The Pope recently came out with his position on capitalism. Can you
explain his position possibly better than what I have read in the papers?
Also, I am hearing secular talk on the radio wondering about Papal
infallibility and this economic view. On the surface what he has said
appears to me to be even further left of Obama! To me that would be worse
for the poor not better!
What the reader is querying about is the new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, that Pope Benedict released yesterday.
Actually, the document does not ever use the word "capitalism" or "socialism"–which seems to be by design. The pope is not trying to comment on particular economic systems but on general principles. Within that framework, he actually has good things to say about the market. This is not an anti-market encyclical, so beware of the oversimplifications that the mainstream media is going to offer.
Thus far I have read through the encyclical once, but I need to go back and do further reading and digesting.
Because of the pressing news cycle (even stepped on as the encyclical release was by the Michael Jackson funeral), though, here are a few early thoughts:
1) Do not put weight on anything you read in the newspaper or on secular talk radio regarding the encyclical. The mainstream media simply does not "get" religion, and they are too incompetent on matters of religion to report accurately anything that the pope says or does. Sorry, but it's the truth.
2) In particular (and this will be an even greater temptation on talk radio), there is a tendency on the part of the MSM to read everything in terms of a liberal/conservative dichotomy. This political, polarized reading should not be imposed on the encyclical. When you read it, it quickly becomes clear that it does not fit neatly into either a liberal or a conservative box. It says things that are challenging no matter what one's political persuasion is.
3) Consequently, it is not possible from the encyclical to simply compare the pope's views to Obama's and say which is in what direction from the other. This is a complex, multi-axis matrix, not something that can be reduced to a simple left/right spectrum.
4) Because of the complexity, it would be possible to pick an item–or several items–out of the encyclical and take them out of context and say, "The pope sounds to the left of anything Obama has proposed so far." It would be equally possible to do the reverse and say, "The pope sounds to the right of anything Obama has proposed so far."
5) Either of the above would be a mistake. One reason is the multi-axis nature of the document. Another is that the pope includes important qualifiers that have to be given their full weight. If you lop off the qualifiers then you distort the picture.
6) Yet another reason is that, as the pope points out in the encyclical, the Church does not have specific, technical solutions to propose. Figuring those out are the task of the laity, and it is precisely in this area where most politics is generated. In other words, "left" and "right" are often agreed upon the goals that need to be achieved (full employment, combatting poverty, helping families thrive, making sure children are educated, etc.). The point of dispute is how these things are to be done, and that is the point that the Church tries to leave to the laity.
7) It therefore simply is not productive to engage in pope/president political comparisons. So don't.
8) That being said, there are points in the encyclical where, at least in general terms, the pope seems to go beyond his stated intention not to offer technical solutions and to make proposals that at least point in the direction of particular solutions. There is a blurry line here between theory and application, and pastoral concern for human well-being will always present churchmen with a temptation to cross that blurry line and at least recommend particular applications that seem right to them.
9) When that happens we need to take seriously what they say, particularly in the case of the pope, the Vicar of Christ. At the same time, we must not put greater weight on what they say than what they themselves do, and thus we must remember that they are not teaching infallibly. In releasing the new encyclical, Benedict XVI does not even remotely come close to using the kind of language that popes use when signalling that they are speaking infallibly. There simply is no attempt on the part of Benedict XVI to engage his charism of infallibility here, and so anything the reader has heard on talk radio regarding the encyclical calling infallibility into question is just nonsense. See point #1, above.
10) Because the document is not proposing anything infallibly, it is in principle open to revision in the future. This is particularly so because by its very subject matter it is an intervention of a prudential nature, seeking to apply general principles to a particular set of socio-economic problems in the world today. In describing documents of this nature, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then-headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), wrote: