Pope John XXIII was once asked how many people worked for the Vatican. “About half” he humorously replied, alluding to a workforce not known for its speed and efficiency. Under the pontificates of John Paul II and especially Benedict XVI, however, the Vatican seems to have made some efforts to improve the delivery of various services.

Take for example this interview with the city-state’s head physician, Dr. Giovanni Rocchi, who boasts of minimal waiting periods for patients at Vatican-run health clinics and laboratories. Such medical services are provided to Vatican employees and residents, including the Swiss Guard, local security officials, and the thousands of daily visitors to the Vatican.

Emergency treatment, Dr. Rocchi says, is immediate and often relies on its own ambulance service to transport the injured and sick. Clinical test results are typically received within 2-3 days. Major medical interventions such as heart or back surgery are usually arranged within a maximum of 2-3 weeks upon diagnosis, which is nothing compared to the purgatory Italian citizens must endure in the country’s public health care system for similar and even very minor treatments.

The Vatican’s health care system is small-scale, offering limited medical services such as emergency first aid, clinical analyses, immunization, physical check-ups, with much of the routine care provided by general practitioners. Major medical surgery must be arranged through outsourced medical facilities found in Rome’s private religious hospitals, like the Fatebenefratelli hospital located on the Tiber Island or the Gemelli hospital, which cared for Pope John Paul II on several occasions. (more…)

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, August 7, 2008

From time to time, we’ve drawn attention to and discussed the merits of microfinance.

A recent series of posts on the subject by Christian missionary, Mark Russell, reflects on the relationship between mission and microfinance. It’s a nice articulation of the rationale behind Christian support for such programs, focusing in particular on the economic and cultural environment of central Africa (the Congo).

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Wednesday, August 6, 2008

In our continuing efforts to remain relevant and “cutting edge” on the Internet, the Acton Institute has rolled out the LOLord Acton Quote Generator widget, visible in the PowerBlog’s upper left-hand corner. The LOLord Acton Quote Generator is an effort to expose the world to Lord Acton wisdom via the use of LOL-ized quotations taken from various letters and writings of Lord Acton. The best part is that the widget is viral – you can get it and install it on your webpage, blog, or Facebook profile so that you can share these quotations with your friends.

LOL text has become an Internet phenomenon, starting with sites like those that feature LOLcats. Theologians from the history of the church have been LOL-ized (early, medieval, Reformation, modern) and now Lord Acton joins the ranks of those figures with wisdom from the past deemed worthy of communication to present generations.

We’ve also added some Facebook integration to the blog, allowing you join our blog network and see updates to the PowerBlog via Facebook.

Another great new feature, also on the left side-bar, is the inclusion of a PowerBlog Food For Thought box. This box will update several times a day and will give you access to some of the things that we’re reading. Don’t miss out on important news – keep up with us and be informed! We’ve added a poll feature on the right side-bar, so you can cast your vote on pressing questions of the day.

And finally, we’ve also included an Acton News & Commentary box that links our most recent weekly commentaries. Our weekly commentaries provide opinion and discussion on current issues and events and should be part of your weekly reading.

Solzhenitsyn

“During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known. Finally, at the age of 42, this secret authorship began to wear me down. The most difficult thing of all to bear was that I could not get my works judged by people with literary training. In 1961, after the 22nd Congress of the U.S.S.R. Communist Party and Tvardovsky’s speech at this, I decided to emerge and to offer One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s momentous decision to publish his slim volume on Gulag life (he feared not only the destruction of his manuscript but “my own life”) ended his period of “secret authorship” and put him on the path of a literary career that earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. But his work meant so much more than that. Solzhenitsyn, who died yesterday in Moscow at the age of 89, did more than any other single figure to expose the horrors of Soviet communism and lay bare the lies that propped it up. His life was dedicated to chronicling and explaining the Bolshevik Revolution and the tragic effects it wrought for Russia during the 20th Century. His was a first-person account.

In “Solzhenitsyn & the Modern World,” an essay on Solzhenitsyn published by the Acton Institute in 1994, Edward E. Ericson Jr. predicted that Solzhenitsyn’s influence would continue to expand. With his passing, there is good reason to hope, with Ericson, that Solzhenitsyn’s “world-historical importance” will be appreciated on a deeper level. “His most direct contribution lies in his delegitimizing of Communist power, and especially in the eyes of his surreptitious Soviet readers,” Ericson wrote.

At the publication of the Gulag Archipelago, Leonid Brezhnev complained: “By law, we have every basis for putting him in jail. He has tried to undermine all we hold sacred: Lenin, the Soviet system, Soviet power – everything dear to us. … This hooligan Solzhenitsyn is out of control.” A week later, the newspaper Pravda called him a “traitor.” On Feb. 12, 1974, he was arrested and charged with treason. The next day, he was stripped of his citizenship and put on a plane to West Germany. He would spend the next 20 years in exile.

When summoned for deportation in 1974, he made a damning written statement to the authorities: “Given the widespread and unrestrained lawlessness that has reigned in our country for many years, and an eight-year campaign of slander and persecution against me, I refuse to recognize the legality of your summons.

“Before asking that citizens obey the law, learn how to observe it yourselves,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “Free the innocent, and punish those guilty of mass murder.”

The Gulag Archipelago was described by George F. Kennan, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union and the chief architect of postwar U.S. foreign policy, as “the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.”

In my review of the “Solzhenitsyn Reader,” edited by Ericson and Daniel J. Mahoney, in the Spring 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty, I wrote that the Solzhenitsyn “could only understand what happened to Russia in terms of good and evil. Those who engineered and imposed the Bolshevik and Soviet nightmare were not merely ideologues, they were evildoers.” A former communist, the writer returned to his Russian Orthodox Christian roots after his experience of the Soviet prison camps. In the review, I said:

Ericson and Mahoney state simply that, “Solzhenitsyn was the most eloquent scourge of ideology in the twentieth century.” The editors are right to remind us of that. And any news account, biography or political history of the twentieth Century that talks about who “won” the Cold War—a complicated historical reality for sure—and does not include Solzhenitsyn with Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II is not only incomplete but wrong. Solzhenitsyn was the inside man.

In an editorial published today, the editors of National Review Online said this of Solzhenitsyn: “There was no greater or more effective foe of Communism, or of totalitarianism in general.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Solzhenitsyn “one of the greatest consciences of 20th century Russia” and an heir to Dostoevsky. Mr Sarkozy added: “He belongs to the pantheon of world history.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote in a telegram to Solzhenitsyn’s family that the Soviet-era dissident, whose books exposed the horrors of the Communist Gulag, had been “a strong, courageous person with enormous dignity.”

“We are proud that Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was our compatriot and contemporary,” said Putin, who served in the same KGB that persecuted the author for “anti-Soviet” activities.

Mikhail Gorbachev told Interfax: “Until the end of his days he fought for Russia not only to move away from its totalitarian past but also to have a worthy future, to become a truly free and democratic country. We owe him a lot.”

Indeed, we all do.

The fifth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The fifth leg of the journey took the bikers from Denver to Fremont, a total distance of 553 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional opens the week by focusing on the poor. “Consider this: each one of us has far less to worry about than those living in poverty who often do not know where their next meal is coming from.”

This week’s Grand Rapids Press religion section had a front page story on the problem of panhandling. How ought we to treat beggars on our streets? Many in the early church, including John Chrysostom, argued that Christians were called to be promiscuous in charitable giving, leaving the consequences of ill-used money to those who received it. Chrysostom said, “For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”

As we have moved into a modern industrial society, however, it has become clear that ways of giving that provide incentives to remain poor do not properly deal with the social pathologies of poverty. The insight that our love needs to be unlimited and abundant is a proper corrective to our natural inclinations to be miserly with love and money. But from this it doesn’t follow that our giving doesn’t need to be intentional and critical.

Making our compassion effective in practice is the focus of the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Award and Guide programs. The bicyclists on this poverty tour will be heading through Nebraska this week. Check out effective charities in Nebraska and consider supporting program’s like Hasting’s Crossroads Center’s 4-Phase Program (a 2006 Samaritan Award honoree), and the W.E.C.A.R.E. and Dads Matter programs (2004 and 2006 honorees respectively) of Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha.

The Business and Media Institute highlights House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s response to a question about why conservatives and advocates for the free market degrade San Francisco as a city out of step with mainstream America. Pelosi believes it’s all about economics, and she points to the fact that government regulation and government programs in San Francisco are the model for America, and advocates for free markets are afraid of other citizens recognizing that. Pelosi says:

In San Francisco, every child has health care until 25 years old. In San Francisco, we don’t have a minimum wage, we have a living wage. In San Francisco, the environment is not an issue for us, it is a value. It is an ethic – it is protecting God’s creation. And so the exploiters of nature, of workers and the rest – like to use other aspects of our lives, which we take great pride in.

Pelosi goes on to note that conservatives try to use social and traditional values as a wedge issue to stop the spread of San Francisco’s economic values across America. She seems to be expressing the view that San Francisco is the new “city upon a hill.”

But are loss of economic freedoms and increased regulations in San Francisco a beneficial economic policy for all of America’s businesses and citizens? San Francisco’s mayor has also gone after bottled water. What about the city’s recent treatment of the U.S. Marines? Thomas Sowell does a good job explaining the reason for amazingly high housing prices in San Francisco because of increased government environmental regulations.

San Francisco is a beautiful city with many great citizens, but their economic policies are certainly not a shining example for all of America to follow. The Speaker’s comments however are a reminder of the need for free market advocates to do a better job in articulating the moral value and benefits behind their own ideas. If the arguments against San Francisco are led by people who may primarily be interested in social issues, there is merit of course, but the argument against exporting San Francisco values are incomplete.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a public claim it’s typically controversial. So the AP filed a story with this headline in the Jersualem Post, “Ahmadinejad blames West for AIDS.” Clearly the JP went for shock value, as most other outlets chose to title the story something like, “Iranian president: ‘Big powers’ going down.”

But there it is among a bunch of other accusations that Ahmadinejad leveled at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). According to the AP, “Ahmadinejad’s keynote speech was tailored to reflect the struggle that some NAM members see themselves in against the world’s rich and powerful countries.”

The AIDS claim is just one among many used to drive a wedge between developed and developing nations, blaming the former for the ills of the latter. But Ahmadinejad’s participation in this global blame game is part-and-parcel of what’s been going on for years.

In 2003, for instance, the proceedings of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches’ global south-south Buenos Aires conference observed that “economic globalization has created job loss and grinding poverty, an unprecedented rise in crime and violence, ecological degradation, and the spread of HIV/Aids.”

As a piece I co-wrote wondered at the time,

Just how does a system of economic exchange “cause” the spread of HIV? The only evidence offered by the ecumenists from Geneva is that “the effects of the free market system on the HIV/Aids pandemic are evident in the management and treatment of the disease.The policies and practices of transnational pharmaceutical companies have privileged profits over the health of people, and the high cost of HIV/Aids drugs and trade agreements exclude the poor from the effective treatment and prevention from infection.”

When Ahmadinejad blames AIDS on the West, he’s a pariah. But when the ecumenical movement says it, they’re seen as speaking truth to power.

Robert Stackpole of the Divine Mercy Insititute offers a thoughtful analysis of the positions of the major presidential candidates on health care at Catholic Online. I missed part one (and I don’t see a link), but the series, devoted to examining the electoral responsibilities of Catholics in light of their Church’s social teaching, is evidently generating some interest and debate.

Stackpole’s approach is interesting because he tries to steer a course between the two dominant camps that have developed over the last thirty years of presidential elections: Catholics who vote for Republican candidates in large part or solely because they are at least marginally and in some cases significantly more in line with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life with respect specifically to the legality of abortion (I belong here); and Catholics who, reluctantly or otherwise, vote Democratic because they perceive that candidate’s platform to be more in line with Catholic teaching on a range of other issues (death penalty, welfare, health care) and thereby to outweigh the Democrat’s unfortunate position on abortion.

Stackpole avoids two common mistakes made by Catholics on the Democratic side: he does not minimize the preeminent importance of abortion as a grave abuse that might be easily outweighed by other issues; and he does not oversimplify the respective Democratic and Republican positions on other issues by claiming, for example, that Church teaching indisputably favors the Democratic policy on welfare.

On health care specifically, he is scrupulously fair both to McCain and Obama, eventually siding with Obama’s plan as being more compatible with Catholic teaching. Not that I agree with the conclusion, but it is a serious argument.

On one more general point, however, Stackpole trips. Here is the problematic passage:

Strictly “political” issues would be things like who has the best experience to be the next president, who has flip-flopped more on key issues, who is beholden to which special interest groups, whose tax and spending policies would be best for the economy as a whole, who is right about offshore oil drilling, and who has the most sensible proposals for dealing with global warming. Such questions are purely political, matters of factual analysis and prudential judgement about which Catholic Social Teaching and the Divine Mercy message can have little to say.

In contrast, he asserts, the issues of abortion, health care, and the Iraq war are “matters on which Catholic Social Teaching can shed considerable light.”

I would say, instead, that every matter that he cites has a moral dimension, and the principles of CST can shed light on them all. It’s true that there are facts, independent of CST, that must serve as the basis for judgment about how to deal with all political questions. To give Stackpole the benefit of the doubt, he possibly means to say that the very narrow question about what economic impact a particular tax policy has is a question of fact, not moral judgment. The statement could easily be interpreted, though, as meaning that tax policy is purely a political question, when it instead has all sorts of ramifications, through the incentives it creates, for the discouragement or encouragement of personal virtue, healthy family life, and the flourishing of mediating institutions (including churches). To separate neatly certain “strictly political” questions from other matters with a moral dimension is, I think, a dangerous move for any person of faith.

Which is not to say that there are important distinctions to be made. Better, however, to go with the approach taken by Archbishop John Myers of Newark, in a 2004 statement on the political responsibilities of Catholics:

Some might argue that the Church has many social teachings and the teaching on abortion is only one of them. This is, of course, correct. The Church’s social teaching is a diverse and rich tradition of moral truths and biblical insights applied to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of our society. All Catholics should form and inform their conscience in accordance with these teachings. But reasonable Catholics can (and do) disagree about how to apply these teachings in various situations.

For example, our preferential option for the poor is a fundamental aspect of this teaching. But, there are legitimate disagreements about the best way or ways truly to help the poor in our society. No Catholic can legitimately say, “I do not care about the poor.” If he or she did so this person would not be objectively in communion with Christ and His Church. But, both those who propose welfare increases and those who propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy may in all sincerity believe that their way is the best method really to help the poor. This is a matter of prudential judgment made by those entrusted with the care of the common good. It is a matter of conscience in the proper sense.

But with abortion (and for example slavery, racism, euthanasia and trafficking in human persons) there can be no legitimate diversity of opinion.

Acton Research Fellow and Director of Media Dr. Jay Richards was on The Frank Pastore Show on KKLA in Los Angeles last night. Frank and Jay discussed the attempt to redefine the term “pro-life” in such a way that a pro-abortion candidate can claim to be “pro-life” in spite of their support for abortion; they also took a look at Barack Obama’s legislation that would commit billions of dollars to the reduction of global poverty.

You can listen to the discussion by clicking here (3 mb mp3 file).

The Summer issue of City Journal features a piece worth reading by Guy Sorman titled “Economics Does Not Lie.” The paper includes weighty arguments favoring a free market economic system and the author does a good job explaining the rationale of those who criticize a free economy. Sorman says:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions. Almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse them (the exceptions are those like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, whose public pronouncements are more political than scientific). The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

These are the ten propositions put forward by Sorman:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

2. Free trade helps economic development.

3. Good institutions help development. (governments & rule of law)

4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.

9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.

10. Competition is usually desirable.

Sorman adds:

These ten propositions should guide all economic policymaking, and to an increasing degree they do, worldwide. Does this mean that we’ve reached an “end of history” in economics, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Fukuyama, by way of Hegel and Alexandre Kojève? In one sense, perhaps: economic science will never rediscover the virtues of hyperinflation or industrial nationalization. Some critics charge that economics is not a science in the way that, say, physics is—after all, economists can’t make precise predictions, as an exact science can. But this isn’t quite true: economists can predict that certain bad policies will lead necessarily to catastrophe. If economics, a human science, lacks the precision of physics, a natural one, it advances the same way—evolving from one theory to the next, each approximating a reality that eludes our complete grasp.

On a somewhat related note about economic policy, here is a review I wrote about the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity. The review appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion and Liberty.