It’s not what the breathless media coverage would lead you to
believe. Or what Catholic social justice activists sincerely believe
the pope’s new social encyclical says, though it seems to be filled
with language they use.

It’s surprising to a lot of people, confusing to others, and already some groups are capitalizing on the ability to misread Charity in Truth.

The head of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson, has
responded to Pope Benedict’s newly-released encyclical, “Caritas in
Veritate” (Love in Truth), by denouncing attempts to use it to further
political agendas rather than viewing it from the Church’s
comprehensive understanding of the human person.

In an interview with CNA on Tuesday morning, Carl Anderson, leader
of the world’s largest lay Catholic organization, decried the “spin
masters who will try to spin the encyclical in one direction or the
other” and emphasized that “the Catholic reader should read the
encyclical in its entirety” in order to understand the underlying
ethical and anthropological foundations that guide it.

“What this encyclical makes very clear is that there is a consistent
ethics in the Catholic Church because there is a consistent view of the
human person,” Anderson told CNA, explaining that this consistency is
seen in Pope Benedict’s assertion that social issues cannot be
separated from life issues.

Exactly. But that’s not very clear in reading it, unless you have a
good recognition of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI’s writing and can
discern it from the more un-Benedict like (and even more
unintelligible) swaths of text in the document.

Thankfully, we have George Weigel
to decipher. And analyze in the context of the Church in politics….and
politics in the Church. It’s fascinating from the top, but compelling
if you pick it up here:

Now comes Caritas in Veritate (Charity in
Truth), Benedict XVI’s long-awaited and much-delayed social encyclical.
It seems to be a hybrid, blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on
the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to
Catholic social doctrine, which imagines that doctrine beginning anew
at Populorum Progressio. Indeed, those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of Caritas in Veritate,
highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold
marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default
positions with a red marker. The net result is, with respect, an
encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.

You read that right. It’s a hybrid, and reading Weigel is what made sense of reading what was signed by Benedict but clearly not all his style.

The clearly Benedictine passages in Caritas in Veritate
follow and develop the line of John Paul II, particularly in the new
encyclical’s strong emphasis on the life issues (abortion, euthanasia,
embryo-destructive stem-cell research) as social-justice issues — which
Benedict cleverly extends to the discussion of environmental questions,
suggesting as he does that people who don’t care much about unborn
children are unlikely to make serious contributions to a human ecology
that takes care of the natural world.

That’s Benedict. And that’s logic, reason, and perfect common sense.

The Benedictine sections in Caritas in Veritate
are also — and predictably — strong and compelling on the inherent
linkage between charity and truth, arguing that care for others
untethered from the moral truth about the human person inevitably
lapses into mere sentimentality.

This is the strength and brilliance of Caritas in Veritate.
It was all there in Benedict’s address to the UN General Assembly last
April, though it probably went over most heads, since he tends to
deliver “velvet darts” in the words of one priest who did network
television analysis of that visit.

The encyclical rightly, if gingerly, suggests that
thug-governments in the Third World have more to do with poverty and
hunger than a lack of international development aid; recognizes that
catastrophically low birth rates are creating serious global economic
problems (although this point may not be as well developed as it was in
previous essays from Joseph Ratzinger); sharply criticizes
international aid programs tied to mandatory contraception and the
provision of “reproductive health services” (the U.N. euphemism for
abortion-on-demand); and neatly ties religious freedom to economic
development. All of this is welcome, and all of it is manifestly
Benedict XVI, in continuity with John Paul II and his extension of the
line of papal argument inspired by Rerum Novarum in Centesimus Annus, Evangelium Vitae (the 1995 encyclical on the life issues), and Ecclesia in Europa (the 2003 apostolic exhortation on the future of Europe).

Rich teachings, all. Must reading for a deeply profound vision and understanding of human justice and solidarity.

As these stories continue to come out about the pope’s new
encyclical sowing confusion about the ‘changing attitude’ of the Church
and some sort of conversion to ’a radical rethinking of the global
economy’, to the vision of an anti-capitalist, anti-free market
economy……come back to this analysis by George Weigel, and read the pope
– and the Church – in light of truth.

Those with eyes to see and ears to hear will concentrate their attention, in reading Caritas in Veritate,
on those parts of the encyclical that are clearly Benedictine,
including the Pope’s trademark defense of the necessary conjunction of
faith and reason and his extension of John Paul II’s signature theme —
that all social issues, including political and economic questions, are
ultimately questions of the nature of the human person.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....