Neither East nor West: On the Pope's Radical New Encyclical

April 1988By Dale Vree

Dale Vree is editor of New Oxford Review.

When Pope John Paul II visited the U.S. last fall, we heard from liberal partisans about how the Catholic Church fails to understand and appreciate the “American experience” — of sexual self-indul­gence. Of course, the universal Church is not in the habit of blessing national parochialisms or self-in­dulgence. If she were, who would need her? So, the Pope came, listened, and kept teaching what the Church has traditionally taught.

Now, with the issuance of John Paul’s second social encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“The So­cial Concerns of the Church”), we are hearing from conservative ideologues about how the Church fails to understand and appreciate the “American exper­ience” — in this case, of military and economic self-indulgence. Of course, this is hardly unprecedented. Conservatives complained about John Paul’s first social encyclical, Laborem Exercens — not to mention his various social pronouncements made during his world travels, and the U.S. bish­ops’ pastorals on peace and the economy.

Nevertheless, thanks largely to our blinkered public-opinion molders, the impression persists far and wide that this Pope is a conservative. Such an impression can be promulgated only by those who regard polymorphous sexual pleasure as among the highest of human priorities. Adherence to such a sense of priorities is itself the mark of very privileg­ed persons — which is what most members of the mass media in this country are.

But if one could see life from the bottom up or the outside in — from the viewpoint of landless peasants and underemployed workers in the Third World or even foreclosed farmers and the homeless in our lovely land — one would understand this Pope in a very different light. Indeed, his Sollicitu­do Rei Socialis states that “the Church feels called to take her stand beside the poor,” particularly in their “growing awareness of [their] solidarity…and their public demonstrations on the social scene....”

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