Published October 24, 2011
“Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish,” says voice therapist Lionel Logue to King George VI as the brassy Australian walks the about-to-be-crowned king through a particularly orotund part of the coronation ceremony in The King's Speech. Logue's comment nicely sums up the media and Catholic Left commentary on a “Note” released today by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary System in the Context of Global Public Authority.”
Drudge got it wrong: “Vatican Calls for ‘Central World Bank'.” CNBC got it wrong: “The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a ‘global public authority' and a ‘central world bank'.” The best of the Italian Vaticanisti, Sandro Magister of L'espresso, linked Occupy Wall Street and “the Vatican at the Barricades” in the headline of his insta-commentary, a theme also harped upon by the deposed editor of America, Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J.
All of which was “rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.”
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.
Which, to their credit, the two senior officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace tried to make clear in presenting the document at a Roman press conference. Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the council, said that the document was intended to “make a contribution which might be useful to the deliberations of the [upcoming] G-20 meeting.” Bishop Mario Toso, S.D.B., the secretary of the council, was just as subjunctive as his superior, saying that the document was intended to “suggest possible paths to follow.” Both Cardinal Turkson and Bishop Toso indicated, in line with long-standing Catholic social doctrine, that the Church-as-Church was incompetent to offer “technical solutions” but rather wished to locate public policy debates within the proper moral frameworks.
To suggest, as most of the immediate reporting and commentary did, that the Catholic Church was endorsing one or another set of proposals for re-ordering international finance, and was doing so as a matter of exercising its doctrinal authority, was a very bad category mistake, reflecting either the pitfalls of instant analysis in the 24/7 news cycle, progressivist-Catholic spin, or both.
As for the document itself, no morally alert person objects to bringing discussions of global finance within the ambit of moral reasoning; that is an entirely worthy intention. Catholics (and others) are entirely free to disagree – as many already have, and vociferously – with the specific suggestions of the Justice and Peace document. Father Reese and other advocates of the Catholic Revolution That Never Was will likely try to brand those critics “dissidents,” which is more “rubbish, rubbish, rubbish.” That the specific recommendations of the document reflect what will seem to many an uncritical internationalism of a distinctly Euro-secular provenance is an interesting matter that will doubtless be discussed, vigorously, within the Catholic family for some time to come. So will the tension between more recent Catholic discussions of transnational and international political authority and the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity, with its settled opposition to political and economic megastructures and concentrations of power.
Bottom line (so to speak): This brief document from the lower echelons of the Roman Curia no more aligns “the Vatican,” the Pope, or the Catholic Church with Occupy Wall Street than does the Nicene Creed. Those who suggest it does are either grossly ill-informed or tendentious to a point of irresponsibility.
– George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.