Category: Vatican

Blog author: kosten.joseph
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
By

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.

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.

It’s called Spe Salvi, or “In hope we were saved”, and was released this morning, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. The title is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:24; the theme is, of course, Christian hope. This second encyclical follows Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on Christian charity, which was released in January 2006. You can find the English version of Spe Salvi here.

I’ve only had time for one read, not nearly enough for a full summary, but here are some of the highlights.

There are two sections, “Is Christian hope individualistic?” and “The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age”, that should be of particular interest to PowerBlog readers. In the latter section, the pope refers to Francis Bacon’s project, “the triumph of art over nature” and faith in progress. This is followed by reflections on reason and freedom, the French Revolution and Immanuel Kant’s reaction to it, and Karl Marx. In his analysis of Marx, the pope writes, “His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.” (n. 21)

This is followed by a section on the importance of freedom in human affairs:

The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction; conviction does not exist on its own, but must always be gained anew by the community.

Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all. (n. 24a,b)

(Later, the pope brings up Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the Vietnamese priest who served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace until his death in September 2002 and a friend of the Acton Institute. The cardinal spent 13 years as a prisoner in Vietnam, 9 of those in solitary confinement, just after he was named bishop of Saigon. The pope refers to the cardinal’s writings on his experience and even his difficulty in praying. I had the great privilege to work with Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan at Justice and Peace and these references are a real testament to his holiness. His cause for beatification has recently been opened.)

As was the case with Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi does not treat social questions as such and is not a treatise on Church-State relations, so it is not considered a social encyclical, like Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus. Rather, and perhaps more importantly, by examining theological virtues such as hope and charity, Pope Benedict is showing us how Christianity has changed the way we live in a fundamental sense. Both encyclicals contrast the Christian understanding with pre-Christian and modern secular understandings, and in doing so, form the basis for how we ought to view economics and other human sciences in a more comprehensive light.

In his defense of human freedom, Pope Benedict warns of utopian schemes that attempt to place our hopes in planners rather than God; quite clearly, the pope is no optimist wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to human progress but neither is he blind to it. He notes that Bacon even predicted advancements such as the airplane and the submarine, but the pope reminds us that freedom can be used for good or evil at any time. There is something irreducible about moral freedom, despite all our wonderful advances in science and technology, that is the basis of human drama. All great artists are able to portray this drama vividly and in many ways, the pope has shown himself to be a theological artist of sorts with his first two encyclicals. Just as one gains new insights from re-reading a great book or looking at a beautiful painting again, I’m looking forward to re-visiting Spe Salvi with greater attention.

I’ll close by adding that one of my favorite sections has to do with the neglected practice of “offering up” our troubles to God:

I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves. (n. 40)

Again, you can read the encyclical on the Vatican website by clicking here.

A while back I made note of the upcoming beatification of the Italian Catholic liberal (in the old European sense) priest, Antonio Rosmini. Rome-based Church-watcher Sandro Magister has a fuller treatment today at his site.

On offer in the Acton Bookshoppe is a new translation of Rosmini’s reflection on natural law, the market, and society, The Constitution Under Social Justice.

Kishore Jayabalan, director of Acton’s Rome office, was interviewed by Radio Free Europe’s Jeffrey Donovan today about the Vatican’s reaction to a letter sent this week to Pope Benedict XVI by more than 130 Muslim leaders. The letter urged peace and understanding between the faiths, warning that the “world’s survival” could be at stake.

The audio of the interview is not available online. What follows is a transcript of Kishore’s comments to Donovan:

“The Vatican is actually withholding comment until it’s had time to read and study and mull over the letter, which is already a quite different reaction than, say, from the Anglican communion, which has been much more willing to chomp at the bit and get right to praising the letter for its measure of goodwill.”

“What the pope was trying to say to Muslims [at Regensburg, Germany, in September 2006] is something that’s not mentioned in this letter by 138 Muslim leaders. There is no mention of violence in the name of God. There’s no condemnation of Islamic fundamentalism or terrorism, there’s no mention of the hijacking of Islam by terrorists. These are obviously the real issues. I think until Muslim leaders come out with outright, simple, easy-to-understand condemnation of these things, it’s pretty hard for most people to see how a sincere inter-religious dialogue can take place.”

“The pope is a theologian. His first question would most probably be, ‘What is the nature of God and Islam?’ There are obviously differences between the Islamic understanding of God and the Christian understanding of God. There’s constant reference in the letter to ‘there is no God but God and God has no partners or associates,’ which I take to be maybe an implicit reference to Christianity, where you have one God but three persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And I do not think Muslims can accept that, as Muslims.”