A reflection on "Caritas in Veritate"


By Fr. Richard Ryscavage, S.J.,
director of Fairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life

Surprisingly Pope Benedict's first social encyclical does not begin with a discussion of social justice. His starting point is charity and truth. He says that charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine; social justice needs social charity love to complete itself. He equally emphasizes the importance of truth in the sense that truth is not relative; there are absolute truths including, of course, the absolute transcendent truth of God our Creator.

He anchors the document in the work of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, whose famous encyclical Populorum Progessio - on the development of people - was a great landmark of Catholic social thought in the l970s. Benedict echoes Paul VI in stating that authentic human development concerns the whole human person and it concerns every person in the world.

Benedict asks what is new since Populorum Progessio? What social conditions have changed? The Pope answers that the most important change has been the rapid pace of globalization - the integration of many national markets into a global market system and the consequent interdependence of peoples.

His take on globalization is mixed. He says that globalization itself is neither good nor bad. On the one hand he recognizes that billions of people have been lifted out of misery through globalization and the line between rich and poor countries is not so clear as it used to be. He also says that when it comes to international finance "it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility". On the other hand, globalization complicates the goal of social justice because the State or domestic public authority has only limited ability to control global economic developments. We cannot rely on the State the way we did in the past. The Pope says the old "binary concept of market plus state is corrosive" and presumably out of date. He sees the need for new thinking and discernment in order to achieve a market driven global economy that makes room for more than the profit motive. Making room for moral reflection in the areas of economics, business and finance is one of the great themes of the encyclical.

Here the Pope introduces the principle of "gift" to counterbalance the principle of profit and self interest. Human beings can act out of charity to go beyond profit-taking and give something freely to the common good.

He envisions a mix of private and public initiatives where corporations while respecting the need to make money can also promote the common good. As examples, he cites corporations that have a philanthropic component or micro enterprise investments that serve social ends.

He also sees the need for a new world political authority "with teeth" in the areas of finance, development, migration, ecology. He speaks of a new world system where the social order would conform to the moral order. This would require a major reform of the United Nations.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on July 10, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 4