Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg joins hosts John Hall and Kathy Emmons on It’s The Ride Home on Pittsburgh’s 101.5 FM WORD to discuss President Obama’s scheduled visit this week in Rome with Pope Francis. Gregg notes the differences in worldview between Francis and Obama, and contrasts the likely relationship between the current pope and president with the more well-known relationship between an earlier pope and president, John Paul II and Reagan. You can listen to the interview using the audio player below.
I’ve just returned from Bangalore, where I attended a conference on “Bounds of Ethics in a Globalized World” at Christ University, which is run by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the first Catholic religious order started in India. The headline attraction on the opening day was the appearance of the Dalai Lama and his remarks promoting “secular ethics.” This may seem surprising coming from one of the world’s most famous religious leaders (and a monk, at that), but like his counterpart in Rome, the Dalai Lama has a talent for speaking to the irreligious in a way that challenges and flatters democratic prejudices at the same time.
Being completely ignorant in Buddhism, I will refrain from evaluating the orthodoxy of his adoption of secular rather than religious ethics. The Dalai Lama knows how to poke fun at seemingly pious people by highlighting their hypocrisy. He preaches using liberal concepts like compassion and equality that are pleasing to the ears of the audience; in fact, he makes living with compassion by renouncing oneself the key to happiness. He goes even further by stressing that the world would be better off with perfect equality and no leaders to pose as authorities. And he does it all so easily, with a smile and joking asides that make him seem like your not-completely-all-there grandfather, which is all this one would be if he wasn’t the 14th incarnation of a great Tibetian leader, feared and exiled as a boy by communist China. The Chinese would prefer to see him renounce his leadership as well.
In spite of his treatment by the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama called himself a “social and economic Marxist” during his talk, saying that capitalism is only about “money, money, money.” He said this while also speaking well of George W. Bush, the United States, and even suggested that NATO headquarters should be moved to Moscow in order to spiritually disarm the Russians. Listening to him makes you think that human pride could simply be shamed out of existence. It would be too easy to call his ideas contradictory and utopian. (more…)
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
Kishore Jayabalan, Rome director of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, clarified remarks made by Pope Francis at a May 16 reception of new Vatican ambassadors. The pope, calling for an examination of the world’s relationship with money, said we are facing “dire consequences” due to the power we give money.
Jayabalan had this to say:
If we look at money as wealth itself, we can very easily place it above everything else. But if we look at money as a representation of wealth, as a measure by which we can judge whether we are using our resources well, it need not be an idol, but a useful instrument. The same goes for finance and the allocation of capital needed for new ventures and progress.
While the Acton Institute has a network of international affiliations around the globe (in places like Brazil, Austria, and Zambia), we only have two offices: our primary headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Istituto Acton, our office located in Rome, Italy.
Having an office in Rome provides a base camp for Acton’s work around Europe. But it also gives Acton, as co-founder and executive director Kris Alan Mauren once explained, a vantage point from which to keep close watch on the international happenings of the Catholic Church. Although located in Italy, it’s just a short stroll from our Rome office to one of the most peculiar countries on the globe: Vatican City.
If like me you’re a curious Protestant (or just an underinformed Catholic) you’ve probably wondered what exactly is Vatican City: Is it a city, a state, a religious nation? The video below provides an entertaining explanation to that questions and others you may have about the world’s smallest state. (For example, if Michael Severance was arrested for jaywalking in that country, I now know who’d arrest him. Answer: The VC police, who work for the King of Vatican City and could throw him in the VC jail.).
Michael Severance, operations manager of the Istituto Acton in Rome, recently wrote an article for the World Catholic Report explaining why Pope Francis was a historic choice and examining what we can expect from his papacy.
He points out that “this past week proved a historic week of firsts:”
We now have the first Jesuit pope. And the first pope named Francis. He is the first non-European pope since Gregory III, an eighth-century Syrian. And we now have the very first pope from the Americas.
We have also witnessed a pope who is shunning what some critics perceive as Vatican tinsel and niceties during these economic hard times.
Francis has refused to ride in the pope’s private car (preferring the shuttle bus) or to wear red shoes and a fur-lined cape, or mozzetta, opting for ordinary black shoes and a white cassock.
This is the first time in a very long while that we have listened to a pope who readily quips in public and frequently includes off-script interjections to prepared remarks—at his first Mass with his brother cardinals, then a second time during his first press conference with journalists on Saturday, then a third time during his Sunday sermon at the Vatican parish of St. Anne, and again only a few hours later at his noontime Angelus, when he preached from his apartment above St. Peter’s Square. Not even John Paul II was at such ease with humor and his own words so early on in his pontificate.
Since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was somewhat unknown before he was elected Pope, Severance has compiled a brief profile of Pope Francis, focusing the pope as a pastor, thinker, and advocate for the poor. (more…)
Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Instituto Acton in Rome, joined host Michael Patrick Shiels on Michigan’s Big Show to discuss the mood in Rome on the day of Pope Francis’ Installation Mass. The theme of the day, according to Jayabalan, was one of “quiet, faithful, obedient service.” The Vatican estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 people turned out for the event.
Listen to the full interview here:
Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary makes some salient points about why Protestants should pay any attention at all to the doings in Vatican City (HT: Justin Taylor):
Some may wonder what the point of reflecting on Rome is for a Protestant. At least threefold, I would respond. First, Protestants benefit from a conservative papacy: on public square issues such as abortion, marriage and religious freedom, the RCC has a higher profile and more power – financial, legal, institutional – than any Protestant group. We all benefit from the cultural and legal power of the RCC in these areas. Second, your neighbours probably do not distinguish between Christian groups. A sleazy, morally corrupt RCC is like a sleazy, morally corrupt televangelist ministry: we are all marked with the same brush in the public eye and our task of evangelism becomes that much harder. Third, RC authors often offer more penetrating insights into secular culture than their evangelical equivalents. Comparing George Weigel to Rob Bell in such circumstances is akin to comparing Michelangelo to Thomas Kinkade.
Therefore, while I have very serious theological disagreements with Catholic authors, I would suggest that they by and large offer well-argued, well-written and insightful commentaries on the state of the world in a way that is rare in evangelical circles. One can learn a lot from watching a great mind wrestle with a problem, even when one deems the conclusion erroneous; there seems little to be gained from watching a mediocre mind playing ping-pong with the same.
Trueman goes on to discuss the example of George Weigel in more detail. Read the whole thing.
For more on Protestantism and contemporary politics, I reviewed Trueman’s Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative in the Summer/Fall 2010 issue of Religion & Liberty, “On the Place of Profits and Politics.”
Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico has been in Rome all week for the Papal Conclave, and joined host Hugh Hewitt on The Hugh Hewitt Show yesterday afternoon to discuss the new pontificate of Pope Francis. What kind of a man is Pope Francis? What will his priorities be for his pontificate? What is his view on markets? All these questions and more are explored in the conversation.
Listen to the full interview here:
Surprise was the reaction in Rome on hearing of the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Papacy. My colleagues in Rome told me that the Plaza was unusually quiet as the people tried to figure out what was going on. I guess the Cardinals showed that they elect the pope on their own terms, and now everyone is wondering who Pope Francis is, how he will lead, and what will characterize his pontificate.
Intra and Extra: Challenges for the Pope in the Church and the World
The Pope’s main role is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his first homily as Holy Father he asserted just this. “We can walk as much as we want,” he said “we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a compassionate NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.” He also has a Church to govern—and he’ll face serious challenges on both fronts. On the inside, the Church continues to reel from scandals and abuse. The curia needs to be reformed and the bureaucracy cleaned up. On the outside, Pope Francis faces a growing and hostile secularism, religious persecution from a number of fronts, dwindling number of believers in traditionally Catholic lands, including Latin America, and increasing ignorance of the basic tenets of Christianity. But there are also some real positives. The Church continues to grow in the Global South—especially in Africa and Asia. Belief is still high in Latin America, though many Catholics are leaving for the Pentecostals or evangelicals. Among U.S. Catholics, Hispanics are now the majority. And while the Church in the West may be getting smaller, it is also more vibrant and serious. Younger Catholics are orthodox and evangelical, and dissenters like Hans Kung are aging and less influential each day. Pope Francis also has the advantage of following Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whose interpretation of Vatican II and whose intellectual and spiritual guidance set out a framework for the New Evangelization.
Francis brings several important things to his papacy. The most obvious are that he is a Latin American, and not a member of the Roman Curia. The Curia needs reform, and being an outsider with experience of diocesan dysfunction will serve him well. Further, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he not only dealt with extreme poverty, corruption, lack of rule of law, and social and economic volatility that is common in the developing world, he also has had to contend with virulent and aggressive secularism that is common in the West. He has been a fearless defender of human life and family, has called abortion the “death penalty for the unborn,” and has been unafraid to clash with political leaders over corruption, reminding them that social corruption is rooted in personal sin.
He also brings a long record of engagement with the poorest of the poor. (more…)