ROME, 7 July 2009--Cardinal Renato Martino and Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, the leaders of the Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace, led a presentation here this morning in Vatican City on the new papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. This is the third of Pope Benedict XVI's substantial directives on faith and the Church, and it covered a sweeping range of issues in its 43-pages of text.
Pope Benedict speaks in the encyclical about certain truths being objective, and capable of being a unifying force for all people. He then embarks on the centrality to the Christian faith of giving one's self to the wellbeing of others. The centerpiece of the document was the argument that there is nothing fanciful or impractical about Christ's call for charity to one another. Providing workers with dignified work leads to greater productivity. Finding alternatives to violence in conflict resolution leads to greater good for all parties. Far from being pie-in-the-sky amidst all the difficulties of the modern world, Christ's call to love one another is a practical prescription for solving our many problems.
The document repeatedly praised Pope Paul VI in a ringing endorsement of the legacy of Vatican II, saying, "Justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it... charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples." He described Pope Paul's encyclical Populorum Proggessio as "the Rerum Novarum of the modern world," in reference to the 1891 encyclical that is generally thought to be the foundation for modern Catholic Social Teaching. Pope Benedict spoke in language that was thoroughly modern, using terms like "food security," the "moral underdevelopment" brought on by excessive materialism, and "intergenerational justice." He spoke unequivocally in support of the rights of workers to organize.
One of the most poignant references was to Pope Paul's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, insisting that the heart of evangelization in the world is personal example (ie, actions speak louder than words.) At one point, he says sweepingly, "Every economic decision has a moral consequence." Then citing Populorum Progressio, he argued that "In the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfill himself, for every life is a vocation." He added that, "This is what gives legitimacy to the Church's involvement in the whole question of development. If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life, and not with the meaning of man's pilgrimage through history in company with his fellow human beings, nor with identifying the goal of that journey, then the Church would not be entitled to speak on 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." He went on to make specific reference to "the unregulated exploitation of the earth's resources" as a destructive factor in human development.
There were a number of surprises in the encyclical. While the focus of the work was the world economic crisis, he repeatedly emphasized that globalization and markets were not the problem, but rather the fault lies with how they have been used. He said "The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. The scandal of glaring inequalities continues." He spoke about the right to life as one that is foundational, but also much broader than some would define it--including a right to adequate water and food. A brief section on population growth spoke out against governments engaging in "mandatory birth control" and said that "sex education [cannot] be reduced to technical instruction" to prevent disease or pregnancy." But there was no criticism of health education that includes those topics. There was an unequivocal condemnation of fundamentalism and its use of religion to reject progress in the world. The role of the Church, he said, is to help us on our "pilgrimage through history," and there was a resonance in the document that made one proud to be a Catholic.
Reporters asked questions for an hour, often pressing the respondents about the clear connection between the pope's call for an economic system that serves the common good, and the impending discussions starting tomorrow that will bring President Obama to attend the G8 Economic Summit south of here in the earthquake-ravaged region of L'Aquila Italy.