Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taking the Pope’s Thought Seriously
Posted By Russell Shaw On September 30, 2009
In Russell Shaw, The Edge

A thoughtful and not unsympathetic discussion of a papal encyclical in a secular, liberal political journal? After all, why not? David Nirenberg’s treatment of Pope Benedict XVI’s economic encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) in the September 23 New Republic is one of the best short commentaries on this papal document that I’ve read to date.

Nirenberg is a professor of history at the University of Chicago. His analysis is a temperate and thought-provoking look at the encyclical that merits consideration in its own right.

He begins by noting that although people on both the left and the right have been free in their criticism of the Pope’s document, “nobody is much interested in debating the crucial argument…the fundamental claim that economic exchange requires love.” Perhaps, he speculates, that’s because religious believers see “the economic relevance of God’s love” as “self-evident” while non-believers consider it “absurd.” In both cases, there is a tendency to dismiss the idea as a platitude.

Yet from Plato to Marx, Nirenberg points out, the competing claims of self-interest and forgetfulness of self to be the guiding principle of economic activity have been debated. Only in modern times, and preeminently in the West, has self-interest triumphed. “It is this victory that Benedict XVI is questioning,” he says.

Nor is Benedict the first pope to do that; the questioning extends back at least to Leo XIII and his classic social encyclical of 1890, Rerum Novarum, and can be found also in major teaching documents of pontiffs like Pius XI, Paul VI, and, most recently before Benedict, John Paul II, whom Nirenberg quotes at length.

The professor speaks respectfully of what he calls “the scope of Benedict’s ambition,” which, as set out in Caritas in Veritate, he describes this way: “His idea is that every act of exchange should approximate the gratuitous gift of divine love. Every coin should approximate a Eucharist.”

Nirenberg does not embrace this idea, but neither does he reject it out of hand. He holds that it should be taken seriously—far more so than it has to date—in order truly to grasp what Benedict’s encyclical fundamentally is saying.

But he does have a bone to pick with the Pope. It is that in Benedict’s estimation only Catholicism possesses intellectual and spiritual resources capable of sustaining an approach to economic life grounded in selflessness. According to Nirenberg, this is unacceptable religious exclusivism that creates an insuperable obstacle to persons of other faiths who otherwise might wish to draw upon the Pope’s thinking.

Whether this is or isn’t an accurate critique of Benedict can be left to another day. Nirenberg’s unexceptionable point is that religious teachings in these pluralistic times must be presented in “a way that seeks to transcend the boundaries of the traditions that produced them.” If “transcend” here means “reach out beyond,” his point is well taken. But if it instead means “put aside” or “abandon,” he is making an ecclesiological assertion that no self-respecting religious tradition could possibly accept.

At the very least, it seems to me, if persons of other faiths do not accept papal claims for the Catholic Church (and pretty clearly they do not, for otherwise they would become Catholics), it doesn’t follow that they are thereby prevented from drawing whatever they do find true and helpful from the thought of Benedict or any pope. In the present instance, Professor Nirenberg (whose religious affiliation I do not know) appears to have done that with success, and for that we owe him thanks.
German press: Atheist Czechs impressed by Pope Benedict XVI
30 September 2009 - Berlin,

Pope Benedict XVI has won great respect in the atheist Czech Republic, the German daily Die Welt wrote Tuesday commenting on the Pope's visit to the country on September 26-28.

Public Czech Television's (CT) cameras followed almost every move by Benedict XVI during his three-day visit to the Czech Republic, the daily says.

The Pope managed to raise enthusiasm among young people and he even won respect of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Die Welt wrote.

"Judging by the space provided by Czech Television to the coverage of Benedict XVI's visit it could seem that the Pope visited a bastion of Catholicism in the past three days," Die Welt says.
"The head of the Catholic Church did not take any step in public without being broadcast live by CT. This was accompanied by debates with experts who tried to explain the Pope's masses and speeches," the Prague correspondent of Die Welt wrote.

However, the Pope paid his pastoral visit to one of the most secular countries in the world, it adds.

The paper points out that the Pope used his visit mainly to remember the fall of communism 20 years ago.

The Pope called on Czechs to rediscover Christian traditions which had formed their culture on the background of the religious freedom they have achieved, the daily says.

However, Benedict XVI did not only point to regained freedom but he also raised the question of what freedom actually means and said the fight for freedom should be connected with the search for truth.

"Even such purely liberal politician as Klaus could not deny respect to the Pope and he even admitted that he shares certain values with Benedict XVI," Die Welt wrote.

On the fringes of the visit, representatives of the state and the Church even expressed mutually accommodating positions in practical questions, which "people around Benedict XVI registered with a great satisfaction," the daily wrote.

The server says the Pope's visit to the Czech Republic was also a visit to the past, back to his predecessor John Paul II.

"Because Prague was the first city of the former eastern block the Polish Pope visited after the fall of the Iron Curtain. For Benedict XVI it was an opportunity to again point to the Czech Republic's position at the crossroads of world history," the server says.

Czech News Agency

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

And A Word From Prague
Czech trip was low-key, but pope is 'very happy'
APSeptember 28, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a low-key pilgrimage to the fiercely secular Czech Republic on Monday, reaching out to nonbelievers and calling on an increasingly diverse Europe to embrace Christian teachings.

Throughout the three-day visit, the crowds were contained, and so was the pope's rhetoric.Although he often wades into contentious issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage, this time a conciliatory Benedict — apparently unwilling to antagonize already apathetic Czechs — made no direct mention of either.

But the Vatican pronounced the pontiff's 13th foreign trip a success. So did President Vaclav Klaus, a non-Catholic, who called it "extraordinarily successful."

Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the 82-year-old pope was "very happy" with the response in the ex-communist country, one of Europe's most secular nations.

While acknowledging there is little the Vatican can do to radically change the situation, Lombardi said the church must send a loud and clear appeal as a "minority" and get out its message of love and hope.

"The solution is to encourage," Lombardi told reporters.

Benedict visited less than two months before Czechs celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which peacefully toppled a communist regime that had persecuted Roman Catholics and confiscated church property.

On Monday, a national holiday honoring St. Wenceslas, the nation's martyred patron saint, the German-born pope held an open-air Mass in the town of Stara Boleslav, just northeast of Prague.

At least 40,000 faithful — some from nearby Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia — packed a meadow to hear the pope point to Wenceslas as a model for leaders and urge the world to follow the ethical principles of Christianity.

"The last century — as this land of yours can bear witness — saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights," Benedict said, speaking in Italian.

"Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power," the pope said.

Those who deny God and appear to lead a comfortable life are in reality "sad and unfulfilled" people, he added.

The pope called Wenceslas, murdered by his pagan brother in 935 A.D. at the gate to a church, "a model of holiness for all people."

"We ask ourselves: In our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? he said.

The Vatican said 40,000 people turned out; Czech organizers put the crowd estimate at 50,000.Some 30 people needed treatment during the Mass, mostly for dehydration and exhaustion, said Tereza Janeckova, a regional emergency services spokeswoman. Seven were hospitalized, including two who apparently suffered heart attacks.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, who served as secretary to Benedict's predecessor, the late John Paul II, urged Europeans to heed Benedict's message.

"It is a crucial moment for the future of Europe, and Benedict speaks like a prophet," he told Sky TG24 television. "Don't abandon the roots from which you grew, because a tree without roots dies. If Europe abandons these roots, the future is uncertain."

In a special message to young people, the pope urged them not to be seduced by consumerism.

"Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone," he said.

And in his farewell before returning to Rome, Benedict quoted the great Czech writer Franz Kafka — "anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old" — and encouraged people to see beauty in God's creation and truth.

On Sunday, an open-air Mass in Brno in the southern Czech Republic, the country's Catholic heartland, drew 120,000 pilgrims.

Overall, though, the pope got a tepid response: No posters or billboards promoted his visit, and local media coverage was thin.

That came as no surprise in this nation where polls suggest half the population of 10 million don't believe in God.

Even the nation's top churchman seemed stuck in a funk.

In an astonishingly public display of self-deprecation, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk made his confession to reporters, saying: "I have achieved almost nothing during my 20 years" as archbishop.

But Lukas Jasa, 21, who trekked more than 300 kilometers (200 miles) from the country's east to glimpse the pope Monday, said he felt it was important to buck the secular trend.

"It's important for us to show that we're not just an atheist nation — that there are believers here," he said.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pope warns of terrorists getting nuclear weapons
By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, in his annual "state of the world" address, on Monday called on nations to make a global commitment on security in order to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons.

Speaking to diplomats from 176 countries accredited to the Vatican, he deplored "continual attacks" on human life, saying new frontiers in bioethics called for a "moral use of science".

He issued fresh appeals for Middle East peace, decried bloodshed in Asia and Africa, and welcomed the United Nations’ recent resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty.

The Pope re-stated the Catholic Church’s opposition to homosexual marriage and bluntly called on politicians to defend the traditional family as the basic cell of society.

"I wish to urge the international community to make a global commitment on security," he said in the speech which is sometimes referred to as a "state of the world" address because it examines aspects of the international situation.

"A joint effort on the part of states to implement all the obligations undertaken and to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction would undoubtedly strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and make it more effective," he said.

The leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics has often made appeals for nuclear and conventional disarmament but has never been so explicit on the need for governments to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons.

The Pope said he welcomed North Korea’s agreement to join a nuclear dismantling programme and also called for "good faith" negotiations and diplomacy to resolve difference over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.


Iran says its first atomic power plant will start operating in mid-2008, despite U.N. sanctions aimed at making it stop nuclear activity over concerns that it secretly seeks atomic bombs, not nuclear-generated electricity -- as it maintains.

He welcomed the pledge made last November by Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Annapolis, Maryland to try to reach a peace deal by the end of 2008.

"I invite the international community to give strong support to these two peoples and to understand their respective sufferings and fears," he said.

The Pope dedicated one section of his speech to the defence of the dignity of the human person.
"I cannot but deplore once again the continual attacks perpetrated on every continent against human life," he said.

"I would like to recall, together with many men and women dedicated to research and science, that the new frontiers reached in bioethics do not require us to choose between science and morality: rather, they oblige us to a moral use of science," he said.

The Catholic Church is opposed to embryonic stem cell research if it includes destruction of an embryo but is studying recent research in the United States that has found potential ways to convert ordinary skin cells into stem cells.

Scientists hope stem cells can be used in regenerative medicine for treatment of injuries as well as diseases.

From Reutgers News Service

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pope Benedict will visit Britain next year following an invitation from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a British government source said.

The visit is expected to coincide with a beatification ceremony for Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
Church sources in Rome confirmed a visit was likely in the spring but there were no firm details for the moment.
It would be the first visit to Britain by a pontiff since Pope John Paul came in 1982. About five million Catholics live in England.
Newman, who converted to Catholicism in 1845, was a key figure in the Oxford Movement, which tried to move the Church of England closer to its Catholic origins.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A couple of things

Pope Benedict has denounced power-seeking bishops. But which ones did he have in mind?
Monday 14 September 2009 08.08 BST

It is not that often that a general publicly rebukes his brigade and battalion commanders. And it is equally rare for a pope to reprove his bishops.

But at a very high-profile service in St. Peter's on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI did just that. At the consecration of five new pastors, he said: "We know how things in society, and not infrequently in the Church too, suffer because of the fact that many of those to whom a responsibility has been entrusted, work for themselves and not the community – the common good."

In another passage of his sermon which, according to Corriere della Sera, Benedict spent an entire day finessing, he declared: "Let us not bind men to us; let us not seek power, prestige and esteem for ourselves."

In general terms, it is clear that this was a warning – and a pretty frank one by the standards of pontifical utterances – addressed to bishops. But which ones? The answer is not obvious.
Corriere thought his coded message was directed at his pastors in Italy. Earlier this month, an attack by the Berlusconi family newspaper on the editor of the bishop's daily Avvenire brought into the open a rift between the Vatican secretariat of state and the Italian bishops' conference over how to deal with Silvio Berlusconi and his scandalous private life. The Vatican is all for brushing the affair under the carpet so as not to upset a conservative leader who has it in his power to deliver the Church legislation in line with its beliefs. The bishops, by contrast, are under immense pressure from ordinary Italian worshippers to speak out in defence of traditional Catholic morality. The division is made worse by personal differences between some of the bishops and Benedict's secretary of state – the bluff, less than tactful Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Bertone has also run into pretty determined resistance in the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic church, and in the Secretariat of State itself. One reason for Saturday's ceremony, indeed, was to make up to bishop a couple of senior officials in Bertone's department who are being dispatched abroad as nuncios to give the cardinal a freer hand.
It was very much a Curial affair. So might the pope's message, then, have been that from now on we should all row in the same direction? Maybe.

But the much-respected Catholic author, Vittorio Messori, interviewed in La Stampa, had an entirely different idea: that the pope's rebuke was aimed, not at any church leader in Europe let alone the Vatican, but at bishops with sharp elbows and rather too high self-esteem in the developing world "above all [in] Africa and Latin America where the status of priest, and especially of bishop, is a dream for many poor, young local men who, for that reason, crowd into the seminaries."

So there is the puzzle. Answers, please, below in the space for comments – or on a postcard to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Palace, St Peter's Square ... etc.

Pope to renegades: Respect Judaism, other religions
September 14, 2009 ROME (JTA) -- Respect for Judaism and other religions is mandatory for readmission into the mainstream Catholic fold, Pope Benedict XVI will tell a renegade traditionalist Catholic group.

In a weekend interview with a newspaper in Passau, Germany, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said doctrinal talks between the Vatican and the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X would begin soon.

"The SSPX will be told very clearly what is not negotiable for the Holy See," Schoenborn said. "This includes such fundamental conclusions of the Second Vatican Council as its positions on Judaism, other non-Christian religions, other Christian churches and on religious freedom as a basic human right."

Led by its founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the SSPX broke with the Vatican over the reforms of the Vatican II conference, which among other things lifted anti-Jewish dogma and opened the way to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Lefebvre and his followers were excommunicated in 1988.

Pope Benedict wants to bring them back into the fold of the mainstream church. He sparked controversy in January by revoking the excommunication order against four SSPX bishops, including British-born Richard Williamson, who had made statements denying the extent of the Holocaust.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

News Briefs

Pope sees St. Augustine as bridge between Eastern, Western churches

In a message to an ecumenical conference taking place in Rome this week, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that the study of St. Augustine's works could be an important route to reunion between Eastern and Western Christianity. The Pontiff noted that St. Augustine is one of the most important intellectual founders of the European Christian tradition, but "the reception of his ideas in Orthodox theology has proved to be somewhat problematic." If Eastern theologians come to a better understanding of St. Augustine's work, he said, the result could be the discovery of "common doctrinal and spiritual ground which may help to build the City of God."

Source(s): this link will take you to other sites, in a new window.

St. Augustine in Eastern and Western tradition (VIS

Friday, September 04, 2009

Learning Eastern, Western spirituality aids Christian unity, says pope

By Catholic News ServiceVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A better understanding of Western and Eastern Christian spirituality and doctrine will aid in promoting Christian unity, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Common ground in Eastern and Western spirituality "is the valuable lifeblood for a broader relationship between Catholics and Orthodox," he said.

The pope's remarks came in a written message to Catholic and Orthodox participants in an inter-Christian symposium Sept. 3-5 in Rome. The message, addressed to Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was released by the Vatican Sept. 3.

The pope said the symposium's focus this year on St. Augustine in Eastern and Western traditions was important for learning more about Christian theology and spirituality in the West and East and how they developed.

While the fourth-century saint and theologian was of fundamental importance in influencing theology and culture in the West, "the reception of his thinking by orthodox theology turned out to be rather problematic," said the pope in his written message, which was read at the symposium's opening session.

He added that a better understanding of "the doctrinal and spiritual riches that make up the East and West's Christian heritage becomes indispensable not only for enhancing their importance, but also for promoting a better, reciprocal appreciation among all Christians."

The inter-Christian symposium was sponsored by the Franciscan Institute of Spirituality of Rome's Antonianum University and the department of theology at Aristotle University in Salonika, Greece. The symposiums, which began in 1992, are held alternatively in Italy and Greece.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

An imperfect man


“Tho’ much is taken much abides, and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
— Alfred Lord Tennyson (from Ulysses)

The passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy last week was the personification of the imperfection and redemption in all of us. None of us are perfect and must work assiduously to overcome our flaws. The challenge is to recognize those flaws in fact exist in us.

In his last weeks of life, Sen. Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI stating in that letter: “I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.”

Whatever you thought of Ted Kennedy, be it good or ill; his letter to Pope Benedict should cause some reflection upon one’s own life journey. Each of us surely has lived imperfect lives with mistakes and misjudgments.

Kennedy was the youngest of nine children and the youngest of four brothers who were exceedingly competitive. He saw two brothers killed by assassin’s bullets. He took on their children as his own responsibility. Kennedy’s imperfections were many; from abuse of alcohol to womanizing and of course the tragedy of Chappaquiddick. He endured a plethora of public scrutiny for all of his mistakes while enduring his own familial tragedies along the way, including the death of brothers, two children who suffered cancer and a third who dealt with substance abuse.

Often an imperfect man meets that less imperfect woman who nurtures and guides him along life’s path. Such was with Kennedy. He began to overcome personal challenges that have forever stained an outstanding legislative career. It is not our place to judge others lest we judge ourselves by taking a moral inventory of our own lives. (My Emphasis)

As Tennyson said, “much is taken, much abides.” Our lives are the sum total of what we have failed to do, failed to learn, our accomplishments and of course our treatment of one another. “What we are, we are.”

We cannot possibly change the events and actions of our past, but we can attempt to make amends for past deeds and straighten our paths. I do not pretend to pontificate or advise others what to do. I am speaking as one sinner among billions of sinners on the planet. I am also an imperfect human. We are all imperfect humans. Would we wish to be remembered only for our mistakes?

. . . . .Despise Kennedy for his mistakes and misjudgments if you will, but credit him — as do his adversaries across the political aisle — for his commitment to the causes of health care and education. Though Sen. Kennedy was made weak by time and fate, he was strong in will and strove, to seek, to find and not to yield. May we all have a strong faith to guide as Sen. Kennedy clung to his faith, and strive to serve the public in some fashion to make life better for others.

Tim McDonald can be reached at

Food for Thought

Cardinal defends presiding over Kennedy's funeral

BOSTON — The Archdiocese of Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley has defended his decision to preside over the funeral Mass for Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose support for abortion rights clashed with Catholic teachings.

O'Malley wrote on his blog Wednesday he strongly disagrees with his critics. He notes Kennedy had written to Pope Benedict XVI to acknowledge his failure to always be a faithful Catholic and ask for prayers as he faced brain cancer.

Kennedy died last week at age 77.

O'Malley says it was appropriate for him to represent the church at the funeral service out of respect for Kennedy, his family, those who attended the Mass and those who were praying for the senator.

He reminds critics Catholics are people of faith who "believe in a loving and forgiving God."

US bishops issue Labor Day statement, renew call for healthcare, immigration reform

Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued a Labor Day statement that reviews the teaching of Pope Benedict’s latest encyclical, celebrates an agreement between Catholic hospitals and unions, and renews calls for healthcare and immigration reform.

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict “revisits the traditional teachings of his predecessors on the value of the human person, the dignity of every human being, and the integral development of human society to promote human flourishing. His reflections reaffirm the teachings of Leo XIII on labor and Pius XI on subsidiarity. With John XXIII and John Paul II, he insists on the value of solidarity and focuses with a special emphasis on Paul VI’s passionate commitment to the Third World and the development of peoples.”

“In the new encyclical, the Holy Father affirms and extends traditional Catholic teaching on the centrality of work to the whole human experience,” Bishop Murphy continues.

Decent work, according to the encyclical, “means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for children, without the children themselves being forced into labor; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for re-discovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.”(#63)

Bishop Murphy then recalled an agreement among four parties-- the Catholic Health Association, the AFL/CIO, the Service Employees International Union, and the USCCB-- that “offers guidance and options on how workers can make a free decision about whether or not they want to be represented by a union.” He concluded by calling for healthcare and immigration reform:

I urge you to join the bishops in advocating for health care reform that is truly universal and protects human life at every stage of development. We must remain resolute in urging the federal government to continue its essential and longstanding prohibitions on abortion funding and abortion mandates. Our government and laws must also retain explicit protection for the freedom of conscience of health care workers and health care institutions …

As a nation we have to be concerned about the integrity and safety of our borders. But that cannot overwhelm issues of respect for the dignity of immigrants who come to our country for so many varying political and economic reasons. We are a nation of laws. We as a people respect the laws of our country and state and local municipality. New peoples also are expected to do the same as good citizens or as good people desirous of becoming citizens. Most immigrants work hard, pay taxes, contribute to social security, and are valuable members of our society. Yet too often these same immigrants, including legal immigrants, are denied access to health care services. This should not happen in a society that respects the rights and dignity of every person.