The “Consistent Ethic of Life” within the Global Economy: Chapter 2 of Caritas In Veritate
“Charity in Truth” is the latest encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. This encyclical continues the tradition of Catholic Social Thought by addressing the issue of the Global Economic Crisis, Development, and Poverty. Yet there is a marked difference in this social encyclical that we who are Catholics in America need to attentive to. Pope Benedict XVI is intentionally bridging the partisan issues of development and the global economy with the “Consistent Ethic of Life.” This perspective should and ought to challenge us Catholics who are involved with political system in America.
The “Consistent Ethic of Life” is a Catholic moral framework that has tried to build a bridge on the issues of life that have been fragmented by partisan politics in the United States. The right has articulated this ethic is terms of issues that impact personal sexual morality while the left tends to articulate this ethic with regards to public social issues. For decades now members of the American Catholic/Christian community has tried to develop a movement to bridge this morality, the current consistent-life network is part of this movement. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was a champion of this movement and he pushed the agenda of the “Consistent Ethic of Life” within the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Through this ethic Cardinal Bernardin developed a consistent moral framework to address issues such as Abortion, Nuclear War, Euthanasia, and the Death Penalty. In his 1983 address Cardinal Bernardin defined the movement in this way:
If one contends, as we do, that the right of every fetus to be born should be protected by civil law and supported by civil consensus, then our moral, political and economic responsibilities do not stop at the moment of birth. Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and the homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker. Such a quality of life posture translates into specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care. Consistency means we cannot have it both ways: We cannot urge a compassionate society and vigorous public policy to protect the rights of the unborn and then argue that compassion and significant public programs on behalf of the needy undermine the moral fiber of the society or are beyond the proper scope of governmental responsibility.
In 1995 Pope John Paul II wrote his encyclical on this subject titled Evangelium Vitae. While the Pope certainly approved and promoted this consistent ethic in light of what he called “The Culture of Death” the issue focus was turned to abortion and euthanasia. The result was that although the concept of the “Consistent Ethic of Life” became the moral fabric for Catholic morality, here in the United States partisan politics continued to emphasize the issues that they considered important and took from the movement whatever supported their political position.
There can be no doubt that with this encyclical Pope Benedict XVI is looking at undoing this partisan stranglehold on American and western morality. In chapter one he informs that there is a consistent morality with two encyclicals by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (which addresses Catholic sexual ethics in terms of abortion and contraception) and Populorum Progressio (which addresses international economic development and global poverty.) The issue focus for Caritas in Veritate is the Global economy and the contemporary reality of poverty and development. It is with this social issue that Pope Benedict addressed the consistent moral framework. In so doing he is associating the “Consistent Ethic of Life” within these social issues, he reminds us in that openness to life is at the centre of true development.
The second chapter of the Encyclical gives us an update on the issue of human development from the time when Populorum Progressio was written. While Pope Benedict XVI comments on the ongoing social issues that Pope Paul VI wrote about he also introduces some new social concerns that have developed since then. This includes the further integration of globalization with its paradoxical increased of global wealth, poverty and inequality. As he concludes his analysis of poverty and development he connects the right to life within the social responsibility that we have to address global poverty and to promote a true definition of progress and development that is based on the dignity of the individual and the demands of justice. And so with regards to the issue of the global food crisis he tells us:
The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings without distinction or discrimination. (#27)