Pope Benedict XVI encyclical letter denounces excessive zeal for assertions of intellectual property rights in knowledge

Pope Benedict XVI today issued a statement saying that “On the part of rich countries, there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.” The criticism came in a section of his most recent encyclical letter dealing with social issues, and specifically focusing on international human development and systemic failures of bodies large and small to solve development problems.

Caritas in Veritate/ Charity in Truth, dated June 29, 2009, is Pope Benedict XVI’s third encyclical letter. The 30,468 word document contains an introduction, six chapters, a conclusion and 159 footnotes, and deals largely with social issues of importance to the church.*

In a June 13 announcement, the Pope said that the document would “highlight what, for us as Christians, are the objectives that need to be pursued and what values to be tirelessly promoted and defended in order to create a truly free and united form of human coexistence.”

Section 22 of the letter, entitled “Human Development in Our Time,” laid out the Pope’s vision of human development goals. It also highlighted the failings of the current system, citing rigid ideology, consumerist “superdevelopment”, corruption, and “cultural models and social norms of behavior …. which hinder the process of development.” Casting a strikingly pragmatic tone, the encyclical underscores the complexity of development issues, which “should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which oversimplify reality in artifical ways, and … lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems.”

While Papal Encyclicals do not determine official doctrine for the Church, they do offer a chance to annunciate the personal thoughts of the Pope and encourage specific priorities that the Pope wishes to set for the Church. Encyclicals such as the Caritas in Veritate are traditionally addressed to church heads, and not to the laiety at large (though the current one seems to be an exception, and all are made available publicly). They are the second most important statement that can be issued by the Pope (after an Apostolic Constitution, which proclaims dogma and/or issues of canon law).

22. Today the picture of development has many overlapping layers. The actors and the causes in both underdevelopment and development are manifold, the faults and the merits are differentiated. This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems. As John Paul II has already observed, the demarcation line between rich and poor countries is no longer as clear as it was at the time of Populorum Progressio[55]. The world’s wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of “superdevelopment” of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. “The scandal of glaring inequalities”[56] continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries. Similarly, in the context of immaterial or cultural causes of development and underdevelopment, we find these same patterns of responsibility reproduced. On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development.


*“Encyclical Letter Caritas In Veritate Of The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI To The Bishops Priests And Deacons Men And Women Religious The Lay Faithful And All People Of Good Will On Integral Human Development In Charity And Truth,” June 29, 2009. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html.
Some updates:

This from the Intellectual Property Owners (IPO).

Pope Criticizes IP Rights — On July 7, Pope Benedict XVI issued a letter that included the following statement: “On the part of rich countries, there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.” (IAM Magazine and other sources) [Editor’s Note: U.S. Protestant religious leaders have made similar statements. IPO and others are working to educate on the incentives that IP rights provide for advancing knowledge and creating jobs.]

Related news reports and blogs

http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2009/07/the-pope-on-patents.html

Pope Urges Forming New World Economic Order to Work for the ‘Common Good’, Rachel Donadio and Laurie Goodstein, NYT, June 8, 2009.

Encyclical breaks new ground on social issues, commentators say, Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Catholic News Service, July 8, 2009.

Pope says lack of ethics wreaks `havoc’ on global economy, Francis X. Rocca, Religion News Service, July 7, 2009.

Papal encyclical Giving and the market. Editorial. The Globe and Mail. July 9, 2009.