Category: Vatican

As a former disarmament policy analyst for the Holy See in New York and in Vatican City, I was recently asked to comment on its position on nuclear disarmament by the National Catholic Register; the article can be found here. The reason for raising the issue now was a Nobel laureates’ peace conference in Rome hosted by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The article describes the Holy See’s views as mainly expressed by Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, who also served on the Holy See delegation to several United Nations disarmament meetings. I would like to use this post, however, to expand on some aspects that the article only mentions briefly.

While the Holy See has the official status of a state, it does not pretend to be a state like any other; its status is primarily meant to protect the religious freedom and independence of the pope. So it cannot be said that the Holy See has any kind of political expertise in the disarmament field. After all, it hasn’t had to disarm itself and Vatican City is protected by Italian, NATO and US forces in the area. The Holy See’s mission here is to serve as a moral conscience, not as a political example to other states.

The Holy See seeks to exercise its moral authority in matters of war and peace, offering, over the centuries, its good offices to mediate a peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. But the Holy See’s position is not “pacifist”, i.e. avoiding war at all costs. For the most part, it recognizes the larger moral and strategic aspects of international relations while trying to avoid unnecessary slaughter and destruction.

The NCR article correctly notes that in 1982, Pope John Paul II linked the moral acceptability of deterrence to progress towards nuclear disarmament; this linkage is also the basis for the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet the background for this linkage – the real possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union – is neglected. In fact, most observers (Gorbachev included) now admit that the nuclear arms race contributed to or accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and hence the passing of the threat of a nuclear war between two ideological foes.

When John Paul II granted some moral acceptability to nuclear deterrence, he did so in the face of extreme opposition from European and American pacifists, including some Church leaders who thought the US, UK and France should disarm unilaterally. Incredible as it may seem, the possession of nuclear arms by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was considered a greater threat to peace. Vatican officials, however, were more sensible and aware of the menace posed by the USSR.

The Soviet Union is no more. As a result, the US and Russia did agree to greatly reduce their nuclear arsenals. September 11, 2001 changed strategic calculations, and especially nuclear proliferation concerns. North Korea and Iran are the most worrying of these, but there are many others, including the spread of nuclear materials to terrorist groups. But, once again, the no-nukes movement has decided to make the US the focus of its disarmament rally.

Perhaps this is because most of the nuclear abolitionists live in societies that allow them to criticize their governments openly and freely. There are no North Korean or Iranian equivalents of Senator Roche. In fact, the nature of the political regime should be more worrying than the possession of nuclear weapons. To think about the nature of such regimes is not to automatically praise one’s own over others; rather it is the beginning of political wisdom.

The opposite tendency is to deny all political responsibility and cede such authority to tyrants and terrorists. International relations would then be a field for “realist experts” who shun moral reflection and argue that “anything goes” in war. It would also describe mainstream foreign policy thought in the West.

In our age of moral relativism, it is tempting to say no regime is better any other, but it is also nonsensical. Instead, we need more reflection on what makes a good society and how a good society should carry out its foreign relations. No country can live in splendid isolation from today’s threats, just as no country can ignore today’s globalized economy. In international relations as in other human endeavors, the challenge is carrying out our moral responsibilities without losing our soul.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It won’t be news to anyone that the pope is currently visiting Turkey. It is tempting to read too much into a single visit, which can only accomplish so much one way or another, but it is true that the implications and symbolism of the visit are manifold. One of John Paul’s great disappointments was a failure to improve relations with Orthodoxy—and Benedict is meeting with the ecumenical patriarch in what used to be Constantinople. Then there was Benedict’s Regensburg address—and now, in one of his earliest trips abroad, he visits Turkey, which is at once a testing ground for a secular government in an Islamic nation and a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. And the pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, is already on record expressing doubts about Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union.

Full coverage of the trip’s official meetings and addresses can be found at ZENIT.

More anecdotal coverage from on the ground comes via Jim Geraghty at NRO.

Find stories and commentary also at John’s Allen’s NCRcafe.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Thursday, November 9, 2006

I am spending a twenty-four hour sabbath, after a busy six weeks of travel and speaking, at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Frankly, this 80 acre campus is one of the most gorgeous places in all of Illinois. It is about an hour’s drive north of my home. Last evening I had a lovely dinner, in a very wonderful Sicilian restaurant, with my good friend Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Baima, the provost of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary. Tom and I met about four years ago when a group of evangelicals in Naperville, Illinois, arranged a Catholic and evangelical dialogue for us. It was well-attended and well done. We formed a friendship through that evening and have since explored ideas that will lead, we trust, to a larger Catholic/evangelical forum in Chicago in 2007. (Stay tuned for details!) Tom is also a contributor to my forthcoming Zondervan book on four views of the Lord’s Supper (It has a late 2007 release date, with the corresponding book on Baptism due out in January of 2007.)

I asked Tom, as we drove back to the seminary last evening, “How do you explain the growth of your student body to its present high of 260 students after it hit rock bottom in 1991-92?” (The school was even larger, like all Catholic seminaries, in the 1950s, following world War II.) After the 1960s, and the turn to the left in the American Catholic Church, the number of priests, and thus the number of students preparing for the priesthood, declined sharply. I thought I knew the answer to my question but I wanted to hear Tom’s answer. Without hesitation he said, “John Paul II.” Tom then added that John Paul II pulled this renewal effort off not only because of his commitment to a more orthodox and robust Christian position but because he lived the Christian faith and incarnated the graces of Christ in ways that made him so fruitful in demonstrating the love of Christ. Tom went on to say that even the “priest scandals” of the 1990s had not slowed this growth. Why? Truth lived, and resolutely applied, makes a difference. Humility and courage go together. Standing for something is very important but how you stand is even more important! As evangelicals sort out the Ted Haggard scenario I pray to God this very day that they will more fully understand this same point. We need to stand for something orthodox and we need to do it with courage and humility.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Monday, October 30, 2006

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy will be holding a theological conference on the subject of “Economy: Love of God, Production, and the Free Market.” Taking place tomorrow (Tuesday), you can either follow it live or read the proceedings later at the dicastery’s web site.

Earlier this week Pope Benedict XVI told his fellow Germans, and other modern Western societies, that they are shutting their ears to the Christian message when they insist that science and technology alone can combat AIDS and other social ills. His description of the problem is one that will stand out for me for the foreseeable future. He refers to this acute spiritual malady as a “hardness of hearing.”

What a great description of modern life that expression provides. We are so enamored with our human insights and scientific discoveries that we have developed a spiritual condition that can be only called: “Hardness of hearing.” Benedict elaborated on this comment by saying “we are no longer able to hear God—there are too many different frequencies filling our ears.” And he added, “What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age.” He then told the crowd of over 250,000 pilgrims, gathered in Munich, that “People in Asia and Africa admire our scientific and technical progress, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God from man’s vision, as if this were the highest form of reason.”

Reason is always a great servant but it is a tyrannical master. Western man lost his way in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and our societies are now crashing on the shoals of modernity and postmodernity. We desperately need to learn how to hear God again. This “hardness of hearing” is now sweeping across the peoples of the United States. The tragic results of this malady will impact us precisely as they have European cultures before us. Only a true awakening will preserve us in the end. How can anyone doubt this? Those who tell you otherwise are getting terribly close to the message of the false prophets of ancient Israel.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Canadian Bishops who were making their ad limina visit. A worthwhile read, especially concerning the strong language His Holiness uses to condemn the symptoms of crumbling Western culture.

…the fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus. In helping individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ, you will awaken in them the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, embracing the life of the Church. This is our mission. It expresses our ecclesial nature and ensures that every initiative of evangelization concurrently strengthens Christian identity. In this regard, we must acknowledge that any reduction of the core message of Jesus, that is, the ‘Kingdom of God’, to indefinite talk of ‘kingdom values’ weakens Christian identity and debilitates the Church’s contribution to the regeneration of society. When believing is replaced by ‘doing’ and witness by talk of ‘issues’, there is an urgent need to recapture the profound joy and awe of the first disciples whose hearts, in the Lord’s presence, “burned within them” impelling them to “tell their story” (cf. Lk 24:32; 35).

(Somehow, the above takes on a grandfatherly tone when heard in a Bavarian-accented English.)
This is all, of course, nothing new. Benedict makes as much clear in Deus Caritas Est, but I think the way he phrases it here offers special insight into the Christian’s role in engaging social issues. When engaging ‘issues’, it is important to remember that the Christian’s primary role to help “individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ” (my emphasis). Policies, initiatives, bills, marches, protests, arguments, campaigns, advertisments, even blogs — all fine and good, but none of these tools are able to convey love. Only the human person can. Something I personally ought to remember better.

HT: Whispers in the Loggia

The secularized West is experiencing a growing disaffection with both militant atheism and traditional Christian faith. The Vatican recently addressed this issue in a study published by the Pontifical Council for Culture. It is more than interesting to me to see how this document begins to address this problem. It suggests that any effective pastoral strategy must begin with seeing “the importance of witnessing the beauty of being a person loved by God.”

This document, titled “The Christian Faith at the Dawn of the New Millennium and the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference” draws several key conclusions, besides the one stated above, that are worth thinking about by all Christians in the West. These conclusions are:

  • The church needs “To renew Christian apology to give an account with gentleness and respect of the hope that animates us (1 Peter 3:15).”

  • We must “Reach ‘homo urbanus’ (urban man) through public presence in the debates of society and put the gospel in contact with the forces that shape culture.”
  • There is an “urgency of learning to think, from school to university, and to have the courage to react, faced with the tacit acceptation of a dominant culture often marked by unbelief and religious indifference by a new and joyous proposal of Christian culture.”
  • We should “show to the nonbelievers, indifferent to the question of God but open to human values, that to be truly human, is to be religious, that man finds the fullness of his humanity in Christ, true God and true man, and that Christianity is a good news for all men and women in all cultures.”

For all who take the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), and the cultural commission (Genesis 1:28), seriously these are solid points worthy of much deeper thought and corporate application to the growing body of Western missiological material that has opened a fresh spring for the global church.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sadly, my lame attempt to teach myself German (“eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf…”) has thus far yielded little to allow me, unaided, to enjoy the Holy Father’s television interview for German broadcast. Luckily, it has been transcribed and translated to English here and the audio dubbed over in English here.

Watching the interview, it seems the Holy Father doesn’t miss a beat, neither hemming nor hawing over a question. He simply plows right into the meat of his answer, and as we have come to expect from him, his answers are quite rich. He really is good on his feet, and the interview seems to suggest that while Benedict may not be quite the media darling John Paul was, he will not be shy about keeping the papacy in the public eye.

A favorite snippet (because it seems to stress the correlative of Gilson’s “Piety is never a substitute for technique.”):

Progress becomes true progress only if it serves the human person and if the human person grows: not only in terms of his or her technical power, but also in his or her moral awareness. I believe that the real problem of our historical moment lies in the imbalance between the incredibly fast growth of our technical power and that of our moral capacity, which has not grown in proportion. That’s why the formation of the human person is the true recipe, the key to it all, I would say, and this is what the Church proposes. Briefly speaking, this formation has a dual dimension: of course we have to learn, acquire knowledge, ability, know-how, as they say. In this sense Europe, and in the last decades America, have done a lot, and that’s important. But if we only teach know-how, if we only teach how to build and to use machines, and how to use contraceptives, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we find ourselves facing wars and AIDS epidemics. Because we need two dimensions: simultaneously we need the formation of the heart, if I can express myself in this way, with which the human person acquires points of reference and learns how to use the techniques correctly.


I’ll take the liberty to make it sound-bite-able: “Technique is never a substitute for piety.” (But to quote Rocco Palmo: “…to snip it would be to do Ratzi an injustice”…just read/listen to the whole thing.)

HT: Whispers in the Loggia

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Saturday, July 8, 2006

There was an impressive Australian contingent at the World Meeting of Families. I saw one group of at least 50, and there may have been others. They were all decked out in yellow and green soccer shirts that said "Australia" on the back, wore Outback hats and carried a large Australian flag. That was just at the conference. (Cardinal Pell was terrific on the panel, as expected.)

At the Parade this morning, I saw the same green and yellow jerseys. But the Austrailian highlight for me, was when I heard, in the distance, a brass band playing "The Wild Colonial Boy." I assume it was an Australian band, though I never caught sight of them! :-)

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Saturday, July 8, 2006

Today, my Phillipina demographer friend and I went to the center city of Valencia. We have tickets to go to the Encounter with the Holy Father tonight, and we thought we’d do some sight-seeing during the day. Well, we couldn’t get near the Cathedral, where a cup reported to be the Holy Grail is kept. The streets were already filling with pilgrims waiting for the Pope’s arrival. The streets along the official parade were lined with police barriers, but no ordinary police barriers: they were yellow and white, the colors of the Vatican flag.

Families and groups of teens were lining the streets, waving the flags of their country, or papal flags and chanting "viva papa."  We saw flags from Ireland, Angola and Australia, as well as Spanish flags of course. A few vendors were selling small flags saying, "Papa Benedetto XVI: Benevenuto Fra Noi."  (English speakers might not realize this: but most Europeans follow the Italians in calling the Pope, "Papa,"  father.

We had a spot right up at the barriers. ਊs the Holy Father approached, the crowd pressed in closer. We were surrounded by a group from Angola, whom we recognized as participants in the lectures at the Meetings earlier in the week. They were dressed in identical blue and white traditional gowns. ਊs the Holy Father approached, my Phillipina friend and I became honorary Angolans, as we joined in their song, "Viva Papa."