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"To All People of Goodwill"

Be sure to read all of Fred Clark's latest postings on Slacktivist. Here are excerpts:

"My main impression of the late Pope John Paul II comes from reading his encyclicals. These documents are among his most important contributions, yet for all the discussion of John Paul's "legacy" in recent days, these pillars of that legacy barely register.

In his encyclicals, John Paul rarely seems content merely to proclaim -- he wants to argue, to persuade, which makes these documents much more engaging and interesting than you might expect. He seems always to bear in mind that these documents are addressed not only to the members of his church, over whom he bears authority, but also to "all People of Good Will."
His 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) has achieved a recent notoriety thanks to President Bush, who has selectively co-opted its motif of a "culture of life."

Evangelium Vitae is subtitled, "on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life." It is, explicitly, a reassertion and reaffirmation of Catholic teaching on a range of "life" issues.

I would love to have had the chance to talk to the late pope about the implications of solidarity he discusses in EV and how they lead me to very different conclusions from those he reaches about, for instance, stem-cell research. You wouldn't know it from the people who have usurped his phrase "culture of life," but the man who wrote this encyclical seems like he would have welcomed such a conversation.

Laborem Exercens was written on the 90th anniversary of Rerum Novarum -- one of the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching -- and takes as its theme one of the ideas of that earlier encyclical:

"But above all we must remember the priority of labor over capital." John Paul here is taking sides, insisting above all that the worker is a subject, not an object, and must be accorded human dignity and human rights. Throughout LE he grounds this argument in scripture and Catholic teaching and explores its implications in some interesting directions.

John Paul is unambiguous: The state has a special obligation to "condition the conduct" of direct employers in order to ensure "just ... relationships in the field of human labor." (So too do consumers, who also fall under the category of "indirect employers.") This insistence is an essential part of John Paul's papal "legacy" -- yet somehow it doesn't seem to be getting a lot of attention in the current media frenzy.

One more choice passage from Laborem Exercens that the folks on CNN won't be discussing during their weeklong Popeapalooza:

"The workers' rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing that must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers' rights within each country and all through the world's economy."
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