Pope Benedict: Occupy Wall Street Rocks!

NPR called Benedict and “unlikely” supporter of economic reform. Shows that the image of the Catholic Church is misconstrued as a solely right-wing organization because they are against abortion and gay marriage.

Here’s more from NPR on the Pope’s take on redistribution of wealth. NPR acts as if this is a “Who knew?” kind of situation.

The Vatican released a document on the world economy on Monday that will cause heartburn in the Tea Party, but will be cheered by the folks occupying Wall Street.

This will surprise most Americans who think the pope is a Republican because he opposes abortion and gay marriage. But when it comes to economic justice, Pope Benedict XVI is to the left of President Obama. Heck, he is even to the left of Nancy Pelosi.

Those who read the pope’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)” will not be surprised by this new document. In that encyclical, the pope decried “corruption and illegality” among economic and political elites in both rich and poor countries. He told financiers they must rediscover the ethical foundation of their activity and stop abusing savers. He wants a radical rethinking of economics so that it is guided not simply by profits but by “an ethics which is people-centered.”

Benedict notes that economic “inequalities are on the increase” across the globe. He does not accept the trickle-down theory, which says that all boats will rise with the economic tide. Benedict condemns the “scandal of glaring inequalities” and sees a role for government in the redistribution of wealth.

Yes, you heard that right. The pope favors the redistribution of wealth. When was the last time you heard a liberal Democrat use those words?

For the uninformed, Catholics are economic liberals with a strong record on protecting the environment as well. They are also moral conservatives, basing much of those arguments on natural law, simply put, there’s objective truth in the world that we can know and should base our decisions on.

Most people are the opposites. They’re economic conservatives (I take care of my family first and give what’s leftover to charity, etc. They don’t want taxes and look for loopholes to protect their money) and liberal on the socially moral questions (do what you want, everything is relative…just don’t hurt someone else).

We have much to consider here. One is the image of the church as being aligned with the Republicans. True probably only on issues like abortion and gay marriage. Catholics are against capital punishment for the same reasons as they are against abortion. All life is sacred.

But what of our more liberal positions? Seems that Catholic Social Teaching is still the best kept secret out there! But perhaps Pope Benedict is looking to open the window a bit wider here? We stand with those who are vulnerable economically, as well as, those in harm’s way in war torn parts of the world, the unborn, the prisoner on death row.

Now that being said, because I am the king of fairness, there are people who fall heavy on one side or the other. When I go to conferences about social justice, I don’t hear much about the unborn and sometimes they don’t spend a lot of time praying together or even providing time for reflection privately. On the other hand, at a conference on family life there seems to be too much self-concern and while prayer is filled with personal piety, we don’t hear much about working as families for the needs of the poor, prisoners, or even single mothers!

That friends, needs to change. If we’re not consistent then we are sending mixed messages to the world. And then entities like NPR (who should know better) are surprised when they hear the truth of what we believe.

We now live in a world where young people don’t have time to guess at who we are and what we stand for. We need to be better at proclaiming who we are and what we believe publicly.

If we don’t, all we do is confuse people. And that friends, doesn’t help. It makes us look like the right-wing fringe most of the time and the left-wing disorganized the rest of the time.

We’re more than that and need to rise about mere factions to express the tenderness of the Catholic heart which encompasses everyone.

What the Pope Didn’t Say About Condoms

I’ve been away on retreat with the students and had to catch up on work yesterday. So I’m late to the conversation on this one, but I have some observations on Peter Seewald’s new book, Light of the World where he interviews Pope Benedict XVI, a person he had interviewed in an older book (a must read) while he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. In particular, the Pope was asked questions on the AIDS crisis and the use of condoms to combat that, especially in Africa.

The media has spun the words of the Pope to appear to sanction condom use, which ISN’T what the Pope said. He has stated an opinion that has been the opinion of many moral theologians for many years. The fact that the Pope shares that opinion, even privately, is indeed a breaking news story worthy of headlines. But it hardly changes church teaching on the matter. We need to remember that responding to a question by a reporter isn’t the same as the Pope making an infallible statement, or even writing a encyclical and functioning in an official teaching capacity.

But more to the point, the head of the Vatican Press Office offers the best clarification I’ve seen so far. The USCCB media blog has his statement in full but this snippet is the one that I think is the money quote

“…the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat to another person’s life. In such a case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered practice of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection can be ‘a first act of responsibility’, ‘a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality’, rather than not using it and exposing the other person to a mortal risk.

In short, it means that the use of a condom by someone who always or often engages in risky sexual behaviors can show that God is working on them a bit to consider a more human way to live sexually than they presently are. This “first act” is better than not taking any precautions at all.

It doesn’t mean that the church says that if you want to have sex outside of marriage (or even inside marriage) that it’s OK if you use a condom. However, if you’re going to have sex anyway (meaning: you’ve already decided to sin) and you don’t want to get HIV or some other disease, then using a condom could be seen as a “first act of responsibility” that shows some responsibility for the human person. It’s still a sinful act, but it at least shows some moral responsibility. The road to conversion is slow and everyone gets their on their own time. This could be that first step on a very long journey towards a more healthy sexuality.

Now there’s a lot that we could say about this. A colleague of mine made an interesting point: “Well, obviously this doesn’t mean that the use of condoms is “intrinsically evil.” Meaning it’s always wrong. I think we can say that’s accurate. Obviously it can lead to some good in certain instances.

The second point is even more interesting I think. The more conservative side of the church has railed against this kind of argument for years. Now that the Pope has opined this, the spin doctors are fighting for control of the story and offering the same opinion on the subject that moral theologians have been offering for years on this topic. You can’t have it both ways.

I’d also add that in the past when John Paul II said things in private interviews that there were many who would jump on his words and claim that he was speaking infallibly. Many would point out that he wasn’t only to be smacked down and told that they were splitting hairs. But as soon as the Pope offers an opinion that doesn’t meet with their right-wing agenda, then suddenly he’s not teaching anymore, but just offering a private opinion.

In many ways it’s good to discern the difference. In this case I would offer that he’s not changing church teaching but rather offering the position of moral theologians as something for us to consider as church.

I haven’t even gotten to what he said about heath care–which is sure to annoy the most staunchest republican Catholic. We’ll take that up later in the day.