The seventeenth annual Michael Devlin Lecture took place this year in the form of a half day conference on the recent papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Three speakers tackled this document prior to the main event. Dr Michael Shortall, of the Pontifical University, Maynooth, was the first to take to the stage and discussed the theological perspectives. Professor Rowena Pecchenino, head of the Department of Finance, Economics and Accounting, drew out the economic perspectives and Mr Justin Kilcullen, director of Trócaire, undertook the task of speaking from the perspective of development.
Dr Pádraig Corkery, Dean of the Faculty of Theology in the Pontifical University at Maynooth, opened the proceedings with an address and set the historical scene of prior theological documents such as Rerum Novarum and Populorum Progressio. Caritas in Veritate had originally been intended for publication in 2007 on the 40th anniversary of the social encyclical Populorum Progressio by Paul VI, but was delayed until 2009.
The document itself is split into six chapters, the first focusing on the previously mentioned encyclical, which is clearly a powerful document in itself and has already been marked on its’ 20th anniversary by Pope John Paul II and his Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. In fact, the encyclical states that Populorum deserves to be considered as the Rerum Novarum of its’ time. The second chapter focuses on human development in our time which has not always taken place in the form of good development. The economic crisis, which is the subject of this chapter, is a prime example of this. The profit-orientated market which contains corruption, speculative financial agreements and bad management has caused a grave need for a more realistic attitude in order to “rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future.” The third chapter moves to discuss fraternity, economic development and civil society. Here, the principle of gratuitousness is an expression for fraternity.
Dr Michael Shortall, Moral Theology lecturer in the Pontifical University at Maynooth, outlined the theological aspects of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He sketched the historical significance of the document by mentioning the theologically significant events, such as the publication and content of documents such as Rerum Novarum, and Populorum Progressio, and also events such as the collapse of the state of communism and the shifts in geographical power which are documented parts of the economic downturn, the first paragraph of the document is contemplative and speculative, beginning from theological reflection. Issues which Dr Shortall dealt with included a tapestry of concepts such as issues of life, environment, religious freedom, social and political order, and global legal systems. He does, however, note that the document lacks engagement with the concepts of war, peace, and gender. Dr Shortall also examined ethics and the economic crisis. He proposed that the legitimacy of the Church's contribution should be based on the commitment to the development of the whole person. The challenge facing us is how we are to reconfigure social resources for the common good.
Professor Rowena Pecchenino, professor and head of the department of Economics, Finance and Accounting of NUI Maynooth, discussed the encyclical Caritas in Veritate from the perspective of economics. Her address was entitled Truth, Charity and the Dismay of Science. The challenge of this document was to enable authentic human development for the common good regardless of race, creed, or origin of country. This challenge is one which Professor Pecchenino found to be impossible, as the document does, as individual governments are not guided by charity in truth. Instead, the markets are orientated towards profit. Economics is finite, restricted and limited to its sources and due to this scarcity choices must be made. Here the question is raised; what is the ethical choice in a profit-orientated market? Caritas in Veritate defines the ethical choices and economic requirements for authentic human development. The allocation, or redistribution, of resources is essential to achieve the goal of basic need attainment and for the ability to productively contribute to society. This, however, is quite a difficult task as before any decisions can be made all parties have to agree that it is worth pursuing these goals. At this point it is also important to note that, though no one is in a worse position if these goals are achieved, the initial redistribution of resources can have both positive and negative effects. This, in turn, explains the reluctance of those to enter into an agreement in the first place and also the problem of defining these goals, which is what occurred in both Doha in 2001 and Copenhagen in 2009. In these cases the problem is a global gain at the expense of a local loss which in society is not a position that any one person would want to take. The long term plan is not worth the short term failure in this case. Professor Pecchenino asked the question; can socio-economic policies have transcendence as motivation? This, she says, is sustainable but there are huge hurdles which must be overcome and, so far, the Church, in its ability to communicate to, and instil in society what exactly the common good is, has failed to effect social change.
Mr Justin Kilcullen, the Director of Trócaire, spoke on Caritas in Veritate from the perspective of Development. Reflecting on his own personal experiences in the developing countries, and, in particular, Uganda, he discussed the plight of the poor. He opened his address with a moving discourse concerning the predicament of the most vulnerable in Uganda. Whilst detailing the problems that face widows in Uganda such as prohibitions which prevent them inheriting land, he notes that Caritas in Veritate lacks any reference to women. Mr Kilcullen also discussed the difficulties encountered by the farmers of the region, who frequently face crop-failure resulting from drought. This is linked to climate change, of which the Ugandans are unaware. Mr Kilcullen vocalised the fears of the farmers who see the drought as the consequence of the war, as God's punishment, or the result of fertilisers. Caritas in Veritate supports the universal right to food and water, yet there is a distinct reluctance on the part of political authorities to do this, and Mr Kilcullen questioned the strength of the Church's public speaking on this matter. He also disputes societies' ideas of solidarity and justice, which he sees as inseparable and intrinsic to charity. Using Haiti's debt as an example, Mr Kilcullen challenged us to think about the relationship between charity and economics. Caritas in Veritate encourages gratuitousness and, in that context, if economics is to be authentically human it must be gratuitous and have a sense of responsibility for all.
The key speaker of the evening for the Michael Devlin Lecture was Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, from the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics, and Public Life, Heythrop College, University of London. Preceding Dr Riordan's lecture a welcoming address was delivered by the Rt Rev Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland's National Seminary and Pontifical University.
Entitled A Blessed Rage for the Common Good, Dr. Riordan's lecture reflected on the issue of the common good in a liberal democratic polity, and if it is possible to integrate this into a Catholic vision of a democratic party. He encourages us to reflect on whether or not there is a common good in an economic order, and if we truly want to affirm that a liberal democratic model aids fulfilment of the human person according to the Roman Catholic Church. Dr. Riordan suggested that it is not surprising that the Roman Catholic teaching on the common good has difficulty in persuading others to follow it. He indicated that it evades a dialogue with contemporary culture, and thus avoids a way forward. To accept the common good as heuristic, the Church must acknowledge there is a knowing ignorance and take part in the dialogue of humanity. This dialogue ought not to be merely an academic exercise, but a practical one.
The response to this invigorating lecture was given by Dr Kevin O' Gorman, lecturer in Moral Theology in the Pontifical University at Maynooth. 'Are all Catholics', Dr O' Gorman asked, 'always clear on what is the common good?' He proposes a dovetailing of both doctrine and deed, in order to promote practical efforts on behalf of the common good. The common good was illuminated by Dr O' Gorman as a matter of constant concern, with a call for cumulative reflection upon the matter. He closed with a quotation from Wallace Stevens' poem, The Idea of Order at Key West.
Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.