The Pope's Duck-Billed Platypus?

September 2009

It seems that little a pope says or does can pass without a full-blown controversy. But -- truly -- that's the way it ought to be. After all, Jesus came "not to send peace, but a sword" (Mt. 10:34). Not that this was the end or design of the coming of Christ, but His coming and His doctrine would have this effect, due to the obstinate resistance that many would make. As an arbiter of truth, the vicar of Christ is necessarily in this position. To be sure, Pope Benedict XVI is no stranger to controversy, no stranger to "obstinate resistance." Yet sometimes such opposition comes from unexpected corners of the Church. Conversely, there are times when praise and support for the Pope come from those who are perennial papal antagonists.

Consider the release of the Pontiff's encyclical Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth") this summer, just days before U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the other industrial nations gathered for the G8 economic summit in L'Aquila, Italy. The subject of the Pope's third encyclical: the economy. The thesis: "Today's international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profound new way of understanding human enterprise." The controversy lies in the Pope's trenchant critique of these "grave deviations and failures" that have engendered the economic meltdown -- for example, bad management and speculative financial dealing based on greed -- and his proposal for a radically different world economy, one in which profit is not the ultimate goal of commerce but rather human dignity and the common good. In short, the Holy Father sets out a simple rule of thumb: Economic systems need to be guided by charity and truth.

In this encyclical the Pope echoes the time-honored social teachings of the Catholic Church as set forth particularly in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and John Paul II. (For a look at the latter, see the article by Jim Wishloff on p. 24 of this issue.) Benedict aptly applies these teachings to the current economic situation (a global crisis) and addresses contemporary economy-driven offenses against the human person -- those presented by advancements in biotechnology, for example.

What's most interesting about the heat generated by Caritas in Veritate is that many on the political Left are hailing the encyclical as a ringing endorsement of their political agendas, while many on the political Right are squirming over the Pope's economic proposals that appear to them as an indictment of capitalism and the free market. Both sides, of course, are guilty of making hasty generalizations, and as usual the first commentaries on the encyclical -- some appearing within hours of the document's release -- were facile and in some cases irrelevant and wrongheaded.


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New Oxford Notes: September 2009

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Perhaps it is George Weigel and his duck-billed theocon friends who are the real platypi. Their project is riddled with internal contradictions but they are very good at taking a moral problem like abortion and using it as a wedge issue to deliver political support for an economic agenda (hard libertarianism) that is quite simply un-Catholic. Let thinking Catholics separate life issues from economic issues. One can be against abortion or stem cell research and also against an economic system that allocates human dignity by the price mechanism. Posted by: Impre1
September 09, 2009 04:24 PM EDT
With the ongoing culture war here in America, many are finally waking up to the fact that we do not know our faith sufficiently well (of course we also see that many do not know what their democrat republic is and what the major tenets of it are). As I pondered what education activities might be available at the parish level to remedy my shortfalls, it became clear that we need, also, to be cognizant of the encyclicals. The Pontiff's encyclical Caritas in Veritate for example,we find, is being quoted by some in the political arena. Of course, as the author states, many times misquoted or spun to fit the political agenda. I was watching Glenn Beck interviewing some of the tea party protesters in Wash dc on Sept 12. One, in particular, caught my attention. He was asking people why they were there and for their opinion on what these people represented. One of the men, a representative from the Ayn Rand corporation, agreed with Beck on the need for less government, responsible spending restraint etc but he disagree about the role of God. Don't remember the exact words but he basically faulted Christians, specifically Catholics, for taking their social justice to extreme, to the point where they were being sucked into socialism. It does seem like a lot of Catholics do not seem, in the case of the Obama administration and dems in congress, to see the danger to our great country through the fog of great oratory and spin regarding the outcome of such things as the "government option" or gov't run health care. Nor do they seem to understand that the Church supports universal access to health care, not universal health care. It would bode this country and our own souls well for us to become informed about the teachings of our beloved Catholic Church. Posted by: awunsch
September 13, 2009 07:41 PM EDT
The previous poster mentions Ayn Rand. I do not have respect for her positions, and consider her one of the main architects of the culture of death (a good book: Architects of the Culture of Death published by Ignatius Press points this out eloquently)

I am dismayed by the attacks on our Pope, from the left and the right, and I am incredibly impressed by the NOR and its sanity in standing with Pope Benedict and proclaiming the truth.

Almost every Catholic intellectual I admire from Tom Woods to George Weigel has attacked the Pope for his latest encyclical. Most telling, these same authors have in the course of their careers singled out the likes of G.K. Chesterton for criticism, Weigel to the point of dismissive arrogance. Woods seems to liken the great Chesterton and Belloc to dangerous fascists when it comes to economics.

I am a Catholic through and through, and I do not believe that the great fathers of the Church were wrong when they spoke about unfettered usury and other evils.

The Pope's latest encyclical is spot on, and he deserves our support and our prayers.
Posted by: cathguy
September 15, 2009 05:47 PM EDT
When certain Catholic neocons are the topic I'm
reminded of Anne Barbeau Gardiner's article in NOR, "False Theologians, Then and Now", which begins:

"In 1529 Catholic theologians teaching at major universities in France, Italy, and England gave King Henry VIII the theological fig leaf he needed to get a divorce from Queen Catherine, his wife of 20 years. These theologians took large sums of gold from the English King and set themselves up as a rival magisterium. They went so far as to falsify passages from the ancient Church Fathers, medieval Doctors, and Church councils to give King Henry what he paid for."

Make your own substitutions. Plus ca change.
Posted by: Henry Patrick
September 16, 2009 07:44 PM EDT
Henry Patrick, your comment reminds me of a fellow Catholic who said one of the things he learned as part of his Jesuit education was that you could rationalize anything to fit the moment. Posted by: awunsch
October 30, 2009 07:50 PM EDT
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