08 July 2009

Media Spinning the New Encyclical (surprise!)

With yesterday's release of Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate, the left media are predictably playing up what they imagine to be the Holy Father's progressive socio-economic views on globalization, poverty, capitalism, etc. As usual, they are wrong.

The one element of the encyclical that has Catholics on the left and right all bound up in their twisted knickers--some delighted, some not so much--is the Holy Father's call for a "world political authority." When I read horrified/excited reactions to this proposal I have to wonder if folks are doing nothing more than reading the document with the "FIND" function, looking for hot-button words and phrases.

Catholicism is notoriously subtle and complex. No single element of our faith stands alone. No one thing dominates in such a way that it overwhelms all the other elements. Though I hate this hippie-ish metaphor, it is very descriptive. . .our faith is a tightly woven clothe that needs every strand, every stitch to maintain its strength. Every fiber of our faith depends on every other. Yes, some elements are more important in conveying the truth of divine revelation than others, but even these fundamental truths are inextricably tied to all the other truths and only half-understood without the proper background and context.

For example, do not read the Holy Father's call for a global political authority without also paying careful attention to his teaching on the necessity of subsidiarity (para 57). No internationalist who longs to eliminate national governments and turn real political power over to a U.N.-like body will be happy with the Pope's teaching on the proper scope of such a body:

Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. It is able to take account both of the manifold articulation of plans — and therefore of the plurality of subjects — as well as the coordination of those plans. Hence the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development. In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together. Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued. This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice (n. 57).

Nothing in this encyclical should give an internationalist with collectivist dreams of a secular utopia much comfort. The Holy Father is clearly opposed to any sort of Global Nanny State modeled on the E.U., or a U.N.-like body with law-enforcement and taxation powers. All through the letter, Benedict emphasizes over and over again the necessity of respecting the dignity of the human person, personal and communal freedom to associate and flourish, and the need for all socio-economic policies to be based on the unbreakable bond between charity and objective truth. There is an entire chapter on the absolute right to religious freedom. This is not something a globalist with secular messianic tendencies will applaud.

I found this brief fisking of media attempts to spin this encyclical leftward very helpful.

Also keep in mind, the Catholic Church transcends trite American political labels. As intellectual shortcuts, "liberal," "conservative," etc. make a lot of sense in the U.S. They make absolutely no sense when applied to the Church. Are you a liberal or a conservative when you insist that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and justly deserve the permanent protection of their dignity as such over and against something as temporary as a national government?

Let let the media spin you. The Holy Father's encyclical is Catholic. Not Republican. Not Democrat. Or socialist or capitalist or anything else but the orthodox teaching of the Body of Christ.


  1. Marc Porter6:20 AM

    Very good thoughts.

    Over the last few days, I read parts of this Pope's first two Encyclicals, and started the newest. These three Encyclicals, together, are very powerful. What are your thoughts on how these three hang together, for I believe they are meant to be read, prayed, and meditated on together?

  2. Amen, Father, Amen!

  3. Count me skeptical about a "global political authority."

    Given a) our fallen human nature and b) the track record of the U.N. and the E.U., such an authority would have the tendency to suppress subsidiarity in the same way that water has a tendency to flow downhill.

  4. PMcG, I agree. I don't agree with the Holy Father here that this is a good idea.

  5. Marc,

    You are right...the three do hang together. Faith, hope, and charity.

    There are several themes that run through them. Just a few:

    1). God is the center we must occupy and reach out from.
    2). Christ is our best example of how we should do this. He not only exemplifies this, but makes it possible.
    3). Justice, peace, etc. are rooted in an objective, knowable truth (even when it is not known absolutely).

    There are many, many more...

  6. I've read it. Twice. And Populorum Progressio (second time this year) - and am finding the rapid, superficial analysis on both sides to be just that: rapid and superficial. It will take careful reading and prayer to pull out even a modicum of what is there.

    And I don't agree that "liberal" and "conservative" are helpful tags in the US, I suspect they drive the polarity. I say the office daily with a monastic community (though I am not bound to it), I go to confession, I am an orthodox Catholic, I am a feminist, I believe global warming is occurring. Am I conservative or liberal? or vilified by both?

  7. Michelle, obviously you're just a Big Freak! :-)

    But you are making my point about secular political labels being useless in the Church.

  8. Michelle, sorry...you mean that those labels don't apply in American politics...maybe. They certainly apply there than they do in the Church...

  9. I am most certainly a complete geek ;)

    I did mean in US politics, and to a lesser extent in the the US Church. We tend to move very quickly to sort people into one of very few buckets based on a single characteristic. I suspect it accentuates our sense of polarization, and perhaps even drives it.

  10. Following is my general rather than a particular reaction...

    He is our Holy Father. Pope Benedict XVI is our Holy Father, our highest authority on earth. Seated in the chair of Peter.

    We're stuck with the limits of contemporary media and personalities, and contemporary common authorities, etc. And we're stuck with the limits of our own outlooks and dispositions, and stuck with the outlooks and dispositions of those in our communities. So be it. We are to consider well and make do with what we have.

    However, this was an encyclical. Not something so common as a casual chat or an editorial or a weekly address. Our MOST earnest consideration and attention and allegiance is due our Holy Father. Solidarity? We are to tune OUT rather than tune IN the noise of our environment on such an occasion. The circus it sometimes seems. Quiet yourself. Then, with his direction to you in the form of his thoughts that move you in particular: pray. Pray so that you discern the direction and can follow. There is much we don't know after all.

    Naive? Maybe. But probably not in effect. In effect - no.

  11. Dear Father,

    I don't know if you are familiar with our site, the Catholic World Report, but we have a "Round-Table" wherein J. Brian Benestad, Francis J. Beckwith, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., Richard Garnett, Thomas S. Hibbs, Paul Kengor, George Neumayr, Joseph Pearce, Tracey Rowland, Father James V. Schall, and Rev. Robert A. Sirico share their thoughts on Caritas in Veritate.


    Jeff Grace
    Ignatius Press

  12. Anonymous7:46 AM

    And yet, the Pope does speak of a "true world political authority"?

    What are we to make of that?