Archived Posts July 2009 - Page 6 of 10 | Acton PowerBlog

In an earlier post, I already set out my own attitude of humility before the pope’s encyclical. I recognize the respect due both his office and his tremendous personal learning. There is no question that what the pope has said about the nature of truth is stupendously good.

In that post, I expressed a degree of unease with some of the economic thought, at least as I perceived it, in the encyclical. Looking it over again, here are the parts (more than any others) that cause me the most trouble:

In section 32:

The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone (italics original to the document).

And then just a little further:

Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth distribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development.

Now, when I read those parts of the document, I recognize a type of thinking about the economy that I would typically associate with western Europe and pre-Thatcherite Britain. At least, it is possible to interpret the document in that fashion. When I think about prioritizing “the goal of access to steady employment for everyone” I contemplate the kind of worker security initiatives that slowly bankrupted General Motors or government programs that subsidize anti-productive schemes for workers as a class.

I may be guilty of reading too much into the words I’ve selected because I know the pope is a western European accustomed to exactly the brand of economics which gives rise to my concern.

The great question, of course, is what does the pope mean when he says we must provide access to steady employment? Does he mean that we should educate citizens and provide a culture that gives individuals initiative and the desire to be productive so they will be worth employing? Or does he mean that we should attempt great governmental schemes of guaranteed employment for working age people? Or does he mean both? Or something else entirely? I’m not sure we can know because the pope says the church does not offer technical solutions.

And when he writes about protecting the rights of workers and retaining mechanisms of wealth redistribution it is difficult to imagine he is referring to any action of the free market. But again, it is difficult to say because he is purposefully vague. What I keep thinking is that some of those mechanisms could be exactly the things preventing a nation from attaining greater prosperity. Indeed, that very question is part of why the work of the Acton Institute is important, to make sure that the faithful (particularly seminarians and clergymen) do not assume that collectivist approaches are necessarily better for people.

I recently spoke with journalist Antonio Gaspari of the the Zenit news agency about Caritas in Veritate. Here’s the interview that Zenit published:

Kishore Jayabalan: Development Involves “Breathing Space”

ROME, JULY 10, 2009 ( An Acton Institute director is explaining the importance of “Caritas in Veritate” for India and China, and is pointing out the innovative ideas of Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical.

Kishore Jayabalan is the director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office. He is a former analyst for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, where he dealt with environmental and disarmament issues and served as a desk officer for English-speaking countries.

In this interview with ZENIT, he spoke about Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, which was released to the public Tuesday.

ZENIT: What is your overall opinion of the encyclical “Caritas in Veritate?”

Jayabalan: My very first reaction was that it is long and not an easy document to read quickly and summarize. But as I have been reading and re-reading it, I am starting to appreciate its vast scope and significance.

The moral and ethical basis for the market economy is very often neglected.

Even its supporters tend to make utilitarian arguments in favor of the market, while opponents tend to blame the free exchange of goods and services for all kinds of cultural phenomena which have little to do with economics itself.

When things are going well and everyone is making money, no one wants to hear about greed and materialism. But once the bubble bursts, everyone seems to become a moralist and a prophet with amazing hindsight.

This is what Benedict has referred to in other places as “cheap moralism,” one which takes no account of the technical workings of the economy but reminds us of the need to make ethics more integral to our everyday lives. So in this encyclical, the pope realizes it makes no sense to issue condemnations that a child can make. (more…)

At the time of his election in April 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was widely perceived to be a “conservative” in our modern political parlance. It should not surprise, then, that many commentators have expressed either shock or joy, depending on their own affiliations, with last Tuesday’s publication of his encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), the first extended statement on social and economic issues of his pontificate.

Conservatives are dismayed by his calls for increased foreign aid, the redistribution of wealth, and a United Nations with “real teeth”. Liberals are wondering why the pope had to ruin such lovely sentiments by bringing up the evils of abortion, euthanasia, and birth control. Prominent voices on both sides think the pope is hopelessly naïve and unrealistic. Reading Charity in Truth for partisan purposes can yield moments of agony and ecstasy for left and right alike.

Neither side, however, seems ready to take Benedict’s theology – his own field of expertise – seriously. Part of this is a result of our habitual, liberal democratic tendency to separate Church and State and not let theological arguments influence our politics. This tendency invariably blinds us to the pope’s combination of respect for life with the demands of social justice.

Such a synthesis is not easy nor is it likely to satisfy partisans. It’s hard enough to imagine an international authority that can command universal support – not even the pope has that within his own Church. In many ways our current systems of democratic governance are more modest because they do not assume any such unanimity, theological or otherwise. But the real question is whether a society built solely on competing interests will ultimately be worth the trouble. Will it reflect Benedict’s insistent demands for human dignity? Experience keeps telling us something more is clearly needed.

Our political categories of left and right originate from the French Revolution, which infamously saw the Catholic Church as its great enemy. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the modern social teachings of the papacy may provide the soundest moral defense of liberté, égalité et fraternité in today’s world. (more…)

Joan Lewis, EWTN’s Rome bureau chief, covered Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience address on Wednesday, July 8 , during which the pontiff publicly commented on his landmark social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” the day after it was officially released by the Vatican. Below is a summary of Benedict’s address to visitors in Rome, including Lewis’s own translation.

Yesterday, the Vatican released Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, “Caritas in veritate,” along with an official summary of the 144-page document that has six chapters and a conclusion. In addition, there was a very worthwhile two-hour press conference with summaries of the document’s salient points, as well as a Q&A session between reporters and Cardinals Martino and Cordes, Archbishop Crepaldi and Prof. Stefano Zampagni.

But surely the best summary of Pope Benedict’s just-released encyclical is the one he himself gave at today’s general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall and highlighting the moral criteria that must underpin economic choices.

In only 1,300 words (the encyclical has 30,466), the Pope explained the document’s contents and his intention in writing it. He began by explaining that Caritas in veritate was inspired by a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians where “the Apostle speaks of acting according to the truth in love: ‘Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ’.” Thus, said Benedict, “charity in truth is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. For this reason, the entire social doctrine of the Church revolves around the principle ‘Caritas in veritate’. Only with charity, illuminated by reason and by faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess more human and humanizing values.”


As Congress continues to hash out what will likely be more or less bad health care reform legislation, it is worth considering what health care providers themselves can do to fix the system.

One outstanding case study is The Nun and the Bureaucrat: How They Found an Unlikely Cure for America’s Sick Hospitals. The book is a compilation of quotations, factoids, and anecdotes from employees and administrators of two hospital systems, Catholic SSM Health Care in St. Louis and Pittsburgh’s Regional Health Care Initiative. It tells the story of the implementation of “systems thinking” at these institutions. In short, the health systems’ executives perceived serious inefficiencies and dysfunctions in their hospitals (with, sometimes, life or death consequences) and determined to borrow a method successfully used in other business enterprises and apply it to the medical field.

Individual hospital outcomes reported include:
–85 percent reduction in hospital acquired infections (often fatal and each entailing costs of $30,000-90,000).
–medication error rate reduction from .16 per thousand dosages to .01 per thousand.
–reduction of acute diabetic complications from 13.5 percent to 5 percent.

Besides better patient outcomes and cost-saving, hospital staff reported higher levels of morale and satisfaction in their work.

In this particular case, conscientious and innovative CEOs initiated change. What might drive innovation and improvement more broadly in the health care sector is placing both control and responsibility squarely in the hands of “consumers” (patients), spurring competition and setting up the right framework of incentives. Any legislation that fails to recognize this connection will fail to move us toward a health care system that more effectively serves its intended purpose.

Today marks the quincentenary of John Calvin’s birth. Over at the First Things site, I take the occasion to pay special attention to Calvin’s concern for articulating the antiquity, and therefore the catholicity, of the Reformation.

Among the factors that converts from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism very often cite as major influences on their move is the novelty of the former compared with the antiquity of the latter. This is, undoubtedly, an important point that ought to be addressed by concerned Protestants.

But I argue, in continuity with the Reformers, I think, that this concern is best answered in the first place not by discounting the value or the importance of antiquity, but rather by doing justice to the claims of the Reformation itself to representing the ancient and catholic faith.

Sometimes the Reformation is summed up by reference to the five “solas,” and Calvin is associated with the saying, “Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere.” (“I offer my heart to you, Lord, promptly and sincerely.”)

But the motto of the Reformers might just as well have been (as a colleague has put it), “Expellete nova, impellete vetera!” (“Out with the new, in with the old!”)

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…)