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Roundup: reactions to Caritas in Veritate

July 08, 2009

In the most interesting of the early comments on Caritas in Veritate, George Weigel observes that the new papal encyclical seems to reflect the result of a long struggle between the leftist sympathies of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Holy Father's own preference for a non-partisan, theological approach. He writes:

It is one of the worst-kept secrets in Rome that at least two drafts of such an encyclical, and perhaps three, were rejected by Pope Benedict XVI.

When the long-overdue encyclical did finally appear, Weigel writes, the lengthy document contained plenty of passages promoting the leftist views of the Pontifical Council, interspersed with stronger passages that show the Pope's determination to connect the main lines of Catholic social teaching within a much broader theological framework:

Indeed, those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.

As a result, the document has enough to please the fans of Pope Benedict's theological writings, while still giving comfort to the proponents of leftist ideology.

As if to confirm Weigel's thesis, several American journalists rushed to the conclusion that Pope Benedict had given his support to leftist political and economic theories. The encyclical was a "boost for Catholic progressives," wrote Dan Gilgoff of US News. David Gibson, who might be accurately described as one of those Catholic progressives, offered an analysis that carried the self-explanatory title: "The Pope is a Liberal. Who Knew?" And as usual, Father Tom Reese went over the top with his Newsweek piece:

Although Benedict's emphasis in the encyclical is on the theological foundations of Catholic social teaching, amid the dense prose there are indications, as shown above, that he is to the left of almost every politician in America.

More conservative analysts hastened to balance such interpretations with their own. The Acton Institute provided a variety of resources for understanding the Pope's encyclical in particular, and Catholic social teaching in general. The "Catholic Thing" blog offered quick comments by Michael Novak, Father James Schall, Joseph Wood, and Robert Royal.

While Catholic pundits were eager to comment on the new encyclical, it is worth noticing that the secular media generally did not give the document top-headline treatment. The New York Times news story on Caritas in Veritate was placed on page 6.

Few commentators have yet produced detailed critiques of the papal encyclical, but one analysis by David Goldman ("Spengler") suggested that the Pope's analysis of world poverty seems to apply only to the undeveloped countries of Africa. He wrote:

Call this an African encyclical. Its description of economic developments applies to Africa, but not to East or South Asia, nor for that matter to most of Latin America.
"Spengler" seemed to lose focus later in his analysis, however, when he argued against the Pope by saying: "No amount of regulation can replace morality. Markets can't be better than the people who participate in them." Isn't that exactly the Pope's point?


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