Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, came out this week and has caused quite a stir. Positive references to wealth redistribution, world political authority, and aid to Third World countries come across as leftist, in the economic sense, to many readers. E.J. Dionne, who is Catholic and a prominent supporter of the Democratic Party, is relishing the controversy it is has generated and has even suggested the Pope is to the left of President Obama. Dionne admits there are still the life issues, but he feels this at least eliminates the notion that being Catholic and Republican go hand in hand.
Dionne is certainly right about that, but he is wrong in his implicit suggestion that the life and economic issues have equal weight in Catholic social thought. The idea the two sets of issues have equal weight were popularized by views like a “Consistent Ethic of Life” or the “seamless garment” argument, but those views were never incorporated into Magisterial teaching.
On the other end of the spectrum, George Weigel, JPII’s biographer and a friend of the GOP, has called the encyclical ‘incoherent.’ Upset over the leftist passages in the text, Weigel argues they must have been forced upon Bendedict by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Weigel thinks it is inconceivable the Pope could hold such views.
Francis Beckwith has collected several responses to Wegel’s article. The reoccurring argument is maybe the Pope ACTUALLY believes this stuff. This makes sense to me since he spoke approvingly of leftist economics in First Things a few years ago: “In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of social consciousness.”