It is not unusual for people who read encyclicals from a political viewpoint or to read a political viewpoint in to them. Such is surely the case with the latest Encyclical by Pope Benedict Caritas in Veritate. Clearly, it touches on the the much debated issue of social justice. While Church teaching in this matter isn’t all that complicated, the method of implementing it is debated. Should the poor be cared for by expansive Government programs, or by initiatives based more in the private sector? How are private property rights balanced with the universal destination of all goods? And so forth.
Some in the media see Caritas in Veritate as largely an affirmation of what we Americans would call Democratic (Party) social policies. Some lament this fact, others celebrate it. But honestly do you really think the Pope means to speak in such simple categories? As with most encyclicals the Pope (especially this one) speaks with careful nuance and balance which is often missed by the sound byte oriented media. The Pope is speaking from Catholic Social Teaching which has a trajectory and history well removed from American Politics. We need to be careful not to over simplify the Pope here.
Just to show how two authors (both conservative) come away with different impressions look at the following two quotes.
There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation — a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work. And another Justice and Peace favorite — the creation of a “world political authority” to ensure integral human development — is revisited, with no more insight into how such an authority would operate….It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Catholic Church why the Roman Curia places such faith in this fantasy of a “world public authority,” given the Holy See’s experience in battling for life, religious freedom, and elementary decency at the United Nations. …. The incoherence of the Justice and Peace sections of the new encyclical is so deep, and the language in some cases so impenetrable, that what the defenders of Populorum Progresio may think to be a new sounding of the trumpet is far more like the warbling of an untuned piccolo. George Weigel In National Review Online
To be fair, Weigel also finds thing to praise in the new Encyclical. Yet still it is clear that he struggles with what he sees as a big Government solution.
But now consider another reflection from the Catholic League that takes away a rather different notion from the Encyclical:
The best way to serve the poor, according to the pope, is not to create bureaucratic monstrosities that cripple the dignity of the indigent. “By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, [the principle of] subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” Similarly, the pope admonishes us not to promote “paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.” In other words, the tried and failed, dependency-inducing welfare programs that mark the social policy prescriptions of the poverty industry are seen by the pope as a disaster. Not exactly what those who work for HHS want to hear. Statement by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
So here is the point. Be careful about simply accepting what one author or group says about how to understand this encyclical. It is carefully written and nunaced, based in a long tradition of Catholic Social teaching which cannot be said simply to affirm one or another political party here in the USA. Our is not the world the Pope lives in nor is it the template with which he thinks. We cannot reduce Papal teaching merely to American political categories. The Pope is Catholic