Headlines don't do Caritas in Veritate justice

The headline from The New York Times sent me back in time; “Pope Urges Forming New World Economic Order to Work for the ‘Common Good.’” The headline invokes memories of President George H.W. Bush calling for a “new world order” as he rallied the world to fight Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990.

Those words, spoken by the president, sent some into delirious dreams of a one-world government and black helicopters hanging overhead. Today, the words of Pope Benedict XVI initially sent some, hoping to use his words for political gain, into fits of joy or anger. Dan Gilgoff at U.S. News and World Report calls the encyclical “…a boost for progressive Catholics” adding “There is much in Benedict's third encyclical, in other words, for American conservatives to scorn.” Journalist David Gibson writes at Politics Daily, “The Pope Is a Liberal. Who Knew?”

Now prior to the publication of Caritas in Veritate, several writers I had read, including Damian Thompson the religion writer for the Daily Telegraph in London and editor-in-chief of Britian’s Catholic Herald, had been warning that both liberals and conservatives would be disappointed, that the encyclical would not endorse either side as the pope sought to address the economic crisis.

Much of the secular media attention to the encyclical has focused on the call for this “new world order,” the take of the Sydney Morning Herald or The Times of India’s headline “Pope calls for new world body with real teeth”. Most of the argument made by the Holy Father for such a high degree of international cooperation comes from paragraph 67 of the document where he says, “To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago” (italics in original).

So is the pope calling for all temporal authority to be handed over to Ban Ki-Moon at the United Nations? Is Pope Benedict looking to revive the concept of the world being ruled by the Holy Roman Empire with the pope as supreme leader? The answer to these two questions is a definitive no, but the question of what Pope Benedict means by “true world political authority” is no clearer than the call for such an authority by Pope John XXIII, it is an idea proposed but not fleshed out.

What many in the secular media also seem to miss is that for all its calls for greater international cooperation, the encyclical spends much time expounding the long standing Catholic teaching of subsidiarity, the idea that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization that can be accomplished a smaller one; think of family over the state, local government over national or international government.

This point on subsidiarity is not lost on Father Robert A. Sirico, offering his views up alongside a platoon of other heavyweights at Catholic World Report. The pope does not, as Sirico points out, declare that the current economic model need be overthrown, “Never employing either the word ‘greed’ or ‘capitalism’ in the over 30,000 word document (despite some media hype), the crisis itself he attributes to ‘badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing’ without naming the specific institutions that made this possible.” In many ways, the pope’s comments on the market complement some of what Sirico’s Acton Institute was saying about the financial crisis last fall, that a properly functioning market requires those involved to act with a proper moral compass.

Now while the document is not, as some liberals have claimed, proof that the pope is one of them (I haven’t even touched on his many exhortations to respect the dignity of human life and calls for an end of tying development money to abortion and population control), the document also does not give succour to those conservatives who hoped for an unquestioning papal endorsement of the free market.

George Weigel, an authorised biographer of Pope John Paul II, declares Caritas in Veritate to be “an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.” Weigel’s contention is that the encyclical seems written by two hands, Benedict’s own clear hand, and the fuzzy thinking of The Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace. It’s a review that has been described as intemperate by Thompson on the Telegraph blog, but given the difficulty of combining, especially without clear direction, the ideas of a world political authority and the idea of subsidiarity, Weigel’s basic idea may not be far off the mark when it comes to implementing the ideas most people are grabbing onto with this encyclical.

At its heart though, Caritas in Veritate is about love, radical Christian love, brought into the market, into human and international development and into our political and civic life. As Robert A. Gahl, explains elsewhere in MercatorNet, the solution to the world financial crisis is love. In language that is dense and rich at times, Pope Benedict calls on the world to remember that Love and Truth must be central to any ordering of human affairs. It is a teaching that requires entrenched political stances, even within the Church, to return to the core of the Gospel and it is a teaching that is hard for the world’s media to explain.

Brian Lilley is the Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations 1010 CFRB in Toronto and CJAD 800 in Montreal. He is also Associate Editor of Mercatornet. Follow Brian on Twitter.


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