Thursday, July 9, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

So the long-awaited third encyclical letter by Pope Benedict XVI is out and available online--at

I guess I would never make much of a journalist or even commentator. I am still working my way through it. "Benedict’s reflection is a lengthy and substantial one—30,468 words: an introduction, six chapters, conclusion, and 159 footnotes," as Blosser says, and I am still trying to absorb the critical first few pages. It is a major document--the first social encyclical of the century and an important statement of the Church's social doctrine by a pope who has seldom if ever been surpassed in learning in that office. It brings the core principles of the Church's social teaching to bear on our present economic, cultural, and political situation.

So, as they say, more to come. Meanwhile there is an impressive array of commentary on the encyclical from intelligent and well informed authors...and some predictably dumb ones from the media. A good round-up after the first day following publication, to be updated often, i assume, is offered by Christopher Blosser at

The most critical response so far has been from conservative Catholic writer George Weigel, who thinks the pope made too many concessions to the liberal crowd over at [the Pontifical Council for] Justice and Peace, leading to incoherence in places that show that body's influence. Weigel was a good friend of Pope John Paul II and his authorized biographer. His critique is at

Weigel is taken to task for his "intemperate attack" by the (also conservative) Daily Telegraph (UK)'s commentator Damian Thompson at

Benedict has been described (both by way of compliment and of criticism) as to the left of any American politician, as well as--in the past and by the ignorant and malicious--as ultra-conservative and even soft on Holocaust-denial. But in general his encyclical has already served as a kind of Rorschach test wherein readers find confirmation for what they already think. One pro-life group has already extracted the best pro-life quotes and abstracted them from their context in the letter. In general, the terms left and right, whether in politics or theology, obscure more than they reveal. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to Catholic social teaching. Sadly, the terms serve above all as a way to avoid taking the trouble to study a major document such as this to see what we may learn from it that we did not already know or think.

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