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Beyond partisanship: Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘Caritas in Veritate’

In the University of Chicago Divinity School column Sightings, Rick Elgendy argues that the wedge-politics of the culture wars have no support in Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate:

Though frequently presumed to be the source of authority for those who would, say, deny communion to pro-choice politicians, Benedict here refuses to accept the ideological categories assumed in American politics: The same theological commitments that inform his convictions about the integrity of life demand a reimagining of prevailing social arrangements. Catholic and non-Catholic onlookers alike might hope that the encyclical will inspire political discourse that reexamines the standard binaries and turns to principled and civil conversation before partisan rancor (as Benedict himself did, by most reports, in his recent meeting with President Obama, in sharp contrast to how others dealt with the president’s Notre Dame commencement appearance).

Writing for Human Events, Ave Maria Law School’s Rev. Michael P. Orsi says no, Catholics must still be anti-abortion/pro-life at the expense of any health care reform legislation. He does so in an argument that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops violated fundamental principles by reasserting its longstanding position that “decent health care is not a privilege, but a basic human right and a requirement to protect the life and dignity of every person.”

Mark Silk responds, and quotes with telling effect from Caritas in Veritate:

Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On the one hand, appeals are made to alleged rights, arbitrary and non-essential in nature, accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and promoted by public structures, while, on the other hand, elementary and basic rights remain unacknowledged and are violated in much of the world[107]. A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres. The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties. Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become license. Duties thereby reinforce rights and call for their defence and promotion as a task to be undertaken in the service of the common good. Otherwise, if the only basis of human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens, those rights can be changed at any time, and so the duty to respect and pursue them fades from the common consciousness. Governments and international bodies can then lose sight of the objectivity and “inviolability” of rights. When this happens, the authentic development of peoples is endangered[108]. Such a way of thinking and acting compromises the authority of international bodies, especially in the eyes of those countries most in need of development. Indeed, the latter demand that the international community take up the duty of helping them to be “artisans of their own destiny”[109], that is, to take up duties of their own. The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights.

Catholic neoconservative George Weigel attempts to escape that passage by arguing that it should be disregarded as a compromise by Pope Benedict XVI “to maintain the peace within his curial household.”

A strange argument to make about this pope who has backed up not a step in the face of one firestorm after another.

Agree or not, to understand the meaning of Pope Benedict XVI, do better to take Silk’s approach:

Read that carefully. The pope is saying that an asserted (or legislated) “right to excess” is wrongly made equivalent to those things that are objectively and inviolably “elementary and basic rights”–such as “elementary health care.” His point is that the affluent have to recognize that they have a duty to take steps to guarantee that the rights of the needy are not violated.

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August 30, 2009 - Posted by | Catholic, Health, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , ,

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