Untangling Vatican Pronouncements

"Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority," a note recently issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, included a litany of complaints with the means and ends and some of the recent escapades of contemporary capitalism. Among other controversial positions, the note suggested the creation of an international regulatory regime meant to mitigate the worst excesses of global market swings and called for the creation of a gobal central bank more attuned to the needs of the world's poor than its transnational investing class. But the content of the document was not the only controversy related to it; the manner it was produced also generated a great deal of agita as suggestions surfaced that it had not been properly vetted by top Vatican officials before its release. That story proved to be unfounded, but that has not disspelled the uncertainty surrounding the peace and justice "note" or efforts to discredit the authenticity and authority of the statement by those who have been troubled by its "Occupy Global Capitalism" tone.

John Thavis at Catholic News Service has been doing his best to make sense out the timeline and overall controversy surrounding the document. His latest effort is worth the read since it not only finally puts to bed the rumors over the note's purported wildcat status, but also because Thavis draws the curtain back a little on a process that is far from transparent and occassionally treacherous,from a public relations standpoint, for the church. Here he tries to detail the document's "backstory":


Months ago, in view of the upcoming G-20 meeting in France Nov. 3-4, Vatican officials discussed how to make a contribution to the discussion on international monetary reform.

Three years earlier, the Vatican had been invited to a U.N.-sponsored International Conference on Financing for Development in Qatar, and the Vatican delegation had published a position paper on financial abuses. That paper was prepared by the justice and peace council, but it was presented as an official statement of the Holy See.

This year, however, because the Vatican is not a member of the G-20 and had not been invited to its meeting, Vatican officials decided that a statement on financial reform should come in the form of a "note" by the justice and peace council, rather than a formal statement of the Holy See.

The important thing was that the council's members and consultants worked with the Secretariat of State throughout the drafting process. The "Second Section" of the Secretariat of State, which deals with foreign affairs, not only discussed the document's approach but reviewed and "adjusted" its content before publication, sources said.

So the idea that Cardinal Peter Turkson's justice and peace council had pulled a fast one on Vatican higher-ups was baseless. But the story got legs because of a misunderstanding that occurred about the same time.

Every year, Pope Benedict XVI -- like his predecessor -- issues a message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. The message is prepared by the pontifical council that deals with migration issues, and receives final approval by the Secretariat of State.

This year, however, extensive excerpts of the pope's migration message were inadvertently published five days early on the website of the Vatican Information Service. The text was removed after several hours, but there was enough embarrassment to prompt action by Cardinal Bertone. He issued instructions that all documents bearing the pope's signature must be released through the Secretariat of State, and not circulated ahead of time by other Vatican agencies.

That led some to mistakenly conclude that Cardinal Bertone was reacting to the document on financial reform, and reining in radical Roman Curia elements at the justice and peace council. On the contrary, Vatican sources said, no document on sensitive global economic issues would ever be published without the "nulla osta" of the Secretariat of State.

 Vatican documents come in many varieties, and are often subject to unexplained delays and detours. Many texts are reviewed and modified by various Vatican offices, in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Sometimes the review process can take years.

Even documents on presumably "safe" topics are subject to careful scrutiny.

You can read the complete report here.


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