Category: Vatican

My commentary on the new social encyclical appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here is the full text:

In his much anticipated third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI does not focus on specific systems of economics — he is not attempting to shore up anyone’s political agenda. He is rather concerned with morality and the theological foundation of culture. The context is of course a global economic crisis — a crisis that’s taken place in a moral vacuum, where the love of truth has been abandoned in favor of a crude materialism. The pope urges that this crisis become “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.”

Yet his encyclical contains no talk of seeking a third way between markets and socialism. Words like greed and capitalism make no appearance here, despite press headlines following the publication of the encyclical earlier this week. People seeking a blueprint for the political restructuring of the world economy won’t find it here. But if they look to this document as a means for the moral reconstruction of the world’s cultures and societies, which in turn influence economic events, they will find much to reflect upon.

Caritas in Veritate is an eloquent restatement of old truths casually dismissed in modern times. The pope is pointing to a path neglected in all the talk of economic stimulus, namely a global embrace of truth-filled charity.

Benedict rightly attributes the crisis itself to “badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing.” But he resists the current fashion of blaming all existing world problems on the market economy. “The Church,” he writes, “has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society.” Further: “Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations.”

The market is rather shaped by culture. “Economy and finance . . . can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.” (more…)

As one would expect with an encyclical from Benedict XVI, its strength lies in its use of theology to re-orientate Catholics and other Christians away from thinking in a merely secular — and sometimes hyper-politicized way — about questions such as economic and political questions.

The Christian understanding of truth and love and Catholicism’s careful integration of these theological and moral realities lifts us up and out of what the Pope calls the false ideologies and utopias that disfigure our minds and actions. Though they are mentioned sparingly, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas are clearly two of the major influences upon the theology informing this text, alongside sacred Scripture.

In these respects, Benedict XVI is being faithful to his theological method of “ressourcement,” pioneered by figures such as Henri de Lubac, S.J., which involves renewing the Church through returning to the primary sources of Christian inspiration. This helps to explain, for instance, the language of gift that permeates the encyclical and reminds us that the model of Christ the Son as God the Father’s gift to us has implications for economic and political life.

Obviously, there will be intense debate about some of the prudential judgments about questions of economic policy expressed in “Caritas in Veritate.” Here we find an element of “on the one hand this, on the other hand that,” which is not always coherent. I would also suggest that the often-negative relationship between extensive wealth-redistribution and the prior necessity of wealth-creation have not been sufficiently considered.

Concerning the global economy, there is nothing new about the encyclical’s reference to a world political authority from the standpoint of Catholic social teaching. In fact, some argue that it represents a logical extension of natural law reasoning about the political order.

The problem is how a world authority could possibly manage the global economy — i.e., billions of economic choices by billions of people and institutions on a daily basis. The principle of subsidiarity provides us with some guidance, but the encyclical may underestimate the tendency of state and international bureaucracies to pursue agendas that have everything to do with their own interests and nothing to do with the poor.

Of course, there are many economic and cultural observations in the encyclical that bear repeating. Benedict XVI’s dismissal of dependency theory as ” erroneous,” his warning against protectionism, and his affirmation that it is people rather than the market economy per se that creates economic evils should be welcomed as helpful correctives to particular ideas that often prevail among social justice activists.

Above all, the insistence upon permeating commercial and economic life with Christian truth — especially moral truth — and Christian love represents a bold challenge for us to apply the Catholic faith to every aspect of our economic lives.

In this regard, Benedict XVI is neither an anarcho-capitalist from the pages of “Atlas Shrugged,” nor a socialist straight out of “Das Kapital.” He is nothing more and nothing less than a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Published July 9 on Zenit
, the Catholic news agency.

As the squabbling continues over the at-times contradictory policy-suggestions contained in Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, there’s a risk that the deeper – and more important – theological themes of the text will be overlooked. It’s also possible some of the wider implications for the Catholic Church’s own self-understanding and the way it consequently approaches questions of justice will be neglected.

For historical perspective, we should recall that before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council there was – and remains – an intense theological debate within the Catholic Church about, firstly, how it renews itself in order to spread the Good News contained in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ more efficaciously; and secondly, what this means for the Church’s engagement with modernity.

Putting the matter somewhat simplistically, one group of twentieth-century Catholic theologians – including Henri de Lubac, S.J., Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou, S.J., and Jorge Medina Estévez – maintained that the Church could only authentically renew itself by going back to the basic sources of Christian inspiration: most notably the Sacred Scriptures, Tradition, and the Church Fathers. It was on this basis that they thought the Church should speak to the modern world about, for example, justice issues. They were certainly not disinterested in the insights offered, for example, by modern sciences such as physics or economics. They were, however, convinced that unless the Catholic Church spoke in distinctly Christian terms, the uniqueness of Christ’s message was bound to be lost.

Another cluster of theologians, however, had a different starting-point. They argued that Church renewal meant looking to the modern world for guidance. It included figures such as Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., and Hans Küng. On one level, they were concerned with making the Christian message comprehensible to self-consciously “modern” people. But most eventually went further and argued that the modern world itself contained the hermeneutic for how Christians should engage the earthly city, and even defined what it meant to be Christian.

The problem with the second approach is that it quickly degenerates into a set of circular propositions such as the following: the modern world (as defined by, for example, Hans Küng) says that equality à la John Rawls or Karl Marx is the content of justice; the modern world defines Christian self-understanding; therefore the Christian concern for justice should be Rawlsian or Marxist in nature.

In this schema of reasoning, there’s no obvious way of testing whether a particular modern proposition accords with Divine Revelation because the modern world itself is regarded as somehow summarizing the content of Revelation. In effect, whatever is considered to be modern – and whoever sets himself up as defining the content of modernity – becomes the arbiter of what is and is not Christian. (more…)

A round up of commentary on the new encyclical was published yesterday on the Web site of Catholic World Report. CWR asked “a group of leading Catholic intellectuals to reflect on the encyclical, its place in the larger body of Catholic social teaching, and Pope Benedict’s vision of a well-ordered and just society.” Those who contributed included J. Brian Benestad, Francis J. Beckwith, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., Richard Garnett, Thomas S. Hibbs, Paul Kengor, George Neumayr, Tracey Rowland, Father James V. Schall, and Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Here’s what Rev. Sirico had to say:

In the first social encyclical of his pontificate, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI insists on a close relationship between morality and the economy in order to promote a “holistic understanding and a new humanistic synthesis.” This new document is focused not on specific systems of economics but rather on areas of morality and the theological underpinnings of culture.

The background for this new encyclical is the global economic crisis that has taken place within a moral vacuum bare of truth and rampant with materialism. While the Pope does not offer any detailed analysis of the cause or solution to the crisis, he nonetheless urges that the crisis become “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future” (no. 21).

Never employing either the word “greed” or “capitalism” in the over 30,000 word document (despite some media hype), the crisis itself he attributes to “badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing” without naming the specific institutions that made this possible. The market, Benedict says, “is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends.”

Those who prophesied that this would be Benedict’s opportunity to “overthrow” capitalism, or that conservatives would be “shocked and disappointed,” must themselves be rather sad today. While it is explicitly not the purpose of the document to offer strict structural models that nations should adopt (no. 9), the principle of subsidiarity—which prefers proximate and private action of the state—a preference for trade over government-to-government aid for developing countries, and a rightly understood globalization are all affirmed.

This is a complex and rich document that will require much study and thought in the years ahead. What is clear and non-negotiable from Benedict’s perspective is that to understand the challenges facing the world economy it is first necessary to understand the august nature of the human person who must always be at the center of economic decisions. Caritas in Veritate enables us to see, at a new depth, the way in which the whole of the human reality must be taken into consideration in order to construct social institutions worthy of man.

One of Pope Benedict XVI’s great emphases in his new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is the idea of gift. A gift is something that we have received without earning. As the Pope wisely notes, “The human being is made for gift,” even though man is often “wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society.”

The truth is that we are not the authors of our own lives. We did not earn or create the conditions that make our lives what they are. We did not merit our genetic code, and we are not worthy of the parents that we had growing up. Neither do we have ourselves to thank for our societies and the opportunities that they hold. To some degree, hard work, creativity, and self-cultivation can enable us to better ourselves and our lives. That this is even the case is not because of our own efforts, though. We are not the reason that merit can lead to success.

We live lives gifted to us in a world gifted to us by God. God is not random, and He has reasons for giving each of us the gifts that He has. We do not by any means know what those reasons are much of the time, but we can use our reason to search for them. Reason shows us that we as humans are social beings, meant to live in coexistence with one another and to seek the common good and the wellbeing of everyone. The gift of our lives and our own particular gifts are meant to benefit the whole of humanity and not just ourselves. As Caritas in Veritate puts it, gift “takes first place in our souls as a sign of God’s presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us.” Gift, then, is the basis for duty. We have not earned what we have and are or the world in which we live; therefore, we do not have license or entitlement over our gifts. We have duties to use them for the common good.

What, then, is the best way to organize society such that the gifts given to each are used for the benefit of all? One possibility is to empower a central authority to identify the gifts of each person, then to have that authority determine how we are to use our gifts. This is the totalitarian tendency, the desire for an authority to have total control over the resources gifted to persons and to all people. (more…)

Throughout Caritas in Veritate there is a strong message to help the poor.  This is an age old belief held by many.  It can be found throughout the Bible and is preached by Christians and members of differing faiths.

What was interesting and refreshing to hear in this new encyclical was how Pope Benedict XVI renewed this call for helping the poor.  What has become the common theme presently is to provide aid to poor countries that gets funneled directly to the government.  It is then left to the decisions of the governments of the poor countries to determine how to spend the aid.  Unfortunately, too many governments of poor countries are corrupt and tyrannical, and they use the aid in inappropriate ways that does not help provide aid to the poor of their country.

Pope Benedict seemed to not only understand but acknowledge this in Caritas in Veritate by recommending that the people receiving the aid should have direct influence on how the aid is used.  Those receiving the aid know better than their government where the aid is most needed and how to put it to the greatest use possible:

Social concern must never be an abstract attitude. Development programmes, if they are to be adapted to individual situations, need to be flexible; and the people who benefit from them ought to be directly involved in their planning and implementation. The criteria to be applied should aspire towards incremental development in a context of solidarity — with careful monitoring of results — inasmuch as there are no universally valid solutions. Much depends on the way programmes are managed in practice.

Furthermore, Pope Benedict carefully iterates in section 58 that the aid should be used to improve the lives and conditions of those that receive it.  The aid should not come with strings attached that keep those who receive it locked into a state of dependence or exploitation with the donors.  Instead the aid should liberate people from the state of poverty that they are currently in and provide them with opportunities to work and provide for themselves.

Too provide such aid Pope Benedict calls for us and for countries to look within and cut waste.  Once that waste is cut, people and countries should be able provide more aid to those who need it.  As we’re reminded in the Acton Institute video shown above, the solutions to poverty start with us.

I remember once reading an author who began by saying that he wasn’t a big fan of Paul. I was offended by that because I thought, “Who are you to pronounce yourself a non-fan of Paul? Furthermore, who cares whether you’re a fan of Paul?”

I say this because I have been reading Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict. As I read, I find I agree and disagree with different portions of it. I can imagine a Catholic saying, “Who are you to disagree with the Pope? And who cares, Protestant boy?” I am very sensitive to that sentiment.

The quick version is this. The pope is very impressive as he writes about the nature of knowledge. He has very clearly grasped that the way we view knowledge is unnecessarily stunted and frankly, unworkable.

The part that brings me up a little short is the way he writes about economics. There are some very substantial insights there about how capitalism has a tendency to undermine its own foundations. At the same time, however, he seems to be hinting at the kind of social programs and employment guarantees that have often proved harmful to the development of productive lives by whole groups of human beings.

I’ve noted Dr. Gregg’s remarks in this regard and will keep reading for greater clarity. He is certainly a greater authority than I on these matters.

It was, I suppose, inevitable. The moment Benedict XVI’s social encyclical appeared, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the usual suspects predictably portrayed Caritas in Veritate as a “left-wing” text. It reflects their habit of presenting the Catholic Church as “conservative” on moral questions and “liberal” on economics. That’s their script, and until the day that the Internet juggernaut deals its final death-blow to the mainstream media, they will stick to it.

Unfortunately, there has also been much misleading commentary on Caritas in Veritate from many Catholic commentators anxious to portray the encyclical in secular political terms.

This is hardly a new problem. In his diary of the Second Vatican Council, the great French Catholic theologian Henry de Lubac S.J., repeatedly expressed his frustration with the apparent inability of Catholic writers covering the Council to speak about any of Vatican II’s workings in anything but secular political language.

That said, it is difficult to describe comments about Caritas in Vertitate as revealing Benedict as being “to the left of the Democrat Party on economic issues” or “sounding like a union organizer” as anything but unsophisticated, and, frankly, rather provincial. Contrary to the expectations of many living in America’s Boston-Washington-New York self-referential hothouse, popes don’t compose encyclicals with an eye to the particulars of American domestic politics or the next election cycle.

Anyone who has actually read Joseph Ratzinger’s many works would understand the pope has never thought that the Catholic faith neatly translates into left or right politics. To be sure, plenty of Catholics (particularly American Catholics) wish that it did. But it doesn’t and it never will, because the Catholic faith purports to contain the entire Truth about God and man. Hence it can never be compressed into earthly political categories.

This basic truth, however, has never weighed heavily with the post-Vatican II Catholic left (most of which is hovering on or over the edge of 60). For them, like the secular Left, everything is political. Hence we can expect plenty of “proof-texting” of Caritas in Veritate. Proof-texting is the art of taking statements from a text to establish the validity of particular claims, even though the text itself, when read as a whole, does not support such contentions.

Catholic leftists have, for example, emphasized the pope’s references to what he considers to be the need to bolster social security systems in the wake of globalization (CV 25). They neglect to mention, however, that Benedict has a somewhat different vision of social welfare – one that is more decentralized, less bureaucratic, and more civil society-orientated (CV 60) than the creaking state incubators of soft despotism slowly turning Western Europe into a global economic irrelevancy.

Sometimes, however, proof-texting is not enough. Hence we find Catholic leftists more-or-less ignoring Benedict’s insistence (echoing John Paul II) that life issues – specifically abortion, euthanasia, and the eugenic planning of births – are at the core of justice questions and that to ignore these specific issues is to acquiesce in enormous damage to human culture.

They are also deeply unhappy with Caritas et Veritate’s repeated referencing of Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humane Vitae, which reaffirmed orthodox Christianity’s vision of sexual morality, because many of them have invested enormous energy over the past 41 years trying to nuance away or outright deny Catholicism’s defined teachings in these areas.

Of course Caritas in Veritate expresses plenty of prudential judgments with which Catholics on the right and left may legitimately take issue. It cannot be said enough: Catholics are free to disagree among themselves and even with the pope about those matters the Church considers prudential – which includes the overwhelming majority of economic policy-issues, but not subjects such as abortion and euthanasia — as Benedict himself affirmed in a 2004 letter to the then-archbishop of Washington D.C.

The question we should ask, however, is what the Catholic left thinks it is trying to achieve by attempting to shove a theologically-dense text into a politicized left-wing straight jacket.

It would be easy to dismiss them as the secular left’s “useful idiots”, but the root of the problem is theological. Since the 1960s, much of the Catholic left has bought into the centuries-old heresy that perfect justice can and must be realized in this world. They have also largely reduced Christianity’s content to the politically-correct justice-questions. One need only glance at many Catholic religious orders’ mission statements to gauge the accuracy of this claim.

Justice is a perennial Christian concern. But Caritas in Veritate’s very title reminds us that love and truth are even more central to the Catholic faith. “[T]he God of the Bible”, Benedict writes, “is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word” (CV 3). Without love and truth, the pursuit of justice degenerates into dangerous utopian agendas that trample love and truth. Ultimate justice, Benedict states elsewhere, only comes when we meet our Maker – hence, Caritas et Veritate’s repeated condemnation of utopian schemes (CV 14, 53).

Utopia, as St Thomas More knew when he gave his book this famous title, mean “no-place.” And that is where justice disassociated from truth and charity leads us: the no-place of relativism, despair, and tyranny.

A number of journalists and some pundits on the religious left are aiming to own Caritas in Veritate, the new papal encyclical on economics. To them, the encyclical is a polemic against globalization and even the free market itself.

Jacqueline Salmon over at the Washington Post’s “On Faith” page, quotes Vincent Miller, a professor who characterizes the encyclical as a “trenchant critique of capitalism,” before she claims that Caritas in Veritate “places the usually conservative pontiff on the left as to economic issues.” Certainly, the Pope decried immoral profits and a lack of transparency in the business world. In making her point, though, Salmon conveniently ignored the sections of the encyclical that praised trade’s role in lifting “billions of people out of misery,” called globalization a “possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale,” and warned about the dangers of the “all-encompassing welfare state.”

Matthew Boudway at “dotCommonweal,” the blog of Commonweal, similarly concludes that the Pope wants a more leftist approach to economics: “Justice through redistribution is a properly political concern… The market ‘needs to be directed.’” Boudway is not incorrect to say that the Pope expects the state to have the authority to redistribute wealth and to govern the economy. He fails to examine the principle of subsidiarity, though, which Caritas in Veritate reaffirms as essential to the political order. Decisions ought to be delegated to the smallest competent authority. One has to wonder if Boudway’s conception of justice is nearer to the Pope’s idea of governance seeking the common good in the economy, or to what the Pope warningly refers to as the “all-encompassing welfare state” that makes people dependent and unable to live up to their responsibilities. Making social security and public welfare efficient and personal, as well as protective, are balances that need to be struck, but that does not lead us to conclude that Caritas in Veritate justifies point-blank expansions of the current state assistance system.

Writing at “Opinion L.A.,” L.A. Times editor Michael McGough suggests that capitalist Catholics are little more than cafeteria Catholics because of their “discomfort” at the Church’s social doctrine. Not everyone over at Acton is Catholic, but we certainly don’t feel that our free market tendencies are out of touch with our faith lives. Indeed, we are eager to see how the Pope’s calls for transparency, accessibility, and opportunity in markets through reducing trade barriers, expanding micro-credit, and strengthening civil society will help the poor by advancing liberty. We are also hopeful that reminding the world again of the need for subsidiarity and investment rather than bureaucracy and government-to-government aid will help reduce the obstacles that the state can place in front of the poor.

Caritas in Veritate is about how to have a responsible globalization and development that serves moral ends and empowers everyone. It is also about putting morality at the forefront of every sphere of life, from bioethics to economics, and remembering that, when it comes to the world of finance, “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.”

Catholics who believe in economic freedom should see the new encyclical as an opportunity to highlight our ability to make markets work and to remember that freedom must always be undergirded by a morality aiming at the common good. We cannot allow the Left to reduce this document to just another political manifesto. It is far above that, as a statement of integral humanism, pervasive morality, and the need to ensure that the rules of society are just. It is a teaching document, not a partisan bludgeon.

Andrew Abela, 2009 Novak Award recipient from the Acton Institute, offered a business perspective on Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to the Catholic news service Zenit.  In the interview, Abela talked about ways the encyclical could point the way out of the global financial crisis:

ZENIT: Does the Holy Father give any concrete means for digging ourselves out of the economic crisis?

Abela: Yes. It seems to me that the Holy Father is saying that trust is essential for our economy to work, and we have lost this trust because we have viewed the market as a place for narrow exchange only, where there is no need for generosity or fraternity, but only the adherence to contract.

Unfortunately, in many cases even that adherence to contract couldn’t be counted on, and therefore trust was lost.

In order to recover from the economic crisis, in addition to the proper role of government in orienting the market to the common good, the Pope is saying that it would help if we realized that generosity and fraternity are not foreign to market relationships, and in fact they are necessary to build the trust that the market requires if it is to operate well.

The Pope refers to the Economy of Communion project as an example of this happening. This project is a group of over 700 companies worldwide who are working within the marketplace for higher goals than solely profit. It sprung out of the Focolare movement as a direct response to the previous social encyclical, “Centesimus Annus.”

Abela also addresses a heated and what is becoming a much debated question on whether Pope Benedict the XVI condemns capitalism:

ZENIT: Has the Holy Father condemned capitalism?

Abela: No. In fact the word “capitalism” does not appear even once in the encyclical, probably because the word is subject to so many different interpretations.

Instead he speaks of the market economy, which is a more open term and avoids the ambiguity of differing opinions about what capitalism really is. A market economy is based on a free market and is not harmful in itself, but it can be made so as a result of ideology.

The Pope states that it “is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility” (No. 36).

The entire interview can be found on Zenit’s website.