Cokie Roberts, a television and radio journalist and a Catholic, is reported to have said that Pope Benedict XVI was "really lacking in the theological virtue of charity." (I have not been able to find an original source for this quotation.) Whether or not she said this, it is a sentiment held by some, including some Catholics. However, such a viewpoint represents a profound lack of understanding of the Holy Father and of charity.
Pope Benedict's first encyclical was Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). He wrote a post-synodal apostolic exhortation called Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity). His third encyclical was the recent Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). If anything, Pope Benedict is in fact obsessed with the theological virtue of charity. It appears that the mission of his pontificate is to further develop the theology of charity and live that theology out.
Benedict's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is in part indebted to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who reminded us that true charity is rooted in truth. In his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), Pope John Paul tells us that those who criticize the Church for a lack of charity do not understand that charity without truth is not charitable. If we truly love others, we will share the truth with them, because the truth will lead them to goodness and happiness:
The Church's teaching, and in particular her firmness in defending the universal and permanent validity of the precepts prohibiting intrinsically evil acts, is not infrequently seen as the sign of an intolerable intransigence, particularly with regard to the enormously complex and conflict-filled situations present in the moral life of individuals and of society today; this intransigence is said to be in contrast with the Church's motherhood. The Church, one hears, is lacking in understanding and compassion. But the Church's motherhood can never in fact be separated from her teaching mission, which she must always carry out as the faithful Bride of Christ, who is the Truth in person. "As Teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm... The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection".
In fact, genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom. And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth, but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God's eternal Wisdom, which we have received in Christ, and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness. (section 95)
These words of John Paul II have only become more important since he wrote them in 1993. As our culture is plunging ever more deeply into ethical relativism, let us remember that the struggle for truth matters, especially if we are truly concerned with charity and love.
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