Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Pope Speaks Truth to Power, But Who Listens?

In formally signing his new encyclical letter on June 29, Pope Benedict XVI said that it will return to social themes expressed by Pope Paul Vl in his encyclical “On the Development of Peoples” (Populorum Progressio) four decades ago.

That should mean that Benedict’s document, to be released July 7, during the summit meeting of G8 powers in Italy, will raise controversial issues about globalization, as Paul VI did about development. The new encyclical, Caritas in Veritas (Love in Truth), promises to be an eye-opener.

In Pope Paul’s 1987 assessment, healthy development embraces both economic and social progress. The separation of economics from “human realities” is unacceptable and results in a wide range of evils.

Among them are the “flagrant inequalities” not just in wealth but also in power among individuals. Instead, the goods of the earth should flow freely for all. All people have the “right to glean” what they need from the earth. To that basic right, “all other rights whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated.”

In support, Paul VI quoted the words of St. Ambrose:

“You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone."
Paul VI condemned “certain concepts [that have] insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations.”

“This unbridled liberalism,” he added, “paves the way for a particular type of tyranny, rightly condemned by our predecessor, Pius XI, for its results in the ‘international imperialism of money’.”

For Paul VI, “trade relations can no longer be based solely on the principle of free trade, unchecked competition, for it very often creates an economic dictatorship. Free trade can be called just only when it conforms to the demands of social justice.”

Just because a poor country has signed a trade deal with a rich country does not make the agreement legitimate. “When two parties are in very unequal positions, their mutual consent does not guarantee a fair contract; the rule of free consent remains subservient to the demands of the natural law.”

In his closing summary of the crisis “in all its dimensions,” Pope Paul wrote: “The moment for action has reached a critical juncture.”

That appeal was soon forgotten. If Pope Benedict returns to Pope Paul’s principles and applies them to globalization, will he receive a more positive result? Will his analysis and counsel find a place on the G8 agenda? Or on the agenda of the Catholic hierarchy of the United States?

The full text of Papal encyclicals, past and present, can be found in several languages on the Vatican website (, which has a superior search engine.

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