Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio, which is subtitled “On the Development of Peoples.” George Weigel glibly — and falsely — dismissed it. (Probably something there he doesn’t want you to see?) On the other hand, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both praised it in remarkably strong terms.
So to summarize and perhaps expand just a bit on a little Twitter conversation, one thing that is especially interesting and dismaying to me about the Catholic conversation of recent weeks is how widely the uber-Catholics had to expand the circle of those who must be included among the bad guys, the ones who are not Catholic enough, those who have betrayed their faith and capitulated to the spirit of the world, in order to make their case that the discussion at the synod was evidence of the smoke of Satan in the Church .
I mean, think about it. For the Rorate Coeli and National Catholic Register narrative to be right, the people who are building a “false and dark church” are guys like
- Christoph Schonborn, the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (chosen for that job by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, you’ll recall)
- Walter Kasper, author of one of the most respected and cited christologies of the post-Vatican II era, and another distinguished work on trinitarian theology
- Donald Wuerl, author of The Teaching of Christ, probably one of the most popular and soundest of post-Vatican II catechisms published in English prior to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- And Bruno Forte, another highly regarded theologian — accomplished and sound enough that Pope John Paul II invited Forte to preach his Lenten retreat one year (that’s an invitation, we might note, that is sometimes taken by Vatican-watchers to be a subtle indication of who the current Pope thinks might be a good successor in his chair)
Every one of these guys were named bishops and then archbishops and then (with the exception of Forte) cardinals by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
And these are our traitors? These are the people we are to believe are under the sway of the dictatorship of relativism? These are the ones who have, without a care, thrown the deposit of the faith under the bus in favor of a wishy-washy, modernistic, kumbayah alternative? Not a lone rogue element who went off the reservation, but of all of ’em. Seriously? (And don’t forget, at least half the synod fathers — a large group of distinguished pastors from around the world — seem to think that the conversation they want to have is worth having.) Because, after all, that was the criticism of JP2 and B16 all along, right: they were careless in paying attention to the doctrinal convictions of the men they named bishops and cardinals. Yeah.
Let me be clear: I have my own doubts about whether or not Kasper’s proposal for communion to the divorced and remarried is workable. I blogged about that here, on the first day of the Synod. But my response to this fact is to think, “Hm, this will be an interesting conversation among some extraordinary theological and pastoral leaders. It sure would be amazing if we could work out a way that people who are divorced and remarried could receive Communion in faithfulness to the Church’s tradition. Let’s see where this goes,” and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance of their work.
It is not to sound the alarms and scream about traitors to the faith who are building a dark and false church, much less to suggest in public that the Pope (another guy to whom I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt!) is doing great harm to the Church by allowing the discussion to happen.
But that’s just me.
Some fascinating comments this morning from Fr. Lombardi as the synod concludes its general discussion. Vatican Insider reports:
“Participation peaked” during this very “passionate” debate, with the Synod split down the middle, between those in favour of allowing remarried divorcees to take communion in certain cases and others against. Both sides, however, are faithful to Jesus’ teaching on mercy and support the indissolubility of marriage. It is not yet time to take official counts, we don’t count who is “for” and who “against” at the Synod, Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi said.
Two main lines of argument emerged during the daily press briefing. One “insists on what the Gospel says about marriage: if a first marriage is valid, a remarried divorcee cannot be admitted to the sacraments, as there needs to be coherence between doctrine and faithfulness to the word of the Lord. The other line of reasoning recalls that “Jesus sees human experiences with a merciful eye” and “takes into account” the “differences” in each “specific case”, which would make access to the Eucharist possible in some cases. Nevertheless, “even those who are most concerned about the preservation of the doctrine, are far from shut off to the suffering of people facing difficult situations.” Likewise, those who are open to allowing access to communion “do not in any way deny the indissolubility of marriage.”
This is interesting in all kinds of ways, and Lombardi does a good job at capturing some of the nuance involved in a complicated and many-faceted question. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees. Here is a point that we must notice: Gathered in Rome right now, some of the finest theologians theologians in the world, some of the most astute pastoral leaders in the world, some of the highest ranking prelates of the Church — by and large very good, very faithful, and very smart people — are quite clearly divided about the answer to this important pastoral-doctrinal question about admission of divorced and remarried people to Holy Communion. Indeed, if you’ve seen recent interview comments from men like Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Burke, you know that they don’t even seem to agree upon the degree to which this matter is doctrinal question at all.
Take Cardinal Kasper, for example. Much as Raymond Aroyo and Joseph Fessio and Cardinal Burke want you to think right now that he’s an insufferable liberal, ready to throw the Creed overboard in the name of kumbaya religious goodfeelings, that is downright laughable. Walter Kasper has been recognized as a premier Catholic theologian for almost two generations. His scholarly work in Christology and Trinitarian theology has been standard reading at the most respected and rigorous Catholic schools of theology — including Rome’s Gregorian University, where I studied in the early 1990’s, and that’s no bastion of heretical thinking. Only after his significant scholarly achievements was he named a bishop by Pope John Paul II (I know — another stinkin’ liberal, right?) in 1989. The same John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001, not long after bringing him to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Then there’s Cardinal Wuerl, whom everyone is touting as one of the “moderates” among the participants in the current synod, because, oh my, he had the chutzpa to suggest there’s a distinction between doctrinal principle and pastoral practice. Wuerl. A liberal. A danger to the true faith. This, too, is laughable. This is the same Donald Wuerl who began his episcopal career with ordination by John Paul II himself in Rome and then an assignment to Seattle to watch over and share power with that city’s residential bishop — Archbishop Raymond Hunhausen — after Hunthausen got himself into some trouble by taking some truly liberal positions on a variety of issues. At the time, the nation’s liberals were all poking pins into little Donald Wuerl dolls. Wuerl is also the author of The Teaching of Christ, one of the most respected, sound, and popular pre-Catechism of the Catholic Church catechisms ever published in English. After a long and successful stint as bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl was named Archbishop of Washington by Pope Benedict — damn liberal — in 2006. Benedict also named Wuerl the Relator-General of the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.
Those are just two of the most prominent leaders who are open to having a conversation about a topic that Cardinal Burke wants us to think no good Catholic would ever consider. Interesting that Lombardi suggests half the bishops gathered in Rome this week are at least open to talking about it. The group is “split down the middle.”
I’m not saying I know which direction things will go or even that I think I know which direction things should go on this particular question. I know neither. What I’m saying is we are seeing a very clear example of the fact that not everything that the ultra-Catholic right wing wishes us to think is simply clear cut Catholic thinking actually is.
When they tell you that it’s obvious that no pro-choice Catholic politician should be admitted to Communion at Mass, that support of mandatory priestly celibacy is a no-brainer to really faithful Catholics, that refusing to allow your gay son to step foot with his partner into a family gathering is the simple and clear conclusion of basic moral reasoning — well, it’s bunk. Maybe a Catholic pro-choice politician should be barred from Communion, I don’t know for sure; but I tend to think the Eucharistic Christ can take care of Himself. Maybe mandatory celibacy is exactly what God wants for his priests, I can’t say for sure; but if he does, that would make the current church practice of ordaining married ex-Protestant ministers who become Catholic and then discern a call to priesthood contrary to God’s will. And maybe you should tell your gay son he’s not welcome in your home until he dumps his partner, but that doesn’t sound any more morally sound to me than making sure your boy knows he’s welcome in his parents’ home at absolutely any time he wants to come by, just because dammit, he’s your son.
Folks, there are doctrinal principles that are non-negotiable, and heresy is indeed a clear and present danger to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that set of doctrinal principles does not offer a clear answer to every question that the Church faces in any particular time and place, and the most hard-line, conservative, traditionalist answer to every question is not necessarily always the right one. Indeed, Catholic history has shown us again and again that sometimes the “conservative” answer is the one that is soon dismissed by the church to the dustbin of history, and the “liberal” or “progressive” one is what is soon recognized as orthodox and sound.
Cardinal Pell can say, “I’m with Jesus.” But the fact is, everyone in that Synod hall is “with Jesus.” But what exactly being “with Jesus” means on a particular question related to Catholic faith and life is sometimes not very clear.
Five years after the publication of Caritas in Veritate, what is there to say that was not said at the time? What do we see now, with a perspective of five years, that we might not have seen then?
Most importantly, we see it from a vantage point of the Pope Francis pontificate. In this sense, a look back at CiV should remind us that Benedict’s successor is not nearly the radical break with his predecessors as many would have us believe he is. Indeed, CiV caused the same sort of agita among conservatives five years ago as Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium did upon its November 2013 release.
In fact, it may be fitting that we mark not only the fifth anniversary of CiV’s release, but also of one of the clearest examples of cafeteria Catholicism since the invention of the term. On the very day of the document’s release, National Review Online published an essay by commentator George Weigel, who could only explain the presence of so much in CiV that made him uncomfortable – advocacy of a more just redistribution of wealth and a world political authority, for example – by suggesting that Benedict found himself unable to say no to officials at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace who wanted to include them.
“Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include in his encyclical these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household,” Weigel wrote. He suggested one might mark the “obviously Benedictine” passages with a gold marker and those that “Benedict evidently believed he had to try and accommodate” with a red one. (It is fascinating to note, given Benedict’s lionization among conservatives, that the encyclical that garnered this sort of reaction will likely stand as his most lasting contribution to the Church’s doctrinal heritage.)
Still, we should recall that such anxiety five years ago was mostly limited to those most familiar with the intricacies of Catholic doctrine, while Francis’s similar teaching on economic morality has been blasted by the likes of radio commentator Rush Limbaugh radio show and Fox Business host Stuart Varney. This surely says something about the effectiveness of Francis’s communication style or, perhaps moreso, of his lifestyle in getting people to listen to and understand what he has to say. It is a bracing reminder of Pope Paul VI’s insistence two generations ago, in his landmark encyclical on evangelization, that people of our age listen more attentively to witnesses than to teachers, and if we do listen to teachers, it is because they are also witnesses (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41).
We find echoes of CiV throughout Evangelii Gaudium, perhaps most strongly in its second chapter, where the Pope calls us to offer a courageous “No to the new idolatry of money.” Francis’s assertion that the recent financial crisis “originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person!” and his call for a financial reform rooted in ethics and “a more humane social order” where “Money must serve, not rule!” sounds a lot like Benedict’s insistence that “[t]he economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centered.”
The combined efforts of both these popes have now decisively moved modern Catholic teaching firmly beyond a conception of social ministry as founded solely upon justice, that is on moral duty and obligation (though neither leaves any question that it is). Both insist that this ministry ultimately is rooted in love and flows generously and gratuitously from our awareness of God’s love for us and for others.
Both have also called us to a greater capacity to be shocked by the conditions under which too many of our sisters and brothers live and die on a daily basis. Benedict laments in CiV that “[i]nsignificant matters are considered shocking, yet unprecedented injustices seem to be widely tolerated. While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human.” This sounds a lot like Francis’s warning of a “globalization of indifference” that results from a “culture of prosperity” that “deadens us.” He continues, “[W]e are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
The fifth anniversary of CiV offers a good opportunity to appreciate this rich contribution of Benedict XVI to the Catholic doctrinal tradition and to note that neither he nor Francis can easily be fit into ideological categories of today’s politics. Indeed, if what we proclaim can be, it probably is not the Gospel of Jesus.
There is a lot about the content of Caritas in Veritate that is worth paying attention to, and I’m not going to explore it all in this little series of posts. I would mention three in passing before turning to the one I want to focus on here.
First, like Populorum Progressio, the major theme of Caritas in Veritate is authentic human development. And with Paul VI before him, Benedict XVI insists upon a broader understanding of the topic than it commonly receives. He considers the factors that promote development and those that threaten it, covering topics like hunger, economic aid, population, and the participation of the poor in the decisions that affect their lives and well-being. He reiterates the call (made earlier by John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII) for the development of some world political authority.
Second, Benedict’s comments in CiV on the environment are not to be overlooked. Indeed, they are – according to Catholic social teaching expert John Carr – “groundbreaking.” Benedict insists that “the Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere.” In other words, just as Catholics need to be involved in the legal and social protection of the unborn and of marriage, so they must be actively involved in the legal and social protection of the environment. He reminds us of the harmful consequences of our consumerism upon the environment, and he ties authentic human and economic development with protection of the environment. In one of my favorite passages of the document, he connects the Church’s pro-life concerns directly with its environmental concerns (and so those who think Pope Francis was the first to insist that we consider abortion within the broader context of the Church’s social teaching are mistaken):
In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.
Third, also notable is the Pope’s sustained attention to business and, in this context, a new papal call for a type of business enterprise that falls somewhere between for-profit and non-profit, for which making a profit and serving the common good are equal priorities.
In additional to all of that, though, perhaps the most significant aspect of Benedict’s teaching in CiV is his insistence on the central place of love in the architecture of Catholic social teaching. Theologian Donal Dorr calls this “the distinctively new element” in CiV, noting (in his excellent book Option for the Poor and for the Earth):
Earlier social encyclicals rightly stressed the fact that our response to issues of poverty and oppression is an obligation of justice and is not ‘merely’ a matter of charity. But now that there is no longer any doubt about that, Benedict sees it as essential to insist that love must animate and permeate all our efforts to create a more just world.
Prior to CiV, Catholic social teaching was lacking something essential. It’s interesting that when I check two of the finest resources published on Catholic social teaching in the past decade — Kenneth Himes’s Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations and Charles Curran’s Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis — the index of neither of these go-to books includes an entry on love. This is not because their authors ignored it, but because there just was not that much to say about love in CST before Benedict.
Benedict brings love to the foundational place is ought to have in the architecture of that tradition. The Christian pursuit of social justice is not, fundamentally, about carrying out a moral obligation or assuaging our own guilt upon witnessing the suffering of others. For a Christian, it’s not even, at its heart, about making the world a better place. Christians, Pope Benedict writes, are compelled to pursue justice first of all because we have come to know and experience God’s love for us and for the people and the world around us, and we want to live and proclaim that love. Benedict writes:
As the objects of God’s love, men and women become subjects of charity, they are called to make themselves instruments of grace, so as to pour forth God’s charity and to weave networks of charity. This dynamic of charity received and given is what gives rise to the Church’s social teaching, which is caritas in veritate in re sociali: the proclamation of the truth of Christ’s love in society. (n. 5)
This is expressed in particular in Benedict’s distinctive call for economic, social, and political systems marked by “gratuitousness,” that is, by a spirit of generosity, compassion, and unselfishness.
This aspect of CiV is not surprising, since love was a key theme of Benedict’s pontificate from its start. His inaugural encyclical, of course, was Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”). Though this encyclical will probably never be listed among the social encyclicals of the tradition, it includes a lot on the Church’s social teaching. You can’t talk for very long about love — it is as though Benedict tells us — without talking about Catholic social teaching. Love is social in nature, so how could you possibly try to? Similarly, you can’t conceive of Catholic social teaching (and shouldn’t be able to) without talking about love.
For this very real and important contribution to Catholic social teaching, a corrective one that deepens that tradition’s connections with the Christian gospel, we owe Pope Benedict a debt of thanks. And we are challenged to form our own understanding and living of the teaching in accord with it.
(I’ll post Part 4 of this series in a few days.)
An interesting (though tangential) historical note: If the folks at the Vatican hoped to get people to notice the publication of Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, on its release day that early summer of 2009, they could hardly have chosen a worse day. Dated June 29, 2009, the document was released to the public a little over a week later, on July 7. To put it mildly, the attention of most of the world was elsewhere that day, thanks to wall-to-wall cable news channel coverage of the funeral of Michael Jackson.
CiV is subtitled “On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth.” It’s a social encyclical — that is, it is on some specific aspect of Catholic social teaching, following in a long line of remarkable modern encyclicals starting with the foundational Rerum Novarum, published by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Like so many modern social encyclicals before it, CiV pushes Catholic social teaching a few steps forward and applies it anew to an ever developing social landscape.
CiV was intended to mark the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s landmark 1967 encyclical on human development, Populorum Progressio. This is itself noteworthy, since almost every social encyclical prior to that was published on an anniversary of Rerum Novarum; for tradition-minded Benedict, the departure was certainly a deliberate choice. Why make it?
Populorum Progressio was a careful exploration of the interconnections between Christian ethics and the economic life of nations. At a time when economic development of poor nations was rising on the priorities of policy-makers around the world, Pope Paul insisted that authentic development is not just about providing money where there is not enough; it must respect and develop the humanity and the dignity of all involved. Paul wrote, “There can be no progress toward complete development of man without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity” (n. 45). And that solidarity must be practical. Paul insisted that rich nations must be concerned about poor nations, and express this concern in concrete ways, such as aid, fairer trade relations, and making sure that no people is left behind as development advances.
It’s worth noting that Populorum was greeted (and continues to be regarded) with profound disappointment by Catholics (and others) whose politics were conservative in nature. This is not surprising, since Paul takes direct aim at many basic principles of economic liberalism (which is called “conservatism” is the U.S. today). He said free trade and the laws of the market are not adequate guides in international trade relations; these relations are subject to the principles of social justice. He condemned any economic theory that “considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation” (n. 26).
Not surprisingly, then, the Wall Street Journal called the encyclical “warmed-over Marxism.” Years later, the neo-conservative Michael Novak wrote that it was naive, lacking in humility, and overly emotional.
Pope John Paul II clearly disagreed. In 1987, he took the novel step of marking the twentieth anniversary of Populorum’s publication with a social encyclical of his own, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. By commemorating Populorum in the way that other popes (including himself, with the 1981’s Laborem Exercens) had commemorated Rerum Novarium, JP2 automatically gave Paul’s encyclical greater prominence and significance in the landscape of Catholic social tradition. (Sollicitudo, for its part, was also rejected by conservatives. William Buckley said it was “heart-tearingly misbegotten.” And the New Republic accused John Paul of making himself “an apostle of moral equivalence.”)
With the publication of CiV, Pope Benedict XVI repeated his predecessor’s commemoration of Populorum. Indeed, Benedict wrote in it that Paul’s encyclical is “the Rerum Novarum of the present age” (n. 8). It’s a strong statement of support for the contents of Paul VI’s encyclical.
As an anniversary marker, though, CiV was late. But some initial delays in its preparation soon seemed downright providential, since they provided the Pope the opportunity to delay it even further with the onset of the global recession in 2008, in order that this new social encyclical could do what many of its predecessors have done so well: apply Catholic social teaching to the developing circumstances of its day.
The result is what theologian Donal Dorr has called “a remarkably insightful and comprehensive presentation of the Christian and Catholic approach to economic activity, to business, and to social justice at the national and international levels.” Indeed, Dorr contends that CiV provides “a richer and more satisfying theology of human development and of social justice” than the earlier encyclical it commemorates.
[Part 3 of this little series on Caritas in Veritate will come in a couple of days.]
It’s five years now since the publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The document is dated June 29, 2009 (though it was made public over a week after that). Though we didn’t know it at the time, of course, it proved to be Benedict’s final encyclical letter to the Church.
Here’s an interesting way of looking at this document: it is probably the most significant and lasting contribution to the doctrinal heritage of the Catholic Church to come of Benedict’s pontificate. Considering Benedict(/Ratzinger)’s place in 20th century ecclesial history, that’s saying a lot.
Consider: Benedict published three encyclicals. The previous two – on the virtues of love and hope – are rich, profound, and well worth prayerful reading by all of us. I read ’em both from beginning to end within days of their publication, and gained much from the effort. So nothing I say here is intended to denigrate them.
But neither of them offers much that is original or doctrinally consequential. They have a more meditative and devotional character to them than a doctrinal one (though there are doctrinal elements, too, to be sure). And so they are (we might even say unfortunately) unlikely to have much lasting impact. Because of this – though for several positive reasons, too, which we’ll consider in the coming days – the most lasting and consequential encyclical from Benedict, is Caritas in Veritate. It’s the one that will still be referred to a century and more from now.
There is, to be sure, probably one other among Benedict’s documents (though it’s not an encyclical) that has been, from where we now stand, more consequential, and that is, of course, Summorum Pontificum. With it, Benedict made the liturgy as it was celebrated prior to the Vatican II reforms widely available to the Catholic faithful, and some communities have taken advantage of this option. It has certainly impacted ecclesial life to some degree. But it’s my opinion that this impact will be short-lived. It was an unfortunate move on Benedict’s part — Andrea Grillo’s Beyond Pius V, which I translated from its original Italian, makes a good case for this — and I think it will, over time, either be rescinded by another pope or, more likely, quietly dismissed and forgotten. If this is the case – and of course, I could be completely wrong here – that will leave Caritas in Veritate as the most important, lasting, and (hopefully) consequential document of Benedict’s pontificate.
Let’s use the anniversary to have another look. I’ll do that in a series of short posts, offering a few points worth pondering, over the coming days.