Not Anonymous

This week in Rome, the Austrian bishops were in town, and that may have been the “main event” of the week (see why below). But all eyes are now turning toward the important social encyclical which will be released in a few days… Meanwhile, the ordinary life of the Church continues…

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

In Rome this Friday evening, hundreds of priests and nuns are just leaving St. Peter’s Basilica after attending Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s not a procession — they are all just going home from Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

The faith is not anonymous in Rome.

Fifty young men, clothed in black soutanes, Legionaries of Christ, with wide cloth belts and bright white collars, stride purposefully by.

Then follow two nuns dressed entirely in white… They seem to punctuate the procession of Legionaries, as if an impressionist painter had chosen to insert them into the crowd.

And now, a group of Franciscans, dressed in brown. They are a bit simpler, and slower.

Here are two seminarians, one an American, tall, thin, and next to him, a seminarian from Japan, short, stocky. Both are talking and smiling.

Now a group of nuns from the Philippines, their grey gowns simple and unpretentious.

What do they all have in common? That they all seem happy? Perhaps…

But what they really have in common is their faith…

Concerning the upcoming encyclical

John Thavis, the Vatican reporter for the Catholic News Service of the US bishops conference, has just written an interesting column about how the media reacts to the Pope.

At the end of the column, he has this to say about the Pope’s thinking on the global economy:

“The Pope has repeatedly said the solution to the current global economic crisis will require lifestyle changes and ‘strategic choices that are sometimes not easy to accept.’ Given his previous remarks, some expect the encyclical to challenge not only the obvious excesses and abuses of modern capitalism, but its philosophical underpinnings as well.” (Find the whole story here: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0902813.htm)

I was told today that one of the Pope’s advisors on the upcoming encyclical is Father Mario Toso (photo), a professor of Social Philosophy at the Pontifical Salesian University, and from 2003 to 2007 the Rector Magnificus of the university. This role has not been officially confirmed, but it makes sense: Toso is one of the leading social philosophers in Italy, and he is a Salesian, a member of the order of Don Bosco… and the Salesians are now in the ascendant in Rome, with the leading Salesian in the Curia being the highest official after the Pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State.

Father Toso has studied the political personalism of Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier, and researched the democratic populism of the great Italian priest, Fr. Luigi Sturzo.

Toso is among the few Catholic thinkers who in his studies has reflected on the nature of the welfare state. He has proposed a new social consensus based on the common search for the genuine good of mankind. As a Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, he has taken part in studies on non-violence and problems of land distribution.

In his book Verso Quale Societa? (Toward What Kind of Society?), published in 2000 (photo left) he raises the question: “Has the social doctrine of the Church baptized capitalism?” (p. 319).

“The collapse of the collectivist states seems to have left an open field to a single economic system, the capitalist system, that seems to have no limits, extended throughout the planet. But connected to global capitalism, we are seeing a corresponding development, an ethical-cultural lifestyle that believes in the utopia of an exploitation without limits,” he writes.

Toso then cites… George Soros, the Hungarian-born American Jewish financier and speculator who made much of his fortune by speculating against the British pound.

Toso writes that Soros, despite being a leading practitioner and supporter of capitalism, has warned against dangerous excesses.

“Capitalism needs democracy as a counter-weight,” Soros writes, in the passage cited by Toso. “Because in and of itself, the capitalist system has no tendency toward equilibrium. The owners of capital, left to themselves, seek to increase their profits to the maximum: left to themselves, they would continue to accumulate capital, and the situation would become unbalanced.”

Then Toso writes: “The position of the Popes has never been one of demonizing capitalism. But they have always condemned its excesses.”

Toso then writes that Church under John Paul II (1978-2005), reacting to concerns expressed by economists like Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992) and Michael Novak about Pope Paul VI’s reservations regarding capitalism in his encyclical Popolorum Progressio (1967), “returned to this subject” in the encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991).

Then, summarizing, he says that the Church recognized, and recognizes, in her social teaching, the value of private property, personal initiative, and the free market, but nevertheless does not “baptize” the currently existing and dominant system of economic liberalism.

Interestingly, while researching Toso’s thinking, I also came across a little book by Cardinal Bertone, entitled L’Etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa (“The Ethic of the Common Good in the Social Doctrine of the Church”) published in 2008 by the Vatican Press.

I was rather surprised to see that this little work (see the photo above) is published in a bi-lingual format, in Italian and… in Russian!

And, that the introduction to the work is written by… then-Metropolitan Kirill, who is now the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Here is a sentence from Kirill’s introduction to Bertone’s work on the Church’s social teaching, which will be promulgated authoritatively in a few days in the Pope’s new encyclical: “Speaking of the Orthodox concept of the common good, it must be noted that it is not only a matter of material well-being, not only a matter of the peace and harmony of earthly life, but above all, and first of all, of the aspiration of man and of human society for eternal life, which is the highest good for every Christian.”

I will try to explore these matters further in an upcoming email, and in the next issue of the magazine.

For now, it is enough to say that this upcoming papal encyclical may express a vision of economic and social justice, in the perspective of the human person and his eternal dignity, which can respond to the great needs and longings of both Christians and non-Christians in our troubled time.

Pope meets leaders of Austrian Church to discuss current problems

“Two whole days!” a German friend told me last evening. “Two whole days the Pope spent with the Austrian bishops this week! He stopped everything and focused only on that! Frankly, I can tell you, he read them the riot act on priestly celibacy, which is much-questioned in Austria. But that he took this amount of time is is unheard of!”

What was my friend referring to?

Pope Benedict XVI and a number of other top Vatican officials met on Monday and Tuesday this week, June 15 and 16, with four representatives of the Austrian bishops’ conference to discuss recent problems in the life of the Church in Austria.

Bishop Ludwig Schwarz of Linz was part of the Austrian delegation at the meeting. An uproar greeted Pope Benedict’s decision in February to name the rather conservative Msgr. Gerhard Wagner to be auxiliary bishop for the Linz diocese. (Wagner had made comments implying that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a punishment from God for “the spiritual pollution” and “amoral conditions” plaguing New Orleans.) By early March, Wagner had asked the Pope to dispense him from accepting the nomination, citing the “fierce criticism” it had provoked. The Pope agreed.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, told Vatican Radio on June 17 that there is no secret that the controversial bishop’s nomination revealed “great tensions” in the Austrian Church.

Obligatory celibacy for Latin-rite priests has been questioned publicly and repeatedly in Austria. Cardinal Schonborn said he gave Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, a copy of a letter from a group of influential lay Catholics suggesting that the celibacy requirement be dropped because of a shortage of priests.

Cardinal Schonborn told Vatican Radio, “Despite the fact that I do not agree with some of the initiative’s conclusions, frankly I believe that it is important that people in Rome know what some of our laypeople are thinking.”

The cardinal said Pope Benedict has been “very impressive” in explaining how the continued requirement of celibacy for priests in the Latin-rite “ultimately is a question of whether we believe that it is possible for a man to give his life entirely to God” in serving the Church and his brothers and sisters.

The Vatican statement after the meeting said Pope Benedict, who was present both mornings, “recalled the urgency of deepening the faith” and helping people understand the real teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Schonborn told Vatican Radio, “For us it was a very touching experience to see the Holy Father, who really has so much to do with the worldwide Church, take so much time to listen to our concerns.”

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