Catholic Social Teaching Corner: Caritas in Veritate – Part I

October 31, 2012

Pope Benedict on Globalization, the Environment and, Well, Everything The latest in the series of papal encyclicals that constitute Catholic Social Teaching is 2009’s Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict XVI. It was written in part as an homage to Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, which Benedict considers the second major keystone of social doctrine after Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. (cf. number 8) Pope Benedict’s own take on the social question is soundly within the tradition of his predecessors, yet marked by his own distinctive theological background. Whereas previous teachings had emphasized the distinction of the social order from the theological realm and had invited the participation in the project of social justice of all men of good will, Benedict the theologian and student of St. Augustine insists on the need for Christ and the virtue of charity to make positive change in society. The subtitle for the encyclical is On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth. The theme of development had occupied Populorum Progressio and Pope Benedict wanted to reflect on it and apply its teaching to the current day. “Integral development”, in short, is the answer to the question, “What is the main goal of governments and the world community at large?” It means the advancement of human beings in a multi-faceted way, everywhere and among all the socio-economic strata. It is concerned precisely with current political questions like whether it is better to make the legal and regulatory climate better for businesses or to focus more on helping those who are not sharing in the fruits of the economy. Pope Benedict proclaims anew Paul VI’s cry for the enhancement in the economic situation in the world’s poorest countries but adds an emphasis on the need to buttress human, cultural and religious interests: “God is the guarantor of man’s true development, inasmuch as, having created him in his image, he also establishes the transcendent dignity of men and women and feeds their innate yearning to ‘be more’.”(29) Benedict boils down Catholic social ethics to two foundational themes: justice and the common good. To have a good society is to have a just society, one where people give each other their due. Even the virtue of charity does not obviate the need for justice, for the latter is foundational. One cannot love another person while denying him what he is owed – property, life, reputation, etc. Yet justice, even with love, is insufficient. A good police force alone guaranteeing individual rights, for example, would not create a healthy body politic. There needs to be a concern for the common good. This principle is especially worth repeating in America since our country tends toward individualism and “common good” is almost absent from our political lexicon. To the ideology of unfettered capitalism, the Pope responds: “Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility.” (36) Each social encyclical takes in the “signs of the times” and offers insight into the contemporary world’s situation. For Benedict one important theme is globalization, the “new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production.” (24) Globalization is neither good nor bad morally but simply a new way that production works. However it can have bad consequences, one of which is that wealthy countries disproportionately benefit from it. The solution is subsidiarity, the principle that decision making and participation best happen at the local level. Poor countries with resources should not be exploited but should participate to a deeper extent in the global market. Pointedly, the pope insists that international authority is required for this to happen. (cf. 57) “Love in truth” is a simple formula to guide the Church in its social efforts. We must love all people – individuals, societies, the world as a whole. But love alone is insufficient. Without truth, love is just good wishes, subject to the manipulation of political ideologies. “Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space.” (3) Ultimately love and truth together have a name, Jesus Christ. His presence makes real a just, loving and peaceful society.

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