TAG | Benedict XVI
Brendan O’Neill (atheist, former altar boy) looks at the pope’s resignation and is none too impressed:
Benedict is aware of the crisis of vocation in the modern world, the way in which he what he called the ‘relativist cultural context… adversely affects the formation of consistent and stable vocational figures’ – that is, how modern society’s cult of the narrow self eats away at old notions of sacrificing oneself to a greater cause. Indeed, a couple of years ago he got his cardinals to warn against the ‘transformation of the priesthood into a profession’ and to remind people that actually it is a ‘lifelong vocation’. Yet now he has sent out the message that even being pope is kind of a profession, something one can retire from when exhausted or ill or in need of some ‘me time’.
For my part, I wish Benedict a peaceful retirement, but there’s much that I won’t miss about this pope, including his “Nazi” smears, his corporatist blather about the wickedness of “unregulated financial capitalism” and his sanctimonious greenery.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini’s nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James’s Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James’s Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company’s true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican….
While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy’s wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.
The Guardian asked the Vatican’s representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.
Not necessarily the most shocking story in the world, but it comes with enough ironies to make it worth repeating, not least this (also from the Guardian, back in 2008):
It is a message sent from on high to the world’s financial and political elite. The Roman Catholic Church is calling for the effective closure of secretive tax havens as a ‘necessary first step’ to restore the global economy to health.
In a policy paper from the Holy See, Pope Benedict pins the blame for the international financial crisis largely on ‘offshore centres’, many of which, such as the Channel Islands, are British dependencies.
‘They have given support to imprudent economic and financial practices and have also played a significant role in the imbalances of development, allowing a gigantic flight of capital linked to tax evasion,’ says the report. ‘Offshore markets could also be linked to the recycling of profits from illegal activities.’
And they have proved pretty handy for the Vatican too.
Not, of course, that Benedict knew that. He had no idea. None at all.
It’s no great secret that the Vatican has never been particularly fond of the idea of free markets, but here is yet more nonsense from Benedict XVI to remind us of just that.
The BBC reports on the Pope’s New Year address:
The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica.
He deplored “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor”.
Those “hotbeds” also grew out of “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”, as well as “various forms of terrorism and crime”, he said.
I don’t know what is worse. The ignorance (if there’s one thing that the financial markets were not, it was unregulated; whether they were sensibly regulated is a different question), or the clear signs of a visceral loathing for “financial” capitalism and, of course, the Pope’s attempt to smear it with guilt by association with “various forms of terrorism and crime”.
The Wall Street Journal reports on the Pope’s visit to Cuba here.
One incident at the start of the papal visit left little doubt as to the state of political freedom in Cuba. Before an outdoor mass in Cuba’s second city of Santiago, an unidentified man yelled anti-government slogans before being bundled off by security agents.
Video of the incident showed him being escorted out from the crowd and accosted by an apparent first aid worker wearing a white T-shirt with a large red cross.
The Vatican confirmed the incident, but said it had no further information.
Cuban dissident groups expressed concern for the young man’s safety and urged the government to release him unharmed. “Until now, we’ve been unable to locate the whereabouts of this man who protested peacefully and was assaulted … and beat violently,” said a statement by Elizardo Sánchez, who leads a group that tracks detentions
I may be wrong, but I cannot see that sort of thing happening in the course of John Paul II’s visits to Communist Poland.
And then this:
On his way to Mexico last week, the pope bluntly criticized Cuba’s official orthodoxy, saying Marxism “no longer corresponds to reality.”
No longer? When did it ever?
But on the island itself, the pope’s message has focused heavily on spiritual matters, and his potential criticisms of Cuba’s regime have been oblique and open to interpretation.
Again, contrast the behavior of John Paul II when, as Pope, he returned on a number of occasions to a homeland still under Communist rule. The code that he used to criticize the regime was easy to translate and sometimes it wasn’t even (really)code.
See, for example, this description of the Pope’s words at a mass held at Solidarity’s Gdansk birthplace:
The highlight of the 1987 visit was John Paul’s homily during his “Mass for the working people” in Gdansk-Zaspa (the district of Gdansk where Lech Walesa lived). In this homily, delivered on “Solidarity’s” and Walesa’s home turf, John Paul II spoke openly to delirious applause: “There cannot be a struggle more powerful than solidarity. There cannot be an agenda for struggle above the agenda of solidarity”. (Note the characteristic ambiguity: solidarity or “Solidarity”? Is he speaking religion or politics? Is he talking about moral or political struggle?) After an interval of deafening applause, he added the most famous words of this visit, which also rank among the most famous of all his words: “That’s exactly what I want to talk about, so let the Pope speak, since he wants to speak about you, and in some sense for you”. In his visits to post-communist Poland in the 1990s, John Paul referred to these words several times as expressing one of his main missions during his earlier visits: to give voice to the silenced nation, to speak what they could not and to speak in their name to those who would not talk with them, as well as to the world at large
To be fair, the Roman Catholic Church was much more of a national symbol in Poland (even if we exclude the extraordinary impact on a captive nation of seeing one of their own being made Pope) than it is in Cuba today, and, to be no less fair, this current Pope may yet surprise his hosts in Havana.
Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that, when it comes to confronting a dictatorship, Ratzinger is more Glemp than Wojtyła.
HAVANA — Cuba released 70 members of the dissident Ladies in White group detained during the weekend but warned them not to attend activities related to next week’s visit of Pope Benedict, the group’s leader told Reuters on Monday.
The women, known in Spanish as the “Damas de Blanco,” were freed without charges after being arrested in three separate incidents on Saturday and Sunday when they attempted to march in Havana.
Leader Berta Soler, who was detained twice during the weekend, said in a phone interview she was released on Sunday night and given the warning about the pope, who will come to Cuba March 26-28 and give two public masses.
“They said we couldn’t participate in the masses when the pope comes, neither in Santiago nor in Havana,” Soler said.
“They are mistaken because who is going to prohibit us from being close to Christ, being close to God, to the pope who is represents Christ on earth?” she said.
The Pope should extend these heroines a very specific, very public, invitation to attend.
Soler has said her group would like to meet briefly with the pope to discuss human rights in Cuba but Roman Catholic Church authorities said last week a visit with dissidents was not on the schedule.
The EU’s hierarchy has long had a distinctly feeble (and sometimes worse than that) approach towards the Cuban dictatorship. Agreeing to meet Cuba’s dissidents (and welcoming them to those masses), will give Benedict XVI, a frequent critic of what he sees as the lack of moral foundations underpinning the EU, an ideal opportunity to show how his approach differs from that of the oligarchs of Brussels.
More important, it would be a massive signal of support to the people of Cuba, a nation that has lived under tyranny for far, far too long.
Via the Miami Herald, more on the Pope’s upcoming visit to Cuba:
Nearly 750 Cuban activists have signed a letter to Pope Benedict XVI warning that his planned visit to Cuba will “send a message to the oppressors that they can continue” to abuse Catholic opponents, dissidents reported Thursday.
“We would be very happy to receive you in our country, if the message of faith, love and hope that you could bring us also would serve to halt the repression against those who want to go to church,” the letter said.
It did not directly urge the pontiff to cancel his planned March 26-28 visit to Havana and Santiago de Cuba, but added, “May the Holy Trinity illuminate your mind so that you can make a correct decision.”
The letter was the latest word from those Cuban dissidents who are concerned that the pontiff’s visit will only legitimize Raúl Castro’s government and do little or nothing to improve human rights on the communist-ruled island…
Among the signers were some of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, such as Roque, Guillermo Fariñas, Sara Martha Fonseca, Vladimiro Roca, Jorge Luis “Antunez” García Pérez and his wife, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar. Other dissidents have cautiously welcomed the papal visit as a ray of hope for the Cuban people and the Catholic church. Not signing the letter were Catholic activists Oswaldo Payá and Dagoberto Valdés, Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, and dissident Oscar Elias Biscet. Roque said that she has been asking for an interview with the Vatican’s diplomatic envoy in Havana, Msgr. Bruno Musaro, for the past month to hand over the letter but has received no reply.
The letter argued that since abuses against Catholics only increased after the papal visit was announced, Benedict’s presence in Cuba “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”
It cited three cases in which government-organized mobs harassed or threatened dissidents who had gathered in churches, including one Feb. 19 in which the archbishop of Santiago de Cuba had to intervene to protect 14 Ladies in White surrounded at the Our Lady of Charity shrine in El Cobre.
“One should add that on top of all that, some of the faithful are visited by the political police between Friday and Saturday of each week, to be warned that they will not be allowed to attend mass — and indeed they are arrested on Sunday,” the letter added.
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady piles on:
Cuban dissidents had hoped the pope’s visit would help them expose the twisted jailors who run the island prison. So what are we to make of the fact that the pontiff will not be meeting with any of the island’s Christian human-rights advocates? These communicants have endured unspeakable acts of state terror to be witnesses to the faith. They have earned papal recognition. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe their dashed hopes….
Berta Soler—Mr. Moya’s wife and the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, who since 2003 have withstood beatings, arrests and harassment by the regime to attend Mass as a group and protest political imprisonments—has gone even further. She delivered, through the papal nuncio in Havana, a formal request from the Ladies to see the pope, “even for one minute.”
Numerous other Christians on the island have made similar requests…Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s office told the Ladies in White that the pope’s schedule is too tight…
…In case all this is not enough to destroy Cuban confidence in the pope as an ally, the government newspaper Granma said this in an editorial last week: “We are sure that His Holiness will affectionately treasure the memory of this Caribbean Island, which values his visit as a manifestation of trust and a renewed expression of the excellent and uninterrupted relations between the Holy See and Cuba.”
All Cubans know that the “revolution” persecuted the faithful. They were sent before firing squads or to the dungeons, Catholic schools and churches were shuttered, and the island was declared an atheist paradise.
But now Fidel is reminding Cubans that relations were never broken with Rome and he is claiming that all the while he has gotten on fabulously with the pope. Will Pope Benedict, who is by no means a Castro sympathizer, allow the regime to get away with this?
Not if he insists on meeting some of Cuba’s heroic dissidents. A few fine words on freedom are not enough. Not at this point.
Cuban authorities detained a prominent dissident and dozens of her colleagues early Sunday, then rounded up more activists while they staged a weekly protest march through Havana just days before a visit by Pope Benedict XVI. Police took away Bertha Soler and three dozen supporters of the Ladies in White dissident group hours before they were to take part in a regular march down Quinta Avenida in the leafy Miramar neighborhood of Havana.
“They were arrested,” said Angel Moya, Soler’s husband and a former political prisoner himself. Soler was also detained briefly Saturday evening, he said.
About 30 other Ladies supporters did make it to the march, which began peacefully, but state security agents moved in when the Ladies tried to extend the protest into streets they don’t normally enter. All were escorted onto a bus belonging to state security. By Sunday evening, many had been released and some driven back to their homes, though Soler was apparently still being held. The Ladies in White formed in 2003, shortly after authorities jailed 75 intellectuals, activists and social commentators in a notorious crackdown on dissent, sentencing them to long prison terms. All have since been freed, and many have gone into exile.
Cuba has cleared its jails of most political prisoners, but human rights groups say the government of President Raul Castro has stepped up short-term detentions and other forms of harassment against the island’s tiny opposition. Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners, and says the dissidents are nothing more than common criminals and mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble. It scoffs at criticism of its human rights record by the West, saying its Marxist system provides citizens with free health care and education, and many other subsidies, while capitalist countries are plagued by poverty.
“Cuba denies it holds any political prisoners.” The Big Lie is alive and well.
It is to be hoped that the Pope makes sure that he sees some of the extraordinarily brave Ladies in White. I’m pretty sure that his predecessor, John Paul II, would have insisted. And while the Pope is on the island, he might also have a word with Cuba’s Cardinal Ortega:
The detentions came just over a week before a March 26-28 visit by Benedict, who is likely to encourage the government to adopt increased religious, political and human rights during his tour, at least privately. It also comes days after Cuban Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega asked police to remove a group of 13 opposition members who had occupied a church in Central Havana for two days.
While the church won assurances that the group members would not be prosecuted, the church-sanctioned raid and its hardline stance throughout the standoff was derided by many dissidents, even those who had opposed the initial occupation.
While many praise Ortega for mediating the release of political prisoners in 2010 and occasionally speaking out in favor of greater economic and political freedom on this Communist-run island, others say he has not done enough. They say Thursday’s decision to call in police to remove dissidents from the Church of Charity demonstrates Ortega’s lack of sympathy. Sunday’s events will likely provide more fodder for those critics.
Elizardo Sanchez, who monitors human rights on the island and acts as a de facto spokesman for the opposition, expressed astonishment at the posture of Ortega, whom he has often praised in the past.
“I can’t get over my astonishment over what has happened in these last few days,” Sanchez told The Associated Press. “The cardinal is acting like the first two of the three wise monkeys,” who could neither see evil nor hear it.
Even as members of the Ladies in White were being detained, Ortega was performing Mass at the grand Cathedral in Old Havana. His sermon inside the baroque, stone edifice before several hundred worshippers did not mention the week’s drama, nor did he say anything about human rights in general.
These comments by the Pope seem to be intended as a friendly gesture towards agnostics, and so that’s how they should be taken. Nevertheless, he presumes a little too much:
In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: “There is no God”. They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.
Well, some may be, but, speaking solely for myself, I don’t spend much time thinking about such matters. These questions are unanswerable, so why worry?
What to have for lunch, on the other hand…
Well, here’s food for thought (and, I suspect, just a spot of controversy) from the Hoover Institution’s Richard Epstein:
The terrible economic news from both Europe and the United States has led to much soul-searching on both sides of the Atlantic. How did we get here, and how can we get out of this jam? In my past columns for Hoover’s Defining Ideas, I have insisted that both economies will be able to extricate themselves from their deep slumps only by promptly reversing those policies that have brought them to the brink. A successful and sustainable political order requires stable legal and economic policies that reward innovation, spur growth, and maximize the ability of rich and poor alike to enter into voluntary arrangements. Limited government, low rates of taxation, and strong property rights are the guiding principles.
Unfortunately, many spiritual and economic leaders are working overtime to push social policy in the exact opposite direction. At the top of the list are two prominent figures: Pope Benedict XVI and financier Warren Buffett.
One can only agree. The self-serving, sanctimonious drivel that has long been the stuff of Buffett’s preaching has come under fire around here before, but it’s certainly also worth spending some time looking at what the Pope has been saying. So that’s what Epstein does:
The Pope was on his way to recession-torn Spain—to lead the Roman Catholic Church’s weeklong celebration of World Youth Day—when he denounced those nameless persons who put “profits before people.” He told journalists, “The economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but by the common good. The economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation but needs an ethical reason in order to work for man.” Standing alone, these words mirror the refrains of countless Spanish socialists, whose relations with the Pope have soured in recent years. Their shared premises help explain why Spain finds itself in such a sorry state.
Denouncing those who put ‘profits before people’ may stir the masses, but it is a wickedly deformed foundation for social policy. Profits, like losses, do not exist in the abstract. Corporations, as such, do not experience gains or losses. Those gains and losses are passed on to real people, like shareholders, consumers, workers, and suppliers. It is possible to imagine a world without profits. Yet the disappearance of profits means that investors will be unable to realize a return on either their capital or labor. Structure a system that puts people before profits, and both capital and labor will dry up. The scarcity of private investment capital will force the public sector to first raise and allocate capital and labor, though it has no idea how these resources should be deployed to help the people, writ large. A set of ill-conceived public investments will not provide useful goods and services for consumers (who are, after all, people), nor will it provide sustainable wages for workers (who are also people). Poor investment decisions will lead to a massive constriction in social output that harms all people equally.
The proper response to these difficulties is to treat profits as an accurate measure of the cost of capital, rewarded to those individuals and firms who supply some desirable mix of goods, services, and jobs that people, acting individually and not collectively, want for themselves. The genius of Adam Smith, whose musings on the invisible hand are too often derided, was to realize that private markets (supported, to be sure, by suitable public infrastructure) will do better than a command and control system in satisfying the individual’s wants and needs. The Pope offers no serious answer to Smith’s point when he talks about “the ethical need to work for man” and the “common good.” In both of these cases, he treats a collection of diverse individuals as though they form part of some harmonious whole. “Man” in the Pope’s formulation is a grammatical singular but a social collective. The “common good” speaks of some aggregate benefit to a community that is not securely tethered to the successes and failures of the particular individuals within the collectivity.
As a technical matter, it becomes critical to have some reductionist argument that transforms statements about these groups into statements about the individuals who compose them. Ordinary business people understand this intuitively when they speak of win/win transactions. These are transactions that generate gains to all parties involved in the bargain.That common expression, “win/win,” is the distillation of sound economic theory, for the more win/win transactions a society can generate for its people, the greater its economic prosperity.
The great advantage of competition in markets is that it exhausts all gains from trade, which thus allows individuals to attain higher levels of welfare. These win/win propositions may not reach the perfect endpoint, but they will avoid the woes that are now consuming once prosperous economies. Understanding the win/win concept would have taken the Pope away from his false condemnation of markets. It might have led him to examine more closely Spain’s profligate policies, where high guaranteed public benefits and extensive workplace regulation have led to an unholy mix of soaring public debt and an unemployment rate of 20 percent. It is a tragic irony that papal economics mimic those of the Church’s socialist opponents. The Pope’s powerful but misdirected words will only complicate the task of meaningful fiscal and regulatory reform in Spain and the rest of Europe. False claims for social justice come at a very high price.
Amen (so to speak).
And what Epstein has to say about Buffett is well worth checking out too.
Ramesh, viewed in isolation, the Pope’s remarks can be seen as a reflection of the fairly traditional Roman Catholic corporatism that lies, I’d guess, at the base of his economic thinking. That’s a doctrine that is in many respects profoundly antagonistic to classical free -market liberalism, but coming from a pontiff, and, not only that, a pontiff who has spent most of his adult life in a country run on the “Rhineland” social market model, it’s far from a surprise.
The trouble is that you cannot view those remarks in isolation. The Spanish economy is in a mess, thanks primarily to the distortions introduced by the euro and, of course, deep structural problems of the type identified by Richard Epstein. Resolving those problems will be difficult. That’s why a good number of Spain’s indignados (if not — yet — the wider electorate) have found it far easier to scapegoat a wicked, if ill-defined “capitalism.” By saying what he did, where he did, and when he did, Benedict XVI, maybe inadvertently, maybe not, has risked giving that scapegoating a credibility in a constituency that it might not have otherwise reached. That’s a pity.
Via Vanity Fair, here’s a fine account from Christopher Hitchens of the—King James Version—greatest of all the English translations of the Bible.
As always with Mr. Hitchens, there’s room for a good anecdote:
After she was elected the first female governor of Texas, in 1924, and got herself promptly embroiled in an argument about whether Spanish should be used in Lone Star schools, it is possible that Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson did not say, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas.”
Those were the days.
And then there’s this:
Until the early middle years of the 16th century…torture and death was the attempt to print the Bible in English. It’s a long and stirring story, and its crux is the head-to-head battle between Sir Thomas More and William Tyndale…Their combat fully merits the term “fundamental.” Infuriating More, Tyndale whenever possible was loyal to the Protestant spirit by correctly translating the word ecclesia to mean “the congregation” as an autonomous body, rather than “the church” as a sacrosanct institution above human law. In English churches, state-selected priests would merely incant the liturgy. Upon hearing the words “Hoc” and “corpus” (in the “For this is my body” passage), newly literate and impatient artisans in the pews would mockingly whisper, “Hocus-pocus,” finding a tough slang term for the religious obfuscation at which they were beginning to chafe. The cold and righteous More, backed by his “Big Brother” the Pope and leading an inner party of spies and inquisitors, watched the Channel ports for smugglers risking everything to import sheets produced by Tyndale, who was forced to do his translating and printing from exile. The rack and the rope were not stinted with dissenters, and eventually Tyndale himself was tracked down, strangled, and publicly burned. (Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece historical novel, Wolf Hall, tells this exciting and gruesome story in such a way as to revise the shining image of “Saint” Thomas More, the “man for all seasons,” almost out of existence. High time, in my view. The martyrdoms he inflicted upon others were more cruel and irrational than the one he sought and found for himself.)
One can only agree, pausing only to note that, during the course of his recent visit to the UK, the current pope had the gall to lecture the English on the virtues of the bleakly proto-totalitarian More.