Who would have guessed that the greatest human influence on Caritas in Veritate, the new social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, would be Pope Paul VI? Admirers of the former Cardinal Ratzinger tend to be critics of Pope Paul, and it is hardly a secret that the current Pontiff has reservations about the wisdom of the liturgical changes introduced by his predecessor in 1970. Yet he has no reservations about the social teaching of “the great Pope Paul VI”, as he calls him, as expounded in his 1967 Populorum Progressio. The new encyclical, “Charity in Truth”, updates the message of Pope Paul, applying his insights to a globalised economy that could not have been envisaged 42 years ago. And, in updating it, Benedict XVI reinforces its central messages.
Pope Paul taught that “the whole Church, in all her being and acting – when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity – is engaged in promoting human development”. Caritas in Veritate recognises that patterns of development are now very different. The relation of governments to society has grown more complex: “The state finds itself having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterised by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production.” We live, in short, in an era of globalisation in which the public authorities must review their role and powers. Yet the Pope absolutely rejects the notion that “the market” can be relied upon to correct injustice or fulfil human potential. The problem, as he sharply observes (characteristically eschewing “inclusive language”), is that “as society becomes ever more globalised, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers”. Catholic social teaching has not changed its conviction that mankind must correct the malfunctions of the market. Caritas Veritate points towards ways of achieving this amid the prosperity, poverty and chaos of the 21st century, while continually warning us – as did Paul VI and John Paul II – that the primary capital to be safeguarded is the human person.
Pope Benedict deliberately transcends the man-made boundaries of Left and Right. All encyclicals do this to some extent, but Caritas in Veritate does so with particular subtlety. Economic liberals will be relieved that the Church finally recognises that the old model of the state as the main agent of economic justice is outdated; indeed, says the Pope, “the exclusively binary model of market-plus-state is corrosive of society”. Today’s crisis-hit international economic scene requires “a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise” in which the operation of the market is harnessed and corrected by the operation of a Christian humanism that is by no means confined to the public sector. Other aspects of the encyclical that will appeal to the conservatively minded are its recognition that the United Nations is in desperate need of reform and a brief but quite startling reference to the human cost of mass migration. There is also an easily decoded reference to terrorism inspired by fundamentalism.
Yet few papal documents have been so unsparing in their criticism of the unthinking selfishness that has accompanied wealth creation since Pope Paul’s day. There is a ringing call here for redistribution; for the strengthening of responsible trade unions, and for stronger international bodies to administer the social and economic justice that is an integral component of Christian charity. The goal must be the transformation of globalisation into communion – a formidably difficult task, it is true, but one that is made less daunting by the lessons contained in this formidable encyclical.
In this encyclical Pope Benedict deliberately transcends the man-made boundaries of Left and Right