The Plain Truth About Benedict’s Encyclical

Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

The Plain Truth About Benedict’s Encyclical

Does the Roman Catholic Church interfere in politics?

I have a problem with the latest encyclical of Pope Benedict xvi.

Titled “Caritas in Veritate”—“Charity in Truth”—the encyclical states in its introduction that “The church … does not claim to interfere in any way in the politics of states.”

From the time I was a high school history student over 50 years ago, my earliest studies of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, under a Catholic tutor, centered on the reality that the Roman Catholic Church was for centuries a powerful force that not only “interfered in the politics of states,” but also was extremely active in shaping those states into political entities.

Since then, I have undertaken over four decades of private study of the phenomenon of the “Church Universal”—from its earliest beginnings in the first century a.d. through its rise to the peak of power as the spiritual force behind the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, on to more recent analyses of the 19th- and 20th-century popes, down to John Paul ii and the present-day Pope Benedict xvi. It has proven that the evidence of history is constant. The Roman Catholic Church has been one of the most powerful forces over the past two millennia to “interfere,” with every means at its disposal, “in the politics of states.”

The problem I have with “Caritas in Veritate” is simply this: In the introduction, Pope Benedict cites the word truth no less than 54 times. This, in an obvious effort to condition the reader to believe that what follows in the six chapters that embody this encyclical is, in reality, the truth. Yet in the concluding paragraph to his introduction, the pope states, “The church does not have technical solutions to offer, and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of states’ (citing Paul vi’s encyclical letter “Populorum Progressio”). She does however have a mission of truth to accomplish ….” The two statements are patently oxymoronic. For if the church has “a mission of truth to accomplish,” why then deny that it interferes “in any way in the politics of states,” when its whole history attests to the contrary?

We only have to go back to John Paul ii’s own very deep involvement in two issues during the previous decade: the overthrow of communism in Poland, and his collusion with Germany in the very act that interfered so profoundly with Yugoslav politics that it changed the whole political structure of the Balkan Peninsula: the peremptory recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as separate nation states.

Even this present pope has been quite overt in his “interference” in the politics of the State of Israel. During his visit to Jerusalem in May, the pope called for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In doing so, he spoke with a forked tongue.

Online opinion author David Singer rightly observed at the time that

The pope on two separate occasions during his visit to the Holy Land this week has seen fit to plunge into the world of Middle East politics using the long-established tradition of saying one thing to the Jews and something very different to the Arabs. On his arrival in Israel, he declared: “I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders.”

By contrast, to the Palestinians Benedict declared, “[T]he Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders.”

“Gone were the secure borders,” wrote Singer. “One can only wonder what made the pope make two such utterly contradictory statements in the space of 48 hours.”

One could be forgiven for interpreting this as “interfering in the politics of states.”

By the same token, Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical is designed to influence most profoundly, and lead to very direct interference by the Vatican in “the politics of states,” especially within the European Union. We shall have more to say on that score in the future.

For the present, it is sufficient to note the shifting sand upon which this encyclical is founded, the claim to speak the truth, while denying the great reality of the reason that the Vatican state, itself a very political institution, exists: to interfere in, and to effectively influence, “the politics of states”!