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, 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


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.