Friday, July 17, 2009

Caritas in Veritate 3

In Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, he elaborates on many aspects of world-wide economy. (My first installment of the review is here and the second is here.) The Pope is timely in the treatment of globalization and the recent economic crisis. In the last post, I had mentioned the current movements in Latin America of socialism and Liberation Theology. Some see the US as moving toward socialism in aspects such as health care.

The Pope warns against socialism, yet he advocates regulation at all levels in a world-wide economic system. One reason is that in globalization, wealth has become more an international pooling of individual business and financial institutions instead of previous status of rich vs. poor countries. Under international rules enforced by such agencies as the United Nations, he envisions private business working in tandem with non-profit agencies and socially-focused businesses. Benedict uses the term "principle of gratuitousness" to describe his overall vision. He wants every human to recognize "they are made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension." The alternative, he says, is when man believes he is self-sufficient and can control economic and social systems by his own power. This leads to an attitude that the economy must be isolated from religious morality, which in turn goes down a destructive path (section 34).

Along with the sweeping changes at the top of the economic hierarchy, Benedict encourages subsidiarity, the inclusion of all levels of persons involved such as the workers and other interested local parties. He believes they should all participate in decision-making.

I think the major point Pope Benedict wants to make is that God is the ultimate giver of goods, and if we don't understand the spiritual dimension of human life, we will never have full development, either economically or personally. Also, charity should be a part of all we do, not just alms-giving.

As I said in the second part of this review, this encyclical is in part an anniversary tribute to Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Populorum Progressio. Pope Paul denounced the accumulation of riches to the few and declared that all persons should share in the Earth's bounty. That was in 1967, and though the encyclical may have increased awareness and perhaps guided some to be more socially active, it did not prevent the present economic mess. One can only wonder if Benedict's encyclical will do better. Pope Benedict at least makes the effort to tell what he thinks should be done, but one gets the feeling he speaks to the upper classes and leaves the poor to wait for them to respond. This is where Liberation Theology has its appeal to the poor: that they have a mode of action of their own. They get together in communities, read the Bible and discuss their immediate problems and what they can do about them. It is more practical on their level, though the problem with it, as the Pope has said, is that the leaders of the movement can tend to be Marxist in tone. That leads to a class separation of its own (poor trying to topple rich), which is as unhelpful as the self-imposed economic separation by the rich from the poor.

Since Pope Benedict doesn't like Liberation Theology, it seems he needs to come up with a more practical way for subsidiarity to take root, encouraging the Church more specifically than he does in his encyclical. I have heard there are small group movements in churches, but there none in my own and no official encouragement that I know of. Parish groups don't have to be based in Liberation Theology. They can be based in subsidiarity and spirituality as the Pope says we should all be. Maybe there are already meetings between rich and poor on a regular basis somewhere, but perhaps Bishops are in a position to personally lead individuals from different backgrounds to come together and make long-term commitments to each other. These groups could (and should) include the element of evangelization as an even greater purpose.

There is too much history of greed in our world to expect it to stop, even when denounced in an encyclical. The Pope is the head of the Church, not counselor for the United Nations. He needs to direct all Catholics to do what we can as soon as we can.

There are other aspects of the encyclical, such as environment and right to life issues. Eventually I hope to comment on these subjects, in reference to the encyclical and/or otherwise.

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