Letter from Rome

Pope Urges Overhaul of European Economy

Pope Francis took a mighty swipe at another hornet’s nest with his recent speech on the future of Europe. Some Europeans were not at all pleased that a Jesuit from Argentina would dare criticize their native continent or—even worse—tell them it must change and that they must “update” the very idea of what Europe is all about.

“A Europe capable of giving birth to a new humanism based on three capacities”—is how the pope put it—“the capacity to integrate, the capacity for dialogue, and the capacity to generate.”

This was just the start of a long speech he made last Friday before a large gathering of the Old Continent’s political elite. They came to the Vatican to award him the prestigious Charlemagne Prize.

“The identity of Europe is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity,” Francis said.

That raised a few eyebrows. And it was probably one of his most contested assertions, especially in light of his insistence that Europe should be more generous in accepting the massive wave of immigrants and refugees that continue to arrive from the Middle East and North Africa.

“The challenge is that of a profound cultural integration,” he said.

Profound. Cultural. Integration. That must have stung. Because one of the most glaring problems in almost every country of this great continent is there is practically no culture, mentality, or comprehensive social (nor legal) process for integrating immigrants.

And there is certainly no coordinated Europe-wide policy to do so—something Pope Francis has already pointed out and for which even some bishops (like Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő and Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka, O.P.) have criticized him. Polls (and personal experience) suggest that people who live in Europe do not believe their countries should be a haven for foreign (i.e. non-European) immigrants.

The United Kingdom and some other former colonizing powers have seen it as part of their obligation to accept at least some of those arriving from areas they once ruled, such as in Asia and Africa. But it is debatable whether these countries have done enough to fully integrate these newcomers.

In places like Italy, where there is soaring unemployment, there are those who think all foreigners should be kept out because there are already not enough jobs for everyone.

Francis is not naïve, as some of his critics suggest. He knows this is a problem. But he believes the solution is not building walls or more borders that allow us to hoard our resources. Rather, he says the answer is in the “just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor,” something he calls a “moral obligation.”

That surely stung some of his listeners, certainly many who were listening on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

“This calls for moving from a liquid economy to a social economy,” he said. “It would involve passing from an economy directed at revenue, profiting from speculation, and lending at interest to a social economy that invests in persons by creating jobs and providing training. We need to move from a liquid economy prepared to use corruption as a means of obtaining profits to a social economy that guarantees access to land and lodging through labor,” the pope added.

Old Europe (and people in North America, too) may not want to hear these prophetic calls. But so far they have devised no better solution—indeed, they’ve come up with no solution at all. Perhaps, we should all ponder Francis’ words more carefully.

**********

Opposition to Pope Francis is being waged on a variety of fronts.

Those in the “let’s just wait him out” crowd are already doing everything they can to prepare for the day when he is no longer around. And part of their strategy is to continue cultivating a cadre of future church leaders (seminarians and young priests) who are resistant to the change of attitude and vision the seventy-nine-year-old pope’s been trying to inculcate.

Here in Rome their number is legion. Some of them are pursuing their strategy discreetly. Others could not be more blatant. One thing that links them is a strange devotion to the former pope, Benedict XVI. This is especially true in their effort to keep alive his (and, even more so, his acolytes’) sometimes bizarre and often retrodox liturgical ideas.

Many of them are part of one of the many neo-Tridentinist fringe groups that the ex-pope did much to encourage the past five or so decades, especially during the eight years he was ensconced in the Apostolic Palace.

The Order of St. Augustine—commonly called the Augustinians—is decisively not one of these groups. At its international headquarters next to St. Peter’s Square this long-established religious order also operates the Augustinian Patristic Institute or Augustinianum. It is recognized as one of the most academically serious among the many pontifical schools in the Eternal City. That’s why many people were surprised when it developed a two-semesters-long course called, “Master in Joseph Ratzinger: Studies and Spirituality.”

Separate from its more rigorous programs that lead to pontifical licentiates and doctorates, this is only the second accelerated Master’s program to be offered at the patristic institute. The other, as one might expect, is the “Master in St. Augustine,” who is a Doctor of the Church.

Courses for the new Master in Joseph Ratzinger (not yet a saint or a church doctor) officially got underway in mid-February. There are two separate tracks—one in English, the other in Italian. The list of “professors,” some who lecture in both sections, is—shall we say—“interesting.”

Three of them are cardinals who head Vatican offices—George Pell (Secretariat for the Economy), Kurt Koch (Pontifical Council for Christian Unity), and Robert Sarah (Congregation for Divine Worship). Another is the retired pope’s secretary and housemate, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who is also prefect of the Papal Household.

Others on the faculty are also activists of conservative causes such as the “reform of the [Vatican II] reform” of the liturgy. They include Msgr. Marco Agostini, who works in the papal ceremonies office, and others who are well-known among the traddy liturgical crowd, such as Msgr. Nicola Bux, Fr. Vincenzo Nuara, O.P., and Oratorian Fr. Uwe Michael Lang.

The director of the Master in Joseph Ratzinger program is a young Augustinian priest from Colombia, named Mauricio Saavedra Monroy. And among those on the six-member committee that oversees the program (as well as being a lecturer) is Fr. Robert Dodaro, an American who is the Augustinianum’s president. A theological consultant and close friend of Cardinal Raymond Burke, he helped produce books and papers that called for no change in the church’s current teaching and practice concerning the divorced and remarried.

I don’t know Fr. Saavedra, but Fr. Dodaro and the other illustrious gentlemen listed above are hardly what you’d call members of the Pope Francis Fan Club. And for some of them that is an understatement.

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Cardinal Pietro Parolin was in Lithuania the last several days representing the pope at the country’s National Congress of Mercy. The sixty-one-year-old Secretary of State gave two homilies over the weekend and then offered a lecture on Vatican diplomacy on Monday at the University of Vilnius.

“An approach based on mercy, such as the one adopted by Pope Francis and actively promoted by the Holy See, has much to offer to international diplomacy in its pursuit of peace,” he said. “In the end, mercy can reach the heart of everyone, not just believers, and today politics and diplomacy need to be infused with the conviction that mercy is capable of overcoming all situations of human misery,” he added.

Cardinal Parolin, a native of Italy’s very Catholic Veneto region, is an extraordinary person and a good priest. Since Pope Francis appointed him Secretary of State in October 2013, he has been a steadying and understated aide in helping move the pope’s reforming agenda on many fronts.

Many believe he could be Bishop of Rome one day. He is seen as one of the leading candidates who would further advance—rather than stall or reverse—Papa Bergoglio’s evangelical blueprint for renewing the Church. And, although (or maybe because) he is a life-long papal diplomat of a certain school, he would likely continue dismantling the trappings of the papal court, clerical privilege, and any whiff of ostentation.

People were surprised to see that he and his small delegation flew to Lithuania last week on Ryan Air, one of Europe’s most popular low-coast, no-frills airlines. And, as he usually does, the Vatican’s “prime minister” dressed in a black suit with a simple clerical shirt with a removable white tab collar.

In the next couple of days, perhaps on Saturday, the cardinal should be getting another new deputy. As mentioned here before, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the current papal nuncio in Lebanon, is expected to be named “Sostituto” or deputy Secretary of State for Ordinary Affairs. That’s the equivalent of “interior minister”.

The fifty-eight-year-old native of Milan was at the Vatican on Monday for an official private meeting with Pope Francis. The plan is for him to take over when the current Sostituto, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, is named prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The soon-to-be sixty-eight-year-old native of Sardinia is supposed to replace Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B.. Fittingly, that would keep the office for saints in the hands of an Angel.

Robert Mickens is English-language editor of La Croix International.

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