As the world begins to sink its teeth into “Deus Caritas est”, the first Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, many experts--on all sides of the political aisles-- are lauding the new work as an essential and critical teaching on the core values of the Church.
Bishop William Skylstad, head of the Diocese of Spokane, WA, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the new document a “profound meditation on the meaning of Christian love and the place of charity in the life of the Church.”
Noting the Pope’s affirmation that “the Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word,” Bishop Skylstad said that “This affirmation puts this service at the very center of the Church’s life, and it follows a reflection in depth on the meaning of love as it appears in Sacred Scripture.”
He added that “Following this fundamental affirmation, the Holy Father also discusses the relationship between charity and justice… [pointing] out that ‘the just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics.’”
“At the same time,” the bishop points out, “faith and politics – each independent in its own sphere -- meet on the question, ‘what is justice?’” because, as the Holy Father writes, “’faith liberates reason from its blind spots’ and thus helps politics to achieve a just society.”
Some disagreed however, charging the Pope with being too abstract and avoiding specific, problematic moral issues facing the culture.
An article in the New York Times said that “The encyclical…did not mention abortion, homosexuality, contraception or divorce, issues that often divide Catholics. But in gentle, often poetic language, Benedict nonetheless portrayed a tough-minded church that is ‘duty bound,’ he wrote, to intervene at times in secular politics for ‘the attainment for what is just.’”
Father Joseph Fessio, however, President of Ignatius Press, which is the primary U.S. publisher of the Pope’s books, told the Times that while doing it in a gentle and conciliatory manner, the Pope’s new work holds strongly and clearly to the Church’s age-old teachings.
"What is he doing there?" Father Fessio asked. "He is saying no divorce. He is saying no promiscuity. He is saying no multiple wives. No homosexuality. He's completely positive, but if you accept the teaching, consequences follow."
Likewise, the political group, Concerned Women for America (CWA) countered critical accusations that the Encyclical was “uncontroversial” and avoided “problematic issues of the day.”
“When a pope defines love and sex in terms of a married husband and wife, there’s going to be plenty of controversy,” said Dr. Janice Crouse, Senior Fellow of CWA’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.
She added that "When he linked authentic Christianity to personal lifestyle choices, this new Pope held up an orthodox standard that stands in stark contrast to cultural trends and the prevailing morality of today."
"By condemning promiscuity, the pope is getting at the root cause of the breakdown of the family and the disastrous social outcomes that plague women and children as a result."
She added: "When a Christian leader speaks with Biblical consistency, all Christians can take heart and be encouraged."