There were no chorus of “Huzzahs!” from American Catholic conservatives for Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”). The Vatican released the document on July 7, 2009 – just a day before the opening of the Group of Eight meeting in Italy and the week of president Obama’s visit with the pope.
In fact, there was very little coverage of it at all in conservative Catholic blogs and websites, except for a few who thought Pope Benedict had been hijacked by the Peace and Justice crowd, and that the liberal media gave short shrift on the pope’s passage on family protection and bioethics. In fact, in this document the pope linked economics to modern cultural issues. And ethics.
The pope used Caritas in Veritate primarily to criticize the current economic system, “where the pernicious effects of sin are evident” he growled. The pope urged financiers in particular to “rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity” and also called for “greater social responsibility” on the part of business. “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.”
“Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise,” Benedict stated. “In the search for solutions to the current crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all.”
John Sniegocki, a professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said one of the most controversial elements of the encyclical, at least for some Americans, would be the call for international institutions to play a role in regulating the economy.
“One of the things he’s saying is that the global economy is escaping the power of individual states to regulate it,” Mr. Sniegocki said. He also said the encyclical also contained elements “very critical” of how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “have required cuts in social spending in the third world.”
Caritas in Veritate has infuriated George Weigel, a conservative Catholic intellectual close to Pope John Paul II. Weigel ventured that this social encyclical is a hybrid, “blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine…There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation–a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work.”
“Indeed,” he goes on, “those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.” (Get it…red marker…commie, pinko, socialist, bleeding heart liberal…sigh.)
Trying to come to terms with this awful document, Weigel opines: “Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain peace within his curial household.”
However, that pat on the head for Pope Benedict doesn’t change anything. In fact, a clue to how he really feels about our unbridled, Bush-era American capitalistic system–and how that opinion is reflect in Caritas in Veritate, came several months before the release of the encyclical during a question-and-answer session with 400 priests ministering in Rome. This session was reported by Zenit, the official Vatican new agency.
A pastor from a poor neighborhood asked how church members could do more to push for a real reform of the global economic system. Pope Benedict said he did not want to give a simplistic answer to a complicated question about the reality of global finance and said that, in fact, the complexity of the current situation is what delayed the publication of his social encyclical, tentatively titled Caritas in Veritate.
On the level of global economic systems, the pope said almost every person in every country is feeling the consequences of “these fundamental errors that have been revealed in the failure of the large American banks; the error at the basis of it is human greed.”
“We must denounce this (system) with courage, but also with concreteness because moralizing will not help if it is not supported by an understanding of reality, which also will help us understand what can be done concretely to change the situation,” he said.
While the global financial system must be reformed, the pope said, individuals also must accept the fact that they will have to make some sacrifices in order to help the poor and move the world toward justice. “Justice cannot be created only with economic reforms, which are necessary, but it also requires the presence of just people,” Benedict said.
Zenit reported that Lesley-Anne Knight, the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic agency “committed to combating dehumanizing poverty that robs people of their dignity and to promoting the rights of the poor,” said in a press release that the encyclical, which reflects on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples”) “highlights how a blind pursuit of profits over ethics had become detrimental to people and the planet.”
Knight continued: “The crisis exposed systemic failures generated by careless speculation for the benefit of a handful of people and at the expense of millions of poor families. But the crisis offers a unique chance to refashion globalization to work for the majority.”
Read Caritas in Veritate here.