Pope's encyclical calls for 'world political authority'

 

THERE WAS a full house in the Vatican yesterday for the presentation of Pope Benedict XVI’s long-awaited encyclical on social teaching, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), a document on “integral human development”.

Senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi conceded that, thanks to a series of delays, the timing of the release of Benedict’s third encyclical could hardly have been better, coming right on the eve of today’s G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy.

In 144 densely written pages, Pope Benedict touches on a wide range of issues including globalisation, development aid, education, immigration, combating hunger, trade union rights, abortion, birth control, environmental issues and the reform of the United Nations and other international institutions. Throughout the encyclical, the pope argues for a view of mankind based on faith in God and open to spiritual meaning, as opposed to “an empiricist and sceptical view of life”.

For much of the last six months, media speculation had suggested Benedict’s new encyclical would represent a sort of Vatican riposte to the worldwide economic crisis.

Presenting the document yesterday, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, said much of the encyclical had been written before the downturn in the global economy, adding: “If it had come out then, before the present crisis, people would now be hailing this as a truly prophetic document.”

Cardinal Martino said the encyclical should not be seen as a comment on the current crisis but rather as a part of permanent church teaching. For all that, sections of the encyclical make for very “contemporary” reading. Chapter three, Fraternity, Economic Development and Civic Society, contains a less than flattering analysis of modern capitalism.

“Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise. Without doubt one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value. Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and results of the company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory.

“Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders – namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society – in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility.”

However, Prof Stefano Zamagni, a lay consultant for the Council of Justice and Peace, said the document is not a condemnation of capitalism; rather, an important element is the pope’s call for better “governance” of the world’s economy. Just as there is a UN Security Council for dealing with “hot” political issues, so too there should be a UN “business council” for dealing with complex economic issues.

For all that it has a “contemporary” feel, Vatican commentators say Caritas In Veritatecontains little that is new to Catholic social teaching. Even the call for reforms in world economic governance harks back to a similar proposal made by Pope John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris.

Furthermore, commentators point out that, in many ways, this new encyclical is really an update of Pope Paul VI’s 1 967 social encyclical, Populorum Progressio, a document which attempted to address the newly-emerging global order. Beyond that, of course, Benedict’s new teaching traces its roots back to Rerum Novarum, the 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII which is widely seen as having launched the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching.