US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Vatican's financial reform document inspires more childish antics

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Just when you thought the fighting among Catholics over the Vatican's document on global financial reform had died down, along comes round two.

To recap: The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released the 41-page document  "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority" last month. In response, to put it mildly, Catholics overreacted. Some jumped to silly conclusions like "Pope Benedict is supporting Occupy Wall Street!" while others did everything they could think of to prove that this document (or "white paper," as some called it, because they refused to even use the word "document" for fear it would give the text too much credibility) was in no way a legitimate representation of church teaching and held no authority.

The argument between the two sides had all the logic and eloquence of a "my dad could beat up your dad" quarrel amongst third grade boys on the playground, complete with plenty of "oh yeah?" and "nuh uh!" type responses.

(As a side note, I refrain from labeling the sides in this debate as "liberals" and "conservatives" or the "left" and "right." We're all Catholics, we all believe in the same Lord Jesus Christ, and I really doubt that when it comes time for him to judge us he's going to use any of those terms.)

So now, on to round two: A story surfaced yesterday that claimed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, had "disowned" the document and chastised the Council for Justice and Peace for not running it through his office first. Sure enough, those who had claimed the document held no authority couldn't wait to say "We told you so!" Though it seemed most of the document's supporters had already moved on, they were taunted with claims of "you were wrong, we were right" and calls to apologize or admit their "mistake" in taking the Vatican's document seriously.

But wait--there's more! Today John Thavis, head of the Catholic News Service Rome bureau and a highly respected journalist, wrote that yesterday's interpretation of what Bertone said isn't exactly accurate. It is worth reading Thavis' piece because he carefully explains some of the misconceptions about the document that have been made that are simply based on errors in reporting some of the details, including the fact that Bertone's comments regarding documents being first sent through his office "had nothing to do with the Justice and Peace text on economic justice. 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."

Unfortunately, the debate is unlikely to end here. Bloggers will likely pick apart Thavis' analysis or dismiss it entirely, continuing their puzzling efforts to discredit a statement that comes from the church they believe in so strongly. Supporters of the document may jump back in, trying to prove that they were right all along. And so it continues to the next round.

Disagreement over the Council of Justice and Peace's proposals on financial reform should be welcome, healthy debates among people of faith who have a common goal, yet see two different ways of getting there. Instead, they've become yet another battle of "we're more Catholic than you are" and determinations from self-appointed judges of what is and is not in line with official church teaching.

Rather than trying to "win" the battle over whether a statement from the Vatican holds meaning even if it opposes one's personal politics, I'd rather see those in this debate put their efforts toward a more worthwhile cause--actually trying to come up with solutions to the economic turmoil that has caused suffering for so many of their brothers and sisters. If we can put our collective minds toward that goal, then we really have a chance to "win" something of value.