Papal Correspondence: Six experts interpret what 'Charity in Truth' says about the issues of our times.
In July, Pope Benedict XVI issued his first social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” or “Charity in Truth.” It takes major leaps in articulating the pope’s social vision, moving well beyond the link between charity and service in his first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” (“God Is Love,” 2006), articulating the institutional role of Christian love across society. He placed his own social teaching in line with Paul VI’s “Populorum Progessio,” (“On the Development of Peoples,” 1967) and John Paul II’s “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,” (“The Social Concerns of the Church,” 1987), high-water marks in postconciliar Catholic liberalism. Pope Benedict’s own teaching on “gratuity and communion” may represent the most radical Catholic economic teaching to date. It promotes a stakeholder society in which business works at one and the same time for profit and the common good.
The letter opens and weaves throughout rich threads of theological and metaphysical reflection. In addition, it covers a wide range of issues, including globalization, the financial crisis, labor, technology and the environment. America has invited a half dozen scholars to offer their reflections on topics treated in the encyclical or required for its implementation. We hope this theme issue will serve as a sampler inviting our readers to take up the original text themselves. While some have complained about the letter’s heaviness in content and style, we believe it is very much worth reading and studying. Just take it slowly and savor each bit, one section at a time.
All in the Family
By Thomas Massaro
It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person (No. 44).
Pope Benedict’s latest contribution to the social encyclical tradition situates family life in the vital web of social relations without which no human person can truly thrive.
“Caritas in Veritate” will be remembered for its earnest appeal for a renewed commitment to social responsibility in our age of truly global capitalism. The pope deliberately published the document at the height of concerns about failures of business ethics that contributed to the current disastrous economic downturn. Yet behind its exhortations for practical reforms lies an entire worldview, in which the reality of family life turns out to be surprisingly closely connected to political and economic matters. The deeper we probe the underlying vision of Catholic social thought, the more tenuous and artificial the distinction appears that we customarily use to separate the supposedly private world of family life and the supposedly public world of money and power.
Both realms depend on an underlying moral order. Virtues developed in one sphere apply equally to the other. Character traits like honesty, generosity and solidarity promote harmony within households as well as in the wider social world. Thus, in one way or another, every social encyclical has taken up the task of promoting proper moral as well as social order. How may employers or public officials shape work arrangements to ensure a living wage and personal dignity for hard-pressed workers? What institutions of domestic and international society will encourage peace and social justice and discourage exploitation of the poor? What genuine ethical reforms are needed to protect the disadvantaged and to promote the human rights of all? These are the questions that have occupied social encyclicals for over a century now, and they all boil down to Gospel-based ethical concern about social order.
While the human imagination hastens to jump to the highest levels of social organization (governments, corporations, entire cultures) when sweeping questions of social order arise, Pope Benedict reminds us that family life is a basic building block that must never be neglected. In No. 44 of “Caritas in Veritate,” the section featuring the only sustained treatment of the topics of marriage and family life, Benedict calls family “the primary vital cell of society.” This vivid image reaffirms the family’s place in the social order as it has been portrayed in many recent church documents. Social relations on the largest of scales will not fare very well unless the basic building block of family life is healthy and well ordered.
Pope Benedict fills in only a few details regarding the shape of healthy family, but he expresses deep concern about falling birthrates in certain regions, complaining that too many families these days are “minuscule.” While emphasizing “the primary competence of the family in the area of sexuality,” he nevertheless calls upon states to “enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman.” Veterans of legal battles over same-sex marriage need not expend too much effort reading between the lines on this point.
As ever, Pope Benedict is not afraid to be unfashionable. He spills much ink marking the achievements of Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical on economic development, “Populorum Progressio,” but he does not shy away from reviving the pro-life and pro-family messages of Pope Paul’s subsequent (and, notably, his last) encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” of 1968. I hope that history will not repeat itself in terms of the new encyclical’s reception. A pope’s insightful encouragement of healthy family life as an indispensible part of proper order within human society ought not be eclipsed by juicier, more controversial messages in other sections of an important encyclical.
Thomas Massaro, S.J.,who teaches social ethics at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, Mass., is a visiting editor at America.
In the Market for Humanity
By Amy Uelmen
In recent decades a broad intermediate area has emerged between the two types of enterprise. It is made up of traditional companies which nonetheless subscribe to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries, charitable foundations associated with individual companies, groups of companies oriented towards social welfare, and the diversified world of the so-called ‘civil economy’ and the ‘economy of communion’ (No. 46).
It is rare for a specific project to be given a favorable mention in a papal encyclical, but “Caritas in Veritate” seems to present an exception. When Pope Benedict XVI described the “broad intermediate area” between nonprofit and for-profit sectors with the buzz-phrase “economy of communion,” some connected the dots with the Focolare movement’s network of businesses in which profit serves as “a means for achieving human and social ends” (No. 46).
The Economy of Communion in Freedom project (edc-info.org) was launched in 1991, when Chiara Lubich, the founder of Focolare, visited the communities in Brazil. Focolare is a movement with origins in war-torn Trent, Italy, inspired by the example of the first Christians (Acts 2:44-45). Focolare communities practice a “communion of goods” aimed at meeting the basic needs of all of their participants. But as was evident from the shantytowns surrounding the large metropolis of São Paulo, Brazil, where Focolare people also lived, the needs were outweighing the shared resources.
As Ms. Lubich brainstormed with the community in light of the then-recent encyclical “Centesimus Annus,” an idea emerged: to form for-profit businesses that could generate additional jobs and voluntarily allot profits in three parts: 1) for direct aid to those in need, 2) for educational programs that foster what Lubich described as a “culture of giving” and 3) for the continued development of the business.
The response was immediate. The materially poor of the community were among the first to sell their chickens and other livestock in order to purchase shares in the initial businesses. The initiative now embraces more than 750 businesses throughout the globe, in various sectors of production and service, mostly small and medium-sized, but some with more than 100 employees. All are committed to fostering a “person-centered” life of communion in both the internal operations and external impact of the business.
Inspired by the prayer of Jesus for unity, “that they may be one even as we are one” (Jn 17:22), the Economy of Communion project gains particular strength from being embedded in a thick international network that is deeply committed to the larger cultural project of building, as Pope Benedict puts it in “Caritas in Veritate,” “the one community of the human family” (No. 54). Within this vision, openness to the needs of others is experienced not as a call to arduous sacrifice, but as an opportunity to welcome the “astonishing experience of gift” (No. 34).
As the pope explains, the life of the Trinity—“even as we are one”—can serve as a model for social relationships in which “true openness does not mean loss of individual identity but profound interpenetration” (No. 54). As Chiara Lubich described the dynamic, “I am myself not when I close myself off from the other, but rather when I give myself, when out of love I lose myself in the other.”
Within this vision, distribution of direct aid to those with material needs involves not merely assessing concrete concerns and priorities, but also helping to create a dynamic that fosters a true sense of reciprocal love and the full participation of “free subjects in favor of an assumption of shared responsibility” (No. 17).
For all who participate in the project, the primary protagonist is neither the generous business owners nor those who courageously work to improve their living conditions, but God’s loving intervention in their lives. A “culture of giving” is also expressed in how the participants renounce the help they receive as soon as they are able. As soon as he secured a job, a young man from the Dominican Republic wrote: “Now I do not need the help anymore, and I am happy that someone else will be able to experience as I have the concrete love of this family.”
The Economy of Communion project extends a broader and more profound invitation to delve into all the ways in which we are “made for gift” (No. 34) in our personal, social and economic life.
Amy Uelmenis the director of the Fordham Law School Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work and a member of the Focolare movement.
By Aileen A. O’Donoghue
The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole (No. 48).
The Arctic is melting. In this young century, the summer Arctic ice cap has shrunk to its smallest size in recorded history. In Alaska and Siberia expanding melt-water lakes over onetime bogs bubble with methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, which escapes from the re-awakened biological decay of the thawing permafrost. In the tropics, where millions of people depend on alpine ice melt for drinking water, crop irrigation and hydroelectric power, the glaciers are shrinking at an alarming pace, recently revealing a plant hidden for 50,000 years in Peruvian ice.
I have taught about climate change for over a decade, so I read “Caritas in Veritate” with these developments in mind. I was heartened to read Pope Benedict’s arguments that our care for the environment and use of technology are matters not only of personal virtue but of justice. In particular, Pope Benedict makes the point that it is “incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations” (No. 50).
The developed world has made extensive use of natural resources and in so doing has sought to reduce poverty and human suffering and has had some success. Famine, for example, does not sweep through populations as it did in the past, except when warring factions get in the way. But economic development also produces unintended consequences, like the melting ice cap, that threaten both the poor of the world and future generations in the industrialized West. Though many in the United States are still skeptical of the idea of climate change, data revealing how humans contribute to climate change and the serious impact of these climate distortions continue to pile up. The rest of the developed world already has recognized the threat and begun the work of reducing carbon emissions. It is time for the United States to join these efforts.
Throughout the 20th century, the United States and Western Europe developed into industrial and economic engines aided greatly by their unrestrained use of the world’s environmental “commons.” This development, we now realize, has nearly exhausted the earth’s capacity for dissipation and absorption of carbon dioxide. Though the annual carbon contributions of China and India are catching up—indeed now surpassing—those of the United States, we are the ones who filled the atmospheric trash bin nearly to capacity. It is primarily our responsibility, therefore, to make the serious review of our lifestyle called for by “Caritas in Veritate” and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions for the common good of the entire human family. Adding to our moral burden is the fact that we who have contributed most to the problem will be the least affected by it.
According to the World Health Organization: “Overall, the effects of global climate change are predicted to be heavily concentrated in poorer populations at low latitudes, where the most important climate-sensitive health outcomes (malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria) are already common, and where vulnerability to climate effects is greatest. These diseases mainly affect younger age groups, so that the total burden of disease due to climate change appears to be borne mainly by children in developing countries.”
Pope Benedict insists that the world “must not be bequeathed to future generations depleted of its resources” (No. 50). The decisions and actions we take this year and this decade will significantly affect the world our grandchildren inherit. As the primary contributors to this problem and as followers of Christ, we Catholics must make every effort to reduce our nonrenewable energy consumption.
The Catholic community is now challenged to demonstrate boldly its commitment to international and intergenerational justice in practical ways—by abstaining from driving two days each month, for example. Families might consider pairing up to carpool to Mass and errands on Sundays. For 60 million Catholics in the United States driving an average 25 miles per day in cars that average 20 miles per gallon, each day of not driving would be the equivalent of removing 150,000 cars from the road for a year. A single year of two such driving abstentions per month would be the equivalent of taking 3.6 million cars from the road. This small effort, “inspired and sustained by charity,” would make a difference, contributing “to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family” (No. 7).
Aileen A. O’Donoghueis the Priest Associate Professor of Physics at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and the author of The Sky Is Not a Ceiling (Orbis).
What’s the Business Plan?
By Kirk O. Hanson
There is...a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference (No. 40).
For a business ethicist, “Caritas in Veritate” demonstrates both the promise and the limitations of papal and church pronouncements on economic ethics. The promise is that Pope Benedict XVI explicitly mentions business ethics and goes beyond previous statements to address it. Whatever the pope says about business ethics will be heard around the world, a voice of ethical reason desperately needed amid the secular and self-interested concerns of our global economy.
The limitation is that while the Vatican could have access to the best advice in the world regarding practical economic and business affairs, it rarely takes advantage of it. This encyclical, like other church statements on economic matters—including the 1986 U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All”—reflects only the most limited insight into the practical moral problems of people in large and small businesses.
Business ethicists are concerned about practical moral questions that arise at three levels: the systemic level of government and public policy; the organizational level of corporate decisions and policy; and the individual level of managers and business people working in economic organizations and of consumers making decisions regarding what products and services to purchase in the economy. At the systemic level, the pope calls for a global regulatory structure, even a “world political authority,” as a counterforce to market incentives that can induce businesses to take on excessive financial risk, to weaken the rights and employment stability of workers or to abuse the environment.
The pope speaks to and about the leaders of global businesses, commenting critically on the business elite that the global regulation is designed to control. He laments the emergence of a business elite in both rich and poor countries who consider their wealth a “right.” He argues instead for a principle of gratuitousness or giftedness, whereby all who have wealth understand it as a free gift from God that must be put to work for the welfare of all people. While this message is an important one, it lacks a more compelling and practical vision of what constitutes ethical behavior for business enterprises of all sizes and for managers and employees in those businesses.
In “Caritas in Veritate,” Pope Benedict takes positive note of for-profit and nonprofit institutions that demonstrate “hybrid forms of commercial behavior” operated for specifically social purposes. He mentions, for example, institutions engaged in microlending. While he hopes these will have a role in “civilizing the economy,” he tacitly acknowledges these will never be the most important economic institutions of today’s global society. The pope also gives a brief endorsement of “stakeholder theory,” the important but ill-defined notion that a business must be responsible to more than its shareholders’ interests; it must be accountable to other stakeholders, like its employees or the communities where it operates.
Beyond this, the Catholic business leader—or any business person of good will—is left with little guidance from the pope. Benedict reiterates recurring themes from Catholic social teaching on the rights of workers but offers no further counsel on how to resolve the difficult employment, sourcing, safety and environmental challenges business executives face.
At the individual level, Benedict calls on consumers to understand that “purchasing is always a moral—and not simply economic—act.” By every purchase decision, the consumer rewards a firm for its environmental, labor and safety record and creates incentives for responsible behavior. However, the pope acknowledges that the power of ethical purchasing will always be limited by “the intrinsic economic rationality” of purchasing decisions (that is, consumers will always be drawn to the cheapest goods).
I suspect the failure to address moral decisions at other than the systemic level reflects the fact that the Vatican has little expertise and few resources to draw on in constructing such practical moral guidance. What dialogue with real business owners and managers does take place, I fear, is between Vatican officials and the most elite business leaders, who are too often part of the problem. A richer and continuing engagement is critically needed. Sadly, too, the failure to engage in such a dialogue may be related to the church’s hesitance to consult broadly and talk openly and respectfully with the laity.
Kirk O. Hansonis executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and professor of organizations and society.
Communion, Not Commodification
By Kristin Heyer
Economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity (No. 34).
In his first social encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI grounds his analysis of the exploitative consequences of global capitalism in his theology of Christian love. Following his development of love in “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict connects the authentic love embodied by Jesus to the Christian responsibility to humanize economic and political activity. As he addresses contemporary realities from outsourcing to energy consumption, the pope gives sustained attention to theological reflection. He offers two particularly fruitful theological resources that flow from charity: a Christian vision of the human person and the experience of gift.
First, the pope’s view of the person grounds his arguments regarding human development and globalization. In contrast to worldly measures of worth like power, wealth or expertise, the Christian perspective insists upon the unconditional value of every person. This intrinsic dignity is essential to Pope Benedict’s holistic vision of human development, whether he is critiquing cultural effects of commercialization, the commodification of migrant workers or population control measures. His underlying anthropology is also relational, reminding Christians that to be a human being is to be in relationship, given our creation in God’s Trinitarian image. Hence in the face of dehumanizing trends, he calls readers to steer global trade and development in ways that reflect this vision of all persons as sisters and brothers through policies marked by “communion and the sharing of goods.”
The importance of relationship plays a significant role in Pope Benedict’s assessment of the “scandal of glaring inequalities” that persists today. He argues that the absence of adequate institutional relationships—evinced, for example, in the detachment of economic activity from sufficient regulation or distributive mechanisms—has significantly contributed to the present financial and moral crisis we face. The pope’s consequent advocacy of wealth redistribution (in seven separate instances) and stronger international governance reflect his conviction that diverse “stakeholders” remain equal members of one human family.
A second theological resource Pope Benedict mines is the experience and theology of gift. In contrast to some capitalistic narratives of the self-made person, a Christian understanding of our selves as freely “gifted” can motivate actions that enact gratuity in response. This “astonishing experience of gift” grounds the pope’s insights about how love animates, guarantees and exceeds justice. Recent history highlights the fact that contractual justice has proven inadequate for redressing both the privations of underdevelopment and the excesses of “super-development.” Hence Pope Benedict’s charge surpasses a merit-based or a legal sense of justice to demand practices and institutions marked by reciprocity, friendship, even mercy. He contends that “without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function” (No. 35).
We might envision this effusive caritas evident in social enterprises like fair trade cooperatives and microfinance or in conflict transformation initiatives that go beyond mere retribution and focus on restoring broken relationships. Flowing from the experience of gift, the pope insists that policies and ventures that foster not only justice but communion are essential for genuinely human development.
Pope Benedict’s discussion of the human person and gift are but two of many theological themes he explores in light of economic and ecological challenges. Omitted, however, are references to the option for the poor and social sin, even within discussions of distributive injustices or dangerous ideologies and sinful effects evident in the economy. Missed opportunities to name explicitly and develop these categories may reflect the pope’s past encounters with liberation theology.
The theological methodology of “Caritas in Veritate” is to be hailed for further aligning social doctrine with the core of the church’s mission. Pope Benedict’s approach deepens and sharpens more philosophical approaches in light of the riches of the Catholic tradition, even as it raises the question of the role for natural law argumentation in public religious engagement. On the one hand, the pope’s Christocentric understanding of truth set largely against a “logic of power” could deter interreligious engagement. On the other hand, his articulations of truth in terms of genuine human flourishing and development in solidarity with others present fertile opportunities for meaningful dialogue and bold action across communities to meet urgent challenges.
Kristin Heyer is associate professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, Calif.
The Educator’s Mission
By James E. Hug
“The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side” (No. 53).
Our world is caught at this time in a series of converging global crises of economy and finance, food and hunger, migration, climate change and ecological disaster. Solutions that try to get us back on the track we were on before the crises hit will guarantee only greater upheaval in the future.
Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” addresses this troubled world and offers an insightful and challenging blueprint for a more authentically human, sustainable and secure future. Turning that blueprint into a practical reality implies a reorientation and refocusing of the whole educational enterprise in this country.
The stakes are high for educators who have the challenge of making “Caritas in Veritate” understandable while promoting the new direction it introduces. That is no easy task, since its vision conflicts head-on with many American cultural assumptions.
Most would agree that the purpose of education is to guide students to discover and develop their own gifts, finding their vocation to serve the community. Globalization has revealed an interdependence that calls us to turn economic, social, political and cultural forces toward the creation of a global community of love, a single human family united in solidarity and peace. For Pope Benedict a complete education requires service of the global community. Curricula, from kindergarten through doctoral studies, therefore, need to be suffused with this global vision, shaping people who think of themselves as part of one global human family. Are we ready to instill the vision that the pope outlines of a single human community living in solidarity and peace?
Pope Benedict also calls for a transformation of the market, business and politics. The market must integrate more relational principles into its workings. Trust and a sense of gift or gratuity in the relationships between producers and consumers need to replace cutthroat competition and a philosophy of caveat emptor. Creation of wealth is not businesses’ only responsibility. Every business must recognize its responsibilities to all its stakeholders, including workers, clients, suppliers, consumers, local communities and the environment. Pope Benedict’s vision of a well-ordered global economy implies a revolution in business education and economics courses. Will our business schools work seriously with these themes? To do so they must introduce students to the schools of alternative economics that are trying to integrate family and community values and environmental concerns into traditional economics programs. They will have to focus their curricula on a renewed economic order in which economic development serves human dignity and ecological sustainability.
The pope offers a vision of global commerce, directed by Catholic social teaching, that promotes rather than repels global solidarity and that serves the common good. In fact, he claims, if globalization is well managed politically it will open the possibility of redistribution of wealth on a global scale. Will our economists and political scientists educate new generations in this vision and help develop it as a practical, if challenging, direction that the world needs to embrace?
Politicians and citizens alike need to recognize that if there ever was some kind of absolute national sovereignty, it no longer exists. But there is still an important role for the nation state as well as for democratically participatory governing institutions at all levels. That role is not to compete ruthlessly to secure the future for its own people. It is to work together with all other political actors to build a workable global governance system that serves the common good of the whole human family. Can our researchers and educators open up those concepts, counter knee-jerk reactions of fear and suspicion and help to develop systems that serve the common good of the whole human family?
Pope Benedict defines the solidarity we are all created to seek as a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone for everyone. To educate our nation in this vision and instill in it this motivation is truly the “love in truth” that defines authentic human development and our shared vocation. In our culture today, this is a sharply prop