Category: Vatican

It’s been in the news for a few days already, but the charges and countercharges continue to fly. Anyone familiar with Catholicism in China knows that the Vatican and the Chinese Communist government have been more or less at loggerheads ever since Mao Zedong drove Catholicism underground. At the heart of the dispute is the Vatican’s insistence on its right to appoint bishops; the Chinese government sees this as “foreign interference” in domestic affairs. The government’s Patriotic Association (PA) is the bureau in charge of Catholicism in China. Complicating the matter is the fact that many (nearly all?) the bishops appointed by the PA have subsequently and clandestinely sought ex post facto approval from the Vatican, thereby normalizing their status as leaders of the local churches.

Of late, there had appeared some indications that relations were thawing. The Vatican expressed its willingness to establish full diplomatic relations with China—it’s one of a few countries that officially recognizes only Taiwan—if only the government would decisively concede the point about episcopal appointments. But earlier this week the PA ordained two bishops without the pope’s approval—indeed, in the face of warnings from Rome. That blew another chill wind across Vatican-China relations.

We at Acton have generally taken an optimistic stance on China, hoping that economic and political engagement would eventually bring about prosperity, openness, and political and religious freedom. Chinese authorities seem determined to call into question that optimism.

Yet glimmers of hope remain. AsiaNews has an extraordinarily thorough and informative roster of stories on the latest dispute here. Reading them provides a sense of the complexity of the Chinese religious situation. One senses that there may be a conflict between the PA and the broader Chinese government over this issue of Catholic bishops. That is, the PA, fearful of the loss of power, is trying to reassert its traditional prerogatives. But the rest of the government is more interested in fostering international goodwill by improving relations with the Vatican—especially ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. One hopes that the PA loses that fight, and that religious freedom, which is a vital correlate of political and economic freedom, takes a big step forward in China.

I would like to highlight another passage from Pope Benedict’s homily (mentioned below by Kishore) from last Sunday’s homily that has particular relevance to our work at Acton:

We have listened together to a famous and beautiful passage from the Book of Exodus, in which the sacred author tells of God’s presentation of the Decalogue to Israel. One detail makes an immediate impression: the announcement of the Ten Commandments is introduced by a significant reference to the liberation of the People of Israel. The text says: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20: 2).

Thus, the Decalogue is intended as a confirmation of the freedom gained. Indeed, at a closer look, the Commandments are the means that the Lord gives us to protect our freedom, both from the internal conditioning of passions and from the external abuse of those with evil intentions. The “nos” of the Commandments are as many “yeses” to the growth of true freedom.

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is usually celebrated on March 19, but as it fell on the third Sunday of Lent, it has been moved to today, March 20. The Solemnity is also the the former-Joseph Ratzinger’s “onomastico” or name/patron saint’s day.

In addition to being a patron of the universal Church, St. Joseph is also known as the patron saint of workers. For the occasion, Pope Benedict said the following during his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday (click here for the full English text, courtesy of Zenit):

Work activity must serve the true good of humanity, allowing “man, as individual and member of society, to cultivate and fulfill his full vocation” (“Gaudium et Spes,” No. 35). For this to occur, the necessary technical and professional qualification is not enough; neither is the creation of a just social order attentive to the good of all sufficient. A spirituality must be lived that will help believers to sanctify themselves through their work, imitating St. Joseph, who every day had to provide for the needs of the Holy Family with his hands, and who because of this the Church indicates as patron of workers.

And at the Angelus address, the pope referred to John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation “Redemptoris Custos”, Custodian of the Redeemer, which is full of remarkable observations on the simple, devout life of Christ’s earthly father. The full text can be found on the Vatican’s website by clicking here.

It’s not too much to read, but there’s a lot to reflect upon, even more to incorporate into our everyday lives, and an excellent way to start a work week!

Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes is the president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” which coordinates the Catholic Church’s charitable institutions. ZENIT reports on a speech the prelate delivered at a Catholic university in Italy. Archbishop Cordes has previously emphasized the importance of Christian organizations maintaining or recovering their Christian identity, but in this address he drew on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est to make his strongest statement yet:

“The large Church charity organizations have separated themselves from the Church and from their link with the bishops,” he said. “They have identified themselves completely with the nongovernmental organizations and have presented a program that is indistinguishable from the Red Cross or the United Nations.”

Doing this, he said, “they would be contradicting the 2,000-year history of our Church, and seriously deteriorating the credibility of its preaching.”

The archbishop evidently did not name the organizations he had in mind, but one infers from the report that his remarks had a “you-know-who-you-are” quality about them.

Blog author: dphelps
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
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Well said, Benedict.

If I may, I’d like to highlight one more section from the Holy Father’s new encyclical that has particular relevence to the work here at Acton (although, I agree wholeheartedly with Kishore below: one really must read the whole thing–it’s fantastic):

Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.

If there is a more poetic call for what we here at Acton call “effective compassion,” I do not know what it is.

Pope Benedict’s long-awaited first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, was published this morning in Rome. The English translation of it can be found on the Vatican website by clicking here.

There’s obviously much to reflect on in this fairly short letter on Christian love, but a few aspects may be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

The pope cites a number of political philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Descartes, Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustine (several times), and Marx. Besides revealing what we already know about the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s formidable education, the encyclical reminds us that human and divine love is a theme the greatest minds have grappled with throughout the ages, and often through the lens of politics and religion.

The passage cited from Plato’s Symposium in n. 11 happens to be one of the most beautiful allegories of love ever penned; Pope Benedict compares it to the language of the Book of Genesis. Like any great teacher, he makes the reader return to the originals for their poetry and insights.

From the more prosaic perspective of social doctrine, the section on justice and charity (nos.26-29) contains an illuminating discussion of the distinct yet complementary functions of Church and State. The pope begins his treatment by taking on the Marxist critique of the Church’s charitable activity, i.e. what the poor need is justice, not charity, and even admits some truth to it:

It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods.

But then comes this:

Marxism had seen world revolution and its preliminaries as the panacea for the social problem: revolution and the subsequent collectivization of the means of production, so it was claimed, would immediately change things for the better. This illusion has vanished.

After tracing the history of Catholic social doctrine from Bishop Kettler of Mainz to Popes Leo XIII and John Paul II, Benedict distinguishes “the necessary commitment to justice and the ministry of charity.”

The entire section deserves to be read with care and attention, but the general point is that the realms of justice and charity are interrelated yet distinct. Justice is the proper aim of the State, not the Church, but justice, and hence the State, is not enough.

Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.

This is the Catholic case for limited government par excellence. Justice and politics are necessary and good objectives to pursue, but they are not what human life is ultimately about. Divine love transcends politics. This is the language of a political philosophy that points beyond itself to theology, and it’s perfectly fitting as Benedict’s first encyclical.

I don’t need to tell you to read the whole thing.

Proponents of social democracies claim that a large role for the state is important in tempering the profit motive of capitalism and creating a more humane and cultured state.

Free markets, they argue, result in an inhumane and disintegrated society, while the social democracy models of Europe protect the weak and create social cohesion. Yet these proponents rarely question whether the reality of Europe today bears this out. Even a cursory examination of European and American life reveals that the social democratic models have not achieved their goals. Europe is disintegrating more and more into a collection of individuals who rely on the state as their primary caregiver, and the effects on the family, society, and cultural output are insidious.

Acton Senior Fellow, Jennifer Roback Morse, addressed several of these issues in a lecture with titled “Catholic Social Teaching on the Economy and the Family: an alternative to the modern welfare-state.” The lecture was part of the Centesimus Annus Lecture Series, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the John Paul II’s encyclical. The second of the series, The Family in New Economy, was held on January 21st at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Professor Manfred Spieker, one of Germany’s leading experts on Catholic social thought, also spoke. To listen to a Vatican Radio report on the conference go here.

She writes:

Today everyone understands that communism is not a viable strategy for achieving either economic growth or solidarity with the poor.

The more urgent task now is to see that Western European socialism has also failed. Although some aspects of the Western European model originally claimed Christian inspiration and objective, it is now clear that the modern Western European welfare-state is collapsing. And while many modern countries share some of the problems I shall loosely call the “European social model,” it is Europe that most desperately needs a genuinely Catholic alternative.

(more…)

It took place this morning in the Vatican. Click here for the text from the Vatican’s website.

Blog author: kjayabalan
Saturday, January 7, 2006
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Despite his many writings, scholarly expertise and long service to the Church as Prefect of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, there’s still much of an unknown quality surrounding Pope Benedict XVI.

In the last two weeks, three reputable commentators made some informed guesses about what to expect from the new pontiff.

The National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen wrote a piece for The Spectator (U.K.) entitled “The Pope won’t back Bush” (no longer available on-line to non-subscribers). Although he takes issue with the way The Spectator’s editors presented the article in his most recent column, Allen tells us that Pope Benedict is not a conservative, especially when it comes to economic questions. Here’s a quote:

Recent popes have also been among the sternest critics of the international economic order that the United States and Great Britain have had a significant role in creating. Some right-wing Catholic intellectuals, aiming to reconcile free-market logic with Catholic teaching, have tried to bring the popes along, without much to show for the effort. Though papal statements on economic matters have occasionally been slippery enough to give spin doctors hope, at the end of the day papal social teaching is much closer to democratic socialism than to Adam Smith.

Papal biographer George Weigel penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times addressing some of the challenges Pope Benedict will face on the governance front, i.e. reform of the Roman Curia and appointment of bishops:

More than a few of the cardinals who rallied to support him in one of the shortest conclaves in modern history did so because they believed Ratzinger, having spent more than two decades in the Curia, would know what was broken and would fix it.

That may yet come. The pope is a careful, prudent man, not given to impulsive action or premature decisions. At the same time, it was precisely because he was not a product of the current Curial system, but rather a scholar who had to struggle to get things accomplished within it, that his supporters expected him to bring to the papacy a well-developed sense of where changes, even dramatic ones, need to be made in both structure and personnel. Those supporters are waiting, now a little anxiously, for serious change to be implemented.

Then there is the question of the appointment of bishops — and the volatile but unavoidable question of whether the church ought not devise criteria and processes for removing bishops who are manifestly incapable of leadership. Whether Benedict XVI undertakes a far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church’s Roman bureaucracy or not — and my bet remains that he will, although perhaps slowly — his papacy will be judged in no small part on his shrewdness in choosing bishops and his courage in facing questions of episcopal failure. With half a dozen major appointments coming in the next three years in the United States alone, the stakes are very high.

Finally, Fr. Jospeh Fessio, a student and long-time associate of Cardinal Ratzinger, was interviewed for one hour by Hugh Hewitt. The transcript is availabe here. Fr. Fessio draws attention to where Benedict want to draw our attention: Jesus Christ, and he even compares home schooling to monastic life:

[H]e’s been clear what his papacy is supposed to do. And number one was fidelity to Jesus Christ, that we must serve Jesus. He’s our Lord. He’s our master. Everything else is secondary, which was beautiful for him to say that. Secondly, he wanted to work on conjunction with, with the prayers and support of all his fellow bishops and cardinals. Thirdly, that he wanted to help the Catholic Church go into the future by understanding properly the II Vatican Council, which was all the bishops in the world getting together to try and chart a course. But then, when he came to the content, he said the very first thing we have to do, and make sure we do well, is to praise and worship and adore the Lord in a proper way. If we do that, then everything else will follow from that.

[…]You don’t, nor do I, have much control in this country, or the world, or even the city we live in. But we have control over our own hearts, and our own loves, and our own lives, and our families. And I think we just have to follow the Lord and wait on His call.

[…H]ome schools are the monasteries of the new dark ages. That is…and you non-Catholic Christians have a lot more of them than we Catholics do, but we’ve got a lot. And I think that is where families are having children. They’re passing on the faith to their children. They’re giving them wisdom and the knowledge of our culture.

All in all, a lot of engaging commentary on Pope Benedict. And much anticipation in Rome over what comes next.

On Jan. 6, Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, will introduce author George Weigel at the Calvin College January Series in Grand Rapids, Mich. Weigel’s topic will be “Revolutionary Papacies: John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the Future of the Catholic Church.” You may also listen to the program live (Friday, Jan. 6 @ 12:30pm EST) through this link on the Calvin site.