The Tablet of London reported in early September that George Weigel has been bringing to Polish Catholics his criticism of the “incoherent sentimentalism” of Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Apparently Weigel claims that since the encyclical does not represent the pope’s views, Catholics should remain faithful to the “pro-capitalist teachings” of their countryman Pope John Paul II.
Weigel, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the author of a massive biography of Pope John Paul II titled Witness to Hope. Though widely researched and respectfully praised, the book does not very successfully establish the “pro-capitalist teachings” of the pope who, as a Fortune magazine editor complained in November 1982, was “wedded to socialist economics and increasingly a sucker for third world anti-imperialist rhetoric.” Weigel acknowledges the harsh reaction of pro-capitalists to John Paul II’s encyclical On Social Concern, six years later, but in this case he proposes that the sections of the encyclical that clash with his own interpretation of John Paul were the result of committee work and Roman Curial politics.
Weigel uses the same tactic in dealing with Pope Benedict’s new encyclical letter on charity, truth and social justice. But this time he is less gracious. With a conspiratorial tone worthy of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Weigel suggests in an article in The National Review online edition of July 7, subtitled “The Revenge of Justice and Peace (Or So They May Think),” that some liberal virus has infected the encyclical. We are advised to read it armed with a gold marker and a red marker. The gold should highlight those passages that are authentically Benedict’s (that is, they agree with Weigel); the red is for the passages inserted by the pope’s evil peace-and-justice twin. Otherwise we are stuck with “an encyclical that resembles a duck-billed platypus.” The good Benedict is lucid and moving; the bad Benedict is “incomprehensible” and marked by “confused sentimentality.” Are these the passages that refer to world governance and the common good, the strategic importance of unions, the redistribution of wealth and governmental restraints on capitalism?
One not familiar with Weigel might think the disrespect, even ridicule, is intentional. One might even think, upon reading Weigel’s analysis, that Benedict apparently has not read his own encyclical or that he has signed on to something he does not believe. Whatever the case, Weigel tells us that the pope, “a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include in his encyclical these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household.”
So that is what Weigel thinks of this pope: He is a gentle soul who signs his name to a document that misrepresents his own theology and its application.
This is not the case. If anything, the present pope is an astute and intelligent man, not the pawn of some interest group. Rather, as was the case with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict has an integrative vision of our faith. His notion of “gratuitousness” or “the gift” in human existence is a frontal rejection of our myths of “self-made” men and women. The gift of our shared existence as a human family is grounded, for Benedict, in the Gospel that brings all things under Christ.
“All things” means everything: our political, social, economic, personal, sexual, familial and professional worlds. Any encyclical that tries to address such integration of our faith will be complex and wide-ranging, from the far reaches of theology to the immediacy of our daily lives. Some people will reject the connections among love of the earth, the common good of all humanity, the integrity of sexuality, the Gospel imperatives concerning the use of power and money and the defense of human life at every stage. But in selecting what we want to affirm and rejecting what we do not affirm out of our own proclivities, we mutilate the Gospels and fragment the truth. Benedict himself cautions us against such selectivity, by which we lose sight of the integrated teaching.
So apply, if you must, your gold pencil to things you agree with, whether in Pope Benedict’s writings or the Gospels, and mark in red what does not fit your prejudice. You may then be pleased with yourself. But you will also be stuck with yourself.