In this respect, Benedict’s insistence in Caritas in Veritate that the life issues are social-justice issues is the encyclical’s tacit response to Obama’s promotion of the late Cardinal Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life” or “seamless garment,” which despite the cardinal’s strong personal opposition to abortion, was used by two generations of Catholic politicians as a way to avoid pro-life votes. Caritas in Veritate ought to make that sort of bobbing-and-weaving more difficult, though no doubt some Catholic legislators and their intellectual and activist supporters will continue to try.
4. One of the encyclical’s more obscure passages has to do with “quotas of gratuitousness and communion” being the answer to Third World underdevelopment. As it happens, there is a school of economic thought that styles itself the “Economy of Communion” and promotes free-market approaches in which profit, while a factor in business life, is not the only factor, and in which a portion of profits are shared with projects aimed at the economic empowerment of the poor. It is unclear from the text of Caritas in Veritate whether this is being recommended as a general model for 21st-century economic life, or an interesting experiment within the framework of the free economy. But given the influence of “Economy of Communion” academics on the formation of Caritas in Veritate, the idea is not going to go away and ought to be engaged and debated, both by economists committed to market principles and practices and by Catholic scholars committed to the Centesimus Annus portrait of the free economy.
5. Finally, and of possible concern only to those fascinated by the most inside of Catholic inside baseball, it will be interesting to see the effect of the encyclical’s strictures against too-stringent laws protecting intellectual property rights on what some would regard as the excessive claim of the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Holy See’s publishing house, to a property right in virtually every word spoken by this pope.
CHALLENGES IN ALL DIRECTIONS
It is certainly true that Catholic social doctrine challenges all parties in the ongoing debate over political economy in the United States. Yet if the most important development in that doctrine in Caritas in Veritate is a strong linkage of the life issues to Catholic social-justice concerns, then it is also true that the challenge of this particular encyclical falls more sharply on those who believe that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided, and remedied an injustice in prior American law. The positive commentary on the encyclical from those usually stereotyped as the defenders of “unbridled capitalism” suggest both the silliness of that label and the openness of many conservatives to the legal and cultural regulation of markets. The sounds of silence from the left, however, on the encyclical’s insistence that the defense of life from conception until natural death is a social-justice issue, and perhaps the social-justice issue of the moment because of its fundamental character, suggests that a parallel openness to challenge is not immediately self-evident among some of those now trumpeting their appreciation for Caritas in Veritate. Perhaps that will change.
– George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center.