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Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic World News News Feature

Caritas in Veritate: papal encyclical calls for new moral approach to global economy July 07, 2009

The Vatican has released the text of Caritas in Veritate, the long-awaited social encyclical in which Pope Benedict XVI calls for "a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise" and a global economic system that values the common good above private profits.

Explaining the title of the encyclical, Pope Benedict writes that the social teachings of the Catholic Church offer a means of appraising the secular world, judging social and economic systems against a clear moral standard. The guiding principle of Catholic social teaching is charity, he says. The teaching function of the Church involves explaining how that charity should be applied to practical issues: "A Christianity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance."

While the Church "does not have technical solutions to offer" in shaping today's global economy, Catholic social teaching can guide moral decisions. The world's economic system cannot be guided simply by the pursuit of profit, he argues. While acknowledging that the profit motive "is useful if it serves as a means toward an end," he adds: "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."

The 144-page document, released on July 7 just as leaders of the G8 industrial nations gather in Italy for their discussions of the global economy, defies easy categorization. A story in the National Catholic Reporter carried an accurate descriptive subhead, noting that the encyclical "offers something for both the political left and right to cheer… and something to be grumpy about."

The first round of stories in Caritas in Veritate have sometimes oversimplified the Pope's message. A Reuters report, for example, conveys the impression that the encyclical calls for a centralized authority to govern the world economy. It is true that the Pope calls for reform of the UN to create "a true world political authority… with real teeth." But he does not suggest central economic planning, and in fact he devotes considerable stress to the importance of the subsidiarity principle, which he says is "the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state."

Vatican Radio has provided a short and accurate summary of the main themes in Caritas in Veritate. The Catholic Culture site will continue to provide analysis and reflections on the encyclical.

Among the many themes that the Pope touches upon in his encyclical are:

  • the role of a "largely speculative" approach to finance in precipitating the current worldwide economic crisis;
  • the failure of world leaders to cope with the phenomenon of migration-- which is often provoked by intolerable situations in undeveloped countries, and aggravated by the failure of host nations to protect the dignity of immigrants;
  • the "unregulated exploitation of earth's resources;"
  • the importance of understanding that rights are always attached to corresponding duties;
  • the wrongful exploitation of international aid, which "has often been diverted from its proper ends;"
  • an "excessive zeal" for maintaining intellectual-property rights in the developed countries, thus suppressing opportunities for growth in the developing countries;
  • the anti-life approach that has infected the most advanced countries, producing a society that "ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good;
  • the importance of allowing the Christian faith to exert some moral guiding force, which can occur "only if God has a place in the public realm."