By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
São Paulo, Brazil
In places such as Brazil, where poverty, violence, and environmental devastation are front-burner pastoral and political concerns, it’s natural to ask if Pope Benedict XVI might be contemplating some major new social message.
Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, offered a simple, if slightly enigmatic, response to that question on Thursday: “Have patience … something big is coming.”
Martino spoke to reporters in São Paulo during Benedict XVI’s May 9-13 visit to Brazil.
Asked specifically if he was referring to a rumored new social encyclical from Benedict XVI, Martino was to quick to say, “I didn’t use that word.”
Nevertheless, Martino promised that “the pope will say something very important” about the church's social teaching, and that when he does, “You will not be disappointed … You will be more than satisfied.”
Speculation has long swirled in Rome that Benedict XVI might issue an encyclical on social justice themes such as poverty, armed conflict, and environmentalism in 2007, to mark the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1967 social encyclical, Populorum Progressio.
While Martino’s comments do not amount to a formal confirmation of those rumors, they do suggest that Benedict is preparing some sort of major message on social themes.
In general, Martino said that it’s possible for the Catholic church to embrace a strong commitment to social justice without awakening the ghosts of battles from the 1970s and 1980s over liberation theology.
“We don’t need liberation theology, because it relies on Marxist analysis,” Martino said. “We can’t accept it. We have all the principles we need in the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.”
In that context, Martino referred to the Compendium of the church’s social teaching published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace three years ago. Since its appearance, Martino has relentlessly promoted the volume as a cornerstone for the church’s social justice activity.
That teaching is important, Martino said, because “we find in every country a big gap between the rich, who are too rich, and the poor, who are too poor. That situation must change,” he said. He appealed to the church’s understanding of the “universal destination of goods” as a bedrock for social reflection.