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Papal Diplomacy

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey in the final days of November was by far the most challenging of any of the trips undertaken thus far by the pope. It was this pope’s first visit to a Muslim country and came after the Muslim world had been angered by his now-famous allusion to the relationship between Islam and violence that introduced a lecture Benedict gave at the University of Regensburg in September. The main content of that lecture was the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christian revelation, but the pope’s citation of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s views on Islam and violence provoked angry reactions in some parts of the Muslim world. Turkish leaders were sharply critical of the pope’s Regensburg address; but they did not withdraw their invitation to the pope, and the visit proceeded on schedule, with heightened security measures in place.

The formal purpose of the pope’s visit was to express solidarity with the Greek Orthodox Church and the ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I. While the number of Christians in Turkey is small, perhaps 100,000 out of a population of 72 million, the ecumenical patriarch is the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community of over 220 million. The Turkish government has severely limited the freedom of the Orthodox Church, closing the patriarchate’s theological school on the island of Halki in 1971. By celebrating with the ecumenical patriarch the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, the patron saint of Constantinople, Benedict confirmed the need for reciprocity, the granting of the same freedom to religious minorities in Muslim countries that Muslims enjoy in Western countries.


On his arrival in Turkey on Nov. 28, Benedict was greeted by the Turkish prime minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, who was traveling from Turkey to a NATO meeting in Latvia. After their conversation at the airport, the Prime Minister was pleased to report that the pope had expressed support for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, the reversal of a position taken earlier by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who expressed his personal opinion on the issue in 2004. The Vatican later confirmed that while it could play no direct role in the ongoing negotiations with the European Union, it did support the continuing path toward greater integration of Turkey within Europe.

Meeting with government officials, Muslim religious leaders and the international diplomatic corps, Benedict repeated his desire to encourage continuing conversations across cultural and religious boundaries, between Turks and Europeans, Catholics and Orthodox, and Muslims and Christians. On the final day of his visit, he stood in prayer in the historic Blue Mosque of Istanbul, facing Mecca. Throughout his time in Turkey, Benedict repeatedly stressed the need for continuing conversation across religious traditions, cultures and civilizations, repudiating in effect those who had seized his remarks at Regensburg as a rallying cry for the clash of civilizations that some in the West believe is unavoidable. Benedict is clearly not a supporter of that doomsday assumption.

Invisible, But Not Perfect

The death of Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate and champion of free-market economy, was a reminder of his towering contributions not simply to the dismal science of economics but to the world economy. Friedman’s groundbreaking work highlighted the importance of monetary policy (the government’s use of interest rates to manage the supply of money, largely through central banks like the Federal Reserve System) in an era when fiscal policy (influencing the economy through federal taxes and expenditures) was seen as paramount. His research also underscored the now widely accepted belief that free-market capitalism most efficiently provides for the financial well-being of the world’s populace.

But efficient does not mean perfect. One of Friedman’s signature ideas was the natural rate of unemployment, the level that stubbornly persists in any economy as a result of inevitable layoffs, firings and corporate failures. Friedman proposed that this rate would persist no matter what policymakers might attempt and that it did little good to pursue policies to eliminate it. That makes sense in an Econ 101 textbook, but for individuals who find themselves part of that natural percentage, life is difficult indeed. More broadly, too many capitalist models and free-market strategies fail to consider the poor: those who, for a variety of reasons, are prevented from competing in the global economy. Their plight must be taken into account in any truly ethical economic policya position long espoused by Catholic social teaching, which emphasizes both the dignity of work and the rights of workers.

Adam Smith’s famous Invisible Hand, the powerful force that leads to maximum productivity as workers and consumers seek to maximize their earnings, may be efficient, but it is not always just.

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