Roma locuta: Is anyone listening?

Is the pope’s new encyclical on economics and social justice the proverbial tree falling in the unpopulated forest?

That’s the question I pose in my follow-up at PoliticsDaily on what, if any, impact Caritas Veritatis might have. An excerpt:

This is the first papal encyclical in 18 years dedicated to the church’s social justice teachings, and it comes in the midst of the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression. In fact, the encyclical was supposed to come out a year ago to mark the 40th anniversary of Paul VI’s landmark social encyclical, Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”). But Benedict held it a year to take account of the financial meltdown, making it likelier that he will have an audience for his prescriptions.


Moreover, the leaders of the top eight industrialized countries — who could actually turn the papal principles into policies — are meeting this week for the G8 summit in L’Aquila, a short distance from the Vatican. One of those leaders, Barack Obama, will head to Rome Friday for his first meeting with the pope as president. There are many synchronicities between the economic visions of the two men — the common good, solidarity as well as subsidiarity, regulation of the marketplace, and so on — and Obama could be seen as a convincing medium for Benedict’s message.
In the U.S. context, one can detect a growing openness to Catholic social teachings, usually regarded as the church’s best-kept secret, although not always among Catholics. Along with Obama, the emerging “religious left” consciously adopts core tenets of the Catholic social justice tradition, and evangelicals, especially young adults, are also exploring and embodying those teachings in often radical ways. In addition, there seems to be a growing push in American Christianity to reconnect pro-life and social justice teachings — a division that Pope Benedict lamented. In fact, his whole encyclical could be read as an argument for integrating the opposing agendas of left and right, economic determinists and moral absolutists, around the unifying principle of human dignity, which is inseparable from human development. In a Twitterized world of atomized messages and fragmented communities, such a holistic vision, confidently expressed, can have mass appeal.
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Charles Cosimano

posted July 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Markets do not listen to Popes and pretty much ignore politicians. In the real world of how economics happens, the G8 meetings are like Shakespeare’s definition of life, “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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posted July 8, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I believe that the Encyclical could have wide impact … within the Catholic Church and among its members especially if Priests and Deacons read it, study it, pray about it and then teach it to their flocks.
Caritas … the loving charity described in the book … is a basic building block of our Catholic Theology. The “economy” of charity is not really about the economy of the nations and world, but it is the exchange between God and man. One man at a time (including women of course).
It is an individual exchange between the Divine God and the human being. And it is an economy, an exchange, of great love.
If we focus on this economy – our exchange of love with God – then how can we do ANYTHING in the world that isn’t affected by this?
We do not have to “set out to alleviate hunger” rather we will be focused on our love of God and God’s love of us and then our whole day will be filled with feeding hungry people.
We have almost forgotten the language of God’s love as we focus on politics, money, capitalism and our national obsessions with celebrity. Here you have a guy in one of the editorials using the word “individualism” as a pejorative to describe liberals.
Yet, I believe Pope Benedict is saying that it is, in fact, the individual economy of love – between each of us and God – that will change the world and bring into fruition the presence of God’s love on this planet.
I have to reread it to point exactly to that – but do some research on the Eastern church’s use of the word “economy” and how much more comfortable they are with these types of words and concepts.
It makes a difference in how to read the Encyclical.

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posted July 8, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I found the encyclical rather vacuous in terms of dealing with issues of social justice. Since it shies away from any technical solutions, it is unlikely to do any good. I agree with the need for greater market regulation, but a lot of other parts of the encyclical are not helpful.
The pope spends a lot of time complaining about how secularization is the enemy in the developed world. He should save this particular gripe for another occasion.
He criticizes the use of empirical approaches to measuring successful development, probably meant as an attack on agencies such as the UNFPA, UNDP, WHO, etc. trying to save the world without making aid beneficiaries capitulate to religious indoctrination.
The encyclical also packs in all those unpalatable Catholic stances on abortion, contraception, population growth and gays along with a confused take on the principles of ‘subsidiarity’ toward globalization.
It also belittles other religious beliefs, atheism and individualism. Since most of the world isn’t Catholic, it is hard to understand how they are going to see the encyclical.
What will be the future of liberation theology then? Real action seems to be getting replaced with empty rhetoric.

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