Category: Vatican

It’s election time in Italy, with voting scheduled for April 13 and 14 to select a new parliament and government. With the center of the Roman Catholic Church located within the Italian republic and historic tensions between the Church and State in Italy, it is worth asking how Italian pastors address public issues in this notoriously political country.

On March 18 the Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), Giuseppe Bertori stated that the Church does “not express any involvement or preference for any politician or political party.” Local bishops can and do react differently, however. Vatican journalist Sandro Magister recently highlighted how the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Caffarra, has issued specific guidelines for his priests.

Bologna is a noted left-wing city, where the cultural and political life is dominated by professors of Europe’s oldest university and Italian communists (yes, they still exist!). So the temptation for Bolognese priests is often to find common ground with the dominant part. Perhaps as a result, Cardinal Caffarra has forbid his priests from getting involved in partisan politics, primarily because it would compromise the communion of the Church.

The Cardinal has also prohibited the use of Church property for any political meetings or debate, will not allow parties to campaign on Church grounds, and has forbid the posting of any election posters, most likely making these parts of Bologna the only manifesti-free zone on the peninsula.

None of this means that the pastors cannot “guide” their flock. The last guideline says, in part, “If a parishioner should ask for counseling concerning the upcoming elections, priests must bear in mind that every elector is called to express a choice [….] The priest is called to help the parishioner, guiding him, so that he may distinguish those human rights worthy of being defended.” Finally, Cardinal Caffarra directs his priests to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s note on the participation of Catholic in political life.

So while the Church in Italy is non-partisan, it clearly has something to say about politics, especially when it comes to issues such the taking of innocent life, marriage and family, Catholic education and biotechnology. It has not, to date, addressed the various economic proposals of the parties, so we can assume that faithful Italian Catholics can differ on these matters in good conscience. The argument over economic reform should therefore take place on the basis of sound economics, which would probably mark an historical occasion in this country.

Following its new-found interest in sound economics, the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has turned its attention to what now seems to be a global downturn.

The usual European trope is that the current troubles are the result of American overspending, overconsumption and unsustainable debt burdens, so it is very surprising to see a contrarian view in Sunday’s paper entitled “The Morality of the Recession.”

Italian banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi evaluates the credit crunch affecting the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve’s reaction to lower interest rates as problematic for the rest of the world, but he also sees an opportunity for renewal and reform.

The moral lesson for Europe? Take the chance to reduce wasteful public spending, lower taxes, increase productivity and attract foreign investment. Citing Pope John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, Gotti Tedeschi draws the conclusion that now is the time for Italy to adopt more flexible economic mechanisms and rid itself of its welfare-state mentality.

Italian elections are just a month away, so it is extremely unlikely any politician would advocate such a bold program; it is, however, exactly what Italy needs. Let’s hope that Vatican officials, at least, are paying attention. Kudos to L’Osservatore Romano and Gotti Tedeschi for taking another courageous stand.


The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome held a conference last month dedicated to Elizabeth Anscombe’s work Intention and essay “Modern Moral Philosophy”, a groundbreaking paper for the field of ethics. Anscombe (1919-2001), an Irish convert to Catholicism, was a fellow of philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford Universities, wife to philosopher Peter Geach, and mother of seven. She wrote a number of different papers and articles following ethical questions of her day, for example just war theory in WWII, the advent of birth control, and more.

The questions raised by Anscombe are still trying to be resolved in philosophy, in particular, the relevance of the word “ought” to the modern position on morality. She argues that the western concept of moral “ought” is based in the Judeo-Christian tradition of divine legislation. In other words, the concept of justice in western society is fundamentally linked to Christian morals. When modern secularism attempts to retain the idea of morality without the idea of God, the power of the word “ought” is merely psychological.

The idea of a moral “ought” is also linked to the concept of justice, and what we are owed. Without an objective moral framework, such as is found in natural law theory, justice becomes a subjective interpretation. An obvious consequence of this error is found in political lobbyists who make excessive demands of the concept of human rights.

Here is an excerpt from a paper I gave on human rights talk at the conference, “Fundamental human rights are being supplemented with entitlements, and sometimes the distinction between the two is lacking entirely. This moral equivalence fails to demonstrate what is unique and defining about human persons that man is an end in himself, and has the responsibility of making free moral choices ordered toward that end.”

It is wrong to make the means to an end, an end in itself. It is wrong to put material benefits, which provide for human flourishing, in the same category as human freedoms. For example, there is a difference in saying that “I have a right to freedom from oppression by my government” and saying “I have a right to be provided with a job by my government”. It is one thing for the government to guarantee it’s citizen’s liberty; it is another to guarantee their financial success.

The framework of the Christian moral tradition and natural law theory are able to qualify the concept of justice much better than a secular guilt trip. Something to think about the next time you hear someone demanding his or her rights.

Blog author: kosten.joseph
posted by on Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Rome students Joe Kosten (left) and Chris Wells.

Recently, I had the distinct honor to represent Canada at the Papal Rosary for University Students in Rome. The event was held in the Pius VI Hall and was well attended by more than 12,000 students and faithful. Though the story behind my choice of country remains long and obtuse, suffice to say it was an honor to represent any English speaking country before the Holy Father.

The Pope’s message following the Rosary promotes virtue, freedom, and justice for all.

Benedict XVI’s opinions on virtuous living and freedom are well known in the intellectual world. As Pope, he has been working to promote a society of freedom and justice through which man can grow and develop with dignity. The message for students and young people was clear: You are disciples and witnesses of the Gospel, because the Gospel is the herald cry of the Reign of God; the society of love.

As a student in Rome and an intern for the Acton Institute, this call applies directly to my activities here in the Eternal City. However, the call can extend to all young people as they work and function within society. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay, “Our Blessed Lord said: ‘Go into the world and make disciples.’ Here was not only a cosmic mission, but a personal one . . . to bring souls under the discipline of Christ. . . . God never intended that individual and social justice should be separated”(Treasure in Clay, 107-108). Sheen foresaw what the current Pope now asks of youth everywhere: to actively live the society of love in everyday life, and thus give witness to the truth of the Gospel.

“Recycle or go to Hell, warns Vatican”. “Vatican Increases List of Mortal Sins”, “Vatican lists ‘new sins’, including pollution”. These were three of the most sensationalist headlines in yesterday’s English-speaking press, picking up on an interview with a Vatican official published in L’Osservatore Romano on Sunday.

The official, Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, is the second-in-command at the Apostolic Penitentiary (despite the name, it is not a jail but the Vatican office responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Roman Catholic Church). The bishop spoke the day after the Penitentiary concluded a course for confessors. The bulk of the interview dealt with matters concerning canon law and the sacrament of confession, items of little interest to the general public. But the bishop also spoke about some new forms of social sin. Here are the relevant questions and answers:

Sometimes people do not understand the Church’s (issuing of) indulgences and Christian forgiveness? Why do you think it is that way?

Today it seems that repentance is taken to mean opening one’s self to others when resolving issues found within his or her own special social sphere, within which one expresses his very own existence, and does so by offering his own contribution of clarification and support for those having such problems. Repentance, therefore, today takes on a (special) social dimension, due to the fact that relationships have grown weaker and more complicated because of globalization.

In your opinion, what are the “new sins”?

There are various areas today in which we adopt sinful behavior, as with individual and social rights. This is especially so in the field of bioethics where we cannot deny the existence of violations of fundamental rights of human nature – this occurs by way of experiments and genetic modifications, whose results we cannot easily predict or control. Another area, which indeed pertains to the social spectrum, is that of drug use, which weakens our minds and reduces our intelligence. As a result, many young people are left out of Church circles. Here’s another one: social and economic inequality, in the sense that the rich always seem to get richer, and the poor, poorer. This [phenomenon] feeds off an unsustainable form of social injustice and is related to environmental issues –which currently have much relevant interest.

(Download an English translation of the entire interview [PDF].)

Anyone reading these passages can see that the Church is not proposing any new list of mortal sins, and certainly did not list “obscene wealth” and “pollution” as matters to be confessed by the faithful. The bishop simply referred to the social consequences of sin, some of which seem to be exacerbated by an increasingly inter-connected world.

So how did the American and British press reports get it so wrong? Back in February 2007, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter wrote an incisive piece about irresponsible reporting at the Vatican, and there is even an entire website, GetReligion.org, devoted to this problem.

Having worked in the Vatican for several years, I know many of the beat reporters, including some of those who botched this social sin story. Most have absolutely no interest in the larger theological or philosophical issues discussed at high levels, so in a way this is all the fruit of culpable ignorance.

But real damage is done to the Church and her flock by such slipshod reporting. Knowledge of Catholic social doctrine has surely suffered and people who may otherwise be interested in the Church have been driven away, all in the name of an eye-catching headline.

Thankfully, not all the news is bad. Institutions such as the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross have started seminars to train journalists in reporting on the Church, though it seems not all the English-speaking ones in Rome have yet been able to attend.

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend one of the Acton Institute’s seminars here in Rome. Located at the campus of the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum, the seminar drew more than 100 religious and lay persons from all over the world. It was apparent that the topic was not only an interesting one, but also a personal one for many in the room. The presentations dealt with the papal encyclical Populorum Progressio forty years later. Asking the pertinent question of whether or not progress has failed the developing world, each presentation dealt with a different aspect of the theory and the praxis of this topic.

Acton’s own Michael Miller opened the seminar with a few thoughts on Populorum Progressio and society today. Referring to the enhanced living conditions of the developing world, Mr. Miller mentioned the advances of progress. However, he was not blind to the failures felt in the past few decades. Too often the focus is on poverty, but he believes the focus needs to be on wealth. We know what makes people poor, we need to study what makes people rich. Another example Mr. Miller used is the idea of population control to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. Calling to mind the words of Pope John Paul II, man’s best resource is man himself.

This idea of human resources and their importance to development was a key aspect of the next speaker’s presentation. Fr. Thomas Williams, Legionary of Christ priest and teacher at Regina Apostolorum, theorized about the necessity and effects of development. He reasoned that a way to understand development and progress is to understand their nature. Delving into the papal documents from recent history, Fr. Williams gave an excellent exegesis of their meaning. Paul VI wrote, six years after Populorum Progressio, that development cannot be measured by mere economic growth, but also as an improvement for the very being of the human person. But many critics of Christianity say that Christians are anti-wealth, anti-progress. While Christians love the poor, they do not promulgate poverty. Similarly, they love the sick but hate sickness, love the sinner but hate the sin. The difficulty arises when the human person is secondary to economic success; when wealth becomes the supreme good at the cost of human dignity. This attitude of greed leads to avarice. However, Pope Paul VI comments that both rich and poor fall prey to this vice. He adds that just as the Ancient philosophers loved leisure because it led to contemplation, Christians love prosperity because it leads to time for prayer. (more…)

Good news is not always so hard to find. Case in point: Free-market economics is making a comeback at the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Previously known as a dry read, L’Osservatore Romano (which means The Roman Observer in English) now contains provocative interviews and real news stories from around the world. This is attributable to the paper’s new editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, who was appointed to the post by Pope Benedict last October (see here for the interesting background on the change by the Italian journalist Sandro Magister.)

Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, a well-known Italian economist and banker, has been given prominent space to comment on current economic developments. He is a strong defender of the link between Christian principles and free markets, having authored a 2004 book titled, Money and Paradise: The Global Economy and The Catholic World.

In a February 13 article titled “The capital we should value most is human,” he warns against the temptation to resolve economic problems by merely increasing public spending. As Italians know only too well, high public spending will at some point translate into higher taxes. He stresses that these, in turn, diminish human liberty and dignity.

He is also critical of the Italian welfare state which only distributes resources without enhancing individual responsibility and future opportunities. His solution to the current economic difficulties is to leave more space for the market to push Italian businesses to a higher level of competitiveness, which then helps to increase investments and create jobs.

Gotti Tedeschi’s latest front-page article deals with an equally important subject — the high price of oil and economic development. He directly confronts those who argue that we need to reduce economic growth in order to adapt to falling energy supplies.

In his view, this would signal an unwarranted pessimism and distrust in human creativity. Instead, future energy problems should be combated with more research in new technologies and through using existing technologies more efficiently. Getting human anthropology right and showing confidence in human inventiveness are crucial.

Gotti Tedeschi’s ability to combine economic issues with Christian thought greatly enriches L’Osservatore Romano and all supporters of the free market should be thankful for this turn to sanity. Three cheers for the Pope’s newspaper!

On National Review Online, Sam Gregg, Acton’s director of research, takes a look at the new Father-General of the Society of Jesus and what’s ahead for “one of Catholicism’s most influential — and controversial — religious orders.”

The Jesuits are dealing with a steep decline in numbers and other serious problems, as Sam points out:

Many Jesuit universities have become virtually indistinguishable from your average left-wing secular academy. Some Jesuits candidly say the order’s intellectual edge began seriously fraying in the 1970s, corroded by an idolatry of the contemporary — marked particularly by an embrace of Marxist critiques that would engender bad politics and even worse theology, including efforts to water down Christ’s uniqueness in the name of that ubiquitous word: “dialogue.”

By the early 1980s, Rome had had enough. In 1981, John Paul II took the radical step of suspending the order’s normal governance. In 1983, Fr. Kolvenbach was elected Father-General. Though widely considered a good man, it’s unclear he affected any significant change in the Jesuits’ direction.

For example, three of the last four Catholic theologians publicly notified by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that their writings contradict basic Christian beliefs were Jesuits: Frs. Jon Sobrino, Roger Haight, and Jacques Dupuis. Some see this as the price of doing cutting-edge theology. Others view it as the result of simply muddled theology.

Read “End of the Jesuits?” on NRO here.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Saturday, January 19, 2008
canceled

Update: Ecumenical News International is reporting that the rector of Rome’s La Sapienza University has said he plans to re-invite Pope Benedict XVI to address his institution. The English text of the Pope’s speech is available here.

This week Benedict XVI canceled a visit to La Sapienza University in Rome, an institution founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303. The decision was made after a number of professors and students had announced protests claiming that the pontiff’s presence would undermine the autonomy and free scientific inquiry of the university. After canceling the visit which was planned for the opening of the academic year on January 17th, the Vatican released the speech which Benedict XVI would have delivered. In the speech he defends the intellectual freedom and autonomy of universities. His emphatic pledge for the unimpeded and autonomous search for truth is an embarrassment for his opponents who are now themselves being accused of intolerance by large parts of the Italian public.

The controversy began when in November 2007 an emeritus professor of physics, Marcello Cini, wrote an open letter to the rector of La Sapienza, Renato Guarini, published by the communist newspaper Il Manifesto. In this letter Cini launched a ferocious attack on the rector for having invited the pope. He lamented that the pope’s right to speak at the ceremony would mark an “incredible violation of the traditional autonomy of the university”. He argued that there is no place for any teaching of theology at modern universities, or at least public universities like La Sapienza. This categorical ban would include the pope’s ceremonial speech planned for the opening of the academic year. Cini claimed that Pope Benedict’s right to speak would signal a leap backwards of at least 300 years. In addition to these “formal” concerns, Cini attempted to discredit the pope’s conviction that reason and faith are compatible as explained in his Regensburg lecture in 2006. Cini maintained that this idea is merely the continuation of the battle against science which was fought by the inquisition in previous centuries and would serve no other purpose than to impose religious dogma and pseudo-scientific methods.

At the time when it was published Cini’s letter did not cause a great stir in the mainstream media but it chimed in with the anti-clerical attitudes of the readership of Il Manifesto. It was taken up by 67 professors and lecturers of La Sapienza who signed a petition against the visit of the pope which was sent to Guarini a few days before the opening of the academic year. (more…)

Recently the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, one of the many Catholic universities in Rome, drew together church leaders and scientists from around the globe to discuss the nitty-gritty of embryology in a three day conference on bioethics, “Ontogeny and Human Life.” The presentations ranged from juridical and biomedical topics to the philosophical and theological aspects of developing persons. (A conference program is available in PDF form here.)

I was unable to attend all of the sessions, but some of the speakers included William Hurlbut of Stanford University, Scott Gilbert of Swarthmore College, Carlo Casini of the European Parliament, and more. Like in many other conferences around Rome, a serious attempt is being made to bring modern science and classical metaphysics together for a better understanding of the human person. The common lay person may be scratching his or her head wondering what influence ancient Greece and medieval clerics could have on white-jacket researchers in laboratories.

The beginning of human life is a hotly debated issue these days, but we would be mistaken in assuming that our generation is the first to take it up. However, without modern science the theories of fetal development proposed by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are comical in their simplicity. This was obvious when Prof. Labeaga of the Regina Apostolorum presented on “The Concept of Embryo in Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas and the Question of Ensoulment,” which provoked many smiles when taken in contrast with the latest in embryology.

The Catholic Church finds herself in a unique position in this arena. She is often seen in opposition to progress and science, when in fact many crucial modern developments were made by her faithful followers. In the papal encyclical Fides et Ratio, John Paul II examined this point and encouraged science and religion to continue to develop a relationship of dialogue, each enriching the other. Bioethics has a lot to learn about the human person, but most importantly, it still has much to learn about human dignity as well. The Church for her part should not fear the discoveries of science, because truth is never contradictory, and nature only serves to illuminate and illustrate what God has divinely ordained. Looking at ultrasounds of developing human beings, tracing the intricacies of genetic code, and acknowledging how a mother and father are fundamentally designed to create, support, and nourish a new life all bring this mystery to light.

After modern science has dissected its disciplines into various categories, it is the human person as a whole that brings them all back together and helps one inform the other. Science serves man, just as government, economics, and the arts do as well. Science also reminds man that he is dust, and to dust he shall return, but without religion that is where he stays.