Critics, dismayed by the note’s content, rather predictably have challenged its Vatican standing. George Weigel dismissed it as the product of a “rather small office in the Roman Curia” while Bill Donohue said it contains “neologisms” not found in the thought of Pope Benedict XVI. To be fair, there’s merit to these points. The note is hardly a dogmatic definition, and on matters outside the Catechism, the Vatican rarely speaks with one voice.
Focusing on how much papal muscle the note can flex, however, risks ignoring what is at least an equally revealing question: Whatever you make of it, does the note seem to reflect important currents in Catholic social and political thought anywhere in the world?
The answer is yes, and it happens to be where two-thirds of the Catholics on the planet today live: the southern hemisphere, also known as the developing world.
It’s fitting that the Vatican official responsible for the document is an African, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, because it articulates key elements of what almost might be called a “southern consensus.” One way of sizing up the note’s significance, therefore, is as an indication that the demographic transition long under way in Catholicism, with the center of gravity shifting from north to south, is being felt in Rome.
Much food for thought here — and you’ll want to read it all.