UPDATED Monday, Nov. 14: Vatican Secretariat of State reviewed and corrected the document ahead of publication; see sixth paragraph below.
VATICAN CITY — Our Italian colleague Sandro Magister, usually an insightful commentator on all things Vatican, stirred things up with a post last Thursday asserting that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State had “disowned” the recent document of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on reform of the global economic system.
He reported that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, was blindsided by the publication of the document, and afterward issued a “binding order” against the release of any document by a Roman Curia office unless the text had been inspected and authorized by his office.
Sources we’ve spoken to offered a very different reading of the situation.
First, at the press conference presenting the document, Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the justice and peace council, said the text had been “reviewed by the competent offices of the Secretariat of State” before publication.
Indeed, it would be very difficult to imagine that Cardinal Bertone was unaware of the document and its potential implications — for one thing, its release was announced five days ahead of time.
UPDATE: On Monday, one source said that in preparing the document, the Justice and Peace council had in fact worked closely with the Secretariat of State’s “Second Section,” which deals with foreign affairs, and that the Second Section had reviewed and corrected the text ahead of time — precisely because everyone knew it dealt with sensitive issues.
Second, sources said Cardinal Bertone did issue a recent instruction regarding the Secretariat of State’s role in releasing documents, but it had nothing to do with the Justice and Peace text on economic justice. Instead, they said, it was provoked by an unrelated mistake that occurred the same week — the premature release of Pope Benedict’s annual message on migration, which was posted briefly on a Vatican Web site, apparently before the Secretariat of State had seen it.
Cardinal Bertone’s order, they said, simply stipulated that any documents bearing the pope’s signature must be released through his office. The Justice and Peace document did not fall into that category, even though its content was reviewed by the Secretariat.
Third, the sources denied Magister’s report that Professor Leonardo Becchetti, a professor of economics at the University of Rome, was the main author of the document. Becchetti, who has been described by online critics as a socialist ideologue, had little or nothing to do with preparation of the text but was called in to help explain economic issues at the press conference.
Finally, Magister’s assertion that the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, had “torn to shreds” the Justice and Peace document deserves a closer look. What the newspaper ran was an article by Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the Vatican bank, that analyzed current economic problems. It did not once refer to the Justice and Peace document, and focused its criticism on the financial decisions that have led to the current crisis. To call it a “repudiation” of the Justice and Peace document is more than a stretch.
What our Vatican sources did say is that the Justice and Peace document, which called for the creation of a world political authority to regulate financial markets and rein in the “inequalities and distortions of capitalist development,” has indeed sparked discussion and debate inside the Vatican.
But that’s to be expected, they said. The council’s president, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and other officials made clear that this text was a proposal, not a prescription, and aimed to generate reflection and discussion. They also emphasized that it was not a document of the magisterium, or official church teaching, and that it expressed the position of the pontifical council, not the Holy See.
That doesn’t mean the document can be dismissed as insignificant, or that the conclusions of a pontifical council do not merit attention by Catholics. It would be good to keep in mind these words posted at the top of the Roman Curia web page, from the Second Vatican Council document Christus Dominus:
In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors.
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