July 24, 2009


‘Caritas in Veritate’

We have to face reality: Some people will think that now, with our economy in such bad shape, is not the best time for Pope Benedict XVI to issue an encyclical reminding us of the importance of social justice. The pope did, in fact, delay the release of the encyclical so he could comment on the global economic crisis.

He wrote, “This crisis becomes an opportunity for discernment in which to shape a new vision for the future.” That’s the spirit in which he wrote “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), the 30,000-word encyclical released on July 7.

It’s a brilliantly written letter that covers a large range of issues: the global economy, development aid, migration, declining populations, food security, the environment, scientific research, technology, sexuality and more. It’s all presented as part of the first three words of the encyclical—charity in truth.

He said that “charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” However, since charity can be misconstrued, it must be linked with truth. “Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity,” he wrote.

Undoubtedly, the most controversial part of the letter is his call for a reform of the United Nations and economic institutions to produce “a true world political authority” to manage the world economy. He issued that call toward the end of the encyclical after his thorough discussion of the major issues. It seems doubtful, though, that sovereign countries will be willing to give such power to the U.N. or any other organization.

A major part of the encyclical is devoted to globalization because it has become a fact of economic life. That’s evident when we realize that the United States has become dependent on China to buy much of our debt, or when we make a phone call to try to get a repairman and find ourselves talking to someone in India.

Pope Benedict observed, “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.”

He wrote that globalization in itself is neither good nor bad. He said, “We should not be its victims, but rather its protagonists, acting in the light of reason, guided by charity and truth. Blind opposition would be a mistaken and prejudiced attitude, incapable of recognizing the positive aspects of the process, with the consequent risk of missing the chance to take advantage of its many opportunities for development.”

The pope isn’t afraid to point his finger, when necessary, at those who aren’t helping to improve people’s lives. He wrote, “On the part of rich countries, there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.”

He also wrote, “Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers.”

He noted that companies “search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost,” which has both good and bad effects. It can reduce prices of goods and help in the development of countries to which the work is outsourced, but it can also cause unemployment in the area from which it’s outsourced (usually the United States).

As other popes have done, Pope Benedict emphasized that profit must be seen as a means rather than an end: “Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

Aid programs, he stressed, must not be nearsighted. The economic crisis must not be seen as an excuse to scale back development aid because it overlooks the long-term economic benefits, not only for the under-developed world but also for the world’s wealthier nations.

He wrote, “The principal form of assistance needed by developing countries is that of allowing and encouraging the gradual penetration of their products into international markets.”

This encyclical is an important addition to the Church’s documents on social justice.

—John F. Fink

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