Monday, July 27, 2009

Support vs. Support

The USCCB has come under fire recently for its support of efforts to pass climate change legislation, with some of our policy people getting angry calls and e-mails. I don't mean the climate-change-isn't-real-it's-all-a-conspiracy kind of fire, although our policy people get those calls too. I'm talking about the but-that-bill-is-full-of-pork-and-all-sorts-of-wasteful-spending-how-could-you-ever-support-it kind of fire.

To get to the heart of what is really going on here, it might be good to draw a distinction between support and support, as far as the U.S. Bishops are concerned.

For instance, the only support from the U.S. bishops toward climate change legislation can be found in a June 22 joint letter with Catholic Relief Services to every member of Congress. In the letter, represenatives of the USCCB and CRS welcome the progress that has been made on the issue itself but state that they are "deeply disappointed" that the current legislation doesn't do enough to help poor people worldwide who contribute the least to climate change but suffer the most from its effects. The USCCB news release that accompanied this letter stressed this point.

So where, then, do the bishops stand on this legislation? The facts: we know the Catholic Church supports efforts to combat climate change. This has grown ever more apparent as Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out time and again, most recently in his new encyclical. The U.S. bishops have followed the pope's lead. And in the letter to Congress, they call the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) “groundbreaking legislation” that “begins a serious and overdue effort to face up to moral and environmental challenges and represents an important beginning.”

Yes, that sounds very supportive. But they go on to criticize the legislation heavily for not doing enough for the poor. Does this mean they've endorsed the legislation? Hardly. An endorsement looks more like this, with a bishop actually urging members of Congress to vote for a bill.

Another example of the bishops being supportive in one area but not in another came at the beginning of June when the bishops supported the Reuniting American Families Act (S. 1085) but refused to support similar legislation in the House of Representatives because it contained language that would have extended marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

The picture that emerges is an encouraging one of bishops who are not willing to sacrifice their principles to achieve political goals, who exercise caution when engaging legislation, and who aren't afraid to throw a bill back and say, "We appreciate what you're trying to do overall, but this isn't good enough. This has pieces we can't support."

This approach should serve the bishops well as they seek to engage Congress on a particularly thorny issue, health care reform. In this case, the USCCB sent Congress a very broad letter, noting the bishops' decades-long support for the cause, outlining their priorities, and emphasizing two general areas -- respect for human life and access for all -- where they see the current legislative efforts needing work.

While far from an endorsement, the USCCB news release on this letter sparked an outraged tirade, on Twitter no less, in which an individual, convinced that health care reform meant a wholesale sellout to the abortion lobby, accused the bishops and myself of throwing the unborn and the taxpayers "to the wolves" in 140-character blasts.

First, I wondered if the person had even read the letter. But after that, it occurred that the guiding principles of the bishops -- cautious engagement, subtle discernment -- are a model for all of us. The bishops recognize that a proposed piece of legislation is a work in progress and that all Catholics, bishops included, are called to engage the political process and be the proverbial prophetic voice, not settling for the status quo when we know it can be better.

In a way, this approach echoes the methodology of a Church that is always calling on its people to do better, to eliminate their destructive behaviors and build on the good in their lives ... until that day when they hear the Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful Congressman--er--servant."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Make Health Care Reform Abortion Neutral

The nation struggles to reform health care, and concerns range from how to fund health care to the role of the federal government in health care to whether to insure American children born to undocumented persons.

Stunningly, the country’s abortion lobby wants to mire the debate by using it to promote abortion. They want to make it a required health benefit – I’m not sure to benefit whom. It doesn’t benefit unborn children, and you can make a good case that it doesn’t benefit their mothers either, given all the regrets afterwards.

When the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 voted to permit abortion as a matter of privacy, people predicted that arguments over abortion would split the nation in two.

Were they ever right! There’s never been an issue in modern times to have such an effect. The nationwide moral upheaval that has ensued since then speaks to the visceral nature of the issue. It just does not sit well with people.

To attach abortion rights to health care reform is to guarantee the failure of health care reform.

Health care reform needs to be abortion neutral. It’s about pregnant women having pre-natal care, children getting vaccinations, oldsters getting blood pressure medication and middle-agers having cancer screening. It’s about all Americans having decent health care so that they aren’t forced to choose between buying cereal for breakfast or antibiotics for strep throat.

Health care reform is not about terminating pregnancies. Americans do not want to pay for other people’s elective abortions. Current laws only allow federal dollars to go for abortion in cases of rape or incest or threat to the life of the mother. Moral objections to abortion run deep.
The well-funded abortion lobby that seeks to make abortion a sine qua non for health care reform puts all of us at risk as the abortion lobbyists cavalierly promote a political agenda guaranteed to worsen the situation of health care in the United States.

The nation’s health care crisis needs to be addressed. Making sure the legislation is abortion-neutral takes one huge obstacle out of the way.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Membership Notes

Pardon the tardiness of this post. I'd wanted to address this issue much earlier this week, but first had to request information from some resources.

Among the big stories in the Catholic Church last week was the episcopal ordination Mass of Archbishop J. Augustine "Gus" DiNoia, OP, at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

With Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal William Levada serving as principal consecrator and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and retired Louisville Archbishop Thomas Kelly, OP, serving as principal co-consecrators, the beautiful Mass provided quite a send-off for DiNoia as he enters his role as Secretary (the #2 man) in the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Now that Father DiNoia is Archbishop DiNoia, there is one question that bubbled to the surface quickly for this USCCB official -- Is DiNoia now a member of the USCCB?

He is, after all, from the United States and a Catholic bishop. Then there's his past association with the organization through his role as head of its Doctrine office. And his ordination took place just across the street from the USCCB headquarters (and Dominican House of Studies, where he also served for years).

The short answer is no. And I had to dig into the organizational statutes to find that membership in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is limited to 1. bishops, archbishops, auxiliary bishops and coadjutors of dioceses and eparchs in the United States and U.S. Virgin Islands and have no membership in another conference, 2. bishops performing special duties entrusted to them by the USCCB or the Holy See for the Church in the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

So, on the flip side, the people not covered by this description are Vatican officials, diplomats, etc. who happen to be Americans. This includes DiNoia, whose work will be not just for the U.S. Church, but for the Universal Church. This includes Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly of St. Louis, now Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. This includes Cardinal Levada, formerly Archbishop of San Francisco, now the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church, but not a current member of the USCCB.

It's worth noting that, according to USCCB statutes, retired U.S. bishops have "a consultative voice but not a deliberative vote in the Conference. They are encouraged and invited to attend all sessions of the Plenary Assembly and to make available to the Conference their special wisdom and experience by speaking to issues at hand."

My next question is whether this courtesy extends to retired Vatican officials who were once U.S. ordinaries, such as Cardinal James Stafford, former Denver archbishop and retired Major Penitentiary. I presume so, but there are so many ways to slice and dice this ...

Update: Apparently, the answer to my last question is yes. My source gave the example of Cardinal Edmund Szoka, former President of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, also a former Archbishop of Detroit, and also a member of the USCCB.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Anti-Catholicism Makes Cartoon of New Yorker

The New Yorker, the magazine of urbane Americans, proves once again that anti-Catholicism still lurks in U.S. society. This time it’s in an article by the playwright Paul Rudnick, who seems to get his kicks by bashing religion. It is bizarre that someone who uses his literary skills to decry prejudice and stereotyping of gays opts to indulge his own prejudice against another group, Catholics. Catholics in the United States have had to fight such ignorance for more than 200 years (It came over with the Pilgrims). Rudnick’s recent rap on Catholics comes in snide remarks about religious sisters in “Fun With Nuns,” in the July 20 issue of the New Yorker.

Apparently the editors, who even are heralding the essay on the New Yorker Web site, don’t find any problem with Rudnick’s gratuitous slam: “Nuns can be dictatorial, sexually repressed, and scary—and therefore entertaining.” Nor did they bother to edit out a remark about which nuns should be “f…able.” A comment on a discussion at Disney about “Catholic teaching on vows of silence, poverty, and chastity” suggests editors at the New Yorker ignore inaccuracy as well as prejudice and poor taste.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. once noted that anti-Catholicism "the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people." Anti-Catholicism also has been called the “anti-Semitism of the liberal.” It seems on the rise now, perhaps because when a society feels troubled, as U.S. society does in the throes of the current economic crisis, prejudices arise. Feeling out of control, people grasp for security but making their world small, creating a mental enclave where they shut out everything they do not like, or understand, and/or fear.

Last week, the USA Today Faith & Reason blog was rampant with anti-Catholic comments in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s ground-breaking encyclical on the economy “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in truth”). Because the blog has a “Report Abuse” button and a staffer who monitors comments for such things as obscenity, name-calling and hate speech, some of the initial offensive remarks are gone. Yet more than a week later, mindless souls hiding behind the blog’s anonymity can still be read asking if you spell pope with “one or two ‘o’s,” advising the pope to do something that’s unprintable here and ought to be unprintable in a family newspaper’s blog, remarking that “someone needs to give the pope his meds” and opining that “the pope is disgusting and sickening,” adding for good measure, “Catholic is DISGUSTING.” Even more slurs and canards to be found on the Website, including “I guess the Vatican is finally going public with its plot to control the world.”

Maybe it is because anonymity emboldens cowards that blog postings on religion evoke rabid rantings. USA Today might want to consider its responsibility in publishing such tripe on the Web, though it is to be commended for not carrying the remarks in newsprint. They wouldn’t go down well with orange juice, toast and coffee at most hotels.

At least USA Today can be blamed only for not keeping up with its obligation to watch what bloggers post. The New Yorker, on the other hand, despite its history of fine literary criticism, intentionally runs Rudnick’s comments and even boasts of them on its Web site. It’s neither wise nor witty and makes the New Yorker a cartoon of a magazine.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

El nombre lo dice todo

The following is a Spanish version of the earlier post, "What's in a Name?"

Caritas in veritate, la caridad en la verdad, son las palabras que dan comienzo y nombre a la nueva encíclica social de Benedicto XVI. El título en sí recoge ya el mensaje central de la carta, dejando que el resto del texto lo desarrolle como los hilos de una madeja que se va desenrollando o piezas de un rompecabezas del cual ya tenemos una foto completa en la cubierta de la caja.

El nombre lo dice todo. Sin la verdad, la caridad, también traducida como amor, no tiene significado ni propósito, se convierte en mero sentimentalismo, “un envoltorio vacío que se rellena arbitrariamente” (3), dice el papa. “La caridad es el don más grande que Dios ha dado a los hombres, es su promesa y nuestra esperanza” (2). A menos que entendamos que el hombre, creado a imagen y semejanza de Dios, ha sido hecho para dar y recibir amor no podremos entender que la solidaridad es más que una opción personal y que cuidar de la creación es más que un estilo de vida.

Pero ¿por qué “en la verdad? Y ¿qué verdad? En el modo relativista de pensar actual parecen no haber cabida para verdades absolutas, ni parámetros de pensamiento y acción válidos para todos. Mi verdad no es tu verdad. Y así, la afirmación “la caridad en la verdad” no parece tener mucho sentido en un mundo desprovisto de significado último y verdades transcendentes.

Como voz que clama en el desierto, el papa Benedicto continúa predicando el evangelio de la verdad y sostiene que sí existe una Verdad última de la cual se derivan todas las demás verdades. Sí, existen cosas que dañan y destruyen a la humanidad y existen otras que la elevan y la llevan a alcanzar su pleno potencial. Sí, existen principios y valores universales que pueden ser percibidos por la razón y la fe y que deben guiar todos nuestros actos.

Sólo si aceptamos la verdad de la dignidad del hombre y la mujer, que éstos están hechos para el amor y la comunión, y que esta verdad se antepone a cualquier otra, tendrán sentido la búsqueda de la justicia y del bien común. Sólo entonces seremos capaces de ver que cualquier cosa que viole la dignidad de una vida humana, que le impida alcanzar todo su potencial o la transforme en capital dispensable, es una “injusticia” que reclama la restauración de la justicia, y que todos tenemos una responsabilidad en ello.

What's in a Name?

Caritas in Veritate, Charity in truth, are the words that open Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, and from whence it takes its name. The title encapsulates the core message of the letter, as if the rest of the text were threads that can be spanned off from a coil or pieces of a puzzle whose full picture appears already on the cover of a box.

The name says it all. Without truth, charity, also translated as love, has no meaning, no purpose, is at best mere sentimentalism, “an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way” (3), says Benedict. Love is mankind highest call, its very reason for being and existing. “Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope” (2). Unless we understand that man, made in the image of God, is made to give and receive love, we will not be able to understand that solidarity is more than just a choice and taking care of God’s creation more than a way of living.

But why “in truth,” and what truth? In the modern, relativist way of thinking, there seem to be no absolute truths, no parameters of thinking and acting that are valid for everyone. My truth is not your truth. And so, the “charity in truth” statement doesn’t seem to make much sense in a world devoid of meaning and final truths.

Like a voice crying in the desert, Benedict continues to preach the gospel of truth and holds that there is an ultimate Truth from which all other truths derive. Yes, there are things that harm and destroy mankind and things that uplift him and lead him to reach its full potential. Yes, there are universal values and principles that can be perceived by reason and faith, and that should guide all our actions.

Only after accepting the truth of the dignity of man and woman, that they are made for love and communion, and that such truth trumps all other truths, will the pursuit of justice and the common good make sense. Only then we will be able to see that anything that violates the dignity of human life, that prevents it from reaching its full potential or transforms it into mere spendable capital, is wrong and calls for the restoration of justice, and that we all have a responsibility in it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Pope's Press and "Caritas in Veritate"

Along with the great reading that the pope's new social encyclical provides on its own, the release of Caritas in Veritate has also provided some fascinating reading in the media. This is a little surprising, as the frenetic pace of the 24-hour news cycle and the slow and steady, deep-thinking approach of the Catholic Church -- and particularly a document like an encyclical -- often don't mix well.

This clash has been evident this year in various Vatican media meltdowns, from the controversey surrounding the de-excommunication of the SSPX bishops, to the outrcry following Pope Benedict's comments on condoms and AIDS in Africa, to the unimpressed Israeli reactions to his speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

So it's almost puzzling to see this encyclical arrive and see the pope getting exceptionally good press. Even more striking is that some of media outlets seem to be curling up with the encyclical and taking the time to mine some of its deeper meaning and nuances.

For instance, an article in the New York Times opens by saying the pope is calling for "radical rethinking of the world economy" that urges the creation of a world political authority to oversee the economy and work for the common good.

Radical? Creating something new? These aren't the usual words that get tossed about when the media discusses the words and thoughts of Benedict XVI.

Like a lot of other coverage of the encyclical, the article goes on to look at Benedict's call for a new, ethical way of managing business and the economy, which in the light of the economic crisis makes his teaching incredibly timely and just the voice of moral authority needed right now.

Not only does the New York Times article seem to acknowledge this, it also makes an effort to distinguish some of the finer points of Benedict's teaching, noting, as other outlets have, that "the Vatican does not comfortably fit into traditional political categories of right and left."

“There are paragraphs that sound like Ayn Rand, next to paragraphs that sound like ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ That’s quite intentional,” the article quotes one theologian.

The article also makes note, as other media have, of the pope's call for a strengthened UN and a global economic oversight with "real teeth." Perhaps this suggestion is getting so much attention because, frankly, no one has made a suggestion on such a sweeping scale in the wake of the economic crisis -- and then for the person who suggests it to be the pope! Wild.

The article wraps up by touching on Benedict's call for better care of the environment, calling him "arguably the most environmentally conscious pope in history." The New York Times may see this as cutting edge for a pope, but the reality probably has more to do with the strength of Benedict's mind and his ability to synthesize seemingly disparate issues into a consistent ethic.

The media coverage of Caritas in Veritate goes from good to great when it's viewed through the lens of coinciding with the G8 Summit in Italy (and the pope's subsequent meeting with President Obama). Now the encyclical has a new audience -- not only is it addressed to the world's bishops, priests and people of good will, it's addressed to the world's leaders, who are convening to discuss these very issues. What timing!

Not that it's something new to see Pope Benedict going over well in the media. This is the pope who wowed everyone during his April 2008 visit to the U.S., with his solemn visit to Ground Zero and emotional meeting with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. But the first half of 2009, with the crises listed above, was something of a PR slump for the Holy Father.

That downward trend could be ending with Caritas in Veritate, as the pope deftly addresses the world with teachings that engage the problems at hand and leave some of his audience stunned by how "with it" this pope can be.

Why the Italics?

May be a little tea-leaves reading here, but I’m musing on why Pope Benedict XVI chose to highlight some parts of his encyclical in italics. Caritas in Veritate has 30,468 words. They’re all important, but the pope signals some phrases for special thought. Below are key italicized sections. Any one of them could be a theme for an address; all seem worth pondering.

… two important truths. The first is that the whole Church, in all her being and acting — when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity — is engaged in promoting integral human development…. The second truth is that authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension. (11)

Testimony to Christ's charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. (15)

Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility. (18)

The (economic) crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. (21)

The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. (22)

Yet it should be stressed that progress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient ... (23)

... the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity. (25)

It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination. (27)

Openness to life is at the centre of true development. (28)

Human costs always include economic costs and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs. (32)

Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. (35)

Today's international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise. (40)

business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. (40)

In this way it will be possible to experience and to steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods. (42)

The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights. (43)

Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. (44)

States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family (44)

… there is a pressing moral need for renewed solidarity, especially in relationships between developing countries and those that are highly industrialized. (49)

The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. (51)

The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. (51)

when “human ecology” is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. (51)

In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. (51)

The development of peoples depends, above all, on recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side. (53)

Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent… For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. (56)

the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity (57)

The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need. (58)

Cooperation for development must not be concerned exclusively with the economic dimension: it offers a wonderful opportunity for encounter between cultures and peoples. (59)

In the search for solutions to the current economic crisis, development aid for poor countries must be considered a valid means of creating wealth for all. (60)

In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. (67)

A person's development is compromised, if he claims to be solely responsible for producing what he becomes. (68)

Technology, in this sense, is a response to God's command to till and to keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a covenant that should mirror God's creative love. (69)

But human freedom is authentic only when it responds to the fascination of technology with decisions that are the fruit of moral responsibility. (70)

Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good. (71)

Entranced by an exclusive reliance on technology, reason without faith is doomed to flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence. Faith without reason risks being cut off from everyday life. (74)

The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul, insofar as we often reduce the self to the psyche and confuse the soul's health with emotional well-being. (76)

There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people's spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul. (76)

God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. (78)

Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filed love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. (79)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Going into G8 -- What the Bishops (and Pope) Had to Say

With the ongoing coverage of Michael Jackson's death, Sarah Palin's resignation, Al Franken's long-delayed arrival in the U.S. Senate and, of course, Pope Benedict's publication of his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, it's easy to forget that, starting tomorrow, the leaders of some of the world's wealthiest, most powerful nations are coming together in Italy for two days for the G8 Summit.

But they're definitely meeting, and leaders in the Catholic Church are not missing the opportunity to speak their minds in hopes of impacting what these world leaders discuss and accomplish in their time together.

The most obvious example of this is a June 22 letter from the presidents of the bishops' conferences of the G8 countries to their heads of state. The letter calls on the G8 leaders to protect the poor and assist developing countries. Specifically, it urged them not to let the economic crisis lead to cuts in foreign assistance programs. The bishops quoted Pope Benedict, saying:

The current crisis has raised the spectre of the cancellation or drastic reduction of external assistance programmes, especially for Africa and for less developed countries elsewhere. Development aid, including the commercial and financial conditions favourable to less developed countries and the cancellation of the external debt of the poorest and most indebted countries, has not been the cause of the crisis and, out of fundamental justice, must not be its victim.
The bishops went on to say:

Ironically poor people have contributed the least to the economic crisis facing our world, but their lives and livelihoods are likely to suffer the greatest devastation because they struggle at the margins in crushing poverty. In light of this fact, the G8 nations should meet their responsibility to promote dialogue with other powerful economies to help prevent further economic crises.
The bishops added that on the issue of climate change, similarly, the poor who have contributed the least are negatively impacted the most.

While it's easy to take this message as just another appeal from a group of religious leaders to a group of political leaders, there's a real value to stop and wrap one's mind around the ground covered by this letter.

First of all, its recipients are eight of the most powerful people in the world, representing eight nations.

Second, the Catholic Church being a place where jurisdiction and teaching authority count for so much, one has to take into account that, as presidents of their respective bishops' conferences, the nine bishops who signed this letter (Cardinal Francis George for the USCCB, along with the heads of conferences in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Scotland and England & Wales) are speaking on behalf of every bishop in every one of those countries. That's a lot of bishops and a lot of teaching authority.

But as long as we're looking at teaching authority that stretches across nations, fittingly enough, this letter wasn't the only high-level Catholic teaching to go out on the eve of the G8 Summit. Pope Benedict XVI's first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which arrived this morning, also touches on concerns such as climate change and the need for greater care and cooperation in the international community. Like the G8 bishops, the pope also calls for an ethical changes to the world's economy in light of the current crisis. He does so by outlining the need for human development and casting development in the highest possible terms, as a vocation from God that must involve care for the development of the entire human person, from basic physical needs to education to the spiritual/eternal.

It's a staggeringly tall order in the face of an economic crisis, but Pope Benedict draws a wise conclusion here too -- if anything positive is to come from an economic crisis, it will be that we learned from it and improved the human condition around the world in its wake.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

New Encyclical -- Anybody Got a Copy?

Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, “Caritas in veritate,” is due out July 7, but has been leaking out in Roman newspapers for several days now. Alas, it has not splashed across the pond and here in the United States we’re left making educated guesses about its contents.

We’re not even sure of its English-language title since Latinates can translate it either as “Charity in truth” or “Love in truth.” Vatican Radio on June 29 used the former, so my money’s on that translation. It is said that every translator is a traitor and no one wants to be the traitor with what may be a key encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy.

Encyclical titles are tricky because their names come from the first few words of the text. Sometimes that works well in translation. Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) in 1963, revealed its content in its title. Pope Pius XI’s Quadregesimo Anno, issued in 1931 to mark the 40th anniversary of the much acclaimed Rerum Novarum, 1891, from Pope Leo XIII, is about reconstructing the social order. People don’t remember it as easily. Its title doesn’t help.
John Carr, director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, made some attempts to figure out what’s coming in the encyclical. Media Relations asked him to do so to help us handle inquiries from reporters who want to get a start on their work before the July 4th weekend. His essay is on the USCCB Media Relations page.

As we get ready for the weekend many of us wish we had a preview copy. We’d even read it at the beach. Carr made his educated guesses after reading comments the pope himself has made on the coming encyclical as well other allusions from Pope Benedict to the current economic crisis. Social encyclicals usually build on previous ones and since “Caritas in Veritate” was said to originally be intended to mark the 40th anniversary of Populorum progressio, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the Development of Peoples, issued in 1967, a look at that encyclical offers signposts for this next one.

The environment was an issue for John Paul II and the issue has become even more urgent, so Carr suggests environmental issues will be important. After all, Benedict, who called for installation of solar panels at the Vatican, is the first “green pope.”

No surprise in the expectation that the pope will highlight the needs of poor people. What other world leader can speak for the majority of people who have only a minority of the resources? Pope Benedict is in a position where he can say that those having the largest share of the money are not automatically entitled to the largest share of the earth’s resources. We’re a world family, and in a healthy family, need determines who gets what.

Anybody with a bootlegged copy of the encyclical, send it my way.

When a Pope Meets a President

President Barack Obama's upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on July 10 at the Vatican marks the 27th time in history a sitting U.S. President has met with a pope. The meetings, which will now include 12 presidents and 5 popes, are replete with historical odds and ends. So we've done our best to generate a complete list below:

1. Woodrow Wilson meets Benedict XV, the Vatican, January 4, 1919. Meeting just after the end of World War I, President Wilson had pushed for a lasting peace via his failed League of Nations, and Pope Benedict had been a powerful advocate for peace throughout the war. Perhaps it's fitting that these two would meet and that their meeting would be the historic first ever of its kind.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower meets John XXIII, the Vatican, December 6, 1959. Following a 40-year hiatus, this meeting would begin in earnest the precedent of every pope and every president meeting. While apparently very genial, this meeting also faced the challenge of Eisenhower not knowing Italian and John XXIII not knowing English.

3. John F. Kennedy meets Paul VI, the Vatican, July 2, 1963. While Jacqueline Kennedy met John XXIII in a private audience, President Kennedy missed him by a month, instead visiting the newly-elected Pope Paul. The reportedly discussed civil rights.

4. Lyndon Johnson meets Paul VI, New York, October 4, 1965. This meeting took place in the historical context of the first visit by a pope to the United States. Paul VI would visit and address the United Nations while he was in town.

5. Lyndon Johnson meets Paul VI, the Vatican, December 23, 1967. This was the first repeat encounter between a particular pope and president. Johnson's record will be matched by Nixon and shattered by the likes of Reagan and Clinton. Pope Paul will go on to meet two more presidents.

6. Richard Nixon meets Paul VI, the Vatican, March 2, 1969.

7. Richard Nixon meets Paul VI, the Vatican, September 29, 1970.

8. Gerald Ford meets Paul VI, the Vatican, June 3, 1975. President Ford was the fourth and final president met by Pope Paul. John Paul II would meet five.

9. Jimmy Carter meets John Paul II, the White House, October 6, 1979. Along with being the first of 15 meetings between Pope John Paul and a sitting president, this was the first time any pope came to the White House, an event that would go unrepeated until 2008.

10. Jimmy Carter meets John Paul II, the Vatican, June 21, 1980.

11. Ronald Reagan meets John Paul II, the Vatican, June 7, 1982.

12. Ronald Reagan meets John Paul II, Fairbanks, Alaska, May 2, 1984. Pope John Paul was stopping to refuel on his way to Seoul. President Reagan was on his way back from China. While quick and in passing, this meeting still allowed the two to speak about the pressing issues of the time. It also followed shortly after the U.S. and the Holy See formally opened diplomatic relations.

13. Ronald Reagan meets John Paul II, the Vatican, June 6, 1987.

14. Ronald Reagan meets John Paul II, Miama, September 10, 1987.

15. George Bush meets John Paul II, the Vatican, May 27, 1989.

16. George Bush meets John Paul II, the Vatican, November 8, 1991.

17. Bill Clinton meets John Paul II, Denver, August 12, 1993. Pope John Paul was in town for World Youth Day.

18. Bill Clinton meets John Paul II, the Vatican, June 2, 1994.

19. Bill Clinton meets John Paul II, Newark, October 4, 1995.

20. Bill Clinton meets John Paul II, St. Louis, January 26, 1999. President Clinton met with the pope more times on American soil than any other president. Of course, one could argue a traveler like JPII made it easy for him.

21. George W. Bush meets John Paul II, Castel Gandolfo, July 23, 2001. This is the first and only time a pope received a president at the papal summer residence in Italy.

22. George W. Bush meets John Paul II, the Vatican, May 28, 2002.

23. George W. Bush meets John Paul II, the Vatican, June 4, 2004. President Bush presented Pope John Paul with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

24. George W. Bush meets Benedict XVI, the Vatican, June 9, 2007. It's worth noting that President Bush, along with former Presidents Bush and Clinton, also attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April of 2005.

25. George W. Bush meets Benedict XVI, the White House, April 16 2008. President Bush also greeted Pope Benedict upon his arrival at Andrews Airforce Base. The White House reception also included a birthday celebration for the pope.

26. George W. Bush meets Benedict XVI, the Vatican, June 13, 2008. President Bush holds the distinction of being the only sitting U.S. president to meet two popes. He has also met with the pope the more times than any sitting president, six.

27. Barack Obama will meet Benedict XVI, the Vatican, July 10, 2009. Coming on the heels of the G8 Summit and the pope's new encyclical, one could expect global economic issues to be a topic of discussion. President Obama held a roundtable discussion with religion writers at the White House in anticipation of the meeting. Check Catholic News Service for updates as the meeting unfolds.

Hat tip to AP for the list of historic dates and places.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Groundbreaking Economic Encyclical on the Way

Since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum novarum (On capital and labor, the Church has seen a few blockbuster encyclicals. Pope Benedict XVI may be about to issue another one for the ages with the forthcoming Caritas in veritate (Charity in truth).

Rerum novarum addressed the condition of labor and the challenges of the Industrial Revolution’s widespread exploitation of workers. It resounded in the United States as it upheld the rights of employees to organize and rejected communism and unbridled capitalism. Later social encyclicals built on its foundation and addressed growing concerns of labor and international finance.

Pacem in terris (Peace on earth), Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical, and the first encyclical ever to address not just Catholics but to all of good will, stands as another remarkable statement. It addressed a major social problem of its time, the Cold War. It said that peace required respect for human rights. Coming just months after the Cuban missile crisis, it offered hope in the United States as it called for negotiation not conflict.

Pope Paul VI’s only social encyclical, Populorum progressio (Progress of peoples), in 1967, saw development as the path to peace. The world economy must serve many, not few, it said, and pointed out the inequities of the global trading system. It reiterated Catholic teaching on the right to a just wage, security in employment and unionization. The call for development as the way to peace was important for Americans ensnared in the Vietnam War.

Evangelium vitae (Gospel of life), Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, the fourth social encyclical of his papacy, spoke of the inviolability of human life. It proclaimed a vital message in a society marked by widespread abortion, growing euthanasia and a too free use of the death penalty. It touched concerns in the United States where medical advances to preserve life have been overshadowed by efforts to snuff it out.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate (Charity in truth) will address the ills of today. He may touch on the economy, ecology and personal and corporate ethics. Preparation on it began two years ago, and reportedly originally was planned to mark the 40th anniversary of Populorum progressio.

With world finances in shambles, society may be ready to reconsider the world’s economic structures. The reverberation of the U.S. mortgage worldwide surely highlights the need to address finances from a new, global perspective. That the world’s people form one community showed dramatically in the last year’s financial tsunami.

The fact that human beings are damaging creation makes ecology another likely topic. A strong social statement from the Vatican, which does not worry about curtailing a manufacturing empire or other business venture, can provide a basis for honest brokering for environmental concerns. The pope is a voice for the poor and can speak out for everyone’s rights to basic needs, including water, a staple becoming an endangered commodity in many areas of the world.

The pope as moral leader may address the greed heralded in headlines about crimes such as fraud by individuals (the well named Mr. Madoff comes to mind) or corporations (think Enron for starters). The fact that greed requires one to ignore, indeed, to exploit, one’s neighbor, underscores dramatically the violation of the simple principle for peace: love thy neighbor.

Today’s social ills, sins, and crimes give Pope Benedict plenty to work with. Economic, ecological and ethical troubles abound, big ones of international scale. It’s safe to predict the world is in for an overdue call to consider the ethical dimensions of economic life. Benedict is first a teacher and pastor. The words of the encyclical will likely be carefully nuanced, but his message will be clear. Divorcing economics and ethics is a path to moral and human disaster. No one will be 100 per cent happy with the encyclical, of course. People grumble when oxen are gored. This may be a boon, however, if it prompts citizens across the globe to think, act and change when they look to others’ needs as well as their own.

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