Posts tagged with: Vatican

The historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI continues to hold the world’s attention. The pope used yesterday’s Angelus address to say good-bye to throngs of well-wishers, while the Vatican announced today that the conclave to choose Benedict’s successor can begin as soon as March 15.

Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, says the work left behind for Benedict’s successor (and indeed for the whole Church) is “sobering”:

A bishop friend of mine said recently that what we need now more than anything as a church, both locally and globally, is a “re-formation” – the kind of fundamental, root-and-branch conversion that goes vastly deeper than the pet issues of American media and political culture to a transformation of hearts, and thereby behavior.

In that regard, sometimes the best lessons for the future can be learned from the experience of the past.

Five centuries ago, just a few years before Luther’s “95 theses,” the Catholic reformer the Rev. John Colet delivered a blisteringly frank homily to a cathedral full of English bishops and senior clergy. To an unamused audience, he argued that “never was there more necessity and never did the state of the church more need” a profound effort at purification – not away from Catholic belief, but back toward living it more zealously, more honestly, more faithfully, as though this world and the next depended on it, because they do.

Read “The Church After Pope Benedict” in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It hasn’t happened in some 600 years: a conclave of cardinals called together to elect a pope, while the previous pope is still living. So what will this conclave look like?

First, Benedict XVI will officially step down on February 28. The conclave will begin soon thereafter, as quickly as the cardinals across the world can gather in Rome. Benedict is allowed to attend, but not vote; no cardinal over the age of 80 is eligible to vote. Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, says it is unlikely Benedict will play any role in the conclave. John Burger, at Aleteia.com, interviewed several people regarding this historic event:

Father Lombardi said that when the abdication is effective, Pope Benedict will move to the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, but that when renovation work on a former convent of cloistered nuns inside the Vatican, Mater Ecclesia, is complete, the Holy Father will move there “for a period of prayer and reflection.” He said he will not take part in the conclave to elect his successor. Father Lombardi said it is likely that a new pope will be elected in time for Holy Week and Easter. Palm Sunday this year falls on March 24.

The fact that Benedict is still alive “will have no direct impact on the outcome of the conclave,” said Church observer and author Russell Shaw.

Michael Miller, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, says the Pope’s abdication is an act of great humility.

“We live in a world where people are very reticent to let go of anything,” Miller says. He predicts that the spirit of the conclave will be different from previous ones because the Church won’t be mourning a death, but there will be somberness, nonetheless.

As the Cardinals ponder their choice for Benedict’s successor, Miller says, the New Evangelization that was promoted by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI will be at the fore. Benedict contributed to that New Evangelization with “deep intellectual work” on the crisis of truth and the “dictatorship of relativism,” the crisis of reason (in his address at Regensburg, he spoke of the need for reason to be “rehabilitated,” purified by faith), the importance of beauty, and the importance of having a friendship with Christ.

Read “The Next Conclave” at Aleteia.com.

 

The Acton Institute’s staff is heavily featured in the July/August issue of Legatus Magazine. First, there is a brief review of the Rev. Robert Sirico’s new book, ‘Defending the Free Market':

He shows why free-market capitalism is not only the best way to ensure individual success and national prosperity, but is also the surest route to a well-ordered society. Capitalism doesn’t only provide opportunity for material success, it ensures a more ethical and moral society as well.

Next is Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research. His Ethics column for Legatus focuses on the vocation of the Christian business person, as outlined in the document ‘The Vocation of the Christian Business Leader’ (VCBL), from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:

This means that business leaders confront, often on a daily basis, enormous ethical and economic difficulties. The subsequent choices they need to make are not simple. While VCBL suggests that the state has a role in addressing many of these issues, it wisely refrains from entering into detailed policy recommendations about how governments should act in these areas. Instead, it indicates that in many instances the primary responsibility for addressing many such challenges lies with business leaders themselves.

Finally, Gregg is extensively quoted in the feature “Benedict: The ‘Green Pope’, which notes not only Benedict’s strong commitment to the preservation of natural resources, but the misguidance of the Green Movement:

“The Greens’ view of humanity is that we are just another aspect of the natural environment,” said Gregg. “Most are grounded in pantheistic ideology. Within the Greens’ ideology, human beings are bad and it’s better if there are fewer of us. This is why they are so adamant about mandatory contraception for developing countries and why they are so pro-abortion.”

The Catholic Church teaches that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God — and that they are intrinsically good and capable of innovation.

“What’s distinctive about Pope Benedict is that he asks the Greens why there is this degree of disrespect for the human person, which comes out in Green policies,” Gregg said. “They have a false conception on anthropology. Within deep Green writings on the environment, you see a certain ‘humanophobia’ at work, which is materialistic and paganistic.”

Read the July/August issue of Legatus Magazine here.

A roundup at Notes on Arab Orthodoxy paints a grim picture for Christians — and clashing Islamic sects — in Syria. It’s a gut-wrenching account of kidnappings, torture and beheadings. One report begins with this line: “Over 40 young men (including a couple of doctors) from the Wadi area, were killed by the bearded men who are eager to give us democracy.”

The article also links to a report in Agenzia Fides, which interviewed a Greek-Catholic bishop:

The picture for us – he continues – is utter desolation: the church of Mar Elian is half destroyed and that of Our Lady of Peace is still occupied by the rebels. Christian homes are severely damaged due to the fighting and completely emptied of their inhabitants, who fled without taking anything. The area of Hamidieh is still shelter to armed groups independent of each other, heavily armed and bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. All Christians (138,000) have fled to Damascus and Lebanon, while others took refuge in the surrounding countryside. A priest was killed and another was wounded by three bullets.

Read “Things Get Worse in Syria” on the Notes on Arab Orthodoxy site.

On May 15, Socialist Francois Hollande will be sworn in as France’s new President following elections this past weekend. According to Vatican Radio, Hollande is vowing to overturn many of current President’s Sarkozy’s economic reforms, in an attempt to relieve France’s current debt crisis. One of Hollande’s goals is to increase taxation on millionaires to 75 percent. With more than a quarter of a million French citizens already working in London, this type of heavy taxation may cause an exodus of wealth from France – people with the ability to create and sustain businesses will simply take their money elsewhere to invest.

Kishore Jayabalan, the director of the Rome office of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, spoke to Vatican Radio about the election. You can listen to that interview; click on the audio player:

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John L. Allen, Jr., at the National Catholic Reporter, took note of the address recently given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, just as Acton did.  Allen’s blog post, which referenced Acton’s Samuel Gregg and his National Review Online piece,  noted that the Cardinal posed some very specific and probing questions for business people who wish to integrate their spiritual life and work life:

  • Am I creating wealth, or am I engaging in rent-seeking behavior? (That’s jargon for trying to get rich by manipulating the political and economic environment, for example by lobbying for tax breaks, rather than by actually creating something.)
  • Is my company making every reasonable effort to take responsibility for unintended consequences [such as] environmental damage or other negative effects on suppliers, local communities and even competitors?
  • Do I provide working conditions which allow my employees appropriate autonomy at each level?
  • Am I making sure that the company provides safe working conditions, living wages, training, and the opportunity for employees to organize themselves?
  • Do I follow the same standard of morality in all geographic locations?
  • Am I seeking ways to deliver fair returns to providers of capital, fair wages to employees, fair prices to customers and suppliers, and fair taxes to local communities?
  • Does my company honor its fiduciary obligations … with regular and truthful financial reporting?
  • When economic conditions demand layoffs, is my company giving adequate notifications, employee transition assistance, and severance pay?

Allen points that this document will be concretely useful: retreats for business people, a foundational document for business education, etc. He says, ‘… it manages to bring Catholic social teaching down to earth without actually floating a single concrete policy proposal. Instead, it asks hard questions and trusts people of intelligence and good will to figure out the right answers.’

Read more…

Thanks to George McGraw, Executive Director of DigDeep Right to Water Project, for his kind and thoughtful Counterpoint to my original post.  He and his organization are clearly dedicated to the noble cause of providing clean water and sanitation to all, a cause which everyone can and should support.  It is also a very sensible objective that would aid the world’s poor much more than trendier causes such as “climate change” and “population control” which tend to view the human person and his industriousness as fundamental problems to be solved through central planning, birth control, sterilization and abortion.

McGraw is certainly right to say that the Holy See does not believe that water should be free for all, despite the purposely provocative title of my post.  And the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace document does indeed presuppose market mechanisms for the distribution of water resources.  My fear, however, is that while paying lip service to the validity of market economics and the role of profit, many religious-minded people still have a low opinion of business and fail to recognize that markets have been and remain the best way to allocate resources, especially absolutely necessary ones such as food and water.  The profit motive may not be the most high-minded way of caring for the poor, but it has proven to be the most reliable and effective one.  No one claims that markets are perfect; they are still more likely to meet human needs that the alternatives, whether these are government services or private charity.

I agree that there are circumstances in which food and water must be provided to those who cannot pay for them, but this does not make them “free” or without cost.  Someone else still has to produce and deliver them to the poor, and it will be the government who does the commanding at some level.  This is necessary in emergency situations, though still not always the best solution, as the relief efforts in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath proved.  My main concern is that introducing a legally-recognized “right to water” shifts the focus from the rights and duties of the private sector to those of the government, and away from the individual and toward the collective.  It should also be recognized that the public, subsidized provision of a good often displaces or “crowds out” private sector providers, to the detriment of the development of local businesses, a sine qua non if countries are to escape poverty.

Having worked for the Holy See at the United Nations, I witnessed all sorts of perverted thinking on the issue of human rights.  The UN was where, for instance, the Soviet Union and its satellites continually pushed for “economic, social and cultural rights” at the expense of the political and civil rights promoted by the West.  This was yet another cynical ploy to deny individual rights and collectivize society.  Since the end of communism, many of these “new” rights, also called “second- and third-generation” rights, have become less obviously ideological but remain problematic.  As the very notion of “generational” development makes clear, there is no clear standard by which to measure or order these rights.  This is the “progressive” rather than the truly liberal understanding of human rights and it ought to be rejected as such.  Two of my graduate-school professors, Clifford Orwin and Thomas Pangle, put it well in a 1982 essay on “The Philosophical Foundation of Human Rights”:

[Economic, social and cultural rights] are merely things that most people want, and that the poorer countries wish they could persuade the richer ones to give them. They are open-ended and hence often unreasonable.  There is no way, for example, that an underdeveloped country can provide adequate education or medical care for all its citizens.  By proclaiming these as universal human rights, however, such countries arm themselves with the most respectable of reasons for pressing for global redistribution of wealth.  No one can blame them for that; but we can question the status as “human rights” of what are, in a sense, letters to Santa Claus.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised by the Catholic World News report on my blog post that placed me in opposition to Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as well as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  It’s not every day that I have to prove my Catholic bona fides, so I should clarify my understanding of what the Church means by the “right to water.”  (The RealClearReligion website may have contributed to the problem by titling its link to my piece “There is No Right to Water.”)  All Catholics and indeed all people of good will should believe that human beings are entitled to the necessities of food and water as human beings; in no way do I support depriving anyone of these at any stage of life.  And the Church is not wrong to identify “rights” that are due to the person as a result of his ontological dignity.  My point was that calling for a legally-recognized international human right to water may not be the best way to ensure that everyone actually has access to it; results should matter just as much as putting some nice-sounding words on paper.  The difficulty results, in my opinion, from the long-standing abuse of the term “human rights” that I previously mentioned and a lot of subsequent incoherence, not least coming from academics looking for justification for their soft-left-wing policy preferences.

The Church is, nevertheless, a pre-modern institution that has a different understanding of human rights and human nature than liberals and progressives do, and the presuppositions of Church teaching on human dignity are crucial.  As the late Cardinal Avery Dulles once put it, “The Catholic doctrine of human rights is not based on Lockean empiricism or individualism.  It has a more ancient and distinguished pedigree.”  Without emphasizing the presuppositions made by this pedigree, any call for new rights is likely to be misconstrued and misapplied.  We need to recover the fullness of Catholic moral and social teaching without exacerbating the problem, while also appreciating the role that private enterprise has within the liberal tradition.

Not surprisingly, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP)’s latest document on water has garnered scant media attention. Why, after all, would journalists, already notorious for their professional Attention Deficit Disorder and dislike of abstract disputation, report on something named “Water: An Essential Element of Life,” especially when it is nothing more than an update of a document originally released in 2003, and then updated in 2006 and 2009, with the exact same titles?

Back then, First Things editor-in-chief Fr. Richard John Neuhaus mischievously remarked, “There is an unconfirmed report that under discussion at the UN is an International Year of Air. If that ambitious step is taken, informed observers say, the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace will be ready with a major statement, ‘Air, An Essential Element of Life.’” If nothing else, the PCJP, where I worked from 1999 to 2004, needs to hire a marketing specialist to come up with snazzier titles for their publications.

So you could be forgiven for thinking that reading such a document would make a spiritually-beneficial type of intellectual mortification during this Lenten period. But skipping it altogether would also mean neglecting the serious questions contained therein on how the Holy See thinks about important matters such as human rights and economics. In fact, one may wonder if those responsible for the document have taken them as seriously as they should have.

Thanks to the invaluable Real Clear Religion website, I came across this analysis by George McGraw of DigDeep Water. It’s a mainly positive appraisal of the Holy See’s call for an internationally-recognized “right to water” but it also draws attention to some problem areas:

[T]here is one aspect of the Vatican’s position on water that makes its international intervention decidedly controversial. In this year’s “Water, an Essential Element” the Holy See will defend water access as an essential human right, one still hotly debated in international law.

When legal human rights were first introduced in 1948, the right to water wasn’t included in either the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in the treaties derived from it. Many scholars believe that water was considered so basic, that it was quite simply overlooked. Since then, other water-related obligations have found protection in international law, but the closest thing we have to formal recognition of a human right to water is a (non-binding) 2010 UN resolution.

It seems states have generally failed to acknowledge the right to water for two reasons: either due to a concern that it would make them liable for water provision (a costly endeavor), or because such a right might challenge traditional property rights.

The Vatican’s position is doubly controversial because it’s couched in a criticism of “an excessively commercial conception of water” which the Holy See insists isn’t just another “for-profit commodity dependent on market logic.” This language was used to announce the new position paper at last week’s World Water Forum in Marseille — a gathering that suffered criticism for allowing corporate interests and dissenting states to weaken consensus on the human right to water.

So, assuming the importance of water and sanitation has not been simply neglected, there are at least two reasons why the “right to water” doesn’t exist: 1) States are neither able nor willing to pay for “free” water, and 2) it would interfere with the property rights of those who, for example, own land with abundant supplies of water. These would seem to be quite understandable, but not insurmountable, concerns for those who care about the common good. There are many ways for necessary goods to be produced, distributed and consumed through a novelty called commerce, the supposed “excess” of which is criticized by the Holy See. In fact, the Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen has argued that calamities such as droughts and famines are most devastating where local markets and effective protections of private property do not exist.

One has to ask: Does the Holy See really believe that water is any less of a commodity, or any less necessary to human life, than food, normally considered the most common form of commodity? If markets don’t exist for important things like food and water, why should they exist at all? Wouldn’t markets be truly useless if they only traded “non-goods”?

If States are reluctant to recognize the “right to water,” why does the Holy See insist on it so regularly? One likely explanation is that most States and the Holy See have very different understandings of human rights. Does a right fundamentally entail freedom from state coercion or entitlement to a government-provided benefit? Should all human goods and needs, which obviously go beyond basic rights such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” be considered human rights? If so, who will protect and provide them, i.e., the State, civil society or individuals? Is accommodation or synthesis possible among these divergent understandings of rights, some of which would limit the scope and reach of governmental (and ecclesiastical) power while others would expand them? More basically, aren’t these notions of rights and government based on fundamentally different understandings of human nature, on which we are unlikely to agree at anything approaching a universal level?

It ought to be clear that such questions are central to our understanding of the liberal human rights project, much larger than that of providing “free” water for all. But I wonder if the idea of limited government that allows individuals and voluntary associations to provide for needs beyond those ensured by certain enumerated rights is adequately understood by those who promote previously-unrecognized human rights. Some will say that these new rights are proof of an increasing awareness of human dignity, but I am not convinced. Many of these “rights,” in fact, are not based on a fixed idea of human dignity or human nature, but a denial of it; man is nothing more than a historical, “progressive” being whose wants and needs are constantly evolving. And it is, of course, these “progressives” who are constantly calling for new “rights” to be delivered by the state, rather than the private sector (exhibit A: Obamacare).

In my opinion, the continual expansion and discovery of new “rights” to cover all human needs have a particular appeal to religious believers because it institutionalizes and universalizes our social obligations to care for our fellow human beings. But we must also realize the particular, albeit partial, truths of liberalism and economics, especially with regard to the distribution of resources such as water. (The socialist paradise of Cuba, after all, recognizes the “right to water” as well as those to “health”, “religious freedom,” etc.) God did indeed create the world with enough goods for all. He also gave us the freedom and responsibility to cultivate and share these goods with each other, though we all too often fail at doing so. But let’s not assume He commands us to toss international law, private property, and economic good sense out the window as well.

The Secretary of State was not pleased.

I couldn’t believe my ears. But today I can.

Sandro Magister, one of Rome’s most veteran and credible vaticanistas, confirmed this afternoon what I had heard – and feared – nearly two weeks ago (See his Nov. 10 editorial “Too Much Confusion. Bertone Puts the Curia Under Lock and Key” ): The Pontifical Council’s controversial Note released two weeks ago “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” really had not been independently reviewed by the Church’s highest authorities.

The Note, of a very particular worldwide interest, rocked the boat of the Vatican approval system.

At the Vatican Press conference held to debrief international reporters on its Note, the Council’s two highest authorities – President Cardinal Peter Turkson and Secretary Bishop Mario Toso – openly admitted that neither the Pope or any other senior Curial officials had approved or necessarily read the Council’s bold public statement.

It was their Council’s statement. They took full responsibility for recommending a world financial authority and global Tobin tax to stabilize the most destructive financial storm in nearly a century.

The Note was not – and still is not – undersigned by His Holiness Benedect XVI.

Ibidem for Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s second in command.

And now Cardinal Bertone is upset, taking corrective action to prevent this fiasco from ever happening again – especially regarding the release of an opinion of such relevance and sensitivity to the world’s well being.

As Sandro Magister reported:

In the hot seat was the document on the global financial crisis released ten days earlier by the pontifical council for justice and peace. A document that had disturbed many, inside and outside of the Vatican.

The secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, complained that he had not known about it until the last moment. And precisely for this reason he had called that meeting in the secretariat of state.

The conclusion…was that this binding order would be transmitted to all of the offices of the curia: from that point on, nothing in writing would be released unless it had been inspected and authorized by the secretariat of state.

Finally, it has now become ever the more apparent that the practical prescriptions of the Note were not that of any religious professional. The marked economic language and financial terminology implied all along that a Vatican outsider had crafted the Note’s technical recommendations.

As Magister further writes:

On October 22, a further notification added the name of Professor Leonardo Becchetti to the ticket of the presenters [at the press Conference held on Oct. 24. See translation of his remarks].

Becchetti, a professor of economics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata and an expert on microcredit and fair trade, is believed to have been the main architect of the document.

And in fact, at the press conference presenting the document on October 24, his remarks were the most specific, centered in particular on calling for the introduction of a tax on financial transactions, called a “Tobin tax” after the name of its creator, or a “Robin Hood tax.”

What is next? A sequel or redraft of the Council’s Note on global financial and monetary reform? Let’s just say, it will not be any time soon.

Samuel Gregg is quoted in today’s New York Times story about the Vatican note calling for a central world bank — he gives the final word on the document. The “politically liberal Catholics” quoted before him reveal that they have missed a crucial distinction in the document produced by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. Gregg, of course has picked up on that distinction; he wrote yesterday:

Putting aside doctrinal questions, this text also makes claims of a more strictly economic nature…. The text makes a legitimate point about the effects of a disjunction between the financial sector and the rest of the economy.

Unfortunately, many of its authors’ ideas reflect an uncritical assimilation of the views of many of the very same individuals and institutions that helped generate the world’s most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The academics and activists who see in the document a way forward to socialism have missed the split between the note’s diagnosis of the world economy, and its proposed economic reforms. I cannot resist quoting G.K. Chesterton: “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

To say that “the time has come to conceive of institutions with universal competence,” as PCPJ President Cardinal Turkson did yesterday, is all well and good, but the possibility of such institutions running effectively is another matter.

Indeed, Kishore Jayabalan, the director of Istituto Acton and a former staffer at the Council, asked the National Catholic Reporter, “What makes the [Council] think that ‘global’ leaders will succeed where so many national ones have failed? It is a shame this document is based more on sentimental political hopes for world government than on actual experience and expertise of financial markets.”