platforms, influence the global economy? At this point in history, do world nations turn to the United States for leadership in the area of business operations?

Gregg: American business practices, for better or worse, are immensely influential in the global economy. That is partly because of the importance of American business schools, as well as the sheer size of the American economy. Many people come to America to study in American business schools or to work in American companies.

This has its pluses and minuses. America remains the world’s most entrepreneurial nation, for example, and the world needs more entrepreneurship. Others can learn from America in this area. At the same time, much of corporate America—especially large corporations—seem especially in thrall to any number of agendas that promote objectives at odds with Catholic ethics. The “woke-ification” of much of the American business world is a serious problem, and it is seeping into other businesses throughout the world.

CWR: You write in your new book that today, many want the government to play an even greater role in the economy — by means of protectionism, industrial policy, stakeholder capitalism, and quasi-socialist policies. Is that what’s going on here?

Gregg: Stakeholder capitalism, I would argue, reflects long-standing efforts to undermine the legitimate freedom of business, not least by unduly compromising the primary responsibilities of publicly traded companies to their shareholders.

Moreover, there are efforts now to effectively mandate some type of stakeholder understanding of business via government institutions like the Securities and Exchange Commission. Trying to force ESG onto companies forms part of that agenda. It’s one thing for a person to freely choose ESG for themselves. If someone wants to invest in an ESG fund, they are free to do so. But it’s quite another thing trying to force others to do so.

CWR: If you were to list your own personal priorities for ethical investing, are there other considerations which would shape that list?

Gregg: One of the most fundamental features of Catholic moral teaching is that it is never permissible to do evil that good may come of it. There is lots of room to discuss the various goods that investment can realize, but that is for naught if one’s approach to investment is essentially that of a consequentialist.

Hence, rather than adding more specific issues to the list, I think that we need to work to ensure that many more Catholics involved in business and investment are more deeply formed in the Church’s moral teaching – for that is the foundation upon which any Catholic reflection about the rights and wrongs of investment must be built. Mensuram Bonam does a better job at outlining much of this foundation than a good number of other Catholic documents about ethical investment. But I would argue that it could be further enhanced by a more thorough grounding in how Catholics should think about the morality of any freely chosen act.

After all, any investment involves a free choice; and it is in the workings of free choice that we either become virtuous or slip into vice. Here, I would recommend reading some of the cases studies on ethical dilemmas in business that are listed in Volume Three of the late Germain Grisez’s The Way of the Lord Jesus. These case studies are very helpful for understanding what it means to work in business and invest in the marketplace in ways that concord with the demands of faith and reason.

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About Kathy Schiffer 18 Articles
Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.


  1. In 2015 “Pope Francis echoed the teaching of Pope Benedict when he posited that ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic act.’” Also, St. John Paul II: “I am referring to the fact that even the decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always A MORAL AND CULTURAL CHOICE [italics in the original]” (Centesimus Annus, CA, 1991, n. 36).

    When asked whether capitalism should fill the vacuum to be left by the failure of communism, St. John Paul II responded broadly (possibly quoted in Mensuram Bonam?):

    “The answer is obviously complex. If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy,’ ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy.’ But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative” (CA, n. 42).

    Whether “Catholic Social Teaching [CST] can be integrated into ESG approaches to investment” or, instead, whether parts of ESG (e.g., the non-woke) might be integrated into the moral context supplied by CST is a crucial question of initial and accurate framing.

    • At the risk of hogging website/monitor electrons, yours truly invites attention to my final sentence, and to what the cited St. John Paul II intuited in 1991 by “complex.” Three points:

      FIRST, if the member states of the EU adopt all of the wokist-infiltrated ESG (as they have?), does this statist (!) litmus test apply to American companies plus all of their supply-chain members (!), such that trade with Europe might be virtually blacklisted?

      SECOND, regarding the “legal accountability of directors and managers to shareholders,” when does this principle conflict with CST—and the “definite conviction of the primacy of the person over things, and of human labor over capital” (italics, from St. John Paul II Laborem Exercens: “On Human Work”, 1981)? Wage negotiations versus shareholder dividends?
      Thinking here, also and for example, about such subordinate “stakeholders” as very abusive child labor in India for the mining of much of the mica used in our price-conscious cosmetics, electronics (website monitors and electrons!), and the luster of automobile paints, etc. Likewise, probably half of our chocolate originating in handpicked West African cocoa beans.

      THIRD, the Compendium of the CST (2004) unfolds into nine features: first the central Dignity of the Human Person, then Family, Subsidiarity, Solidarity, personal Rights/Responsibilities, informed Conscience/faithful Citizenship, an option for the “poor” (not limited to things material but also, say, today’s deprivation from the truth), care for God’s Creation…and the dignity of Human Work.

  2. Now having read the linked Mensuram Bonam (Good Measure), may I presume to inflict a very few side comments?

    FIRST, bridging between Benedict and Francis, the document urges faith-based investment decisions while, at the same time, giving care to respect that “the Church does not have technical solutions to offer” (attributed to Benedict, but earlier a quote from St. John Paul II and originally from Gaudium et Spes).
    SECOND, the document then is bold enough to plunge into complexities within complexities, all of them interconnected and yet carefully articulated. Almost overwhelming.
    THIRD, however, for a lucid summary table of CST principles and applications, scroll down to pages 23-24; and for a table of additional metrics, scroll down to 35-36.
    FOURTH, at the end and coming up for air, the authors summarize the four messages of CST, engagement, being pro-active, and willingness to learn. Then, the graphic Appendix, pp. 40-41 the basis for the earlier text.
    FIFTH, on content, and only as a preference on ACCENT, yours truly (a) recalls a broader definition of “the poor” (e.g., an address by JP II in Uruguay, March 31, 1987 where he includes this: “that the greatest poverty of all is to be isolated from God […] and therefore “the responsibility of teaching moral and ethical principles…”); (b) a preference for still distinguishing the, yes, interrelated “human ecology” and the “natural ecology” (following JPII in Centesimus Annus) in place of a (possibly too conflated?) “integral ecology”; (c) beyond economics, something about the entangled international debt crisis plus unethical obstructions from politically corrupt regimes; (d) in addition to rejecting abortion et al in the text and tables, to include the full magisterial teaching on moral absolutes vs proportionalism/ consequentialism, as in JP II’s Veritatis Splendor (not excluded, but not fully included as in the bibliography); and (e) a personalist understanding of “dominion” in the Garden, as applying not only to ecological “sustainability” but equally and even firstly to the full flourishing of the transcendent human “person” over the “things” of creation (i.e., JPII’s Laborems Exercens).

    So, these are some lay impressions from the back bleachers, and a recommendation to at least check out the very helpful summary tables on the pages noted above. Excellent material to be further x-rayed and fleshed out by a maybe few Catholic universities in a nearly rootless and post-Land o’ Lakes world.

  3. With apologies to M. Beaulieu, I would emphatically submit that any Vatican document that mentions climate change instantly and completely forfeits all credibility.

    • Or maybe what we have is a genuinely mixed bag of science, politics, and rhetoric.

      Take this, for example: evidence that the earth’s core influences climate on a sixty-year cycle. The rotation of the earth’s core seems to be reversing and could well affect the weather. (NOT actually reversing, but rather the algebraic sum of all the many vortexes in the liquid core):

      As for the added anthropogenic share in the total of what’s happening, we do know from history that–at a local scale–the Dust Bowl (1930–) actually happened. And that a significant cause for that particular event, at least, was soil exhaustion. So, even apart from pointing fingers at smokestacks and tail pipes, the path of preparing for local accommodations (like redundant water supplies in drought regions) seems prudent.

      Maybe…”Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” I do agree that the overlap of history, complex/incomplete science, and slogans with moral theology can be vexing.

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