The surprise of the encyclical is the praise of Paul VI, whose “ Populorum Progressio deserves to be considered ‘the Rerum Novarum of the present age,’ shedding light upon humanity’s journey towards unity.”

Love in truth, says Benedict, “is a great challenge for the Church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized. The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.”

Here we find the pope’s great worry: At precisely the moment for the world’s great evangelization and the great manifestation of love, the devices by which the world has been prepared—economic and technological—are excluding the charity and denying the truth that “judge and direct” human development.

“The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States,’” the encyclical notes. “She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation.”

The introduction, these first nine paragraphs, have to be taken as the key to reading the encyclical. George Weigel notes the way the bulk of the encyclical exhibits various fragments of Catholics’ differing views of social virtues, but keeping in mind the introduction to the encyclical—remembering that it is not throat-clearing but the key to understanding what follows—may allow the reader to see the pope’s overarching intention.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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