Weigel revisits social encyclical's analysis of ‘moral ecology’

George Weigel
George Weigel


George Weigel has provided a second reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical “Caritas In Veritate,” saying the document raises questions about the “moral ecology” of the economy, the continuity of Catholic teaching and the prudential application of Catholic principles.

In his July 7 reaction to the encyclical, published at National Review Online, Weigel claimed to distinguish portions of the encyclical written by the Pope and portions written by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, asserting its style “resembles a duck-billed platypus.”

He revisited the encyclical in a July 13 analysis at National Review Online, where he referred to scholarly debate about whether the Second Vatican Council is an example of “continuity” with the Church’s past or a “rupture.” Similarly, Weigel claims, there is question about whether there are one or two Catholic social doctrine traditions, one stemming from Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” and another from Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical “Populorum Progressio.”

The latter work, in Weigel’s view, lacks discipline in “closely identifying specific policy recommendations with points of theological principle.” He stressed the importance of distinguishing between “principles of Catholic social doctrine and specific prudential judgments about public policy.” This approach is not “picking and choosing,” he said, but rests on questions of prudence and practicality.

He then wrote that the new encyclical's teaching on the “moral ecology” necessary to a free economy is “entirely welcome.” This emphasizes the necessity for people with “certain virtues” to make an economy work to result in genuine human flourishing.

“Benedict XVI insists in his encyclical that the life issues are social-justice issues, such that the ‘human ecology’ or moral ecology necessary to make free economies work is eroded when wrongs are defined as rights,” Weigel said in his National Review essay.

“Thus the encyclical has put Catholic legislators on notice that they can’t hide behind their ‘social justice’ commitments while taking a pass (or worse) on the life issues,” he wrote.

“Caritas In Veritate” challenges pro-abortion politicians to address the “hard questions” about whether Roe v. Wade violates fundamental Catholic norms of social justice, he said.

In his view, this is also a “tacit response” to President Obama’s use of Cardinal Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life” or “seamless garment” theory, which Weigel said has helped some Catholic politicians to avoid pro-life votes.

Weigel also suggested that Caritas in Veritate’s passages about “quotas of gratuitousness and communion” derive from the “Economy of Communion” school which promotes free-market approaches in which profit is not the only factor and profits are shared with projects to empower 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,” Weigel remarked. However, he said economists and Catholic scholars “committed to the Centesimus Annus portrait of the free economy” should engage and debate the idea.

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