Paul VI: Populorum Progressio

Critical Comments Selected by Gerald Darring

Wall Street Journal (30 March 1967) 14. "Pope Paul's encyclical lends the mantle of religion to certain ideas which are profoundly secular in origin, and advocates programs of a type now undergoing widespread reappraisal by their one-time secular sponsors.... The trouble with making religious tenets of this warmed-over Marxism is that it is highly unlikely to help the bulk of poor nations (which) suffer not from an excess of capitalism, but from a paucity of it.... It is both curious and sad that these mistaken attitudes toward foreign aid should now be advanced from the realm of religion. For the realm of history, as more people are starting to recognize, shows that they impede rather than advance the development of peoples."

National Catholic Reporter (5 April 1967) 3. "The central message of the encyclical is a call for social and economic justice on a global scale.... If the Pope had contented himself with voicing this ideal, he would not have launched a battle; everybody is nominally for freedom and against hunger. What makes the encyclical meaningful, and therefore a sign of contradiction, is that it specifies some of the concrete and controversial actions that have to be taken to reach the ideal higher taxes in the rich nations, regulated commodity prices, more money and more power to supranational bodies like the U.N."

John Leo. National Catholic Reporter (5 April 1967) 8. "The assumptions behind Pope Paul's new encyclical are even more remarkable and sophisticated than what he actually said. Amongst the most basic, one which pokes its head through almost every passage of the text, is that the 'cold war' is by no means the most important confrontation or problem facing us today. Indeed, it is almost trivial in comparison with the looming confrontation between the very rich white nations (United States, Russia, Western Europe) and the desperately poor, largely nonwhite majorities of the world."

Time (7 April 1967) 70. The encyclical has a "radical tone," and parts of it "had the strident tone of an early 20th century Marxist polemic." Its "blunt attack on capitalism" is aimed at an old-style capitalism that is dead. "It was surprising that he did not acknowledge the way in which business enterprise has developed into a creative, socially conscious component of the industrial West." Populorum Progressio was humanistic, "but its perspective was that of another time."

Tablet (8 April 1967) 367. Unlike earlier encyclicals, "this encyclical is consistently concerned less with the duties of individuals than of whole communities, is global in its outlook, and is thinking of social justice less as between classes inside national communities, and more as between whole communities. This is an eminently fitting role for the spokesman for a universal religion by whose tenets all members of the human race belong to one society, and should share the same fundamental faith in the revelation made to and for all men."

Economist (8 April 1967) 114. Some communist papers claimed that Pope Paul gives the imprimatur to Marx's works, justifies revolutions, and condemns all capitalist and imperialist exploitation. Some right-wing newspapers seem unable to find words to discuss the encyclical at all. "Naturally the long papal message permits some picking and choosing. The communists who hailed it flatly ignored its equally flat condemnation of materialist ideologies. In other quarters there was a tendency to ignore such crisp passages as that in which the Pope condemns rich men in poor countries who 'selfishly transfer a large part of their funds abroad, heedless of the damage thus done to their own country.'"

Commonweal (14 April 1967) 108. "Perhaps it would be accurate to say that the Pope's new humanism is not so much anti-Marxist or anti-capitalist as it is super-Marxist and super-capitalist; it goes beyond both by refusing to turn impersonal economic processes into graven images."

Mary McGrory. America (15 April 1967) 552. "Pope Paul's new encyclical initially received little public attention in Washington. Congress was in its Easter recess when it was published.... The humanist manifesto of the Holy Father was read, however, with much quiet satisfaction at the White House. Members of the Administration welcomed this new and fervent voice for social reform in the underdeveloped countries. Those concerned with poverty programs and foreign aid realize they have gained a valuable new witness and expect to cite the ringing phrases about the 'intolerable scandal' of the difference between the haves and have-nots of this world."

Philip Burnham. Triumph (May 1967) 10. "There is much richness in the encyclical, but above all it is a call to action in the work of curing hunger and misery. The following steps appear as diagnosis and prescription: 1) the material and moral problem is one and worldwide; 2) local and individual efforts are not enough; 3) the problem calls not simply for gifts from current stores, but for 'development' which can have a lasting and deeply human effect; 4) the magnitude and complexity of the job call for organized, coordinated planning; 5) 'public authorities,' the governments of the nations, are primarily responsible; 6) beyond the national states, worldwide collaboration ... is necessary for success."

Robert McAfee Brown. Commonweal (19 May 1967) 263-64. Protestants have noticed a sound of caution emanating from Rome, calling for a slower pace of internal change following Vatican II. But in the extramural concerns of the pope, a different voice is heard in Populorum Progressio, which moves ahead of previous documents. "What this suggests ecumenically, I believe, is that on the front of common concern for mankind, Pope Paul is taking vigorous and dynamic leadership, and that in this increasingly central part of the ecumenical task, non-Catholics will have to scramble simply to keep up with him."

Benjamin L. Masse. America (5 August 1967) 129. Populorum Progressio "brings to a climax an evolution of the Church's social teaching ... that has proceeded from an almost exclusive emphasis on justice within nations to an overriding concern for justice among them."

Joseph Joblin, S.J. International Labor Review (September 1967) 239. "Some people have protested against what they consider a demagogic move on behalf of the mass of underdeveloped peoples. Others see it as a manifesto and an unequivocal statement of support for the poor; they cherish the hope that concrete measures will follow this statement of principle. The reason for these diverse interpretations is that the document deals with development, one of the most controversial topics in the world today. It is not the legitimacy of development or the need for it that is questioned, but its nature and the means for achieving it."

Peter J. Riga. The Church and Revolution (1967) 165. "'The way to peace lies in the area of development' (par. 83). With one stroke the Pope cuts through the semantics of the 'cold war' and its cliches to the very heart of the true problem alive in the world of 1967. The conflict today, the greatest danger to peace today, says the Pope, is not 'Communism vs. freedom' or 'free enterprise vs. socialism' or any other slogan so often heard in the western and eastern propaganda machine: it is the problem of poverty, of the rich and the poor nations where the fate for the future survival of mankind resides."

Jose de Broucker. New Blackfriars (1968) 540. In paragraphs 30 and 31, the pope states that revolutions engender new injustices "except in the case of manifest and prolonged tyranny that attacks fundamental rights of the person and endangers the common good of the country." "These two paragraphs have in general been received as a faithful expression of the traditional thought of the church. The new factor here is therefore not at the level of thought or of expression; it lies in the welcome it has received and in the way in which it has been interpreted at the hands of a Christian public that is as inclined to justify 'revolutionary insurrection' now as it was formerly to discourage or condemn it."