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Feb/15

1

Jumping on the Popemobile

pope-obamaCross-posted on the Corner

It’s only fair to wait and see what Pope Francis has to say about the environment and climate change in his forthcoming encyclical, although, on the basis of a number of his comments on the topic so far, I don’t see any particular grounds for optimism.

The Obama administration, however, clearly sees an opportunity.

The Guardian reports:

America’s top environmental official has assured the Vatican that the pope and Barack Obama are singing from the same hymnal when it comes to fighting climate change.

In a visit to the Vatican, Gina McCarthy, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conveyed a message to the pope that Obama shared his view that fighting climate change was a moral obligation.

“I want him to know that the president is aligned with him on these issues and that we are taking action in the United States,” McCarthy told the National Catholic Reporter ahead of the meeting.

She went so far as to suggest that Obama was “working with the pope” when it came to climate change.

That alliance, between Obama and the pope, followed from the view that leaders have a moral duty to preserve the earth and protect those most at risk from the consequences of climate change, McCarthy said.

“I think the most important thing that we can do, working with the pope, is to try to remind ourselves that this is really about protecting natural resources that human beings rely on, and that those folks that are most vulnerable – that the church has always been focused on, those in poverty and low income – are the first that are going to be hit and impacted by a changing climate,” she said.

EPA officials said McCarthy used the meeting to applaud the pope’s efforts to fight climate change, and to brief the Vatican on Obama’s plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

It’s worth noting that it is the administration that is saying that it is working with the pope, rather than the other way around (it doesn’t appear to be a Cuba re-run). Nevertheless the administration is clearly making an effort to capitalize on Francis’s popularity. That’s good politics.

Whether the result will be good policy is an entirely different question.

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Jan/15

1

The Vatican and Cuba: Some More Background

Benedict XVI & Raul CastroCross-posted on the Corner:

With the latest crackdown in Cuba showing just how Havana has ‘read’ Obama’s policy shift towards the Castro dictatorship, this new Foreign Affairs article by Victor Gaetan giving some background to the Vatican’s involvement in the deal that was eventually struck makes timely reading.

Here’s an extract (my emphasis added):

In Cuba, in other words, the church is still strong. Havana’s Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino has followed a strategy of reconciliation on the island, avoiding confrontation with the state while winning more independence to carry out the Church’s religious mission. Under Ortega’s 35-year leadership, the Catholic Church, to which about 60 percent of all Cubans belong, has emerged as the only national institution that functions independent of the state.

Still, Ortega was never popular with regime opponents because of his determination to avoid confrontation. While Benedict was in Cuba, Ortega refused to arrange a meeting between the Pope and opposition leaders. Instead, devout Catholic opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Paya found Cuban security surrounding his house to prevent him from attending Benedict’s public Mass. Five months later, Paya was killed in a car accident suspected of being engineered by state agents. No investigation has ever been completed. Although Ortega presided over Paya’s funeral, his family says the cardinal did nothing to protect or promote the democracy movement Paya fostered. Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo, the regime opponent’s daughter, wrote an eloquent critique of the U.S.–Cuba deal in The Washington Post. Many other dissidents are similarly disappointed with the news.

But Ortega likely isn’t losing sleep about this criticism. He has a different vision of Cuba’s future: A few days after Francis was elected, the Havana Archdiocese published a document containing 23 proposals produced by a group, Laboratorio Casa Cuba, comprised of “professors and researchers of diverse ideologies (Catholics, critical Marxists, republican–socialists, and anarchists).” It’s a Christian social–democratic program, with an anti-American cherry on top.

And that seems sort of fine with Pope Francis. Fancy that!

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Dec/14

28

Coming to a Pulpit Near You?

Pope against frackingCross-posted on the Corner

The Guardian, excited:

[C]an Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it…”

We will, of course (!), have to see what the encyclical actually contains, but talk of “the god of money” already suggests that both reason and reality may struggle to make themselves heard.

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Dec/14

11

Feeding the Seven Billion

collectivizationLate last month there was a conference in Rome organized by the UN food agency (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

One of the attendees was the pope.
The Daily Mail reports:

The 77-year old said the world had ‘paid too little heed to those who are hungry.’
While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, 805 million people were still affected in 2014.

‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular,’ Francis said.

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall explains (again):

[J]just to lay it out in very simple terms in one place. Regarding that first point, about profit. Profit is the incentive for people to do things. If people don’t profit from their actions then they won’t do them. Of course, we can take a wide view of what “profit” is: we could, for example, say that the warm feeling a farmer gets from watching a starving child eating the food he has grown is a profit. And it would be as well. But as we’ve found out over the past century or so (looking at those various attempts at the collectivisation of agriculture is really most instructive) that that good feeling of having produced what others need is not actually enough. Any and every society that has relied upon such public feelings has had extensive malnutrition if not out and out famine.

So, we want the producers of food to profit from their having produced it. Otherwise we just don’t get enough food.

Then on to speculation and financial speculation. These move the prices of things through time. This is also highly desirable (as Adam Smith pointed out 238 years ago) as by moving prices through time we also move supplies of food through time (see the linked pieces for this in more detail). We move food from, as Smith said, a time of plenty to a time of dearth: thus reducing malnutrition and starvation. And yes, again, the incentive for people to do this highly desirable thing is to make a profit.

So we actually want both profit and speculation in food. For the end results are desirable. We get both the production of food in the first place and the movement of it, in both geographic and temporal, terms, to where it is needed….

That’s not (of course) to deny that there are people who are malnourished, but, as Worstall explains:

[E]conomist, Amartya Sen… has pointed out that, for the past century at least, starvation and famine have not been caused by an absence of food. They’re no longer supply side phenomena and they’ll not be solved by looking at that supply side.

No, instead, famine now is an absence of purchasing power among those who simply cannot buy the food that is available. This is such a well-known matter that even George Bush, when President, tried to get the rules about US famine relief changed (Obama is trying again now, too, according to reports). Instead of shipping US grain to starving people ship US money to starving people so they can buy the food that is already there. Or if not exactly there, then nearby. And we can rely upon the existence of that effective demand to incentivise people through that profit motive, through speculation, to ship the food from where it is to where the hungry people are.

That is, modern hunger is a demand side phenomenon and will be solved by demand side measures. Like, as above, giving poor people money to buy food with.

This is what actually works, this is how most NGOs now see hunger, many governments too. The problem is not that there’s no food for the poor to buy. It’s that the poor have no money to buy food. The answer is thus not to fiddle around with the supply side, that’s working just fine. For there are supplies of food available. What’s going wrong is the demand side so that’s where the solution must lie. We must turn actual demand (empty bellies) into effective demand (people with empty bellies with money to buy the food that exists)…

What the pope is suggesting is (essentially) to mess with the supply side, something that could very easily make matters worse.

And yet that’s what he suggests.

And he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that the free market has made to reducing malnourishment on a planet where the population has now swollen to seven billion.

It’s almost as if the pope is putting ideology (in this case his distaste for the free market) before the facts, facts he must know. It’s almost as if his ideology matters more to him than truly helping the hungry.

Those would, shall we say, be very revealing priorities.

·

NYC, Sept 2014 (AS)Independent Catholic News:

The Holy See has called for “an authentic cultural change” to combat climate change which is man-made and therefore man’s responsibility. That was the focus of an address delivered last night to the UN Climate Change Summit in New York by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

And, of course, there’s this:

For its part, Vatican City State, though small, is undertaking significant efforts to reduce its consummation of fossil fuels, through diversification and energy efficiency projects. However, as the Holy See’s delegation at the COP-19 in Warsaw indicated, “talking about emission reductions is useless if we are not ready to change our lifestyle and the current dominant models of consumption and production”

.The appeal of hair shirt and collectivist dream has not, it seems, gone away.

Of course, to the extent that there is AGW, it is not entirely unconnected with the fact that there are now some seven billion of us on the planet. I would not, of course, expect the Vatican to alter its opposition to contraception, but those who read its sermons on climate change should remember that this is one “change” that it is not prepared to countenance. That’s up to the church, of course, but it would be nice if it acknowledged that this stance comes with an environmental cost.

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Sep/14

21

Red Priests Then and Now

MunzenThe Prague Post:

Prague, Sept. 15 (ČTK) — Rostislav Kotrč, a priest of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, will run for the Communists (KSČM) in the local elections in the autumn, daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
Kotrč, 40, at first wanted to join the KSČM, but now he only runs as an independent for the party as No. 2 on its list of candidates, MfD writes. Kotrč has been working in the Hussite church since 1999 and is the general vicar of the Christian Police Association.

“He wanted to join our party, but we agreed that it would be more sensible, also due to his relationship to the church, to only stay as a sympathizer,” a local Communist from the Hradec Králové eegion, east Bohemia, where he runs, told the paper.

Kotrč said he could not see any problem with him being both a priest and a candidate representing the Communists, MfD writes. “I know this is incomprehensible to many people,” he is quoted as saying.

“I think this is due to the constant media propaganda and bad understanding of the historical and theological context,” Kotrč said.

“My orientation is leftist and social. When looking into the Bible, and Acts of the Apostles in particular, which describe the origins of Christianity, one can read that people shared their property according to their needs,” he added.

“This is the basic principle of communism. Unfortunately, God was lost from the philosophy, which caused its deformation,” Kotrč said….

Sure, that was it.

For some reason Thomas Müntzer comes to mind.

Wikipedia will do:

Thomas Müntzer (ca. 1489 – 27 May 1525) was an early Reformation-era German theologian, who became a rebel leader during the Peasants’ War. He thought that the questioning of authority promoted by the Lutheran Reformation should be applied to the economic sphere….

Müntzer spent late 1524 in Nuremberg, but in mid-February 1525 was able to return to Mühlhausen. The following month, the citizenry voted out the old council and a new “Eternal League of God” was formed, composed of a cross-section of the male population and some former councillors. Müntzer and Pfeiffer succeeded in taking over the Mühlhausen town council and set up a communistic experiment in its place. Müntzer wrote to the citizens of Allstedt calling them to “join the uprising”: “Be there only three of you, but if you put your hope in the name of God—fear not a hundred thousand…. Forward, forward, forward! It is high time. Let not kind words of these Esaus arouse you to mercy. Look not upon the sufferings of the godless! They will entreat you touchingly, begging you like children. Let not mercy seize your soul, as God commanded to Moses; He has revealed to us the same…. Forward, forward, while the iron is hot. Let your swords be ever warm with blood!”

God certainly seems “present” in his philosophy. Communism is communism, with God or without.

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Aug/14

17

The Pope and the Sandinista

castron-n-desctoFox News from 2009:

UNITED NATIONS – The outspoken U.N. General Assembly president on Tuesday accused the United States of demonizing Iran’s president and criticized the International Criminal Court for issuing an arrest warrant for Sudan’s leader on war crimes charges in Darfur.

Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann… also reiterated that the more he thinks about the conditions that Israel imposes on the Palestinians, the more he tends “to think about apartheid.”

During a wide-ranging press conference, d’Escoto insisted he wasn’t being divisive or promoting his own agenda — but was just fulfilling his duty as president of the 192-member General Assembly to uphold the U.N. Charter and promote peace and nonviolence. Briefing reporters on his recent three-week trip that included a stop in Tehran, d’Escoto said he was struck by the great support and respect for Iran from its neighbors at a summit meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization — a regional body founded in 1985 by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan — especially for helping “to alleviate the plight” of Afghan refugees in Iran.

“That was a very wonderful experience to see that, in contrast to the attitude that we find, sadly, here where we are,” d’Escoto said.

“I don’t think anyone can doubt that in our part of the world … (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad has been demonized…”

The Huffington Post:

D’Escoto served as the Republic of Nicaragua’s Minister for Foreign Affairs for more than a decade and currently acts as Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is still a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)…

America magazine(with an extract from a 1985 interview with D’Escoto):

Nicaragua will always have freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. Nicaragua is truly committed, not hypocritically committed, like Mr. Reagan, to democracy. We fought to overthrow a regime that was sponsored by the United States, because we could never have democracy under that regime. We are building our democracy. But even the most important of all human rights, which is the right to life, can have exceptions. Catholic morality accepts the principle that one can kill in self-defense, and talks about “just war.” The U.S. Government throws its arms up to the skies in horror because of the limitation of rights in Nicaragua. But this is done precisely to defend our most basic right, which is to sovereignty and the life of our people. We will not allow the use of liberties that never existed in Nicaragua before, but that now exist because of the revolution, to reverse the revolutionary process-in the way, for example, that freedom of the press in Chile was used in EI Mercurio to do in President Allende…

From the press kit issued at the time of D’Escoto’s presidency of the UN’s General Assembly:

Father d’Escoto is the recipient of numerous awards, such as: the Order of Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo (2007), the highest honour awarded by the Catholic University Redemptoris Mater (UNICA), for his work for peace; the Thomas Merton Award (1987), for his commitment to world peace; the Order of Carlos Fonseca Amador (1986), the FSLN’s highest honour, for his contributions to international law; the International Lenin Peace Prize (1985/86) awarded by the Soviet Union…..

Father D’Escoto?

Ah yes.

BBC:

The Vatican says Pope Francis has reinstated a Nicaraguan priest who was suspended thirty years ago for taking up office in Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government. Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann had been banned from celebrating mass by Pope John Paul II for defying a church ban on priests holding government jobs.

Fr D’Escoto served as Nicaragua’s foreign minister from 1979-1990. He welcomed the news and said his punishment had been unfair. Fr D’Escoto, 81, had written to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to celebrate mass before he dies.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that the Pope had agreed to the request and asked Fr D’Escoto’s superior in the missionary Maryknoll order to help reintroduce him into the priestly ministry….

Draw your own conclusions

· · ·

Green churchFrom Climate Progress:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speaking to three administrators for the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, David Kepley, an elder and deacon at the Providence Presbyterian Church, quoted Leviticus.

“God said ‘the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants,’” he said. “‘Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.’”

To be wasteful of the land’s bounty … is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God.

The verses, Kepley said, allude to several themes. For one, God has encouraged us not just to draw sustenance from the land, but to replenish it — to act as stewards of Creation. For another, the verses compare humans to “renters” in God’s house, meaning we can’t just trash God’s house with unmitigated pollution.

“To me this means that to be wasteful of the land’s bounty or to despoil it with substances that are harmful to people or other life forms is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God,” Kepley said. “In my view, the EPA has identified one of those areas where we humans have ignored our role as good stewards of the Creation.”

Kepley was just one of at least 28 religious leaders who urged the EPA at two D.C. hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday not to weaken — and at times to strengthen — its proposed regulations on carbon emissions from coal plants. The proposed rule represents the Obama Administration’s most ambitious move yet to combat one of the main drivers behind climate change.

…On Tuesday and Wednesday, leaders from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist congregations spoke out in strong support of the rule, with most speakers calling it a moral obligation to God. Leaders from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Baha’i groups also testified in support of the rule.

Arguing for such rules on a scientific basis is fine, but this, well….

Taxpayers will, of course, have funded this set of sermons ‘hearing’: Quite why escapes me.

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Jul/14

27

The ‘Return’ of the Religious Left?

Pope FrancisWriting in Salon, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig;

If the Reason-Rupe and PRRI reports are right, millennials just might be opting out of the partisan approach to politics altogether, which means the partisan leash on religious constituencies might just be fraying. This makes coalitions like the faith and family left — which has commitments all across the political spectrum, founded in faith rather than political expediency — seem a lot more viable in the long run. In short, the weaker the partisan system becomes, the more nuanced the religious story about politics can become. And this means prime time for the Christian left to re-enter the political stage.

The idea that the Christian left ever left the political stage is ludicrous. What it destested, however, was sharing that stage with the religious right.It says quite a bit about Ms Bruenig–and how far her notions of intellectual diversity stretch–that she appears to equate being made to share a stage with having no presence on it.

Anyway, back to the celebration, complete with the inevitable praise for the (more or less) Peronist in the Vatican:

And what a smashing re-entry we’re set for, with figures like Pope Francis casually backhanding capitalism and corporate greed in graceful continuity with his praise of family life, solidarity and a culture of life. At this very moment, different factions of the religious left are duking it out over Obama’s proposed executive order banning discrimination against LGBT workers on behalf of federal contractors, and though the diversity of the religious left might concern some, the big picture is that the religious left is a growing force for political influence. As time passes and the mantle of political participation passes from prior partisan generations down to millennials, we might see that influence continue to grow, re-invigorating some of the finest features of the Christian tradition: to resist categorization, pull hard for the oppressed and downtrodden and insist upon hope while coping with the realities of power.

Oh joy.

Jul/14

1

Longer Spoon Needed

FrancisReuters:

Pope Francis, whose criticisms of unbridled capitalism have prompted some to label him a Marxist, said in an interview published on Sunday that communists had stolen the flag of Christianity. The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday. He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticised capitalism and called for radical economic reform.

“I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel,” he said, citing Biblical passages about the need to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

“Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.

The Raw Story (reporting on the same interview):

Pope Francis has accused communism of stealing its ideas from Christianity, and said its founding thinker Karl Marx “did not invent anything.”

Commenting on suggestions in the media that his world view is not dissimilar to communist ideology, the pope responded that it was the church that got there first.

Let’s just say that’s a rather benign interpretation of what communism actually is. Nevertheless, as The Raw Story goes on to note, the pope has in the past rejected the idea that he is a Marxist. That’s fair enough. To start with, although communism has many of the characteristics of a millennialist religion, there is that whole ‘no God’ thing.

The pope’s critique of capitalism, if not the demagogic language in which he makes it, is better seen as a radical application of Rerum Novarum than as an attempt to give Das Kapital a clerical twist. At the same time, as I read Francis’s comments I couldn’t help thinking of Ayn Rand’s remark about Christianity (and, more specifically, its collectivist tradition) being “the best kindergarten of communism possible.” As so often with Rand, an oversimplification, but…

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