“Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” – a roundup of reactions

On Monday, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a statement on the global economic crisis: “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” [click link for full text]

Suffice to say, reactions were spirited (and in many cases, predictable), reflecting “a tired pattern”, to quote Zach (Civics Geeks)

Everyone once and a while there is a news story about “the Vatican”. “The Vatican” issues a document of some sort. The document says something about current affairs. Immediately there are two very predictable reactions, depending on whether the person is inclined to agree with the Church or not.

  1. “Look! The Church teaches that Catholics have to think like I think! My opinions have acquired divine authority. The world would be a better place, and the Church would be a better Church, if every Catholic just obeyed Church teaching like I do.”
  2. “I don’t have to obey the Church – I can think for myself. It’s fine if some old white men in Rome think that, but I don’t have to and I am still a good Catholic.”

These are, of course, caricatures, but I think they express two attitudes that are quite common. They are alike in that they are both dogmatic and reactionary.

What follows then are some mostly thoughtful responses — fodder for a discussion here at American Catholic).

  • “The Pope, Chaplain to OWS? Rubbish!” – George Weigel in a characteristic clarification from National Review‘s The Corner, on those who would imbue the document with too much authority:

    The truth of the matter is that “the Vatican” — whether that phrase is intended to mean the Pope, the Holy See, the Church’s teaching authority, or the Church’s central structures of governance — called for precisely nothing in this document. The document is a “Note” from a rather small office in the Roman Curia. The document’s specific recommendations do not necessarily reflect the settled views of the senior authorities of the Holy See; indeed, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the press spokesman for the Vatican, was noticeably circumspect in his comments on the document and its weight. As indeed he ought to have been. The document doesn’t speak for the Pope, it doesn’t speak for “the Vatican,” and it doesn’t speak for the Catholic Church.

  • Pope Benedict Calls For “Central World Bank” … Only He Didn’t. Here’s Why – Thomas Peters (American Papist) counters the spin of Fr. Tom Reese, who “seems perfectly happy to help the mainstream media fundamentally misunderstand the authority of teaching this document enjoys, [claiming] that the pope has “more in common with the people at occupy wallstreet” than the tea party.”
  • “while economists are learning from the Vatican, perhaps the Vatican might learn a few lessons from economic analysts” muses Phil Lawler (Catholic Culture): “If you want to promote Catholic social teaching, don’t wander beyond your expertise. Stick to moral principles, and leave economic analysis to the economists.”
  • Also weighing in from “The Corner”, Dr. Samuel Gregg with Catholics, Finance, and the Perils of Conventional Wisdom:

    Plenty of other critiques could — and no doubt will — be made of some of the economic claims advanced in this PCJP document. As if in anticipation of this criticism, the document states, “We should not be afraid to propose new ideas.” That is most certainly true. Unfortunately, many of its authors’ ideas reflect an uncritical assimilation of the views of many of the very same individuals and institutions that helped generate the world’s most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. For a church with a long tradition of thinking seriously about finance centuries before anyone had ever heard of John Maynard Keynes or Friedrich Hayek, we can surely do better.

    (Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and his 2012 forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future).

  • Mark Brumley, President and CEO of Ignatius Press, on “Going the way of World Government” (Catholic World Report):

    If the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is trying to make the Catholic Church sound as if she’s living in a fantasy world or trying to portray Catholic social teaching as completely irrelevant to real world problems, I’d say, “Mission accomplished.” If, on the other hand, the council wants people seriously to think about the problems of globalization, it’s going to have to demonstrate a much better grasp of political and economic practicalities, as well as the limits and dangers of international solutions. At the risk of sounding like an End of the World visionary, I suggest we should temper our enthusiasm for world-authority solutions by re-reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 675-677, and by consulting the Book of Revelation, chapter 13.

    By all means, let’s discuss global problems and possible solutions. Let’s recognize the dangers of nationalism and the imbalances that exist between rich and poor nations. Let’s not overlook the weakness of international capitalism or pretend the free market has all the solutions. Let’s have a good philosophical discussion about world government, and its long-term prospects, if the world endures for a few more centuries. But let’s remember that, historically speaking, those who have tried to act on their talk about a world political order have wound up being tyrants.

  • Jeffrey Tucker, editorial vice president of the Mises Institute, author of Sing Like a Catholic (2009) and Bourbon for Breakfast
    (2010), and (familiar to many readers) as a daily contributor to The New Liturgical Movement“Right Diagnosis, Deadly Cure”:

    … the document’s identification of loose credit with market liberty is the beginning of the end of the good sense here. From this point, we plunge straight away into a full endorsement of a world central bank, a world political authority, taxes on financial trading, and heavy regulations. The document doesn’t actually call for an end to the free market. On the contrary, it imagines that enlightened world planners will protect, guard, and even “create” what it calls “free and stable markets.”

    This is beyond naive. It seems to illustrate a near total absence of clear thinking. Centralization of money and credit caused this problem. Centralization of political authority caused this problem. Why would anyone imagine that more centralization is therefore the answer? This approach takes a terrible situation and makes it much worse.

  • Over at Commonweal, “unagidon” asks “do we need a Global Public Authority to fix the economy?” — and answers in the negative.
  • “The Vatican Renders Unto Caesar”, by Nicholas G. Hahn III (Real Clear Religion) 10/25/11:

    Any sane person can recognize that the notion of another global civil authority flies in the face of subsidiarity. Simply because the Council says subsidiarity should regulate the relationships of authority, doesn’t mean it actually will.

    In fact, global institutions do not often respect autonomy or individual freedom of their memberships. Perhaps even Pius XI, for all his griping against the “greed” of financial systems, might consider the creation of a new “supranational Institution” a “grave evil and disturbance of right order.”

    And so, a question that must be asked is: does Rome want a king?

    Dr. Robert Moynihan (editor, Inside the Vatican):

    The positive thing: this document, in keeping with all of the Church’s social teaching, wishes to defend honesty, transparency, truthfulness and justice in financial dealings over against dishonesty, opacity false representations and injustice.

    In this, the document is to be praised, and praised highly. We need honesty and truth-telling in a global economy that is seemingly careening toward a train wreck which will inevitably hurt the poor and weak most of all.

    The negative thing: the global economy, and especially the global derivatives market, is big, enormous, in fact, so big, so opaque, so complex, that literally no one knows what the situation really is, or what measures to take to undo the financial detonator that seems ready soon to go off.

    In this sense, the Vatican office’s policy recommendations are inevitably insufficient.

  • John Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter), counters the critics by calling attention to “a southern consensus”:

    Focusing on how much papal muscle the note can flex, however, risks ignoring what is at least an equally revealing question: Whatever you make of it, does the note seem to reflect important currents in Catholic social and political thought anywhere in the world?

    The answer is yes, and it happens to be where two-thirds of the Catholics on the planet today live: the southern hemisphere, also known as the developing world.

    It’s fitting that the Vatican official responsible for the document is an African, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, because it articulates key elements of what almost might be called a “southern consensus.” One way of sizing up the note’s significance, therefore, is as an indication that the demographic transition long under way in Catholicism, with the center of gravity shifting from north to south, is being felt in Rome.

  • Disputations reflects on lessons of the Tower of Babel in the concluding paragraphs of the document:

    … the story of Babel not only warns us that we are bound to lack concord if we don’t speak the same language, but — reading it in parallel with the story of Pentecost — that the concord upon which any global authority must be founded to thrive in virtue is nothing less than the peace of Jesus Christ.

    As a practical matter, the world is some way away from establishing that foundation. Whether Christians possess the peace of Jesus Christ in sufficient fullness to serve as the cement which, when mixed with the world’s crushed stone, can form a concrete of sufficient strength to bear the weight of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s proposals is, I suppose, open to question.

  • Notes on the Vatican Statement on Global Financial Reform – solid, section-by-section analysis by DarwinCatholic (American Catholic 10/26/11), revealing points that are congenial to both ends of the political spectrum (“There’s much in here that American conservatives and libertarians are not going to like, but there’s just as much that leftist Catholics (particularly populist ones) aren’t going to like either (if they read it.)”).

See additional responses from Rick Garnett @ Mirror of Justice (“many are (perhaps strategically and tactically) mis- and over-reading the Note in order to overstate the consonance between its vision and the current policies of the Democratic Party in the United States and its special-interest constituencies”); Michael Brendan Dougherty @ Business Insider (“WHOOPS! Vatican Lets Slip Plans For One World Government”); Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (What Does The Prayer Really Say?); Sean P. Daily of Gilbert magazine (“if there is one institution that could unite us, even if it unites [distributists and followers of the ‘Austrian’ school] only in opposition, it is the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace”); Robert Sirico of The Acton Institute (“the document embraces a sound economic theory concerning the cause of the world financial crisis: the breakdown of the postwar Bretton Woods monetary system and the unleashing of fiat currencies and central-bank printing presses”) — and, now blogging for The American Conservative, Rod Dreher hosts a vigorous discussion on his blog here; here; here and here.

* * *

In a rather telling action from the Vatican, “Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, has reportedly disowned the document, asserting that any new Vatican text will have to be authorized in advance:

ROME, November 10, 2011 – Precisely when the G20 summit in Cannes was coming to its weak and uncertain conclusion, on that same Friday, November 4 at the Vatican, a smaller summit convened in the secretariat of state was doing damage control on the latest of many moments of confusion in the Roman curia.

In the hot seat was the document on the global financial crisis released ten days earlier by the pontifical council for justice and peace. A document that had disturbed many, inside and outside of the Vatican.

The secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, complained that he had not known about it until the last moment. And precisely for this reason he had called that meeting in the secretariat of state.

The conclusion of the summit was that this binding order would be transmitted to all of the offices of the curia: from that point on, nothing in writing would be released unless it had been inspected and authorized by the secretariat of state.

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