Love, Justice and Catholic Social Teaching in Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est


Dedicated to the Memory of Bishop Walter Edyvean of Boston, Massachusetts




In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est that powerfully addressed the importance of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on social justice, and taught that it is rooted in Caritas, the love that binds all human beings together in respect and in love. In 2007 the encyclical was attacked by the Asian liberation theologian Fr. Tissa Balasuriya (1924-2013), who argued carefully that the teaching Pope Benedict had proclaimed, as was indifferent to the claims of justice. Such practices as emerge from Catholic Social teaching are rooted in justice rather than in love, he insisted, and it is a mistake to confuse one for the other. Speaking from the point of view of one who has engaged for more than thirty years in the sort of social justice work that both theologians address, I argue against identifying Catholic social justice with the politically based practices that Fr. Balasuriya championed, and point out that the historically and theologically based teaching that Pope Benedict taught is vital in sustaining the continuing, informed, and often one-on-one work that such programs undertake.  I conclude that to identify the practice of Catholic social justice with politics, whether of a left-of-center inclination or any other, is almost always harmful to its practice, and that both Love and Justice are necessary for its success.


Keywords: Pope Benedict XVI, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, Catholic Social Justice, Caritas, Justice, Asian Liberation Theology, Deus Caritas Est.