Posts tagged with: pope benedict xvi

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.

In his new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI calls for an international political authority, “so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” He tasks it with issues like human rights, ensuring access to necessities including food and water, and managing the global economy. What might an effective international governing body look like?

The Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Hayek asked the same question in 1944 in his book, The Road to Serfdom. Seeing his beloved Europe torn apart by war and gross economic inequalities, Hayek wrote, “we cannot hope for order or lasting peace after this war if states, large or small, regain unfettered sovereignty in the economic sphere.” He was referencing World War II, but it sounds like the Pope feels the same way about hoping for order and prosperity after this recession.

Neither Hayek nor the Pope have utopian visions of the world. The Pope reaffirmed the value of subsidiarity many times in Caritas in Veritate. Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be left to the smallest competent authority. In questions of politics and economics, this is often a local authority; it is rarely an international organization. Hayek said the same thing when he noted that “the problems raised by a conscious direction of economic affairs on a national scale inevitably assume even greater dimensions when the same is attempted internationally.”

These constraints make international governance difficult, and they all but rule out any effort by a world body to coordinate economic activity. Real problems still remain with a nationally-divided world, though. Hayek said that “it is neither necessary nor desirable that national boundaries sharp differences in standards of living,” and the Pope refers to the “scandal of glaring inequalities” in Caritas in Veritate. What, then, is to be done?

First, it is necessary to ask what stands in the way of people having their rights respected and their needs met. All too often, it is the state. The Pope criticizes much government-to-government foreign aid on the grounds that corruption and bad economic policy need to be fixed before money will do any lasting good. He also calls for Western countries to end the subsidies to agriculture that block farmers in poor countries from having fair access to global markets. When it comes to accessing investment, food, and water, poor governance has done much to hold back the world’s most impoverished people.

As an Austrian who witnessed the rise of Nazism, fascism, and communism in Europe, Hayek shared a similar critique of the unwillingness of many governments to give their people the freedom they need to flourish. His experiences impacted his vision of the international order, and Hayek ultimately proposed that “there must be a power which can restrain the different nations from action harmful to their neighbors, a set of rules which defines what a state may do, and an authority capable of enforcing these rules… it must, above all, be able to say ‘No’ to all sorts of restrictive measures.”

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI could draw inspiration from this perspective. In order to promote general equity and a search for the common human good among nations, an international authority with the ability to check irrational and cruel decisions made by governments may be the best way to proceed. An international body with the ability to veto rights abuses, tariffs, excessive inflation, corporate welfare policies, agricultural subsidies, and other harmful laws might be the best way to encourage the solidarity of the “family of nations.” It would let markets tap into the ability of every person to create wealth and meet their own needs through the dignity of their own work. By promoting openness and checking destructive policies without trying to take on the job of managing everything in the world, such an authority could also meet the Pope’s requirement that global political authority be organized in “a subsidiary and stratified way.”

The United Nations may or may not be the best organization to carry forward this vision, and it is possible that some other body might be the future of internal governance “with teeth.” Between Hayek, the Pope, and everyone looking for the best way to heed the challenges of Caritas in Veritate, hopefully a productive framework for governing globalization so that it works for the benefit of everyone can emerge.

Recently the Acton Institute dedicated a resource page on its website to Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.  The resource page contains blog posts and articles about Caritas in Veritate from policy experts and staff members from the Acton Institute.  Furthermore the resource page will be updated with new content and provide an in-depth analysis on Caritas in Veritate.

Blog author: mcavedon
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
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Click here for the text of Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and keep checking back here at the Acton PowerBlog for more commentary.

Katherine Jean Lopez of National Review Online interviewed me about the new papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, shortly after its release this morning here in Rome:

LOPEZ: Obviously the topic of ethics and the economy resonates with people today. What can a Catholic take away from the new encyclical when it comes to his lost job, the stimulus, or government takeovers?

JAYABALAN: It’s hard to summarize such a long and complex document into a lesson or two, but I’ll try. First is the absolute importance of Truth to our understanding of charity, efficiency, and economics. For Catholics, this means the Church’s fundamental theological and moral teachings, which should be received as gifts rather than burdens, as difficult as they may seem to us. The Church’s theological understanding of charity and justice should make all Catholics feel responsible for each other and think and act accordingly. This is the real meaning of solidarity.

During the interview I was also asked about the importance of the encyclical to non-Catholics and what they can take away from it:

LOPEZ: What can the non-Catholic learn from the encyclical?

JAYABALAN: He doesn’t distinguish between Catholics and non-Catholics in the encyclical but calls all of us to broaden our use of reason beyond the merely technical or scientific. Benedict also recalls the limited nature of the state and its inability to provide the most important thing — love.

As Benedict argues in his previous encyclicals, as well as the current one, the state is no replacement for the family or the church: The state cannot love us  — and it would be a scary thing even if it could.

Even where the state does have some responsibilities, it may obey the principle of subsidiarity — that is, let individuals, families, churches, businesses, and local communities handle their own problems first. This is the setting for the pope’s call for fraternity and a vibrant, diverse civil society.

The entire interview can be read at The Corner.

Relativists beware. Whether you like it or not, truth matters – even in the economy. That’s the core message of Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

For 2000 years, the Catholic Church has hammered home a trio of presently-unpopular ideas into the humus of human civilization: that there is truth; that it is not simply of the scientific variety; that it is knowable through faith and reason; and that it is not whatever you want or “feel” it to be. Throughout his entire life, Benedict XVI has underscored these themes, precisely because much of the world, including many Christians, has lost sight of their importance.

Perhaps Caritas in Veritate’s most important truth-claim about economic life is that the market economy cannot be based on just any value-system. Against all relativists on the left and the right, Benedict maintains that market economies must be underpinned by commitments to particular basic moral goods and a certain vision of the human person if it is to serve rather than undermine humanity’s common good: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (CV no.45)

“Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust,” the Pope writes, “the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function” (CV no. 35). This surely has been amply confirmed by the recent financial crisis. America’s subprime-mortgage market collapse was at least partly attributable to the fact that literally thousands of people lied on their mortgage application forms. Should we be surprised that mass violation of the moral prohibition against lying has devastating economic consequences? “The economic sphere”, the pope reminds us, “is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner” (CV no.36).

Contrary to the pre-encyclical hype of certain American commentators and the ever-unreliable British press, predictions of papal anathemas against “global capitalism” have – as usual – been found wanting. In economic terms, the pope describes as “erroneous” the tired notion that the developed countries’ wealth is predicated on poor nations’ poverty (CV no.35) that one hears customarily from the likes of Hugo Chavez and whatever’s left of the dwindling band of aging liberation theologians. That’s a pontifical body-blow to a central working assumption of many professional social justice “activists”.

Nor will they be happy with the pope’s concerns about the ways in which foreign aid can produce situations of dependency (CV no.58), not to mention Benedict’s strictures against protectionism (CV no.42) as well as his stress that no amount of structural change can possibly compensate for people freely choosing the good: “Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility” (CV no.17).

Nor does Benedict regard the market as morally problematic in itself. “In and of itself,” the Pope states, “the market is not . . . the place where the strong subdue the weak. 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” (CV no.36). What matters, Benedict claims, is the moral culture in which markets exists.

At the heart of the economy are human persons. People whose minds are dominated by crassly hedonistic cultures will make crassly hedonistic economic choices. “Therefore”, Benedict comments, “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals” (CV no.36).

The implications of truth for economic life do not, however, stop here. For Benedict, it is a lens through which to assess ideas such as “business ethics”, “ethical investing” and “corporate social responsibility.” The notion that investment and business choices have a moral dimension is hardly new. What matters for Benedict is the understanding of morality underlying these schemes. Merely labeling an investment scheme as “ethical”, Benedict notes, hardly tells us whether it is moral (CV no.45).

A second major truth underscored by Benedict is the indispensability of a strong civil society for both undergirding and limiting the market and the state. By this, he does not mean a plethora of government-funded NGOs, many of whom Benedict identifies as intent upon imposing some of the very worst aspects of Western lifestyle-libertarianism upon developing nations (CV no.28). Certainly, Benedict believes, there is a need to re-evaluate (CV no.24) how the state regulates different parts of the economy. Ultimately, however, Benedict stresses that the virtue of solidarity, he argues, is about people concretely loving their neighbour; it “cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (CV no.38). This is reminiscent of Alexis de Tocqueville’s attention to the manner in which the habit of free association both limits the size of government while also discouraging people from retreating into their own little bubbles.

The economist John Maynard Keynes is famous for many things, including the saying that “in the long run, we’re all dead.” The horizon of Benedict XVI’s perspective on economic life is rather different. The pope asks people to live their economic lives in the short, medium, and long-term as if living in the truth is eternally important, not to mention eternally relevant to their soul’s salvation.

That’s change we can all believe in.

My commentary on the forthcoming social encyclical was published on National Review Online. Here’s the complete text:

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI will release his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The pre-release buzz from the Catholic Left on each of his two previous encyclicals has so far proven wrong each time, so the rule should be to wait and see what the pope will actually say.

Each time, with previous encyclicals, we have been told that the pope is preparing to lambaste capitalism and call for state measures to heavily regulate it with an eye to redistributing wealth, cleaning up the environment, controlling consumption, etc. Each time, the final text has demonstrated that the pope’s conversion to progressivist causes has been greatly exaggerated. Invariably, his arguments have been highly sophisticated and have defied easy political categorization.

In advance of Caritas in Veritate, Catholic “progressives” are working themselves into a frenzy of predictions, recommendations, and anathemas — and not one of them, to my knowledge, has seen even an early draft of the encyclical which has been two years in the making.

Will the document draw attention to the weaknesses of Western-style capitalist systems? One hopes so. We might expect the pope to call on market forces to be regulated by moral concerns, within a strong juridical framework, and an exogenous apparatus of standards to curb excesses.

But here is the operative question: In what sense would such a call be a blow against the idea of free economic institutions? The short answer is that it will not be.

There are few advocates of market economics who advocate a complete lack of regulation rightly understood. Every transaction in the marketplace is in fact regulated by contract law, reputation, industry standards, competition, certification and monitoring, and profit and loss systems that reward prudence and punish excess over the long term.

Do these need strengthening? Certainly, and it should be noted that a main force for weakening them is not the market as such, but partisan interventions in the market. (more…)

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…)