…is published to encourage the faithful to live in a particular manner or to do something, e.g., post synodal documents offered to the church in summary of a previous synod and hoping the faithful will do something helpful for the life of the church…
Even though the author of this essay in Catholic World Report is careful to make distinctions, this would seem to be the choice: Thomas Aquinas or Ron Paul. It is, in fact, how the indispensable Real Clear Religion website framed the debate this morning.
To compare a religion with an intellectual and moral tradition that goes back thousands of years with a quasi-political movement that is more known for what it is against than what is for is worse than comparing apples and oranges. Yet the Catholic view of the world does seem to be in tension with one that values freedom most of all and pleads agnostic on other important issues. Brian Jones focuses on three areas of disagreement: 1) the necessity of government, 2) law as moral pedagogy and 3) the proper order of politics.
Having studied both economics and political philosophy as well as worked in the field of Catholic social teaching for the Holy See, I’m more than a bit interested in the matter. I readily admit to having libertarian instincts and preferences in economics, while also believing in the primacy of the political in a social order that has a supernatural end. Jones puts it well when he writes, “In Catholicism, there is always the realization that in order for politics to be itself, and accomplish what it is meant to in accord with man’s nature as a social and political animal, it must point to that which is ultimately not political.”
So does that make me suspect on Catholic AND libertarian grounds? Or can I coherently believe in free markets and the truth about God and man as taught by the Church? Catholic teaching thankfully does not require its adherents to share the same opinions on prudential matters. I know this may seem like a cop-out to the more strictly (harshly?) principled, but it also happens to better reflect the realities of the messy world we live in. Or am I alone in this view?
In Francis Rooney’s book, The Global Vatican, Rooney quotes Pope Benedict XVI regarding diplomacy, that it is, “in a certain sense, an act of hope.” This is an apt description of the work of diplomats, especially those associated with the Vatican. As Rooney points out,
The pope comes to the table with no threats, no bullets, no drones; he has no stick and no carrots. He comes simply as a man of faith, armed with words and beliefs. His is the ultimate soft power.
The Global Vatican is a rich and pleasantly-detailed look at the history of U.S.-Vatican relations, as well as Rooney’s recollections of his time as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2005-2008. While one can imagine that the job of a diplomat varies from place to place, much of it is the same: to represent the interest of one’s own country while serving in a foreign land. In the case of the Holy See, it’s even more complex: the Holy See is the home of a religion, not simply a nation of people under one flag. As Rooney points out, to understand Vatican diplomacy, one must understand the Catholic Church. (more…)
“Roman Catholicism is primarily concerned with man’s transcendent end and purpose,” says Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., “with how it is achieved in actual lives, in actual places, and in real time.” Rev. Schall considers how Catholicism and political philosophy are connected:
A course in “Roman Catholic Political Philosophy” is rarely found in any academic institution, including those sponsored by the Church. We do find courses titled “Religion and Politics,” “Social Doctrine of the Church,” or “Church and State” — but “Roman Catholic Political Philosophy” is something different. Going back to Plato, it is common to find that most people consider philosophers and academics, not to mention clerics, to be rather foolish and naïve when it comes to dealing with the practical affairs of this world. Philosophers are notorious for studying everything else but politics; and when they do, they insist on studying them as if their object were like that of the physical sciences and not free human agents. Aristotle already warned us not to use a method that was inappropriate to the nature of the object studied.
But there are two questions combined in that title: First, what is political philosophy? And second, what is Roman Catholicism? The two are not to be confused. They are, if possible, to be related in a coherent, non-contradictory whole such that each retains its essential nature while relating to the other. Whether we like it or not, both are present in the actual human world in which we live. Philosophy, to be itself, cannot, by its own methods, exclude any consideration of what is, of what claims to be true. Roman Catholics, during their time on earth, live in the polities to which they belong or dwell in. Like everyone else, they too are “political animals,” as Aristotle said.
The 2013 Global Slavery Index estimates that 29.8 million people are enslaved worldwide. To help address this problem, Pope Francis called for action to combat the growing problem of human trafficking and modern forms of slavery. At the pope’s request, Vatican officials and other experts met last weekend to discuss ways to better tackle the growing scourge of trafficking in humans and other forms of exploitation:
Human trafficking is a crime against humanity that should be recognized as such and punished by international or regional courts, a Vatican study group said on Monday.
Nearly 30 million people live in slavery across the globe, many of them men, women and children trafficked by gangs for sex work and unskilled labor, according to a global slavery index issued last month by the Walk Free Foundation charity.
“International or regional courts … should be created because human trafficking in an international phenomenon that cannot be properly prosecuted and punished at the national level,” said a statement listing 50 recommendations made at a two-day seminar held at the initiative of Pope Francis on how to combat human trafficking and slavery.
That is just one of the many interesting tidbits to be gleaned from a 2010 paper by Barro, McCleary, and McQuoid titled, The Economics of Sainthood (a preliminary investigation):
Saint-making has been a major activity of the Catholic Church for centuries. The pace of sanctifications has picked up noticeably in the last several decades under the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Our goal is to apply social-science reasoning to understand the Church’s choices on numbers and characteristics of saints, gauged by location and socioeconomic attributes of the persons designated as blessed.
Another interesting fact is that after years of service, popes apparently get tired of saint-making:
I had the opportunity today to take part in a discussion on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the recent suspension by the Vatican of the Bishop of Limbu, Germany, Franz-Peter Tebartz-van-Elst, known in the German press as the “bishop of bling.” He is under investigation regarding expenditures of 31 million euros (roughly $41 million) for the renovation of the historic building that served, in part, as his residence. This story (which can be read here) served as a springboard for the broader question: Should religious leaders live a modest life?
One point I wish had been examined a little more (though it is briefly mentioned at the end) is that of redemption. Much was said of how one needs to handle one’s wealth well, but little was said of what hope there may be for someone who has misused their wealth or even who may simply be overly attached to it. While Christ warned, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he continues to condition this statement by saying, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:25, 27). As St. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9) — rich in holiness and virtue, heavenly treasures that do not wear out.
Listen to the interview at BBC World Service here.
Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, has issued his October letter. In it, he discusses the idea of Pope Francis as a “liberal,” especially in light of the pope’s recent interview in America magazine:
Much of the controversy over the Pope’s interview reminds me of several Gospel passages, where Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for healing people on the Sabbath, dining with sinners, not condemning the adulteress, and so on, and especially of the parable of the prodigal son and the elder brother who’s upset that his father never threw a feast for him. In all these cases, Jesus emphasizes mercy over justice in order to draw us closer to Him instead of remaining attached to our prideful selves. God’s justice would rightly condemn us all, while His mercy offers us a chance at salvation if we’re humble enough to seek it. But in no way does Jesus say that justice is useless or unnecessary.
Read more here.
Challenging the Modern World: Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II and the Development of Catholic Social Teaching
A couple of months ago I teased Pope Francis engaging in a “war on the Vatican’s luxury cars” while driving one of the greatest luxury cars of all time — the Popemobile. Although he probably won’t be able to give up his 160 mph, armor-plated, bullet-proof sedia gestatoria anytime soon, he’s make a bold, symbolic point with the latest addition to his fleet: a 1984 Renault 4.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, says Francis accepted the 1984 Renault 4, donated for free by a priest in northern Italy who used it to visit poor parishioners. The four-door car, in papal white, is manual shift and has a new engine. Benedettini told The AP on Wednesday: “The pope intends to drive it.”
The donor, the 79-year-old Rev. Renzo Zocca, says he took Francis for a short drive in the car at the Vatican on Saturday and that Francis told him he knows how to drive it.
Zocca said he thinks Francis will use it for short commutes on Vatican grounds.
Imagine how uncomfortable it must make some of the cardinals to park their new BMWs and Mercedes in the Vatican parking lot next to the thirty-year-old Renault with the license plate “SCV 2.”
Well played, Francis. Well played.
With a bit of breathless excitement (“a progressive theological current“), there is news in Rome that Pope Francis is welcoming liberation theology back into the Vatican. On Sunday, Sept. 8, the Vatican announced a meeting between the pope and Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Mueller has co-authored a book with Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian who is considered the founder of liberation theology, and the two will present the book to Pope Francis.
Liberation theology came out of Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, emphasizing a preferential option for the poor, but with strong ties to Marxist ideals as well. In 1984, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) noted that liberation theology began with the premise that all other theologies were no longer sufficient, and a new “spiritual orientation” was needed. Further, Cardinal Ratzinger said of this theology,
The idea of a turning to the world, of responsibility for the world, frequently deteriorated into a naive belief in science which accepted the human sciences as a new gospel without wanting to see their limitations and endemic problems. Psychology, sociology and the marxist interpretation of history seemed to be scientifically established and hence to become unquestionable arbiters of Christian thought.