Imagine a businessman who owns a chain of department stores that specialises in affordable clothing. He is a practicing Catholic, and he wants to grow in his faith, but he is in clear breach of the Church’s moral law in one respect. All of his garment manufacture is done in a sweatshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he is the only client, and the conditions there are egregiously bad. The workers put in six and a half days a week and are paid a pittance; they effectively live in the factory, eating, washing and even sleeping there, hardly ever getting back to their families and villages; the building is structurally unsound and poorly wired, making it a health hazard of the very worst kind; and there are lots of ten- and eleven-year-old children working there – the same long hours as the adult folk and without any education, playtime, healthcare or family life. It is a hell. It offends against every notion of human dignity and every principle of social justice enunciated by the magisterium since Rerum Novarum. No Catholic has any business supporting it – to say nothing of profiting from it. The case is cut and dried.
So if you have this businessman in your pastoral care, should you just throw the book at him? After all, so long as he knowingly benefits from this outrageous exploitation he is in a sustained state of serious sin – at least as serious as that of the divorced-and-remarried or of unmarried co-habiting couples. Would you tell him not to receive the Eucharist?
At times, perhaps, you might. If he showed complete indifference to the welfare of these workers and no inclination to improve things, you would probably have to confront him harshly with his sin. But – and this is the crux of the matter – you would have to take a good, hard look at the particulars of the case first. Did the man initiate this unjust arrangement himself, or did he merely inherit it? That might make a difference to his culpability. Maybe he’s already shown his willingness to set things right. What if he had already sent a team out to Bangladesh to investigate standards? Good. That suggests some kind of purpose of amendment.
But what if the team came back with a whole set of complications? A developed-world notion of a just wage is simply not a runner. It would upset the local economy and invite in corruption. In any case, paltry as the sweatshop wages are, they are substantially higher than the alternatives available to the poor of southern Bangladesh. And, yes, the conditions in the sweatshop are intolerable, but the manager is one of the better ones, and he has made an honest effort to improve things. He has carried out some structural repairs, has improved ventilation, and has organised more breaks for workers. He’s unable to do any more, however, as he doesn’t have funds to invest in the building, and his first priority has to be meeting the production quotas. As for the children on the payroll, they are mostly the children of women workers who are desperate for them to remain. These women have no-one to mind their kids while they’re at the factory, and besides they need the extra income.
If I were the businessman, I would bar myself from the Eucharist. I would also take 25% of my after taxes profits as a bonus for the manager of the factory, directing him to use the money to modernize and start a daycare for the workers, then with whatever is left, hand out raises. I would also cut my order to help with lowering the quota, which would make my goods more scarce, and allow me to raise prices (because supply/demand always has to be satisfied).
And I want to be in a church that is indeed that strict. Mercy continues to destroy justice. Jesuit mercy, doubly so. If this is an example of Jesuit teaching, then it is little wonder that the words "I am Jesuit Trained" have become synonymous with heresy. It threatens “existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions”.