I had been planning on writing at length on Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, but Stuart Reid has written so well on it in The American Conservative that I will just link to his succinct and eloquent essay here .
I will only add that I am much gratified and not a little bewildered by the Catholic neoconservatives’ reaction to it. Gratified, because I have been saying for years that they are not interested in conforming their thought to the mind of the Church, but only in bending it to fit their ideology, a sort of romantic free market fundamentalism wedded to belligerent nationalism. Conservative Catholics have generally taken issue or even mocked that contention, but here are Novak and Weigel proving my point beyond dispute. I heard Novak on the radio dismissing Populorum Progressio– Paul VI’s encyclical, which Benedict was commemorating- as the Church’s “pinkest encyclical”. And he has since criticized the Pope for putting “too much stress upon caritas, virtue, justice and good intentions and not nearly enough on defeating human sin”. A vicar of Christ is overemphasizing Divine Love? That sort of leaves one speechless, and never mind that Mr Novak’s strategy for “defeating human sin” in the past has included preemptive war. And never mind that the market controls which the neocons find so offensive are precisely geared to defeating the human sins engendered by the market.
And Weigel really went overboard in attacking the encyclical, which he “respectfully” likened to a “duck-billed platypus”. He then proceeded to instruct the faithful on what parts of Caritas they should ignore.
Which is bewildering. The strategy of co-opting the Church’s social teaching, in selecting isolated passages from isolated encyclicals to prove their contentions while ignoring all that counters them, has served the neoconservatives so well in the past that one can only wonder what has changed them. Not that an honest reading of the Church’s teachings did not contradict them at nearly every point; I suspect that only the willing were deceived. But once again it is evident that, as Mr Reid says, the Pope is not a capitalist. Nor is he a socialist or a liberal or a conservative. Surprise, the Pope is Catholic.
I hope I will be excused for enjoying my intellectual opponents making fools of themselves. I will try not to take inordinate pleasure in the spectacle. But it will be a struggle.