As the G8 Summit begins in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI has released a new encyclical on the global economy. Despite the sometimes dense philosophical and theological language, his message is clear: The economy must be guided by the criteria of justice and the common good. It is a comprehensive document, and while I haven't yet read the entire encyclical, from news reports and a quick skim, a number of important things stand out.
Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), is rooted in a stream of papal teaching on economic justice that goes back to 1891 with the encyclical Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). It is a far-reaching look at the relationships and issues that the global economy has created, and their impact on the world's people.
From the beginning Benedict states his basic foundation, that "charity in truth is the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns." It is:
a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action. I would like to consider two of these in particular, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: justice and the common good.
And, he says, those principles are both in service and involvement in the political arena.
The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path -- we might also call it the political path -- of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.
He deals with profit, writing that while it is useful, once it "becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty." The current economic crisis, he writes,
obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment.