That contribution not only foreshadowed Pope Francis' approach to the environment, economics, and geopolitics. It exemplifies the Vatican's embrace of a secular, materialist, globalist, utopian worldview regarding humanity's problems -- a worldview that the Vatican adopted six decades ago, and finds its ultimate expression in Francis.
Benedict's contribution is an encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, that belies the theologically conservative facade his Catholic admirers promote. The document embodies the radical egalitarianism and globalism that Francis is trying to make the hallmark of his own papacy.
Published in 2009, four years after Benedict's election, Caritas in Veritate advocates turning the United Nations into what the encyclical calls a "true world political authority" to govern international and domestic economies. Otherwise, a new body that would exercise such power should be formed.
"In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence," Benedict wrote, "there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”
Why the UN or a more powerful organization? Because in an era of increasing globalization, individual nations have become increasingly incapable of managing financial complexities:
"Today, as we take to heart the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the State's public authorities directly involved in correcting errors and malfunctions, it seems more realistic to re-evaluate their role and their powers, which need to be prudently reviewed and remodeled so as to enable them, perhaps through new forms of engagement, to address the challenges of today's world."
Remember, Benedict wrote those words in 2009. How badly has the international economy deteriorated since then?
Benedict's "true world political authority" would "have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums," he wrote. Such a body would "establish the common good," he wrote, by harnessing globalization to "open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale."
But what would be the purpose of such an unprecedented redistribution? Among other things, Benedict wrote, "to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration," as well as to implement "a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them."
"For all this," he wrote, "there is urgent need of a true world political authority."
Yet Benedict failed to mention how such an authoritarian power would enforce its decisions on recalcitrant members. Economic sanctions? Military force? If the latter, how would that be possible with "integral and timely disarmament"?
Perhaps coercion would become unnecessary in Benedict's mind, since he apparently believed global economic management could stimulate the growth of a harmonious human society.
"When animated by charity," he wrote, "commitment to the common good ... has a place within the testimony of divine charity that paves the way for eternity through temporal action. Man's earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family."
Given that Benedict spent his first 18 years in a Europe overwhelmed by totalitarianism -- including his native Germany, whose Nazi leadership coined the phrase, "Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz," or "common interest before self-interest" -- Caritas in Veritate's naivete is frightening.
Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report and the Heritage Foundation's former director of studies, asserted when the encyclical appeared that it directly reflects Benedict's views.
"Whether or not he drafted every sentence himself (and clearly he did not), Pope Benedict signed his name to the encyclical, and gave it the authority of his teaching office," Lawler wrote. "We know that the Holy Father did not do this lightly. He rejected earlier drafts of the document. He allowed the project to slip behind schedule, even to the point of embarrassment.”
"He was evidently determined to wait until he had a document that satisfied him. Caritas in Veritate satisfied him."
Benedict's views embody a continuum of thought emanating from the Second Vatican Council, which met between 1962-65 to forge the Catholic Church's direction in the modern world. Called by Pope John XXIII, the council in 1965 produced a pastoral letter, Gaudium et Spes, addressing how economics and politics affect the poor. It provided the underlying approach to such issues, as the following statements illustrate:
"Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources, and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the world's citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy.”
"According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown. For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others, he can neither live nor develop his potential.”
"Therefore, there must be made available to all men everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one's own conscience, to protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious. Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person."
As the council met, John XXIII wrote his own encyclical on the subject, Pacem in Teris. Published in 1963 less than eight weeks before his death, it advocated an international "public authority with power" to mandate solutions.
"Today the universal common good presents us with problems which are world-wide in their dimensions," John wrote, "problems, therefore, which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organization and means co-extensive with these problems, and with a world-wide sphere of activity. Consequently, the moral order itself demands the establishment of some such general form of public authority."
John's successor, Paul VI, went further. In his 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio, which announced the formation of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Paul linked humanism to Christianity.
"The ultimate goal is a full-bodied humanism," Paul wrote. "And does this not mean the fulfillment of the whole man and of every man? ... True humanism points the way toward God and acknowledges the task to which we are called, the task which offers us the real meaning of human life. Man is not the ultimate measure of man. Man becomes truly man only by passing beyond himself.”
Like John before him -- and like Benedict after him -- Paul endorsed centralized, powerful globalist governance to regulate not just the world's economies but also international law and diplomacy.
"Such international collaboration among the nations of the world certainly calls for institutions that will promote, coordinate and direct it, until a new juridical order is firmly established and fully ratified," Paul wrote. "We give willing and wholehearted support to those public organizations that have already joined in promoting the development of nations, and We ardently hope that they will enjoy ever growing authority.”
"As We told the United Nations General Assembly in New York: 'Your vocation is to bring not just some peoples but all peoples together as brothers. . . Who can fail to see the need and importance of thus gradually coming to the establishment of a world authority capable of taking effective action on the juridical and political planes?' “
Benedict approvingly cited Populorum Progressio numerous times in Caritas in Veritate.
In 2011 -- two years before Francis' election -- the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace cited Benedict's encyclical, as well as the other documents mentioned, in advocating the kind of universal authority Benedict, Paul and John proposed.
"In a world on its way to rapid globalization, orientation towards a world Authority becomes the only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind," Cardinal Peter Turkson wrote. "The birth of a new society and the building of new institutions with a universal vocation and competence are a prerogative and a duty for everyone, without distinction. What is at stake is the common good of humanity and the future itself."
Five years later, Turkson publicly supported the UN’s Agenda 2030, featuring its Sustainable Development Goals, on the Vatican’s behalf.
Francis has gone further than any of his predecessors in implementing the vision outlined in Gaudium et Spes and amplified in the ensuing six decades. As Human Events discussed in September, Francis wants economic redistribution and environmental sustainability to define his papacy -- even at the expense of the Catholic Church's historic opposition to abortion. Francis even advocated a universal basic wage so the poor could enjoy "the benefits of globalism," he wrote.
Human Events also revealed in September that under Francis' watch, the Vatican has adopted the rhetoric and worldview of globalist NGOs and "woke" activists. For example, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Vatican news outlets discussed abortion in terms of universal health care, inequality, poverty, and race.
In another example Human Events mentioned, the title of an economic conference in May 2021 at the Vatican, "Dreaming of a Better Restart," imitated the World Economic Forum's emphasis on a "reset." Six months later, Francis encouraged those attending the Paris Peace Forum to use the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic to remake the world radically:
"Faced with the consequences of the great storm that has shaken the world, our conscience therefore calls us ... not to follow the easy path of returning to a 'normality' marked by injustice, but to accept the challenge of assuming the crisis as 'a concrete opportunity for conversion, transformation, to rethink our lifestyle and our economic and social systems.' “
In mentioning that "concrete opportunity," Francis quoted his own address to the UN in September 2020.
Though it belongs to a larger theological torrent that started flowing six decades ago, Caritas in Veritate propelled that torrent in a singularly powerful way.
"Caritas in Veritate should be seen as what it is: a theological and political earthquake," Catholic author Lee Penn wrote. "The Roman Catholic Church, which was once a guardian of tradition worldwide, now wishes to use radical means (a 'true world political authority') for its own ends."
But in trying to achieve those ends, the church risks being manipulated by its supposed allies.
"It is as if Benedict wishes to mount and ride a wild beast, and imagines that he (and those who believe as he does) will be able to direct that fierce beast’s course," Penn wrote. "Ordinary prudence – even without reference to the dire symbolism of Revelation 17:3-18 – should have warned the Vatican against such folly.
“Seeking a world government that is governed and limited by natural law and Christian tradition is akin to seeking dry water or square circles."
Joseph D'Hippolito is a freelance writer who has covered politics, current events, religion, and sports. His commentaries on politics and religion have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post, National Post (Canada), American Spectator, and American Greatness, among others. His sports coverage has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Guardian, among other outlets.