Pope Benedict on the Need for a World Political Authority

April 28, 2010 by cgsstlouischapter

By David C. Oughton, Ph.D.
March, 2010

In his third encyclical “Charity in Truth,” Pope Benedict XVI applies the ethical and spiritual principles of Catholic social teaching (such as charity, the human family, the common good, the defense of life from conception to natural death, and the dignity of every human) to the world-wide economic crisis, globalization, workers’ rights, labor unions, social justice, poverty and hunger, international aid, the environment, human development, and world peace.
In Chapter 5 of this encyclical, Pope Benedict also explains another principle of modern Catholic social teaching—the need for an effective and moral world political authority. This principle was first developed in Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical “Peace on Earth.” Pope John realized that global problems cannot be adequately solved without “public authority which is in a position to operate in an effective manner on a worldwide basis.” (#137) Pope Paul VI and the bishops at the Second Vatican Council emphasized everyone’s duty “to strain every muscle as we work for the time when all war can be completely outlawed by international consent. This goal undoubtedly requires the establishment of some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all, and endowed with effective power to safeguard, on the behalf of all, security, regard for justice, and respect for rights.” (The Church Today, #82)
Besides outlawing war and maintaining a peaceful world order, Pope Benedict adds these reasons why “a true world political authority” is urgently needed: “to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration.” (#67) Pope Benedict and other recent popes have realized that wars and genocides continue and so many other global problems are not being adequately solved because the world lacks a public authority that is “regulated by law,” that is based on “the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity,” that seeks “to establish the common good,” and makes a commitment “to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth.” (#67)
Because of the “unrelenting growth of global interdependence,” Pope Benedict states that there is a need for a “reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” (#67) Even though the U.N. has accomplished so much since its creation after the Second World War, it has often been weak and ineffective in solving global problems and preventing wars for these reasons: (1) it is confederation of sovereign national governments that is based on international law, a system of customs and treaties; (2) the U.N. General Assembly can pass only nonbinding resolutions, and its system of “one nation-one vote” is not democratic because of differences in national populations; (3) the U.N. Security Council has often been impotent in preventing or ending wars because of the veto power of any one of the five permanent members, used for themselves or their allies; (4) the rulings of the U.N. International Court of Justice on treaty violations have often been ignored by national governments; and (5) the United Nations system must rely on dues from national governments, which are not always paid.
In order to give the U.N. “real teeth,” it should be transformed into a democratic world federation of nations that would create, enforce, and adjudicate world laws and be able to prosecute individuals who violate them. In order to prevent genocides and other violations of human rights, Pope Benedict believes that there is an urgent need to implement the “Responsibility to Protect” principle: national governments agree to protect people within their borders, not just their own citizens, and the international community is committed to humanitarian intervention.
The kind of world political authority which Pope Benedict supports would not be the only government in the world. He states that it should be based on the principle of “subsidiarity, for the management of globalization.” (#67) The national, state, and local governments would continue to solve problems as well as make and enforce laws for people within their own borders. According to Pope Benedict, a democratic global authority would need to be “universally recognized” and be vested with “effective power.” (#67) It would therefore require a world constitution which would make explicit the powers and limitations of the organs of the world federation of nations; the checks and balances between those organs; the rights, powers, and limitations of national governments; and the rights and responsibilities of all citizens of the world. Such a reform of the United Nations, according to Pope Benedict, would help build “a social order that at last conforms to the moral order.” (#67)

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