Blog author: bwalker
Friday, September 18, 2015

Pope Francis is thirsty
Rev. Joel C. Hunger and Susan Barnett, The Hill

Throughout Laudato Si, water runs deep. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a research and policy group dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing water problems, took a comprehensive look at the encyclical and the threat of what the pope calls “water poverty”:

A pope for all seasons
Washington Post

This is the riddle of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope and a man who has brought a dose of magical realism to the job of being pontiff. And as he prepares to stage his first official visit to the United States 2½ years into his revolutionary papacy, perhaps only one thing about the Argentine-born Francis is crystal clear: He is upending convention in one of the world’s oldest institutions.

Pope’s actions build a better church
Peter Donohue, St. Cloud Times

He also enlisted the assistance of an expert on global warming and a Jewish feminist when launching the encyclical. Aware of critics to the content of his work, the pope’s encyclical referenced previous popes, bishops, Greek Orthodox theologians, “and the findings of the 97 percent of scientists who have concluded that climate change is created largely by human activity.”


RS cover from 2014

RS cover from 2014

On Sept. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a long article titled “Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics.” From the title alone you could tell where this was headed. Predictably, the magazine asserted that “deeply alarmed by the power of Francis’ message, an entire network of -right-wing Catholic organizations has been increasingly willing to push back against the Vatican.” In ticking off members of this “network” it said this about the Acton Institute and yours truly:

Then there’s the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is run by a Catholic priest named Robert Sirico — he’s the brother of actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos — and hosts forums with titles like “Government: Less Is More.” Sirico recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal attacking “Laudato Si'” for its “decided bias against the free market and suggestions that poverty is the result of a globalized economy,” though he failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Acton has received from extraction-industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and the Koch family.

I wrote a response to this article and sent it to Rolling Stone editors but they, not surprisingly, declined to publish it. Here it is in full:

To the Editor:

News Flash! Admitted pro-market think tank accepts donations from pro-market supporters. (“Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics,” Sept. 10).

Of course this revelation is presented in Mr. Mark Benelli’s – what was it, op-ed, news analysis, hit piece? – as something far more sinister, implying, but not saying, that somehow The Acton Institute is controlled by the dark financial interests of evil capitalists, instead of the reality that (1) we hold to a position and (2) we invite others who hold to the same or similar positions to support us.

The deeper journalistic problem with this piece is its sheer superficiality in understanding Catholicism or what the Acton Institute (which, incidentally, is an ecumenical organization that works with people ranging from like-minded Evangelicals to observant Jews) does. This is understandable given that Mr. Benelli relies to a great extent for his research on the hyperbole from the fainting couch of one M.S. Winters who writes a breathless blog for the Rolling Stone of Catholic journalism, the National Catholic Reporter. (more…)

I have some brief thoughts up at Think Christian today about Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States. Instead of worrying about policy proposals that many are hoping Francis will address directly, or will at least provide an excuse for them to bring up, I focus on the power of the image of the Roman pontiff ascending the steps of Capitol Hill.

United States Capitol west front edit2“When the pope speaks in Congress, religion has undeniably entered the public square,” I write.

Now I have had my disputes with how churches and religious leaders have often brought to bear their faith in the public square, particularly in political lobbying efforts (see here most recently and here for a book-length treatment). Even where I disagree with Catholic Social Teaching, however, I think the world is a better place for having such a robust and vibrant tradition.

So if the alternative is a naked public square, to use Richard John Neuhaus’ phrase, then we have to recognize that the sometimes imprudent, problematic, or otherwise troubling politicization of the Christian faith is a risk preferable to a public square devoid of the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. I expect Francis to be just that kind of prophetic witness on his trip here and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, September 18, 2015

How Do America’s Poor Really Live? Examining the Census Poverty Report
Robert Rector, The Daily Signal

Today, the Census Bureau will release its annual poverty report. It will almost certainly report that over 40 million Americans “live in poverty.” But what does it mean to be poor in America?

Inequality Hasn’t Made Americans Support Redistribution
The American Interest

Why, after forty years of rising economic inequality, does the American political consensus remain so market-oriented, at least relative to other industrialized countries?

5 questions every presidential candidate should answer on poverty
Robert Doar and Angela Rachidi, AEI Ideas

Any serious discussion among 2016 presidential candidates must address the issues facing low-income Americans. Despite the paucity and poor quality of our available data, there are certain facts about domestic need which any president should understand, and certain leadership questions that each candidate should be able to answer.

Religious Persecution Abroad and Us
Kathryn Jean Lopez, The Corner

A few days ago, I was on a panel at the In Defense of Christians National Leadership Convention on Capitol Hill discussing “Building Bridges between Eastern and Western Christianity.” The first question was about obstacles barring such bridges, leaving persecuted Christians somewhat out in the cold, even as their very existence in the birthplace of Christianity is in jeopardy.

lesmis4The media is buzzing with chatter about immigration and the heartbreaking refugee crisis in the Middle East. Yet even as we learn more about the types of suffering and oppression that these people are fleeing, the temptation to look inward remains.

All of these cases involve a range of complex considerations, to be sure. But in a nation as big and as prosperous as ours, we should find it easier than most to err on the side of welcoming the stranger. Further, as citizens of a country whose success is so deeply rooted in the entrepreneurial efforts and exploits of immigrants and escapees, we ought to understand the profound value and creative capacity of all humankind, regardless of degree or pedigree.

But even before and beyond all that, as Christians, we offer a type of justice that so clearly begins with love of God and neighbor. Ours is an approach that recognizes the importance of rightly ordered relationships, and as with all relationships, that means an embrace of vulnerability and struggle and imagination. Ours is an ethic that relishes in the risk of sacrifice and is willing to deny our man-made priorities of security and comfortability. All that but one might be saved.

This doesn’t mean that we ignore or bypass considerations of political prudence, the rule of law, and the various practical constraints of any free and orderly society. But it does mean that our hearts, hands, and words ought to reflect a basic motivation of love, mercy, and hospitality. For the Christian, building a wall might be the right and just policy outcome for a particular situation, but it ought not be our shining characteristic. (more…)

Blog author: sstanley
Thursday, September 17, 2015


Morning Panel at “Judaism, Christianity, & the West.”

On September 9, leading scholars of the world came together to discuss the ways in which Judaism and Christianity have contributed to building the foundations of liberty. “Judaism, Christianity, and the West: Building and preserving the institutions of freedom” was the fourth conference in the “One and indivisible? The relationship between religious and economic freedom” conference series. Sponsored by the Acton Institute and the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, this day-long event was a first for Acton, as the Institute has never held an event in the Middle East before.

Throughout the world today, freedom is often taken for granted. Yet freedom is the exception rather than the norm in human history. It is also the case that the institutions of freedom, and particular liberties such as political freedom, religious liberty, civil freedoms, and economic liberty in the West, were decisively shaped by Judaism and Christianity. Knowledge of these contribution, however, is dangerously absent from many public discussions of freedom, and its relationship to other important values, such as dignity and solidarity. How do we bring knowledge of these truths back into public discussion? What are the new threats to these forms of liberty in modern societies whose primary religious roots lie in Judaism and Christianity? (more…)

Blog author: bwalker
Thursday, September 17, 2015

Francis stresses solidarity, justice, participation in address to EU environment ministers
Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter

A “cultural, spiritual and educational challenge” awaits global negotiators set to act in coming months on issues of sustainability and the environment, Pope Francis said Wednesday, as he challenged them to act for the poor, ensure industrialized nations repay their “ecological debt,” and include all voices in the discussion. The brief comments came during a morning audience at the Vatican with environmental ministers of European Union member states. According to a translation from Vatican Radio, Francis thanked them for the opportunity to share his thoughts before what he described as “important international events in the coming months”:

The Pope to EU environment ministers: it is time to honour our ecological debt
Vatican Information Service

This morning, before the Wednesday general audience, the Pope received the environment ministers of the European Union who will soon face two important events: the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP 21 in Paris. Francis remarked that their mission is increasingly important since the environment is a “collective good, a patrimony for all humanity, and the responsibility of each one of us – a responsibility that can only be transversal and which requires effective collaboration within the entire international community”.

5 Ways Pope Francis Has Recently Caused Conservative Christians’ Heads to Explode
Janet Allon, AlterNet

Sure enough, the encyclical was taken as sacrilege among prominent Republican Catholics here at home, including Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, who suggested the pope leave science to the scientists, which of course, is precisely what he did. Conservatives like Jeb Bush did not appreciate the swipe at his one true religion, capitalism. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope,” he told his supporters at the time.


Free-tickets-to-more-Pope-FrLast week, 80,000 residents of New York got a free gift: a ticket to see Pope Francis’s procession through Central Park on September 25.

Not surprisingly, soon after the tickets started showing up for sale on websites like eBay and Craigslist for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Also not a surprise is the disgusted reaction some people had to news about the ticket scalping:

“Tickets for events with Pope Francis are distributed free for a reason — to enable as many New Yorkers as possible, including those of modest means, to be able to participate in the Holy Father’s visit to New York,” Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said in a statement. “To attempt to resell the tickets and profit from his time in New York goes against everything Pope Francis stands for.”

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Cardinal Dolan (at an event I attended for free). I think he’s a wonderful, charming, gregarious leader. But on this point, I think he’s wrong.

When governments have followed the sort of environmental and free-market admonitions Pope Francis gave us in Laudato Si, negative results often follow. This struck your writer this past week as he read a piece reporting the unforeseen consequences of one specific wrongheaded environmental effort.

In his encyclical, Pope Francis writes:

Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor [italics in original].

Yet, the Pope’s analysis mostly responds to earthly matters when he praises biodiversity and ecosystems as well as:

… marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population … affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them.


Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, September 17, 2015

US CONSTITUTION iStock_000007427085XSmall-300x214Constitution Day is celebrated in America every year on September 17, the anniversary of the day the framers signed the document. Here are five facts you should know about the U.S. Constitution.

1. The Constitution contains 4,543 words, including the signatures and has four sheets, 28-3/4 inches by 23-5/8 inches each. It contains 7,591 words including the 27 amendments. It is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.

2. Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution. He was in France during the Convention, where he served as the U.S. minister. John Adams was serving as the U.S. minister to Great Britain during the Constitutional Convention and did not attend either. George Washington and James Madison were the only presidents who signed the Constitution.

3. There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the standing army for the country to 5,000 men. George Washington sarcastically agreed with this proposal as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops

4. The Constitution’s iconic opening line was not included in early drafts of the document. The preamble originally started with individual states listed from north to south: “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts…” et al. The five-person Committee of Style is considered to have been responsible for composing much of the final text, including the revised preamble.

5. More than 11,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress. From 1804 to 1865 there were no amendments added to the Constitution until the end of the Civil War when the Thirteenth amendment was added that abolished slavery. This was the longest period in American history in which there were no changes to our Constitution. The Constitution has only been changed seventeen times since 1791.