Posts tagged with: catholic social teaching

Zenit published my article on the pope’s new social encyclical:

Encyclical Offers Opportunity to “Think With the Church”

By Jennifer Roback Morse

SAN MARCOS, California, JULY 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate” is his contribution to the course of Catholic social teaching.

Many commentators seem to read this document as if it were a think-tank white paper, and ask whether the Pope endorses their particular policy preferences. I must say that I surprised myself by not reflexively reading it in this way. After all, I spent many years teaching free-market economics.

I distinctly remember reading “Centesimus Annus” for the first time, and mentally checking to see if I agreed with it.

But this is not the correct way to read papal documents. The papacy’s prophetic role is to interpret the past, and provide guidance for the future, while avoiding the excesses of its own time.

In “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict XVI argues for the centrality of moral considerations in both economics and politics. Without charity and truth, we cannot create a truly decent society, no matter how sophisticated our technology or how thorough-going our democracy.

Benedict XVI stresses the centrality of the social, cultural sphere for several reasons.

First, neither the economic nor the political spheres can function entirely on their own. Both the economic and the political sectors need to be peopled with individuals who have well-formed consciences. Therefore, economics and politics rely upon the Church, the family, and other social structures that shape the conscience.

Second, the cultural sphere needs its own defense. Both the economic and the political sectors have plenty of ideological defenders. The libertarian right seems to believe that the market can manage all of society. The socialist left seems to think that the government can solve every problem and wipe away every tear.

Extremists on both sides fail to respect culture’s distinctive role. (more…)

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 (Zenit.org).- 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…)

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.

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.

The official release of Pope Benedict’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate took place this morning at the Holy See Press Office in Rome.

There were four speakers at the presentation: Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP), Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, the newly-appointed bishop of Trieste and former Secretary of PCJP, and Professor Stefano Zamagni, Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna and a consultor for PCJP.

All of the formal presentations in Italian can be found here.

It’s well-known but not often publicly revealed that the presenters of an encyclical were usually close collaborators with the pope on the encyclical, so it’s often worth listening to their explanations and more importantly their answers to the journalists’ questions.

I won’t provide a blow-by-blow account, but here is my summary of more interesting issues raised at the press conference:

- Both Cardinal Martino and Archbishop Crepaldi spoke of the ideology or problem of technique as one of the new, main themes of the encyclical.

- Cardinal Cordes denied that the encyclical or the Church proposes a “third way” between capitalism or socialism, as the Church has no technical model to offer. (This leads one to wonder if a moral critique can be made without an adequate technical understanding, as the former Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote.)

- Professor Zamagni noted the distinction between a market economy and capitalism (which was also made in Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, n. 42), adding that the Franciscans had a form of market economy in Italy long before the term “capitalism”, with its Marxist ideological connotations, ever existed.

- There were several questions about this very important distinction, with one French journalist noting an “anti-liberal, anti-capitalist” slant to the encyclical and another asking about the role of profit in a pre-capitalist, market economy. It was encouraging to hear Professor Zamagni deny the first and Cardinal Martino speak positively about the second.

- Professor Zamagni also addressed the nature of the ethical basis of the encyclical, stating that not all ethical systems are the same. The encyclical is based on “a virtue ethics that comes from Aristotle and Aquinas”.

- The most difficult questions concerned the nature of a “world political authority” mentioned in n. 67 of the encyclical, which refers to Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris. Is this authority the same as the United Nations? Why would the Holy See, which has fought tooth-and-nail to protect the sanctity of life, marriage and the family at the UN, think such an authority would be a good thing? Would giving “real teeth” to the UN be a good idea? And why would Prof. Zamagni call for a Security Council for social and economic affairs, when the actual Security Council is widely regarded to be an ineffective way of dealing with international peace and security?

The answers to these questions usually referred to previous papal encyclicals, the difference between government (or a supra-state) and governance, which would presumably respect subsidiarity better than other supra-national entities such as the European Union. Others answered that the UN is the only game in town and the Holy See has to work with it.

I know, I know. These aren’t very satisfying answers to me either, and I used to work for the Holy See at the UN! Well, maybe Pope Benedict’s next social encyclical can take up issues of sovereignty and international relations. For now, we should carefully read and digest Caritas in Veritate.

Only if there are new human beings will there be a new world, a renewed and better world.

When the Pope said these words at Vespers on Sunday, perhaps he had Bernie Madoff in mind.

Today, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for defrauding his investors of nearly $65 billion over the course of 20 years. His corruption and crimes ruined the livelihoods of thousands of businesspeople, charity workers, and families that trusted his sterling reputation to protect everything that they had worked to earn.

Unfortunately, Madoff is not the only man to have betrayed his financial responsibilities to others. The last few years saw financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom shake the public’s trust in corporations. Just two weeks ago, Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford was arrested by the FBI on charges that he used a bank in Antigua to mask his $8 billion fraud, stealing from his investors.

When Pope Leo XIII published his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, he wrote that “A small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than slavery itself.” The global economy has come a long way since then, with the rise of laws designed to fight white-collar crime, the expansion of opportunities for Third World entrepreneurship with the removal of tariffs, and the creation of enough wealth to eliminate most of the horrific working conditions of the Victorian Era. (more…)