I have no dogma in the fight over Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas In Veritate, nor in the question of whether it's an anti-capitalist tract, nor in the question of whether it's a right-wing or a left-wing anti-capitalist tract. As long as the Vatican continues to sit on the real Third Secret of Fatima, we are under no obligation to care about any of its announcements.
But I have enjoyed the brouhaha over Ethics and Public Policy Center distinguished senior fellow George Weigel's critique of the new document (which at two pages is 142 pages shorter than the encyclical and recommendable on those grounds alone). Weigel sees the finished encyclical as a Frankenstein creation stitching together non-organic arguments from left-leaning members of the hierarchy with more recent and (supposedly) more pro-market arguments.
If you have ever participated in the not-dying-fast-enough ritual of committeeing together a newspaper editorial, you will find Weigel's hypothesis reasonable. And in a church where someone-should-tell-the-czar is a permanent state of mind, it's unsurprising that Weigel believes he can deduce the pope's true opinions in all the muddle:
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.
A Gerard Manley Hopkins fan spoofs Weigel's argument from the left:
Justice and Peace was angry. Very angry. Skulking in the darkest corners of the Vatican, they plotted their revenge. With an evil cackle, they hatched their malicious plots. And when John Paul died and Benedict was elected pope, they saw their opening. "Your Holinessss," they whispered, "don't you think you should issue a document to mark the anniversary of that great encyclical, Populorum Progressio? We could help you, you know, it would be your greatest achievement ever, Holinessss,". Pope Benedict saw the evil gleam in their eyes and he was most disturbed. They gave him a document, but he said no. He did not trust them. They hissed in frustration, but held back their anger. They handed him a second document, and he rejected it again. They tried a third time, and again the answer was no.
Ever the kind old man, the pope did not want to hurt their feelings. So he told a little white lie. "My friends," he said, "the world is going through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. We need to reflect more on that before we write the document". Of course, there was no such "economic crisis" (these things cannot happen in capitalism after all, unless the evil government messes it up). But the advisers were not very bright, and they believed him. And so they kept plotting.
Both sides are in the right pew but the wrong church, or something like that. Populorum Progressio was written by an impostor pope, and its primary interest to free marketers is the sly use that uncuddly mother of Objectivism Ayn Rand made of it in her great essay "Of Living Death." Rand asserted that there was no essential difference between Paul VI's vaguely economic-justice-oriented Populorum Progressio (which pleased the left and displeased the right, in broad terms) and his more famous birth-control-and-abortion encyclical Humanae Vitae (which pleased the right and infuriated the left). Both documents proceed from the same worldview: a determination that people should be both poor and numerous, a rejection (by a self-described pro-life institution) of life in all but its most meager, pleasureless forms.
More broadly, it is vain to seek anything like approbation of capitalism and enlightened self-interest from an institution founded on the rock of shame-based tithing. It is equally vain to seek a full-bore condemnation of even crony capitalism from an institution that is intimately dependant on modern finance, banking and (especially nowadays) insurance companies for its existence. You can look to the church for guidance on the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro. On finance and wealth creation, not so much.
Real reason for this post: Can anybody tell me whether the Catholic Church makes encyclicals available in in Latin anymore? The Vatican site has Caritas In Veritate in several modern languages, but not the language of the Roman church. That's enough to make Mel Gibson get a divorce.