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New Encyclical Links Economics and Ethics

BY Edward Pentin

| Posted 7/7/09 at 12:07 PM

 

Pope Benedict XVI’s first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), is a strong plea for a closer connection between morality and the free economy.

In the document, which was released today at the Vatican, the Pope said ethical values are needed to overcome the current global economic crisis, combat poverty and foster authentic development.

The document reflects previous social encyclicals, but with Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father refrains from entering too much into specifics. Instead he underlines established truths in which governments, institutions and individuals should find inspiration in order to help build a just and sustainable economic system. The document does not propose a kind of economic “third way” between socialism and capitalism to be achieved through adhering to Church doctrine.

The Vatican is eager to stress that the encyclical is not principally about the economic crisis, but was written to commemorate Paul VI’s 1967 social encyclical, Populorum Progressio.

But in his references to the current economic situation, Benedict doesn’t name or blame any one person or institution specifically. He notes “the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing” and then attempts to map a way forward, pointing out that the world “needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future.”

The Pope makes no mention of a debt culture, or fiscal irresponsibility (though he does hold up subsidiarity as a way to avoid the tyranny of the state). He also sounds one of the many hopeful and encouraging notes in the encyclical, by saying the crisis is as “an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.”

Perhaps surprisingly, there is no specific mention of capitalism in the papal encyclical. Benedict also doesn’t challenge the legitimacy of private property, contracts or competition. And in the chapter on the environment, he never mentions “climate change.”

The Pope sees globalization as a good subject of how man responds to it, stressing that a just and moral society requires just and moral people. That said, he argues for an authority to govern globalization, “insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued.” However, Benedict stresses that this authority “must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice”; he is not pushing for a kind of world government.

The encyclical, which can be read in full here, is relatively long, comprising six chapters and more than 30,000 words. The Vatican has also released the following unofficial synopsis of the document:

Synthesis (unofficial)

Encyclical Caritas in Veritate of His Holiness Benedict XVI

“Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness” is “the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity”: Thus begins Caritas in Veritate, the encyclical addressed to the Catholic world and “to all people of good will.” In the introduction, the Pope reminds us that “charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” On the other hand, given “the risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living,” it is linked with truth. And he cautions us: “A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance” (§ 1-4).

Truth is necessary for development. Without it, says the Pope, “the social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation” (§ 5). Benedict XVI dwells upon two “criteria that govern moral action” that come from the “charity in truth” principle: justice and the common good. Every Christian is called to love through an “institutional path” which has an incidence on the life of the pólis, of life in society (§ 6-7). The Church, he insists, “does not have technical solutions to offer”; however, she has “a mission of truth to accomplish” for “a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation” (§ 8-9).

The first chapter of the document is about Paul VI’s message of Populorum Progressio. “Without the perspective of eternal life — the Pope warns us — human progress in this world is denied breathing space.” Without God, development becomes negative, “dehumanized” (§ 10-12).

Paul VI, one can read, stressed on “the indispensable importance of the Gospel for building a society according to freedom and justice” (§ 13). In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI “shows the strong ties between life ethics and social ethics” (§ 14-15). He explains the concept of vocation in Populorum Progressio. “Development is vocation” because “it derives from a transcendent call.” He goes on to underline that it is thus “integral,” that is, it has to “promote the good of every man and of the whole man.” “Faith — he adds — does not rely on privilege or positions of power,” “but only on Christ” (§ 16-18). Paul VI shows that “the causes of underdevelopment are not primarily of the material order.” They are above all in the will, thought and even more “in the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples.” “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.” We must, therefore, mobilize ourselves so that economics evolves “towards fully human outcomes” (§ 19-20).

In the second chapter, the Pope deals with human development in our time. Profit as the exclusive goal, “without the common good as its ultimate end, risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” He goes on to mention some distortions of development: financial dealing that is “largely speculative,” migration of peoples “often provoked” and then insufficiently attended to, and “the unregulated exploitation of the Earth’s resources.” Before such interconnected problems, the Pope calls for “a new humanistic synthesis.” The crisis “obliges us to replan our journey” (§ 21).

Development today, says the Pope, “has many overlapping layers.” “The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase,” with new forms of poverty emerging. Corruption, he fears, is present in countries rich and poor; too often, multinational enterprises do not respect the rights of the workers. Besides, “international aids has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions” both of donors and of beneficiaries. At the same time, says the Pope, “there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge on the part of rich countries, through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care” (§ 22).

Since the end of the “blocs,” John Paul II had been asking for a global “re-examination of development,” but this “has been achieved only in part.” There is today “a re-evaluation” of the roles of the “state’s public authorities,” and one can foresee an increase in the “political participation in civil society, nationally and internationally.” The Pope then turns his attention to the search, by rich countries, for areas in which to outsource production at low cost. “These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems,” with “grave danger for the rights of workers.” To this, one has to add that “the cuts in social spending, often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks.” In any case, one can observe that “governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom of labor unions.” Those who rule are reminded that “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity” (§ 23-25).

On a cultural level, the possibility of interaction opens new perspectives of dialogue, but with a double danger. First, there can be a cultural eclecticism in which all cultures are viewed as “substantially equivalent.” The opposite danger is that of “cultural leveling,” “the indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and lifestyles” (§ 26). The Pope then turns his attention to the scandal that hunger represents. What is missing is a “network of economic institutions” capable of confronting this emergency. One must hope for “new possibilities” in the techniques of agriculture and land reform in developing countries (§ 27).

Benedict XVI then underlines that the respect for life “cannot in any way be detached” from the development of peoples. Various parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control which “go as far as to impose abortion.” In economically developed countries, there is “an anti-birth mentality, frequent attempts (being) made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.” In addition, there is “reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked” to “specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition” of birth control. The “laws permitting euthanasia” are another matter for concern: “When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good” (§ 28).

There is another aspect connected to development: the right to religious freedom. Violence “puts the brakes on authentic development,” and this “applies especially to terrorism motivated by fundamentalism.” At the same time, promotion of atheism in many countries “obstructs the requirements for the development of peoples, depriving them of spiritual and human resources” (§ 29), for development needs the interaction of the various levels of knowledge, put in harmony through charity (§ 30-31). One must hope that the economic choices continue “to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment” for everyone. Benedict XVI warns us against “short-term — sometimes very short-term — economy, which leads to “lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers” in order to “increase the country’s international competitiveness.” For this, he exhorts us to correct some dysfunctions of the development models, as is required today by the “Earth’s state of ecological health.” He concludes with globalization: “Without the guidance of charity in truth, this global force could cause unprecedented damage and create new divisions.” Therefore, we have to deal with “a new and creative challenge” (§ 32-33).

Fraternity, economic development and civil society is the theme of the third chapter of the encyclical, opening with a praise of the experience of giving, often unrecognized “because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life.” The conviction that economics are free from the “influences of a moral character” “has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way.” Development, “if it is to be authentically human,” must “make room for the principle of gratuitousness” (§ 34). This is particularly relevant regarding the market.

“Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function.” The market “cannot rely only on itself”; it “must draw its moral energies from other subjects” and must not consider the poor as a “burden, but a resource.” The market must not become “the place where the strong subdue the weak.” Commercial logic needs to be “directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility.” The market is not negative by nature. Therefore, what is to be challenged is man, his “moral conscience and responsibility.” The present crisis shows that the “traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated.” At the same time, the Pope reminds us that economics do not eliminate the role of the state and requires “just laws.” Calling to mind Centesimus Annus, he points to the “necessity of a system with three subjects: the market, the state and civil society” and calls for ways of “civilizing the economy.” We need “economic forms based on solidarity.” The market and politics need “individuals who are open to reciprocal gift” (§ 35-39).

In the fourth chapter, the encyclical deals with the development of people, rights and duties,  and the environment. One can notice the “claims to a ‘right to excess’” in the affluent societies, while food and water are lacking in certain underdeveloped regions. “Individual rights when detached from a framework of duties can run wild.” Rights and duties are in connection to an ethical context. If, on the other hand, their basis is only “to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens,” they are liable to be “changed at any time.” Governments and international bodies must not forget “the objectivity and ‘inviolability’ of rights” (§ 43). On this matter, one can dwell upon the “problems associated with population growth.” It is a “mistake” to “consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment.” The Pope reaffirms that sexuality cannot be “reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment.” One cannot regulate sexuality through “strategies of mandatory birth control.” He then goes on to underline that “morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource.” “States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family” (§ 44).

“The economy,” he adds, “needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centered.” The same centrality of the human person must be the guiding principle “in development programs” of international cooperation, in which the beneficiaries should always be involved. “International organizations might question the actual effectiveness of their bureaucratic machinery,” “often excessively costly.” The Pope notices that too often “the poor serve to perpetuate expensive bureaucracies.” Hence his call for a “complete transparency” concerning funds received (§ 45-47).

The last paragraphs of the chapter are devoted to the environment. For the believer, nature is a gift of God to be used in a responsible way. In this context, our attention is brought to consider the energy problem. The fact that some states and power groups “hoard nonrenewable energy resources” constitutes “a grave obstacle to development in poor countries.” Therefore, the international community should “find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of nonrenewable resources.” “The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption,” while at the same time “encourage research into alternative forms of energy.”
Basically, “what is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles.” A style which, up to now in most parts of the world, “is prone to hedonism and consumerism.” The decisive issue, therefore, is “the overall moral tenor of society.” The Pope goes on to caution: “If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death,” “the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology,” including that of environmental ecology (§ 48-52).

The cooperation of the human family is at the heart of the fifth chapter, in which Benedict XVI shows that “the development of peoples depend above all on a recognition that the human race is a single family.” On the other hand, one can read that the Christian religion can contribute to development “only if God has a place in the public realm.” By “denying the right to profess one’s religion in public,” politics “takes on a domineering and aggressive character.” The Pope warns: “Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue” between reason and religious faith, a breach that “comes only at an enormous price to human development” (§ 53-56).
The Pope then examines the principle of subsidiarity, which offers a help to the human person “via the autonomy of intermediate bodies.” Subsidiarity “is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state” and is well-suited to direct globalization towards its authentic human development. International aids “can sometimes lock people into a state of dependence,” hence all subjects of the civil society, and not only the rulers, should be involved. “Too often, aid has served to create only fringe markets for the products” of these countries (§ 57-58). The Pope exhorts the economically developed nations to “allocate larger portions” of their gross domestic product to development aid, thus respecting the obligations undertaken. He then advocates a greater access to education and more towards “the complete formation of the person,” for relativism makes everyone poorer. An example is given by the perverse phenomenon of sex tourism. “It is sad to note that this activity takes place with the support of local governments, with silence from those in the tourists’ countries of origin, and with the complicity of many of the tour operators” (§ 59-61).

The Pope then deals with the phenomenon of migration, with “epoch-making” proportions. “No country can be expected to address today’s problems of migration by itself.” Every migrant is “a human person” who “possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance.” The Pope asks that the foreign workers not be considered as merchandise and shows the “direct link between poverty and unemployment.” He pleads for a decent employment for all and invites the authorities other than those in politics to focus their attention on the workers of countries where their social rights are violated (§ 62-64).

Finance, “after its misuse which has wreaked such havoc on the real economy, needs to go back to being an instrument directed towards development.” “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity.” In addition, the Pope calls for a “regulation of the financial sector” to safeguard weaker parties (§ 65-66).
The last paragraph of the chapter deals with the “strongly felt need” for a “reform of the U.N.” and of the “economic institutions and international finance.” There is an “urgent need of a true world political authority,” which seeks to “observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity,” an authority vested with “effective power.” The Pope concludes with a call to establish “a greater degree of international ordering” for the management of globalization (§ 67).

The sixth and final chapter is centered on the development of peoples and technology. The Pope cautions us against the “Promethean presumption” which would have us believe that “humanity can re-create itself through the wonders of technology.” Technology cannot have an “absolute freedom.” “The process of globalization could replace ideologies with technology” (§ 68-72). Connected with technological development are the “means of social communications,” called to promote “the dignity of persons and peoples” (§ 73).

A particularly crucial battleground in “today’s cultural struggle between the supremacy of technology and human moral responsibility is the field of bioethics.” The Pope goes on to add: “Reason without faith is doomed to flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence.” The social question has become an “anthropological question.” Research on fetuses and cloning is “being promoted by today’s culture,” believing it has “mastered every mystery.” The Pope expresses his fear of a “systematic eugenic programming of births” (§ 74-75). He adds: “Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth.” And he concludes by exhorting us to have a “new heart” in order to rise “above a materialistic vision of human events” (§ 76-77).

In his conclusion, the Pope underlines that development “needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer”; it needs “love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace” (§ 78-79).