This could be a very interesting Sunday in several Roman Catholic parishes, especially those around the District of Columbia. I can hear the priests now: "Good to see you, Senator. Welcome Representative. . . Have you seen the Pope’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)?"
It’s a remarkable document, not because it breaks a lot of new ground, but because it speaks about economic systems and social justice at a time of great upheaval. For those who think the pope is concerned only about abortion, it will be a real eye-opener. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter notes
Release of the 30,000-word Caritas in Veritate was delayed in order to give the pope time to reflect on the economic crisis that erupted in mid-2007. On the eve of a G8 summit in Italy this week devoted to pondering a new architecture for the global economy, Benedict says the church does not have "technical solutions to offer," but nonetheless issues a slew of specific recommendations:
- Resisting a “downsizing” of social security systems;
- Support for labor unions and the rights of workers in a global economy marked by mobility of labor;
- Combating hunger “by investing in rural infrastructures, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, and in the development and dissemination of agricultural technology”;
- Enshrining access to steady employment for all as a core economic objective;
- Protecting the earth’s “state of ecological health”
- Seeing “openness to life,” meaning resistance to measures such as
abortion and birth control, as not only morally obligatory but a
key to long-term economic development;
- Ensuring that the targets of international aid programs are involved in their design and implementation, and trimming the bureaucracy sometimes associated with those programs;
- Lowering domestic energy consumption in developed nations, investing in renewable forms of energy, and adopting new more sustainable lifestyles;
- Curbing an “excessive zeal for protecting knowledge” among affluent nations, “through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care”;
- Opening up global markets to the products of developing nations, especially in agriculture;
- Commitment among developed nations to devote a larger share of their gross domestic product to development aid;
- Greater investment in education;
- More generous immigration policies, recognizing the economic contributions of migrants, both to their host countries and to their countries of origin by sending money home;
- Support for micro-finance, consumer cooperatives, and socially responsible forms of business;
- Reform of the United Nations and international institutions of economics and finance, in order to promote “a true world political authority … with real teeth,” though one informed by the principle of subsidiarity – meaning respect for the liberty of individuals, families, and civil society;
- Opposition to abuses of biotechnology such as a new eugenics.
I wonder how the Catholic members of Congress will react to this? Will Sam Brownback get behind EFCA? Will Susan Collins throw her centrist voice into supporting real health care reform? Will Jean Schmidt become a passionate advocate for environmental regulations to protect the earth’s "ecological health"? Will Democrats like Claire McCaskill and Mary Landrieu answer their religious critics from the evangelical right with the words out of their own faith tradition?
Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, also summarizes the document well, and puts the encyclical in the context of the American political voices:
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. What politician would casually refer to "redistribution of wealth" or talk of international governing bodies to regulate the economy? Who would call for increasing the percentage of GDP devoted to foreign aid? Who would call for the adoption of "new life-styles ‘in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments’"?
I anxiously await John Boehner’s next speech on the House floor.