Encyclical's look at life and
authentic human development
At 40 some odd pages, not including footnotes,
Caritas in Veritate is a dense document. The third Encyclical from
Pope Benedict XVI explores the economic crisis, while discussing areas
of solidarity, subsidiarity, the environment, human dignity, and the
sanctity of life. As the Pontiff states in the document, it does not
offer any "technical solutions" (n. 9), but as he reminded us at his 8
July  General Audience, it serves as part of the Church's mission
to recall "the great principles that show themselves to be indispensable
for building human development in the coming years".
Human development is very much part of the investigation
that the Holy Father is conducting in Caritas in Veritate. What
caught my attention in reading this Encyclical was the Holy Father's
vision for authentic human development
in particular, what he considered key: the respect for life. "Openness
to life", writes Benedict, "is at the centre of true development" (n.
As expected in bringing up life issues the topic of
abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and population control are addressed
by the Pontiff. Besides condemning these practices, the Holy Father
reminds us that a country that welcomes these ideas affects not only its
own citizens, but other nations as well. By embracing this "anti-birth
mentality" a country often exports it "to other States as if it were a
form of cultural progress" (n. 28). Pope Benedict's insight here should
grab the attention of those of us in the West. The decisions that are
made in Canada or in the United States are of great influence. How often
do we read articles on life issues that include some kind of note
referring to a precedent-setting legal decision by a country's court?
The issues we debate and decide locally, and nationally, have
repercussions internationally. The damage done has far-reaching
consequences: "When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of
life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy
to strive for man's true good" writes Pope Benedict, "If personal and
social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then
other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither
away" (n. 28).
Related to this, the Holy
Father looks to the environment as one of his examples of other forms
but adds one caveat. While steadfastly defending the environment as
a gift from God that we are to responsibly steward, he adds it is
"contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more
important than the human person" (n. 48). "The way humanity treats the
environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa",
cautions the Pontiff, adding: "The book of nature is one and
indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life,
sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral
human development" (51).
Noting its importance as
part of human development, Pope Benedict calls for the protection of the
family. He begins this discussion by addressing declining birthrates (n.
44), wisely pointing out that a counter to this trend is more
complicated than simply encouraging married couples to have more
children. There must be a change in our mentality, a rediscovery of the
value of family and of children.
"It is thus becoming a
social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future
generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that
these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the
person" writes Benedict. "In view of this, States are called to enact
policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family
founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of
society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs,
while respecting its essentially relational character" (n.
Though Caritas in
Veritate is touted as a response to the current economic crisis, it
is much more than that. A defense of family, the sanctity of life, a
caution to not undermine the importance of human dignity: the Holy
Father prudently explores each area, dissecting each topic on its own,
as well as relating it to economics. Regardless of any economic aspect,
the wisdom shared concerning these areas stands on its own. It serves us
well to take note of this as we strive for authentic human development.