As a non-Catholic, I’m always a little reluctant to wade into these issues, but this time I can’t help it. Last week, Morgan Stanley introduced a new program aimed at clients who seek to invest in a way consistent with their Catholic values. Apparently, Morgan Stanley believes “the Catholic values space”—there’s a phrase—is a growth market for investment firms. Here is a description of the new program’s goals from ThinkAdvisor, a website for financial advisors:

The company’s Catholic-values program can assist investors who want to invest in firms that support affordable housing, high environmental standards and other constructive policies, according to a press release: “It also provides guidance to investors who seek to avoid companies that engage in discrimination, predatory lending or other activities inconsistent with Catholic values.”

Well, these are certainly praiseworthy values, consistent with Catholic faith. But there’s nothing particularly Catholic about them. If someone told you these were the goals of a new Secular Humanist investment program, it wouldn’t be in the least surprising. And values that would seem distinctively Catholic (though other great religious traditions share them as well) are not on the list. No reference to investing in firms with committed Christian CEOs, for example, or firms with pro-life policies, or firms that promote traditional marriage. Surely such firms are out there, and would be of interest to many Catholic investors.

So here’s my question. Does this rather silly attempt to convert mainstream liberal values into Catholic commitments represent a cynical marketing strategy? Or does it reflect a basic confusion, on the part of Catholics and others, about the distinctive elements of the Catholic faith?

Mark Movsesian is the Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law and the Director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University School of Law. His previous blog posts can be found here.

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