In what will perhaps come to be known as the pontiff’s signature writing, Pope Benedict XVI released a sweeping encyclical that seeks to make the Catholic Church’s social stance abundantly clear on everything from sound economic practice to population control. The encyclical, entitled Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) became available to the public on July 7th, and is available on the Vatican web site: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html.
In Pope Benedict’s own words, his writing “addresses social themes vital to the well-being of humanity and reminds us that authentic renewal of both individuals and society requires living by Christ’s truth in love, which stands at the heart of the Church’s social teaching.” He goes on to explain that the encyclical “does not aim to provide technical solutions to today’s social problems but instead focuses on the principles indispensable for human development.’
As such, however, Benedict is abundantly clear in addressing what he believes to be the overriding problem of our day—a love divorced from truth. This problem, he says, leads directly some of the worst ills of modern society.
“Development, social well-being, the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, all need this truth,” Benedict insists. “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power.”
With this as his foundation, the Pope lays out the proper path that the world should take in the pursuit of human development, and also clearly condemns explicit social evils that have impeded this development.
Development, the Pope explains, is not something to be avoided or turned back, but rather something to be carefully guided so as to best benefit humanity. “To regard development as a vocation,” he writes, “is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning.”
Love and truth need to guide the actions not only of individuals, Benedict says, but governments as well. He calls for nations to be “protagonists” and not “victims” in an age of globalization, “guided by charity and truth.” He reminds us that “as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers.”
Benedict condemns certain ills that arise from society’s divorce of love from truth, including abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and population control.
”Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion,” he writes, “at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures. Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition.”
Later in the encyclical he even goes so far as to cite the economic value of human population, writing that “to consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view.” In addition, he says human population should be able to practice their sexuality in freedom, and be free from coercion.
“It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure,” says Benedict, “and likewise to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control. In either case materialistic ideas and policies are at work, and individuals are ultimately subjected to various forms of violence. Against such policies, there is a need to defend the primary competence of the family in the area of sexuality, as opposed to the State and its restrictive policies, and to ensure that parents are suitably prepared to undertake their responsibilities.”
Finally, the Pope argues that it is precisely this disregard for human life that leads to environmental destruction. “If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death . . . the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology.” The Pope goes on to add that “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.”
This is a well-deserved slap in the face to radical environmentalists, who denigrate humanity even as they idolize the environment. The road to true environmental stewardship, says the Pope, lies first and foremost in respect for the human person.
As Benedict explains, if this respect is actualized, this would both contextualize the importance of the environment and at the same time stimulate a desire for true conservation.
Pope Benedict’s encyclical is an excellent example of the best that Catholic scholarship and leadership has to offer. It serves as a moral compass that aligns logic, Scripture, and sound Church teaching to guide us through the problems of our age. The Church’s unchanging mission is to remind the world of the higher things, causing us to reflect on the effect of our actions not only in time but also in eternity. The Popes have consistently done this is by reminding us of the inherent and inestimable value of human life.
Pope Benedict continues this train of thought, pointing out that respect for human life must inform every act of development, and is the ultimate measure of progress. In an increasingly globalized, secularized and materialistic world, one can never make this point too often.