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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

An Introduction to Caritas in Veritate

Kirk O Hanson


Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate
"On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth"
By Benedict XVI (German; former Archbishop of Munich; former Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; elected Pope on April 19, 2005)
Dated June 29, 2009 (released July 9, 2009)
Third Encyclical of Papacy of Benedict XVI
"To the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, The Lay Faithful, and all People of Good Will"

Encyclicals and Other Key Roman Catholic Documents dealing with economics issues:

Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor), 1891 (Pope Leo XIII)
Quadragesimo Anno (On the Reconstruction of the Social Order), 1931 (Pope Pius XI)
Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress), 1961 (Pope John XXIII)
Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), 1963 (Pope John XXIII)
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 1965 (Second Vatican Council)
Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), 1967 (Pope Paul VI)
Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), 1981 (Pope John Paul II)
Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, 1986 (United States Catholic Bishops)
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern), 1987 (Pope John Paul II)
Centesimus Annus(The Hundredth Year), 1991 (Pope John Paul II)
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2004 (Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace)
Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), 2005 (Pope Benedict XVI)
Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), 2009 (Pope Benedict XVI)

Considerations regarding religious statements on social issues:

  1. Grounding in Scripture, Tradition, Natural Law and/or Reason
  2. Relation to the Nature of God
  3. Identification of Principles
  4. Nature of Authority of the Document
  5. Role of "Prudential Judgements"
  6. Breadth, Coverage, Timeliness, to Whom Addressed

The Authority of Encyclicals

"the internal assent due to a great number of the doctrines proposed in the papal encyclicals is something distinct from and inferior to both the act of divine Catholic faith and the act most frequently designated as fides ecclesiastica. Most theologians hold that, while there is nothing to prevent an infallible definition of papal encyclicals…the Holy Father has not chosen to use (the encyclicals for this purpose). (Joseph Fenton, American Ecclesiastical Review, 1949)

In an encyclical-any encyclical-one finds statements of various levels of authority. It is not a simple question of whether "an encyclical is binding"…. In a social encyclical, one finds statements of general principles. These are the most authoritative. One also finds various analyses of particular political, economic, and social situations. These usually involve judgments of a prudential sort that are not binding in either the de fide or authoritative sense. They still merit respectful attention, as coming from the supreme earthly shepherd of the Church. (Stephen M. Barr, First Things, July 9, 2009)

The Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching (1890-2010)

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilities
  4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God's Creation
    (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington D.C., 2005)

Structure of Caritas in Veritate:
79 numbered sections/paragraphs.
Six Chapters

  1. The message of Populorum progressio
  2. Human Development in Our Time
  3. Fraternity, Economic Development and Civil Society
  4. The Development of People - Rights and Duties - The Environment
  5. The Cooperation of the Human Family
  6. The Development of Peoples and Technology

The Key Themes of Caritas in Veritate:

  1. Love means engagement in the field of justice and peace.
  2. The Church does not offer technical solutions or interfere in politics, but cannot renounce its mission of truth.
  3. The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church derives from the dynamic of love given and received through our relationship with God and our neighbor.
  4. Justice is inseparable from charity. Charity goes beyond justice, but never lacks justice.
  5. Promotion of the common good - of individuals, families, and groups in society - is a requirement. Our understanding of the common good must be extend globally to the relations between peoples and nations.
  6. The chief challenge facing society today is that of globalization. We need to ensure that globalization does not damage the poor and the most vulnerable.
  7. Every economic decision has a moral consequence. The economy needs ethics to function correctly.
  8. Those with wealth have a duty to share it with have-nots. We need to share goods and resources, not only technical progress.
  9. Corporations and businesses must recognize obligations beyond profit-maximization. Laissez-faire capitalism not consistent with Catholic social vision. Alternate forms of business should be encouraged.
  10. The test of any economy is how workers are treated.
  11. Global economic development requires mediating economic authorities to manage risk and build trust.
  12. We need to recognize that the mobility of labor can produce significant benefits.
  13. The right to food and the right to water have an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. Economic rights are related to/grounded in the right to life.
  14. "The environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole."
  15. Riglits always accompanied by Duties.

Strengths of Caritas in Veritate:

  1. Addressing encyclical to all people of good will
  2. Focus on economic ethics, obligations of wealthy elites.
  3. Endorsement of broad concept of integral human development introduced in Populorum Progressio.
  4. Focus on globalization and its effects
  5. Emphasis on movement of peoples (immigration)
  6. Strongest papal statement yet on environment
  7. Willingness to release it during debate over the worldwide recession

Criticisms of Caritas in Veritate:

  1. Too many topics addressed. Confusion of logic.
  2. Mostly addresses government policy, little to say to business owner or manager, or to consumer.
  3. Naïve on economics and globalization. Does not tap Catholic lay experience sufficiently.
  4. Written with European categories and concerns and examples.
  5. Not written to embrace ecumenical perspectives on the economy.

Kirk O. Hanson, Ethics Center executive director, holds the John Courtney Murray SJ University Professorship at Santa Clara University. This handout is from a presentation he made to the Garfield Forum, Stanford University, February 5, 2010

Feb 5, 2010