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Openness to Life is at the Centre of True Development: Pope Benedict and and the Economic Crisis in his Third Encyclical

July 7, 2009
caritasinveritateToday at noon Rome time, Pope Benedict XVI released the third Encyclical Letter of his Pontificate, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) a major document on the Social Teaching of the Church. The 60-page encyclical, divided into 79 paragraphs, addresses much more than the ethics of contemporary economics and the global economic crisis, that certainly influenced Benedict in the preparation of the long-anticipated text. This magnum opus follows upon the previous two Encyclicals of the Ratzinger Pontificate: Deus Caritas Est (God is love); Spe Salvi (In hope we were saved), and now the papal analysis on our times.
Benedict XVI is not an easy sound bite Pope and today’s encyclical is living proof of that. Anyone seeking quick answers to the economic crisis of our times should not turn to this document for easy answers and quick fixes. Today’s Papal teaching is long, dense, nuanced and complex, inviting all people into a serious reflection on the history of Papal Social Teaching, with particular attention given to the post-Vatican II document “Popolorum Progressio” the rich social teaching of Pope Paul VI.
This monumental 1967 text looked at the economy on a global level and addressed the rights of workers to unionize and to have secure employment, decent working conditions. In Benedict’s 2009 teaching, he addresses in depth the themes of fraternity, economic development and civil society, the development of people, rights and duties, and the environment; the cooperation of the human family; the development of peoples and technology; and a conclusion.
There are several areas of Benedict’s text that go against the grain of contemporary society and may be easily dismissed by many readers who have problems with the Church, with authority, truth and human life. For me, these areas lie at the crux of the economic crisis and the critical state of things in the world today, illustrating beyond the shadow of any doubt that the economic crisis is at its core a moral crisis.
Two important leit motifs of this Pontificate are moral relativism and the exclusion of God from society and human life. In today’s encyclical, Benedict writes:
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. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world. Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations.
Benedict has repeated continuously over the past four years that ideological rejection of God and an atheism of indifference, oblivious to the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitute some of the chief obstacles to development today. Today’s encyclical states this clearly: “A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism.”
In Benedict’s own words:
Christians long for the entire human family to call upon God as “Our Father!” In union with the only-begotten Son, may all people learn to pray to the Father and to ask him, in the words that Jesus himself taught us, for the grace to glorify him by living according to his will, to receive the daily bread that we need, to be understanding and generous towards our debtors, not to be tempted beyond our limits, and to be delivered from evil.
Such words are not from the lexicon of political correctness and false inclusiveness. The flow from the mind and heart of one of the greatest thinkers of our time.
The other area that will certainly give pause to many readers or simply be dismissed is the dignity and respect for human life “which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples."
Benedict writes:
In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress. ...
Openness to life is at the centre of true development. 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. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.
Perhaps this line sums up the crisis and the encyclical in a remarkable way: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
C.E.O. of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications
Click HERE for the full text of Caritas in Veritate.

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