Author: Jana Bennett

Diplomacy, Vatican Style

I’m liking what the Catholic News Service is dishing out today regarding the Vatican’s diplomatic corps: If the outside world imagines Vatican diplomacy as Machiavellian realpolitik, the pope sees it differently. The qualities of a good diplomat, he said, are not cunning and craftiness, but honesty, consistency and respect for others. I think they’ve got it right – many people do imagine Vatican intrigues in a kind of Machiavellian style. So it’s heartening to hear about doing diplomacy “gospel-style”, though I’m sure that doesn’t go over well where separation of church and state are paramount. I’m reminded of last year’s papal visit to the UK. I got an earful from a British friend who didn’t think the state ought to be paying for what was a “religious” visit. But the pope has the (weird, in this day and age, assuredly) position of being both Peter’s successor AND a head of state. Why not accord the same courtesies as might be extended to other state heads? One of the things the Catholic Church gets to do in this day and age is raise legitimate questions for us all about whether, and to what extent, a separation of “religion” and politics is really...

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The Practice of Wearing Clothes

The Guardian yesterday had an article about dress codes in Iran. In the summer, it seems, women seek cooler clothing than their hijab permits, and men gravitate toward shorts. All of these are banned clothing, which has led Iran to send out 70,000 police to enforce the laws. Of particular interest is the reason: to “combat ‘western cultural invasion.'” I have heard people dismiss this claim out of hand, but I think the charge of “western cultural invasion” is not that far off. When the US went to Afghanistan, some of the rhetoric was about saving those poor women from having to wear head garb. Of course, some Afghani women were quite glad about this. Others were mystified: why should Western clothing set the standard? The questions are ones that feminist scholars have often raised. I highly recommend Susan Moller Okin’s “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” and the related essays in the book of the same title as a way of getting at the vast array of questions and issues here. Catholic teaching, of course, supports the full rights and dignity of the person, because each person has been created by God: “Human activity, when it aims at promoting the integral dignity and vocation of the person, the quality of living conditions and the meeting in solidarity of peoples and nations, is in accordance with the plan of God,...

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The Ryan Budget: Scholars versus Magisterium Again?

A timeline of events: April 5, 2011 – Paul Ryan’s budget is submitted to the House Budget Committee. April 29, 2011 – Congressman Ryan writes a letter about his budget/fiscal ideas to Archbishop Dolan, partly responding to his January letter to members of Congress. May 11, 2011 – Catholic scholars publish an open letter to Speaker Boehner. May 18, 2011 – Archbishop Dolan responds to Congressman Ryan. The letter is published by the congressman. Googling “Ryan and Dolan” yields some interesting results relating to this timeline. Some have suggested that Archbishop Dolan is tacitly approving the Ryan Budget and, by the same token, speaking against those Catholic scholars who made their request to Speaker Boehner (though it should be noted: the audiences of the scholars’ letter and the archbishop’s letter are different, even if drafted both to Republican members of the House of Representatives). Others have insisted that we read Archbishop Dolan’s letter in its proper context: it is a response to Rep. Ryan’s letter, not an approval of his budget. Of course, Archbishop Dolan expresses “appreciation” of the fact that Ryan’s letter discusses the important issues that the bishop seeks to address, but on my own reading, it does not go quite so far as to approve outright Ryan’s letter, but rather that the congressman recognizes the principles of Catholic social teaching: It is clear that all of...

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Would you like a slice of reality with that ideal?

One of the complaints that people sometimes make about Catholic social teachings is that they don’t seem very related to “real life.” For example, the Catholic social tradition often discusses fairness in wages and the concept of “decent work”. Of course, the term “just wage” is hotly debated, as is “decent work.” What would it mean to have a just wage? How would one account for disparities between peoples’ life/family situations? Some have made good choices and some bad. And “decent work” is, well, “nice work if you can get it.” In the past few months I have been struck by the petulance with which people discuss “collective bargaining” and “those government workers who get all these perks that we’re paying for.” Somehow, in the minds of many, these so called perks are luxuries that ought to be done without (and let us remember, the perks amount to: pension plans, the “good” health insurance, and three extra vacation days on average – so 11 vacation days rather than 8. And even with 11 days, we still are dwarfed by most other nations.) Strangely enough, though, these “perks” sound quite a bit like what Pope Benedict XVI writes about in Caritas in Veritate: [Decent work] means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively...

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Stepping Down from the Ivory Tower: Pange Lingua and the Triduum

As I was participating in tonight’s Holy Thursday mass, I remembered that Thomas Aquinas wrote one of the great hymns that we sing today – Pange Lingua. This patron saint of ours was a very intimidating person, in more ways than one, wasn’t he? Augustine is another one who wrote some amazing homilies, clearly tagged for non-ivory-tower audiences. It’s rather unfortunate, I think, that the City of God gets so much attention, because his homilies are packed full of rich metaphors and theological ideas. I have one sermon tacked on my office door that answers the question of why Jesus came to earth only to die: that bread may be hungry, and the fountain thirsty; that the light might sleep, and the way be weary from a journey; that the truth might be accused by false witnesses, and the judge of the living and the dead be judged by a mortal judge; that justice might be convicted by the unjust, and discipline be scourged with whips hung up on a tree; that strength might grow weak, eternal health be wounded, life die. One of the reactions I sometimes get when I say I’m a theologian is that we’re too cerebral and don’t participate in “faith on the ground” as much as we should. Maybe that’s because we don’t often write for “popular” audiences? I can’t say I know any...

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