18 May 2018

A very personal problem

The Vatican has just put out a teaching document on economic matters. For me, personally, and I can speak for nobody else, this moment precisely epitomises the problem created by PF's misuse of the munus given him by God.

At any time before 2013, I would have simply received such a document with docility. In a case like this present one, because it deals with matters in which I am not personally academically competent, I would have done my best to understand it, quite simply because (although not ex cathedra) it came to me with authority. I would have done my best to put myself into the position of being able to explain and commend it on this blog and to members of Christ's faithful people to whom I might find myself speaking or who, out of a misguided esteem for myself, asked me about it.

But that is not how things can be now. For five years, PF has, arguably, played irresponsible games with the authority placed in his hands. He has - daily - pursued policies which are difficult to reconcile with a faithful following of our Most Holy Redeemer. In particular, he appears to have set himself to undermine the careful teaching of his predecessors, notably the last two, on the evils of moral relativism, and has publicly ignored appeals to bring clarity to these appearances. Unbelievably, the Successor of S Peter is seen by both admirers and critics as one who encourages souls for whom Christ died to be comfortable in a life of habitual adultery. He has impudently justified his conduct by talking about a God of Surprises. Hagan lios: he has had the temerity to go so far as to create 'a mess' in the Lord's Vineyard; and then to invite others to follow him.

It was necessary, 1300 years ago, to say in sad condemnation of an earlier pope, that 'he has permitted the purity of the Church to be polluted'; that 'he has fostered heresy'. Because this has happened, we know that it can happen.

If ... may God grant it ... from this very moment onwards PF's pontificate were to be a model of humble repentance and of chastened discipleship ... then, indeed, laus Deo; but it would inevitably still take a time for it to become apparent Urbi et Orbi that this sea-change had taken place.

Whether under this pontiff or another, it may be years before one can again receive teaching emerging from the Vatican in the old simple, childlike, obedient trust; with open and willing ears. There will long be the nagging, destabilising, anxiety that, in such very extraordinary times, the chill bonds of conscience and of duty might require one dokimazein ta pneumata.

This is the measure of the catastrophic damage which Jorge Bergoglio has done to his great Office of maintaining the Depositum Fidei by being a remora against the assaults of Novelty. In Blessed John Henry Newman's language, we feel less securely under our feet the rock of the soliditas cathedrae Petri. It may take decades, at the least, for the good God to heal this insecurity.


Karl J said...


william arthurs said...

Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones: One would have to be a chartered accountant (as I am), an economist, or an actuary (as is Philip Booth writing in the Catholic Herald), to understand the detail of what is proposed. Supposing one had the required professional expertise, to go through the document and assess each argument or proposal regarding executive remuneration, international tax harmonisation, money-laundering, asset securitisation, derivatives trading, and so on --- you 'd end up with a much longer document than the original. Maybe I am wrong, but in my opinion, there are a range of points of view that one could legitimately hold on the specific questions, as a Christian or indeed as someone seeking to apply Catholic Social Teaching. To advance the particular views that are contained in this teaching document, would entail considering fairly, if only to dismiss, the other views. I am afraid, it looks more like a Church of England job, where the authority of the Church is transferred so as to provide rhetorical support for a particular point of view whose details lie outside the Church's scope of teaching but happen to echo a congenial political outlook.

I offer one example only. Para. 23 raises the question of asymmetry, ie. business managers are rewarded for success but not penalised in an equivalent way for failure, and criticises this state of affairs. This question has been discussed no end in the economics literature. The way in which large businesses operate seems to be contrary to reason. So why does it persist and how, if at all, can it be justified? The fact is that business is inherently about taking risks. One dimension of this relates to innovation and invention. As fallible, imperfect humans, we cannot know in advance which innovation or invention will be a success when brought to the market, and which will flop. This is inherent in the nature of innovation. There are plenty of technology gadgets from the past ten or 20 years, for which I could have envisaged no use if they had been proposed to me as a concept, but which have been the foundation of multi-billion businesses. For example, iPads, or Fitbits. I am sure there are examples of the converse --- proposed technology innovations which could have been useful to me but, in fact, flopped. Either way, I would like companies to put forth as many of these novelties as they can, to see which will stick: and I would like the business managers not to start editing their ideas and failing to propose innovations on the off-chance that they are unsuccessful, leading to the business manager who proposed the idea being penalised. There is no pastoral trump card that can be played so as to render unnecessary a discussion of the precise nature of risk-taking in business.

Dad29 said...

There is a parallel--though less awful--situation here in the Colonies, where the central Government has destroyed much of its credibility over the last 10-15 years, too.

What is going on? When will Satan be restrained?

Woody said...

You summarize my own thoughts very well, Father. And I would add, if any centuries-old teaching from the highest level of the Church can be changed by the regnant Pope, then why should I believe that any of the other teachings are not also subject to change, doing away with the idea that such teachings are/were immutable truth. Quid est Veritas?

Fr. VF said...

I will be long dead before any document out of the Vatican concerning economic issues is anything but Marxist, collectivist boilerplate, having nothing to do with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Father. You put into words something I have been thinking for a while. Six years ago I would have read that document and tried to understand as best as I could. I would have considered it my obligation as a teacher of God's people. Now I hesitate...Now I don't know...Now I don't trust
If he plays so easy with the tradition and especially seems to disregard the teaching of his two immediate predecessors, who can now or in the future take his teaching seriously?

Michael Leahy said...

The God of Surprises? So, two thousand years of multiple generations have been induced to live faithfully, told that Adultery was wholly unacceptable. For many, this would have been extremely difficult, but most accepted it and remained faithful to their vows, even if much sacrifice was involved...and rightly so, for this is what Our Lord asked of us. Now, we get "Surprise!"; ha!, fooled you, nah-nah-na-nah-nah; I didn't really mean it, I was just pulling your leg for a while, wasn't I hilarious?; it was great crack seeing all those people struggling, and usually succeeding, to resist their human instincts, but I wasn't serious-they could have done what they like, for all I care. "Surprise!"; now we know what those clown-masses were all about.

Dan Hayes said...

Zero Hedge, an internet site of libertarian / paleoconservative / anarchist persuasions, today mocked Bergoglio's latest emanations for its odd mixtures of arcane economic tom fooleries.

I believed that commentator William Arturs has likewise critiqued PPF but in a much more judicious and sophisticated manner.

Lepanto said...

In connection with the Church's proposed recognition of the Chinese government appointed 'bishops' of the 'Patriotic Church', a Vatican official said that the rapprochement was unsurprising because the Chinese social system was the one that closely reflected the Church's social teaching! I doubt that Mao has had much to chuckle about since his demise, nor the modern Chinese martyrs much to weep over but that should have done the job.

JARay said...

I agree entirely with you Fr. Hunwicke. I also have noted that there is now a report out that Pope Francis is considering retirement. I consider that good news but I do fear as to who his replacement might be since he has surrounded himself with so many whose views match his own. I have long considered him the very worst Pope that I have ever known. The first Pope I ever saw was Pope Pius XII in 1950 when I went to Rome for the Holy Year that year. I was still a boy at school when I went.

GOR said...

When the Pope or Vatican Congregations molded in his image, fail to clearly state, teach and uphold the immutable truths of our Catholic Faith, their excursions into the areas of finance and economics carry little credibility.

That is not their area of expertise. Their area of expertise should be the Faith and leading people to God, not dabbling in affairs in which many laymen have more intellectual knowledge and practical experience.

They should stick to their knitting!

Banshee said...

The ordinary prudence of the faithful is the usual teaching authority in economic matters. "Stealing is wrong" is the Magisterium's concern.

Any document that attempts to "bind burdens" in an unreasonable way, on topics that the Church leaves to the faithful, is a document which should be prudently ignored by the faithful. I mean, it is okay to look at it if you are interested, but such a document is an offense against subsidiarity, the freedom of the children of God, etc. So it cannot possibly be binding or valid. (Except as a temporal law in the Vatican State.) It is outside papal authority.

Similarly, if some pope wrote a document about the proper moral strategies in chess, and forbade turning a pawn into a queen as, say, a devaluation of the common soldier, it would not be binding because it would not be a subject that popes rule. It would be imprudent to write such a thing and pretend to be teaching Catholic doctrine.

Banshee said...

Anyway, the CDF also has no business with such a document, and neither does Integral Human Development. So it can only be a position paper or personal essay.

For some reason, bishop conferences love to issue this kind of meaningless blahblah, while trying to bully or scare us into paying attention. I have been ignoring or deploring them all my life, and I hope they get tired of these timewasters soon.

I want the bishops and the Curia, and the Pope, to give us good moral advice, stuff that will wake me up and make me work. I do not want them to try to exert authority in areas they don't govern, and then ignore the things they really are assigned to teach!

Peter said...

Father, may I add to what William Arthurs writes?
I am a Chartered Accountant working in a bank in Jersey and have sufficient knowledge and competence to evaluate some of the points argued.

In paragraph 30 we read:
“Furthermore, it is not possible to ignore the fact that those offshore sites, on more occasions, have become usual places of recycling dirty money, which is the fruit of illicit income (thefts, frauds, corruption, criminal associations, mafia, war booties etc.)”

The Financial Action Task Force established the “40+9 Recommendations, together with their interpretative notes, provide the international standards for combating money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF).”
The Council of Europe established Moneyval for the “Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism”.

It is possible to see the reports on different jurisdictions. The report on the fourth assessment visit of Jersey of December 2015 note, (paragraph 37, National and International Co-operation) states:
“Jersey has very well-functioning AML/CFT coordination processes at both policy and operational levels.”

In 2012 The FCA in the UK fined Coutts & Company £8.75m for failings in AML systems and controls. Paragraph 45 is worth reading:

“For example, in two cases reviewed by the FSA, private bankers did not conduct appropriate checks on the customers and, as a result, failed to identify serious criminal allegations against those customers. The AML team, apparently relying on the assessment carried out by the private bankers, approved the customers without gathering further detailed intelligence despite the information gathered by the private banker being limited. Adverse intelligence about the customers was later identified but only by offshore institutions within RBS when the customers applied for international products and services.”

So the conclusion of the CDF is not one that is fair or accurate, at least as far as Jersey is concerned. Indeed the Holy See has struggled to get its own house in order in this matter.

Pots and kettles.

Unknown said...

Oeconimicae et pecuniariae is an example of the sort of area where the Church can only have a view if it stays aloof from the controversies of academic debate.

Paragraph 26 is a diatribe against derivative financial products, which is a bit like criticizing the design of a self-loading rifle rather than the use that was made of it.

It specifically ignores the cause of the sub-prime market, which was the Clinton administration’s attempt to force banks into uneconomic transactions, especially in the form of secured loans to poor people who were thus burdened with debt they could not repay. This is said to have been a specific policy designed by Hillary for her husband to implement.

Dan Hayes said...

Henry von Blumenthal,

The policy of forcing banks into economic transactions initiated under the Clinton administration was expanded and brought to fruition (with utterly disastrous results) under the utterly disastrous G W Bush administration.

BTW, I was unaware that Hillary initially designed this policy. But in retrospect not surprised!

Unknown said...

Daniel Hayes

All actions have a lag time in their effects. The damage was done by the democrats.

Dan Hayes said...

Henry von Blumenthal,

I agree with your dictum that all actions have a lag time in their effects.

How about the lag time for effects arising from G W Bush's public declaration that he saw no need for housing down payments? Even baying at the moon Democrats never uttered such financial inanity!

ccc said...

So, my sister called me. She's single and faithful. She works in the Credit Default Swaps and Derivatives field for a major investment bank.

She's torn apart by this, and is wondering whether this compels her to leave the whole field, making it that much worse.

Does this document give any moral guidance to the people who work in these fields? No, it basically just gives regulatory guidance to the bureaucrats who regulate these areas. It leave the individuals who work in them without much of any guidance.

It's pathetic, and useless, though not unexpected from a Papacy that has seemed to abandon giving moral guidance.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Yes, modern finance IS immoral. Why?? Because capitalism is based on usury, which is intrinsically sinful. Therefore, capitalism is every bit as evil as socialism. Take and read E Michael Jones' magnum opus "Barren Metal: A History of Capitalism as the Conflict Between Labor and Usury", and relevant articles on usury on Michael Baker's website Super Flumina Babylonis. Usury = charging ANY interest, not just allegedly excessive interest; that is charging not only for the possession of what is lent, but an additional price on top of that for the USE of what is lent. An example from commercial law: a lease of commercial or retail premises where the tenant pays not only monthly rent according to the formula provided in the lease, but so-called "turnover rent", a proportion of the business' turnover, additionally. This second bite at the cherry by the landlord, for which he provides no consideration to the tenant, is usurious, sinful, and a form of theft. Churchmen are indeed competent to comment on such things, as they touch morality.

Karen said...

Sadly true.