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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