In a week in which the homepages of the heavy media hitters have been drenched in Michael Jackson coverage, there has, believe it or not, been other news. President Obama met with Russian leaders Medvedev and Putin and negotiated agreements of import to the United States. U.S. troops died in Afghanistan implementing new U.S. strategy. And oh, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI issued a new 144-page encyclical, "Charity in Truth," or "Caritas in Veritate."
Although Benedict appears to sound consistent concerns against birth control, abortion and gay marriage, it is his criticism of capitalism and call for a new "world political authority" that is disturbing some conservatives (can this be the real Benedict?) and cheering some liberals.
As Reuters points out in this "Factbox," this encylical fits into a long traditional of papal papers that veer a little left on economic issues. This tradition has influenced not only succeeding popes but also the formation of various Western European political parties.
So how the media handled (those in the media who were paying attention) the publication of a long, complex, and timely document that challenges easy categorization? At the Times Online website, Ruth Gledhill sticks very close to the pope's text, which gives readers a place to begin (although I'm not clear from the coverage whether the encyclical calls for "supplanting" or reforming the United Nations). Jacqueline Salmon's restrained article (linked above) sticks to the facts, with a few quotes to make the point that this document is being received in some very different ways, depending on where one falls on the ideological spectrum.
I'm particularly intrigued by George Weigel's speculation that the pope's apparent reformist inclinations were a sop to the "left-leaning" members of the Vatican bureaucracy. The "bureaucracy" at the Vatican has taken a lot of media hits in the past year for infighting and bad public relations -- it seems to be the group to critique when you aren't quite sure who is responsible.
At USAToday.com, Cathy Lee Grossman highlights some of the economic points that could be most interesting to general readers. Her lede does a good job of summing up some of the pope's more controversial ideas for economic reform:
Pope Benedict XVI today called for reforming the United Nations and establishing a "true world political authority" with "real teeth" to manage the global economy with God-centered ethics.
In his third encyclical, a major teaching, released as the G-8 summit begins in Italy, the pope says such an authority is urgently needed to end the current worldwide financial crisis. It should "revive" damaged economies, reach toward "disarmament, food security and peace," protect the environment and "regulate migration."
Benedict writes, "The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak."
As the parent of a teen-aged girl with a liking for vampire novels, I can't blame Benedict or Grossman for where my mind goes when I read "real teeth." But I do wish that if she'd have balanced the Father Tom Reese quotes with more extended ones from Kirk Hanson -- again, both the pope's "life ethics" and the left-leaning economic critique in this encyclical are an historical strand of Catholic social teaching.
A duet by Rachel Donadio and Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has what I think is probably the best economic analysis of the articles I've seen. I'm particularly taken by the quote from Vincent Miller of the University of Dayton:
In many ways, the document is a puzzling cross between an anti-globalization tract and a government white paper, another signal that the Vatican does not comfortably fit into traditional political categories of right and left.
"There are paragraphs that sound like Ayn Rand, next to paragraphs that sound like 'The Grapes of Wrath.' That's quite intentional," Vincent J. Miller, a theologian at the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution in Ohio, said by telephone.
Donadio and Goodstein don't note the places in the encyclical where the pope does address issues of concern to conservative Catholics. But by quoting the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Novak, they give the article a weighty (albeit "uncomfortable") conservative voice on the economic issues -- and, lets face it, that's the news in this encyclical. I'd love to see some more conservative Catholics quoted on the economic issues discussed in the encyclical.
Over at Reuter's FaithWorld blog, Daniel Bases has an interesting interview with CEO and former Gov. Frank Keating on precisely that topic.
The pope is scheduled to receive the president at the Vatican on Friday. At the least, Pope Benedict has given him and the G-8 posse material for a very meaty discussion. Let's hope we hear about substance, not solely ceremonials. And let's hope we get some analysis of how this encyclical, addressed to the world, is being received, both by believers and by the secular powers to whom it is also addressed.