Did Cardinal Bertone really ‘disown’ the document on economic reform?

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.

Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, left, and Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George wait for Pope Benedict XVI to arrive on the South Lawn of the White House in 2008. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

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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13 Responses to Did Cardinal Bertone really ‘disown’ the document on economic reform?

  1. HermitTalker says:

    He did. It contradicted BXV1’s Caritas encyclical and was ripped in L’osservatore Romano. Dumb idiots sending that out without running it up the flagpole to see if the Pope saluted.

  2. Joel Peddle, Lecturer, Morehouse College says:

    The Catholic principle of subsidiarity is inconsistent with the document. The problem with calling for a centralized solution to solve the flaws in capitalism is indeed the primary premise of socialism and communism. Why not have a document that corrects flaws by recommending localist industry that is embraced by communities that enjoy local produce, local artists, local solutions for people one knows. Economics on a human scale could have been forwarded, not a heady “world order” initiative.

  3. Joel Peddle, Lecturer, Morehouse College says:

    Quick follow-up. Move toward credit union banking, limited investment banking practices that risk money, and return to Catholic banking that limits or eliminates usury.

  4. Bender says:

    “a proposal, not a prescription, and aimed to generate reflection and discussion”

    And, as such, the proposal has been reflected upon, discussed, and REJECTED by many as at best, naive, and at worst, contradictory of fundamental Church teaching.

    To keep insisting that one must then accept and give assent to the proposal is to give it an authority that it does not have.

  5. Leo says:

    The Justice and Peace document was a terrible document that went against all previous writings of the popes on the very subject it was about.

    It is a shameful document that will have to be retracted and rewritten in light of the historical and magisterial writings contained in the Church.

  6. David Carlon says:

    The crony capitalist boot lickers are alive and well within Holy Mother Church… and as usual will use the Machiavellian economic theories of the loathed and depraved oligarchy to firmly maintain their jackboot on the throats of the poor… the good news is the poor no longer listen to the musings of thieves, liars and murderers that hide their twisted and earthly hearts under the veil of our Lord’s Church… the bad news is these false priests and prophets deliver the lambs to the enemy.

  7. HermitTalker says:

    Wwho are the capitalist boot lickers? The document was written by a layman professor, will be interssting to see how it was slipped past the Curia and especially Cdl Bertoni and the Pope who is THE TEACHER not any of his offices unless HE meets them and approves the publication. That is how it works there.

  8. John says:

    Seriously?! @ David Carlton. Your kidding right? Capitalist boot lickers? Thieves? Honestly you need to read the gospels more often rather than Mao’s red book, and Karl Marx’s manifesto. Christ preached personal freedom, and personal responsability, not socialism. To quote the Holy Father ” Collective salvation is not divine, it’s Demonic”

  9. Cathy says:

    Who were the nameless sources in the Vatican quoted in this article? Didn’t the papal spokesman say this document didn’t reflect the thoughts of Benedict XVI and was not part of magisterial teaching? Why should Catholics pay any attention to the musings of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace?

  10. Patricia Walsh says:

    It is exactly central government planning of the economy that has caused the financial crisis. The Federal Reserve artificially kept interest rates low, not letting them adjust naturally by way of market forces. Then the government pushed banks into lending to people who could not afford the loans as a political brownie points with certain classes of people and to see themselves as so good! Then we have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – government involved entities – only too happy to buy the loans as they were making money hand over fist throughout period the housing bubble was being created. This is just the USA side. How about the European side in which countries were let into the Eurozone by agreeing to somewhat stringent guidelines. But then they did not follow the guidelines and were never called on it by the other EU governments because to do so would have interfered with the EU power grab of the Lisbon treaty. Central authority to fix all this? My heavens it is central authorities that have created the mess in the first place. No, we are talking here about personalities and perhaps a movement in the Church (Lord, have mercy if that is the case – a Prayer) who want to increased political power over others. The more centralized the power the less power to the individual and their local community. As Mayer Amschel Rothschild said: “Give me control over a nation’s money, and I care not who makes her laws.” In essence, the statement that came out is dangerous to the average person, irrespective from where it came. It is not under infallibility. We can expect to have terrible mistakes, if not insidious in nature, made by our Church, as Christ Himself told Peter when Peter was not speaking under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit: “Get thee behind me satan.”

  11. HermitTalker says:

    This update is useful. Corrections as to the main author, what Cdl Bertone meant and the Vatican newspaper criticism was about the world economy, not that piece. Magister seems to have pulled an “Aliens from Mars ” fake newsstory with no credibility.
    . The comments above about a central one-world-banking-authority it was a suggestion, obviously not a prescriotion as it says, to find a way to regulate the abuses. Governments are trying that now, make laws, ger more transparency and regulate what is out of hand.

  12. Patricia Walsh says:

    How about regulating the government? They hold the power cards. Unbelievable how many do not see government and central bank responsibility in the current financial crisis. I am sure there is a reason for such blindness. If the econ prof who wrote the statement is a Keynesian, and I cannot imagine much of anything else, well then there is nothing unclear about the solution he proposes. the only problem, of course, is that following Keynesian econ is responsible for the mess. How about everyone sitting down and learning about economics from another perspective – one that actually predicted both the mess and how the current solutions are not and will not ever solve the problem but rather make it worse. Sadly, blindness rules the world at this point.

  13. HermitTalker says:

    Figure a way to take Original Sin out of the Human condition. Then we get Peace based lon Justice. Meantime we pick and choose the best and elimintae the worst of socialism and capitalism gone astray. .

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