Category: Vatican

In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Institute President and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses the pope’s recent comments. “If the pope got up and read the phone book, it would grab headlines,” Sirico quipped.

In light of the discussion about distributism in the recent comments, I’m posting John Zmirak’s excellent Religion & Liberty review of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards (Ignatius Press, 2014) here on the PowerBlog. Note how he ends the review with a discussion of Tolkien and whether his work lent support to distributism. Have at it.

In Praise of the Bourgeois, Liberty-Loving Race of Hobbits

By John Zmirak

"First they ignore it, then they ridicule it, then they willfully misunderstand it, then it becomes a classic." Mohandas Gandhi never said that about great works of literature, but it does describe the trajectory of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. We are long past the days when critics could lightly sneer at the book as "escapist," or convince people that it is secretly "militarist" or "racist." Too many tens of millions have actually read the work to swallow such poison pills. So readers of Tolkien who profoundly misunderstand the book and reject its central message have taken another tack: They have tried to misconstrue the work as a plea for radical environmentalism, Marxist revolution, or the use of the violent force employed by the state in the service of other agendas (such as Distributism) that were utterly alien to Tolkien. The Hobbit Party, by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards does a brilliant job of exposing these crass or crafty misreadings of Tolkien, presenting in plain English and scholarly detail the true complexity and beauty of Tolkien's epic, and more honest applications of his insights.

The Hobbit Party is an easy and pleasurable read, deeply informative and grounded in a fundamental sympathy with the vision of the good that Tolkien wove through all his works. If you only bought one book on The Lord of the Rings, this would be an excellent choice. It's especially worthwhile as a gift for students who are already fans of the book, since it will connect them to Tolkien's intellectual roots and moral aspirations.

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At RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers an analysis of President Obama’s move to thaw relations with Cuba, a diplomatic opening that was supported by the Vatican. Citing Pope Francis’ appeals for “an economy of inclusion,” Rev. Sirico asks: “What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?” More:

Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.

The open question is to see whether the Castro regime — which, after all, remains ideologically Marxist and viciously persecutes anyone who steps out of line — will use this thawing as a way of moving Cuba away from 50 years of one party rule and a top-down approach to the economy, and towards wider freedoms. Their track-record, to date, would not inspire confidence.

Read “The End of Cuba’s Double Despotism” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico at RealClearReligion.

Radio Free ActonOn this week’s edition of Radio Free Acton, we bring you part two of Michael Matheson Miller’s conversation with Ambassador Francis Rooney, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2005 to 2008 under President George W. Bush. Rooney has a new book out on the Vatican’s role in the world entitled The Global VaticanMiller and Rooney discuss the soft-power global role of the Vatican, and the relationship between the Vatican and the United Nations, which has been rocky of late.

This is part one of their conversation; part two will follow in next week’s edition of Radio Free Acton. To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Rev. Robert A. Sirico clears away the media hype surrounding the Vatican Synod on the Family and offers an analysis of its early work. He observes that nothing about the synod “challenges the dogma of the church related to the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, the use of artificial contraception, cohabitation and homosexual acts. What it did was soften the tone of these teachings.” But things got interesting.

An early report led critics to say that it “reflected the opinion of Archbishop Bruno Forte, a special secretary to the synod and a progressive, who prepared the final document and presented it to the media.” But Rev. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, notes that one of the more powerful, conservative cardinals, George Pell, called the report “tendentious and incomplete.”

What is really happening at this synod is an earnest effort by pastors of the church to determine how best to encourage people to live the Catholic faith. This is no easy task. A move too far in the direction of merely repeating old formularies will not work. A move away from what constitutes the very definition of what it means to be Catholic will not only erode the church’s self-identity and betray her founder’s mandate, it will also insult and alienate many Catholics who strive to live by the church’s teachings. This is what we pastors call the art of pastoral practice.

The practice is best modeled by Jesus’ encounter with the woman “caught in the very act of adultery” (John 8: 1-11). His interlocutors somehow thought that they could drive a wedge between his allegiance to biblical law and mercy. So they cast the woman before him and demanded that he say whether she should be stoned, as the law stipulated. The tension built as Jesus doodled in the sand. Finally he replied, “Let you who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The story does not end there. Jesus turned to the woman at his feet and delivered gentle, memorable words—a message that makes the whole story an encounter of faithful mercy: “Go and sin no more.” If this model—finding the balance between justice and mercy, which are often in tension—weighs heavily on the minds of bishops gathered in Rome, that will be an achievement for the church and its pastoral model.

Read “Beyond the Hype About a Vatican Upheaval” in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

Radio Free ActonOn this week’s edition of Radio Free Acton, Michael Matheson Miller speaks with Ambassador Francis Rooney, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2005 to 2008 under President George W. Bush. Rooney has a new book out on the Vatican’s role in the world entitled The Global VaticanMiller and Rooney discuss the role of Ambassador, what it’s like to meet the Pope, and focus for a time on Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Address, and the political and diplomatic consequences that flowed from it.

This is part one of their conversation; part two will follow in next week’s edition of Radio Free Acton. To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below.

Pope Francis meets with representatives of Albania’s Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communities, at the Catholic University “Our Lady of Good Counsel” in Tirana, Albania

Pope Francis meets with representatives of Albania’s Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic communities, at the Catholic University “Our Lady of Good Counsel” in Tirana, Albania

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about his Apostolic Journey to Albania on September 21. He stated first why he wished to visit this country, highlighting the Albanians ability to peacefully co-exist in a nation with two strong religious factions.

This visit was born of my desire to go to a country which, after long being oppressed by an atheist and inhuman regime, is living the experience of peaceful coexistence among the country’s different religious components. I felt it was important to encourage it on this path, that it may continue with tenacity to evaluate all the implications for the benefit of the common good. For this reason the Journey had at its centre an interreligious meeting where I was able to observe, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic. They are putting it into practice! This entails an authentic and fruitful dialogue which spurns relativism and takes the identity of each one into account. What the various religious expressions have in common is, indeed, life’s journey, the good will to do good to one’s neighbour, without denying or diminishing their respective identity.

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French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets. (more…)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

In 2006, then-Pope Benedict made a speech at Regensburg. As papal speeches go, it wasn’t a “biggie;” it was an address to a meeting of scientists. What was to be a reflection on faith, reason and science quickly became a firestorm. Benedict was accused of being anti-Islamic, offensive, insensitive and out-of-touch.

The primary problem was that what he really said was taken entirely out of context. In his 30 minute speech, the pope quotes an ancient emperor on the theme of “holy war.” It is important to note here that Benedict was quoting someone else; this is one of the things his critics got wrong. From Benedict’s remarks:

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις – controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”.

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President Obama and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican, March 2014

President Obama and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican, March 2014

In a lengthy World Affairs piece, journalist Roland Flamini takes the position that Pope Francis is a “major player” on the stage of global foreign policy. Flamini examines the pope’s travels in the Holy Land and the Ukraine, noting “that the non-European pope is shaping his own foreign policy course.”

The article also discusses the pope’s meeting with President Obama, noting that while the pope is firmly “anti-consumerist,” Obama is the political leader of a country where shopping is a “sacrament.” Kishore Jayabalan, who heads the Rome-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, was asked to summarize the difference between the two men.

They have very different starting points,” he says. “The pope can use his office to raise moral concern about the unborn and inequality but there’s not a whole lot he can directly do about it.” It’s the president who has the means and the power to take action but hasn’t, in the view of the Vatican. Also, the pope has been quite outspoken about the global economy and global capitalism not helping the poor, while Obama “presides over a free-market economy” and “recognizes that the global economy has helped the poor: people in Asia, Africa, and parts of Latin America have benefitted from free trade.”

Read “Peter and Caesar: Is Pope Francis Shifting the Vatican’s Worldview?” at World Affairs.