Thursday, July 9, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

I am usually somewhat repelled when Pope Benedict XVI makes an official statement, but I am intrigued by the new encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) recently released. In it, he basically softens anti-abortion language and calls for more socialized programs (medical, etc.) and redistribution of wealth. Someone has been reading the Gospel of Luke!

There are some responses to it here and here.

Here are some snippets of comments from Thomas Reese, S.J. (the first link above):

Pope Benedict's long awaited encyclical calls for a radical rethinking of economics so that it is guided not simply by profits but by "an ethics which is people-centered."

"Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end," he writes in Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), but "once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty."


Sounding like a union organizer, Benedict argues that "Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country's international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development."

Rather the goal should be decent employment for everyone, which "means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labor; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one's roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living."

The pope disagrees with those who believe that the economy should be free of government regulation. "The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from 'influences' of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way," he writes. "In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise."


While Benedict acknowledges the role of the market, he emphasizes that "the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy." He unflinchingly supports the "redistribution of wealth" when he talks about the role of government. "Grave imbalances are produced," he writes, "when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution."

Although Benedict's emphasis in the encyclical is on the theological foundations of Catholic social teaching, amid the dense prose there are indications, as shown above, that he is to the left of almost every politician in America. What politician would casually refer to "redistribution of wealth" or talk of international governing bodies to regulate the economy? Who would call for increasing the percentage of GDP devoted to foreign aid? Who would call for the adoption of "new life-styles 'in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments'"?

Has B16 moved left in response to the economic crisis? Or has he always promoted such redistributive economic policies?

On the issue of abortion, Anthony Stevens-Arroyo notes:

Caritas in Veritate makes two assertions that will limit its appeal to Catholic America. First, the issue of abortion is made one of many and removed from the center stage of political issues. The pope sidesteps the argument that the primary political concern of Catholicism is to abolish abortion. This will surprise folks outside the Church who have caricatured Catholicism as a Johnny-one-note on political issues. More importantly, this papal encyclical will disappoint the American Catholics - laity and clergy alike -- who have considered abortion as the intrinsic evil that compels all the church's political attention.

I am not suggesting that the encyclical revokes Catholic opposition to abortion (see #28). However, the pontiff contextualizes pro-life teaching by calling for remedies to the socio-economic causes of abortion, and much of the encyclical is dedicated to various aspects of how to end poverty and uplift the world's population with ample food, clean water, educational opportunities and the like (#43-51). Catholic Democrats will rightly consider this papal document to legitimize their alternative approach to Pro-life politics over the abortion-only policies that sounded very "Republican Party." Thus, the current divide in Catholic America will not be bridged with this instruction from Benedict XVI. In fact, the pope gives ammunition to the pro-life Democrats in their effort to reduce the number of abortions by addressing larger social issues.

Arroyo is rather pessimistic about the new encyclical flying in Catholic America (symbolized by Peoria--I have a lot of friends in Peoria!), but summarizes it as follows:

The pope says governments should redistribute wealth to sustain domestic social services and whenever granting international aid. Unions are to be encouraged (#22, 25), immigrant workers are to be respected (#25), and the profit motive must be subordinated to morality and social justice (#35-37). The redistribution of wealth and energy with emphasis upon the quality of life fits the European context of a mostly Socialist economy better than the current economic structures of the United States. The culprits in a global economy, according to the pope are Capitalism and secularism (#37-38).

This might be one of the few times I am drawn into agreement with the current pope on something.

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