Pope Benedict XVI’s first social encyclical will be published a year later than scheduled — but with a timely focus to address the global financial crisis, just as world leaders are meeting in Italy.
Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), which the Vatican announced will be published Tuesday, was supposed to be unveiled more than a year ago to commemorate the 40th anniversary of another landmark social encyclical, Pope Paul VI's Populorum Progressio.
But it is believed that Pope Benedict delayed publication because he wasn’t happy with its content. Economics, by his own admission, isn’t his strongest field, even though his writings on the subject before he was elected Pope show more than a competent grasp of the subject. He therefore wanted to be sure he and his consultors were going to write something scholarly and accurate.
Then the financial crisis came along, and the Pope naturally wanted to add some reflections on that.
Translation difficulties caused further delays, but all of these setbacks have ensured a very timely publication date: on the eve of the G8 meeting of world leaders in Italy, in the midst of a financial crisis that is being met with fiscal irresponsibility, and just a week after the financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in jail for masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
The Pope has hinted about its contends in recent addresses and homilies. On June 13, he said the global crisis proves that the rules and values that have dominated the economy in past years need to be replaced by a concept that is “respectful of the needs and rights of the weakest.”
The Pope will highlight that globalization is not an evil in itself, but it cannot be left to self-regulation, according to leaked excerpts reported in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. He will suggest an international agreement to lead the process of globalization, an authority that should be regulated by law and one that should stick coherently to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.
Although he will emphasize the need for an ethical foundation that will sustain the free market, he won’t go into technical economic theory or policy specifics, nor will he come down on the political left or the right.
Rather, he is more likely to appeal to the Christian requirement of love of God and love of neighbor in forging a more just economic system.
As Pope Benedict often makes clear: A culture that lives as if there is no God and pays no attention to eternal truths is on a path toward its own destruction.
He made a similar point about the need for an ethical foundation to economics as far back as 1985, when he headed the church's top doctrinal body as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The online archives of the Acton Institute www.acton.org provides this key excerpt from that prescient speech, given at a symposium in Rome entitled “Church and Economy in Dialogue”
“It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength. The political formation of a will that employs the inherent economic laws towards this goal appears, in spite of all humanitarian protestations, almost impossible today. It can only be realized if new ethical powers are completely set free. A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality. A scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos misunderstands the reality of man. Therefore it is not scientific. Today we need a maximum of specialized economic understanding, but also a maximum of ethos so that specialized economic understanding may enter the service of the right goals. Only in this way will its knowledge be both politically practicable and socially tolerable.”
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