BY ANNA ARCO
POPE BENEDICT XVI has called for God to be placed at the centre of a drastically reformed global economy.
In his third encyclical, released on Tuesday, he made a powerful appeal for a globalised economy built on the principle of “charity in truth”.
In Caritas in Ueritate (“Charity in Truth”), the first social encyclical of the 21st century, the Pope applied Catholic social teaching to a vast array of contemporary problems, from environmental devastation to mass migration and turmoil in the world’s markets. One commentator described the wide-ranging work as “the universe in an encyclical”.
The Pope signed the document on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul after repeatedly delaying it over the past two years.
To the surprise of many commentators, the 52-page work was deeply indebted to Pope Paul VI and his groundbreaking 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”).
But Pope Benedict stressed the continuity of modern papal teaching on social issues, which effectively began with Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”).
The Pope wrote: “It is not a case of two typologies of social doctrine, one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar, differing from one another: on the contrary, there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new.” Caritas in Ueritate also placed a strong emphasis on “life issues” – contraception, abortion and stem-cell research – which it presented as matters of social justice.
The encyclical argued that, without a recognition of the divinely rooted concepts of charity and truth, true reform of the global economic system would be impossible.
“A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism,” he wrote. “Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of civic life – structures, institutions, culture and ethos without exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment.” Fr Joseph Fessio SJ, an American former student of the Pope, said: “Pope Benedict has changed the whole framework of debate on ‘the social question’. This was expected to be – and is – his encyclical on social justice ... But the point is established from the outset, the foundation is laid, with ‘charity’ and ‘truth’.” Presenting the encyclical in London, Archbishop Vincent Nichols described it as a “profoundly optimistic document”.
“In contrast to the existential pessimism of our age and culture Pope Benedict proclaims that, since the instinct for love and truth remains strong in most persons and since it is never completely extinguished, then the work of true development can push ahead,” the Archbishop of Westminster said.
Sister Helen Alford OP, dean of social sciences at the Angelicum in Rome, said the “hand of some very good Italian economists” could be seen in the encyclical. “At the same time, in a document that never misses the chance to point out the theological dimensions of the issues, and in one focused on development, it is a pity that no space could be found for an idea like the ‘structures of sin’,” she said.
Cafod, the official aid agency of the bishops of England and Wales, said the encyclical “came at a crossroads for development”. “The foundation for this encyclical is love, expressed in a call for social justice, solidarity and truth,” Chris Bain, Cafod’s director, said.
American theologian George Weigel criticised the dense language of parts of the encyclical, which he described as “clotted and muddled”.
“Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it neces sary to include in his encyclical these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household,” he wrote.
Veteran Vatican watcher John Allen argued that in secular political terms, the encyclical gave both Left and Right something to cheer and grumble about.
He said: “Liberals will likely applaud Benedict’s call for robust government intervention in the economy and his endorsement of labour unions, while conservatives will appreciate his unyielding opposition to abortion, birth control and gay marriage, insisting that such policies are not only morally flawed but poor economic strategy.” Tim Aldred, director of advocacy for Progressio, a charity which deals with international development, welcomed the document’s focus on the environment. He said the text contained a strong message to industrialised nations to meet the cost of climate change.
He added that it was good that the document called for a “restoration of ethics to the heart of the financial system” and put forward the idea “that every economic decision has a consequence on people”.
Professor Philip Booth of the Institute for Economic Affairs said the encyclical should not be used to “justify pre-conceived political positions”.
He said: “The statements on political economy are not original and are heavily qualified. What is special about this letter is that, interwoven into its fabric, is the overwhelming message that individuals, communities and political authorities must orientate themselves towards moral truths and the natural law that is engraved on all hearts – otherwise, there will be no development worthy of its name.
“The direct political and economic points are padding and background.” The full text of Caritas in Ueritate can be found on the Vatican website at www.va.
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