WHEN I READ that Pope Benedict XVI presented President Barack Obama with a personal copy of his latest encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate”, I said to myself, “Good luck, Mr. President, you’ve got some heavy reading ahead.” Then I wondered whether a one-page summary would help. This is what I offer here.

“Charity in truth” means truth-filled love. This is the “principal driving force” behind human development, says the pope. Love is the force that leads people “to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace”.

Truth, according to this encyclical, is conformity with “God’s plan”. In God’s plan, humans find truth. Charity “is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine”. Charity in truth “is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns”.

The Church’s social doctrine has a lot to say about justice and the common good; these are the criteria that govern moral action in an increasingly globalised society. Justice “is inseparable from charity”. On this point Pope Benedict reaffirms Pope Paul VI’s conviction that “justice is love’s absolute minimum”.

The common good, says Benedict, is “a good that is linked to living in society”. It is the good of all of us.

He writes: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer” and does not want “to interfere in any way with the politics of states”, but does have a mission to proclaim the truth, an important dimension of which is its social doctrine. It would be a major mistake “to entrust the entire process of development to technology”. All of us are “called” by God to work for human development. “The truth of development consists in its completeness: If it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development.”

“The Church had good reason to be concerned about the capacity of a purely technological society to set realistic goals” in the context of today’s worldwide economic crisis. Our world “needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future”. Worthy of rediscovery are the fundamental values of justice and truth-filled love.

In economic matters, “once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty”. Workers’ rights are in need of protection. Food insecurity needs to be addressed. The goal of “access to steady employment for everyone” is a major priority.

“One of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important question of respect for life ... Openness to life is at the centre of true development ... Violence puts the brakes on authentic development.”

“The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever but an ethics which is people-centred. ... Efforts are needed – and it is essential to say this – not only to create ‘ethical’ sectors or segments of the economy or the world of finance, but to ensure that the whole economy – the whole of finance – is ethical, not merely by virtue of an external label but by its respect for requirements intrinsic to its very nature. The Church’s social teaching is quite clear on the subject.”

“Caritas in Veritate” is the latest in a long line of papal social encyclicals dating back to Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” in 1891. They tend to be lengthy and dense, which is another way of saying difficult to read. But they are worth reading because they convey the principles, which, if implemented, go a long way toward preparing the way for the coming of the promised kingdom of justice, love and peace.

“Now, was that at all helpful, Mr. President?

by Father William J. Byron, SJ

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