In the News 2009

Pope, Obama May Find Common Ground in “Charity in Truth”


Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming meeting with President Obama may be focused squarely on the worldwide financial crisis and on the pope’s vision for a “true world political authority” to manage the global economy with God-centered ethics.

Benedict’s new social encyclical, a major teaching titled Caritas in Veritate(Charity in Truth), released Tuesday in Rome, calls for creation of a new worldwide economic authority, for redistribution of the world’s wealth, protections of workers, respect for the environment, and a refusal to accept an “anti-birth” mentality that promotes birth control or abortion.

“Despite utterly important differences on issues like abortion,” there are “areas of resonance” between Obama’s policy agenda and Benedict’s call for “regrounding our economic, cultural, and political lives on an integral Christian humanism that is ‘open to the Absolute,’ ” says Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Schneck says he expects the encyclical, “a breathtaking glimpse of the possibility of civilization with a human face,” to set the agenda for the Benedict-Obama meeting.

And Michael Sean Winters, commenting for America magazine’s blog, agrees, observing that, “at one point, Benedict sounds like he hired one of Obama’s speechwriters for a day.”

Winters’ example of Obama-esque language in the encyclical:

“The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”

Obama’s first meeting with the pope is set for Friday afternoon.

The last time Benedict met with a top U.S. official, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, as does Obama, the Vatican scolded her in its press release following the audience.

Although several U.S. bishops were outraged that Obama was given an honorary degree by the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic school, there’s been quiet on the criticism front since the Vatican confirmed Obama’s audience.

But that doesn’t mean there’s unanimity among Catholic bishops, professors and commentators on Obama, Benedict or the encyclical.

“I’m always amused that some of the same Catholics who trumpet the pope’s … clearly “countercultural” stances — particularly when it comes to abortion, stem-cell research and other life issues — are so willing to look the other way when the culture that he’s countering is that of free-market capitalism and rampant consumerism,” says James Martin, a Catholic priest and business school graduate.

Andrew Abela, chairman of Catholic University’s Department of Business and Economics, predicts that the encyclical’s message that God and ‘openness to life’ are the center of true development “will be resisted by many.”

Indeed, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, which supports abortion rights, came out promptly with a press release Tuesday offering some praise for the pope’s economic message while condemning the encyclical’s opposition to birth control and condoms for AIDS prevention.

“… Because of the hierarchy’s opposition to modern methods of family planning, the means to exercise responsible procreation and sexuality are not mentioned except in a condemnatory way. Given this distorted perspective, some of Pope Benedict’s words on development aid miss the mark, ” said O’Brien.

“It is time for Pope Benedict to hear from fellow world leaders that the church hierarchy’s stance on sexual and reproductive health and development aid is causing those living in poverty more pain. Certainly, President Obama could be the one to deliver that message.”

The article originally appeared in USA Today.

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