charity in truth

Cutting across parking lots or strolling down alleyways can offer a very different perspective of an urban landscape. A couple of days ago, I abandoned a busy summer afternoon walk on Ste. Catherine Street.

Cutting across parking lots or strolling down alleyways can offer a very different perspective of an urban landscape.

A couple of days ago, I abandoned a busy summer afternoon walk on Ste. Catherine Street. It was just too crowded with tourists, shoppers and business people finding some excuse to escape their desks in the glass towers around the McGill College promenade to accommodate my pace. I began to zig-zag south and east towards Montreal’s Chinatown.

Off Cathcart Street, just on the other side of University Avenue, I caught a view of the upper third of the cross-topped steeple of Christ Church Anglican Cathedral. It was framed by a loading dock and the Dumpsters of a building fronting on Ste. Catherine’s.

Higher neighbouring buildings and fire escapes deepened the gloom of the shadowed service bay. The steeple, though, was brilliantly back lit by the afternoon sun reflecting off of the 34-storey mirror-walled facade of the Tour KPMG just behind the cathedral. Dramatically highlighted, the scene was lifted from the mundane to the memorable.

Though overshadowed by the secular in our contemporary, western consumer society, churches still have a presence. Pews maybe emptying and remaining congregations graying but organized religion nonetheless has a voice. Coherent life-affirming principles of all the great religious and philosophical traditions can serve as a real template to judge the meta-economic basis of the current Western materialist paradigm against.

Last month Pope Benedict XVI released his third encyclical. An encyclical is a letter from a Pope usually addressed to the world’s Roman Catholic bishops and focused on doctrinal issues. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, Of New Things, breaking that narrow mold and speaking more broadly on the social issues of the day, specifically in that case on capital and labor and the condition of the working class. Caritas in Veritate or Charity in Truth from Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, continues in this social encyclical tradition.

Charity in Truth offers a reflection on the present crisis of capitalism from the perspective of Christian beliefs and principles. The scope has changed from Leo XIII’s day from primarily the nation state to the world. “In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family…. (7)”

While Leo XIII rejected both communism and unfettered capitalism, today Benedict XVI focuses only on global capitalism. This isn’t a new concern for him. As early as 1985 then Cardinal Ratzinger noted in a paper for a symposium on the market economy in Rome that a diminishing ethical grounding of the economy “can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.”

In Charity in Truth Benedict XVI returns to the theme of ethics and economics. If you exclude foundational principles what happens? The logic of the unregulated market kicks in. “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty. (21)”

When “many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves,” where do you start? Placing a fundamental priority on social solidarity, accepting a global standard for the common good offers us a beginning point. “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone… (38)”“It is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence.(43)

“The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly—not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred. (45)”

Fundamentally Charity in Truth calls for a new financial order and, by extension, the political and economic institutions to sustain it. “There is urgent need of a true world political authority… such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights… (67)” As sovereign of Vatican City, the world’s smallest country, the Pope has little to gain geo-politically. In all charity what he is offering, is truth.

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country will be screened at the Old Fire Hall at the bottom of Main Street in Whitehorse on Monday, August 10th at 7 p.m. Tin Maung Htoo, Executive Director of Canadian Friends of Burma, will be a special guest. Admission to the film showing is by donation.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste notes

Sunday, August 9 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Suggested reading John 6:41-51.

Sunday, August 9 – International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will focus this year on the urgent need to preserve indigenous languages and the role of indigenous youth have in doing this.

Wednesday, August 12 – International Youth Day’s theme this year is “Sustainability: Our Challenge. Our Future.”

Friday, August 14 – Krishna Janmashtami is the Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna.