Monday, 20 September 2010

The Pope's Radical Message to the Bishops: 'Support Your Poor'

Has the Church's mission to the Poor been reduced to 'campaigning'?

I find one of the passages in the speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of England and Wales absolutely fascinating.

'Since your visit to Rome, political changes in the United Kingdom have focused attention on the consequences of the financial crisis, which has caused so much hardship to countless individuals and families. The spectre of unemployment is casting its shadow over many people’s lives, and the long-term cost of the ill-advised investment practices of recent times is becoming all too evident. In these circumstances, there will be additional calls on the characteristic generosity of British Catholics, and I know that you will take a lead in calling for solidarity with those in need. The prophetic voice of Christians has an important role in highlighting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources. In their teaching document Choosing the Common Good, the Bishops of England and Wales underlined the importance of the practice of virtue in public life.'

There was a moment at Hyde Park, when the video montage of a part of the documentary entitled 'The Heart that Seeks Justice' really rankled with me. It portrayed the 'justice n' peace' element of the Gospel in a quite embarrassing light. Yes, there was some good aspects to it, such as the focus on the work of Catholics who work in the services providing care to the elderly, who work as nurses and the like, but, perhaps not surprisingly, given that this piece of video footage was sponsored by CAFOD, it appeared that the overwhelming majority of 'justice and peace' work was all about campaigning for fairer trade.

This continual emphasis on 'Fairtrade' at a Diocesesan level and the bucket-grabbing, nausea-inducing banality of reading through the seemingly endless campaign literature on climate change is so thoroughly depressing that it makes me want to weep, presenting, as it regularly does, the poverty and misery of the Crucified as something 'out there' in the developing World or so called 'Third World countries'. The Holy Father goes on to say...

'Today’s circumstances provide a good opportunity to reinforce that message, and indeed to encourage people to aspire to higher moral values in every area of their lives, against a background of growing cynicism regarding even the possibility of virtuous living.'

I know that the St Vincent de Paul Trust does excellent work with those in poverty and distress and that in Westminster, Cardinal Hume's Passage Day Centre does some great work in helping men and women to find their feet in life, but, in general, I still find that at a Diocesan level (though I suspect this trend is nationwide), poverty and the radical call of Christ to preach the Good News to the Poor, to 'feed the hungry, clothe the naked' has been lost on the Bishops of England and Wales. Perhaps they are too sheltered from the very visible poverty of many in the United Kingdom and just imagine that somehow, addressing issues of fairer trade and campaigning for it (and blasted climate change) will make the Gospel known to the World and bring about a 'just and fair society'. It is, without doubt, the biggest load of garbage I have ever heard.

The kind of 'justice n' peace' work promoted by the Bishops of England and Wales is one that doesn't really promote the idea of the rich actually ever coming into contact with the poor, so that the chasm of understanding between Lazarus and Dives is perpetuated until the End of Time. There is a collection for CAFOD, the once Catholic charity who now, apparently, promote contraception and abortive procedures in total and utter contradiction to Church Teaching, but it is almost as if the Bishops really believe that the Gospel is somehow about Fairtrade, rather than emphasising the Works of Mercy, which not only help to act as reparation for our own sins, but touch the lives and hearts of others in a profoundly human way. Somehow, I do not think that when Our Lord preached that at the Last Judgment, He would gather into His Kingdom those who fed the hungry, gave shelter to the homeless and visited the sick and imprisoned, that He imagined the souls of a large gathering of Benetton-clad youngsters holding hands and being photographed by the Diocesan rag to raise awareness about 'climate change' ascending up to God.

To imagine that raising awareness about Fairtrade (TM) and climate change can somehow act as some kind of a replacement for the Corporal Works of Mercy is a total cop-out and a disgusting insult to Christ's Poor, in every town and city in the United Kingdom. This would be totally out of character for our Bishops, obviously, because if there is one thing that they never shirk from doing, it is proclaiming the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ 'in season and out of season', never seeking a comfortable life for themselves or us, but it needs to be seriously drawn to their attention because, the last time I looked, the Bishops of England and Wales have it very nice thank you very much. They live in fantastic houses, live very happily and from all appearances, live a very comfortable life indeed. On this issue, as well as those well-beloved doctrinal issues which they defend resolutely week in, week out, they need to be told and I am thoroughly over the moon that the Holy Father brought their attention to the plight of the Church's Poor.

I know and understand that the Poor we 'have with us always', but it needs to be said, and firmly so, that it is through loving and ministering to the Poor that the rich learn to love Jesus, in them. The giving of alms, the holy tradition of showing compassion, mercy and generosity to those neglected by society has been a hallmark of the Cloud of Witnesses whom God has given to the Faithful as models of virtue, from the foundation of the Church built on the Apostles to St Francis of Assisi to Blessed John Henry Newman to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. All of them preached through their words and their deeds that the defense of the Poor, the 'orphan and the widow', and the Gospel's message of love for the Poor is an essential part of our salvation.

Let Bono and Geldof and other millionaires throw a load of the public's money up against the wall and give it to developing nations who regularly use it for tanks, while they themselves sit in massive mansions and feel satisfied with themselves. We are not them! We are Catholics, we are not the UN! We are not called by God to help campaign for 'trade deals', placing our trust in corrupt Governments and global institutions with seriously dodgy agendas such as the UN 'Population Fund', while the very same 'human rights' institution is calling for the policing of nations worldwide to 'address the refusal of physicians to perform legal abortions'!

We are here to serve God, to serve Him in our neighbour and to serve the Poor first. Yes, there are a lot of poor people in the developing nations, but they are also on our doorsteps, at the end of our very own gates and in the Lord's Churches, and it is quite obvious that, as far as they are concerned, the latest Fairtrade coffee morning and eco-bulb stampingly awful climate change publicity stunt will make absolutely no difference to their lives, bringing them neither assistance nor the love of Christ! Meanwhile, I look forward to the Bishops of England and Wales taking heed of what Pope Benedict XVI has asked and joining him in 'calling for solidarity with those in need'.

This is Jason Evans discussing homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and life on an ASBO.

He currently resides in prison for breach of his ASBO. How can the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton and the Catholic community in general show the love of God to him because it is clear that Brighton and Hove City Council, Social Services, the Police and Probation Services do not? Apologies in advance for the swearing...


Physiocrat said...

"Fairtrade" is actually a zero-sum game. You help a few and put others at a disadvantage. Climate change is something the jury is out on. Catholic Social Teaching actually has a bearing on both matters.

Personally, I find it embarrassing and frustrating that whilst fellow-Catholics are willing to undertake direct action in engaging with and helping the poor, they refuse to think about the social and economic circumstances that have brought them to that situation, and to contemplate the possibility that it is not inevitable.

Not only is the intellectual idleness of the worst sort - it is entirely contrary to the lastest encyclical Caritas in Veritate which points out that justice is the most importance component of charity. Now one cannot work for justice without an understanding about what justice consists of. That takes work.

This idleness of thought goes back a long way, to the time when the Society of St Vincent de Paul was founded by aristocratic women in the French court. They were happy to help the poor without considering the reasons for their poverty. When a later generation got round to addressing the question - I am thinking of the Physiocrats, Turgot and Louis XVI, it was too late and we got the bloody French revolution instead.

The same thing happened in the nineteenth century, when the authorities failed to endorse proposals which would substantially have put an end to the poverty caused by the industrial revolution, and so we got Communism and Nazism instead.

After doing soup runs we Catholics ought to go and do a bit of studying or we shall be overtaken by the next evil ideology.

The Bones said...

I think that Our Lord's words 'The poor you shall have with you always' suggest that there is no earthly 'answer' to the scourge of poverty, Henry. I think it is utopian thinking to believe that any simple 'answer' exists.

There are few things more irritating than a group of middle class or upper class people discussing why poverty exists and what they think the solution is.

The Bones said...

Also, no matter how excellent Caritas in Veritate is, and no matter how excellent Church Social Teaching is on this matter, if the World refuses to recognise the humanity of even the unborn child, why would it prioritise the poor in the way Caritas in Veritate does?

Who will be targetted by Cameron and Osbourne over the next few years to save some pennies? It will be those without a voice who will feel 'the pinch' most.

Physiocrat said...

If the poor are always with us how come there are so few of them here in Sweden? Or Denmark, Norway or Finland? Could it be that they are doing something right which they are not doing in Britain? Or doing something wrong in Britain that the Scandinavians are not? It is the same people, the same original sin, the same planet, so what is different?

The principal cause of poverty is readily identifiable and the remedy is then pretty obvious and not a matter of opinion. It does not take discussion. It takes serious study. And as lay people we have a duty to do that.

If we do not, then something very nasty will happen (think Paris 1789, Russia 1917) and we shall have been partly responsible through our failure to grasp and propagate the church's teaching. Britain is heading for very serious trouble. It would not take much to trigger a social collapse. This was clear when I returned after a period abroad in 2006, and things have got much worse since then. There is a limit to the number of poor that a society can have without the thing breaking apart. There is no room for complacency.

Clare@ BattlementsOfRubies said...

Ooh language Timothy!
You're in a sweary mood this evening Laurence!
I respectfully disagree with Physiocrat that what he describes is
"intellectual idleness of the worst sort"
Although perhaps it is "intellectual idleness of the Mother Teresa sort".

And I heartily echo this comment:
"if the World refuses to recognise the humanity of even the unborn child, why would it prioritise the poor in the way Caritas in Veritate does?"

It's always easier to opine about stuff rather than get ones hands dirty. Which is why I generally much prefer to opine about stuff rather than get my hands dirty. Also I often find "The Poor"(TM) to be annoying and ungrateful. Unlike my Fairtrade coffe which rarely disappoints.

The Bones said...

It is, I think, a little late to follow Sweden's economic model, Henry!

The Bones said...

Dirty hands?

Going by your pic, you're the one who changes the nappies...and are they ever grateful!?


Physiocrat said...

"It is, I think, a little late to follow Sweden's economic model, Henry!"

Which is what, exactly? And maybe it is not a matter of doing something, but of stopping doing something. Anyhow there is a lot at stake, fortunately I will be out of it one way or another when it all goes tits-up, which is the most likely outcome.

Since when were feeding the poor and doing some study mutually exclusive?

The Bones said...

You think I'm swearing now, Clare?

You should have heard me when I looked at my bank account today. The air in the flat turned distinctly blue...

The Bones said...

Because there is study and there is intellectual masturbation.

Study, if it were to be study, would be learning from those in poverty, involving them, since they have a greater understanding of the subject matter than all the university professors in the World combined.

Physiocrat said...

Involving the poor in conversations is a good thing to do. You will receive the same understanding of the situation as you will by talking to a front-line private in the army.

You will find out, perhaps, that the trenches are vermin-ridden and muddy, that the guns don't work properly, that the food is inedible, that the latrines are disgusting, and so on.

But you will not get to find out why the generals are propelling their men into a futile bloodbath, nor the political and economic mismanagement that led to the war in the first place.

I have no respect, on the whole, for university professors as they are part of the problem. As lay Catholics, we should have respect for Catholic Social Teaching, and of course scripture, and make an attempt to understand it.

As an example, both scripture and the successive popes have repeatedly preached against usury. What was the origin of the present financial crisis? Why, usury. That does not take so very much study to realise. But how many lay Catholics or members of the hierarchy has said so out loud?

We have more to contribute than the academics whom you rightly scorn.

Ben Trovato said...

Somebody very wise (I forget who) pointed out that we had moved from caring for people (works of mercy, corporal and spiritual) to caring about issues (campaigning) and how damaging that was to us as well as to the poor....

I should know: I'm an expert at pontificating, but when it comes to visiting the sick, feeding the hungry...

The Bones said...

Ben, whoever that very wise person was, he or she was right.

It is important that Bishops respond generously to what the Holy Father has asked.

Is it too much to ask that Bishops should be 'fathers of the Poor', as well as Shepherds to Priests and Laity?

Anonymous said...

Dear Physiocrat:

If you think there are no poor in Scandinavia, you do not know what poverty is.

Fighting poverty is a utopian project of self-salvation. It's radically different from serving the poor, to which we're called not out of sentimental pity or the sake of their own merit, but because in doing so we experience an authentic encounter with the truth of our own selves, and with Jesus Christ.

In short, we serve the poor because it's we who are needy. At the last judgment my hope will be for mercy far more than for justice.


PS Please do not mistake my comments as dismissive of the importance of peace and justice. My point is that any work we do to those ends is inauthentic and ultimately corrupted unless it's grounded in our direct and personal service of the poor themselves.

The Bones said...

In fairness to Henry there could be much less poverty in those countries and perhaps not as extreme.

Perhaps families are stronger, there is less abuse, divorce etc.

The Bones said...

And the welfare state is known to be stronger and more robust (and generous). I expect there is less drug addiction there, perhaps a better way of life.

Anonymous said...

I speak of Scandinavian poverty in the same sense as Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Again, speaking of assisting the poor, her counsel was not to wait for grand projects, but to get on with it, one-on-one.


Physiocrat said...

Anonymous, it is not a question of either/or but of both-and. These are matters that have been addressed by Holy Scripture itself, and by the popes from the very start. The very first encyclical by Benedict XIV in 1745, condemned usury. And what was at the root of the present economic crisis? Why, usury?

We lay Catholics have a duty to understand the church's teaching and present it to the world. That is not by any stretch of the imagination intellectual masturbation, nor a utopian project of self-satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

And what was at the root of the present economic crisis? Why, usury?

It's far more complicated than that.

The Bones said...

Henry's got a point.

It's not really that much more complicated than that.

Anthony said...

But surely there is a deeper problem that usury - after all, credit only became a big deal in the 1970s, at precisely the time when real term wages stopped rising (hence, the introduction of credit cards etc was a 'solution' to the problem capital faced in wanting to freeze wage rises without stemming demand for goods). Preventing usury wouldn't prevent poverty, it would just mean either a) wages would have to rise slightly ahead of inflation (as was the trend from around 1940 to 1970) or b) a mass of poor labourers would have to be kept in the 'third world', often at the point of a gun, to support our consumption. Clealry Western society has opted for path b), increasing overall global poverty and ensuring a significant degree of unemployment even in its own terrain.

Anonymous, I find your argument is ultimately un-Christain: you seem to be saying that the poor are necessary so that the more fortunate can get an occasional 'fix' of their own inner desperation. Surely that does not reflect a desire to end suffering, it implies that suffering must be perpetuated in order to help fulfill your own spiritual quest!

Clare@ BattlementsOfRubies said...

You've gone and cleaned up the language Laurence!
I just wanted to clarify in case any confused new reader thought that, in commenting on your swearing, I might be referring to rude words like "CAFOD" and "naked".

The Bones said...


Physiocrat said...

The way this discussion is developing is very good. It confirms the original point. The soldiers in the muddy trenches need better clothing, food and weapons. But the battle strategy should waste fewer lives. And ideally the war would stop, as all wars do in the end, and then there has to be diplomacy.

The matter is more complicated than just usury, though the present boom and bust was little more than that, only dressed-up to look like something else. Most of the rest is actually due to causes that are addressed in scripture and Catholic Social Teaching which we why lay people need to know what they say and how they are relevant to present circumstances. With Marxism discredited and, one hopes, dead, and Anarcho-Capitalism running rampant, Catholic Social Teaching is the only decent show in town.

Oddly enough, the poor know more than any university professor or high flying economist will ever do about the most important law in economics - Ricardo's Law. Look it up.

As regard's Laurence's point, a politician who does not regard an unborn child as human is not to be trusted on any matter. Unfortunately, a politician that does might not be able or willing to look at the bigger picture. This really is a matter of both-and.

Anthony, credit became a problem from the 1980s when bank lending was deregulated and they got into the home mortgage business which previously was the province of the building societies. This created the bubbles of the late 1980s and the more recent one, both of which ended in busts. This is usury-on-steroids in action.

Jonathan Marshall said...

I gave up supporting CAFOD because:
1. It is not 'Catholic' at all. It rarely even mentions religion - never mind Catholicism - in any of its public utterances, and it has manifestly gone against Catholic teaching in numerous ways.
2. "Fairtrade" and "Climate change" are the only dogmas it adheres to.
3. It is basically a left-wing secular charity.

Jonathan Marshall said...

I gave up supporting CAFOD because:
1. It is not 'Catholic' at all. It rarely even mentions religion - never mind Catholicism - in any of its public utterances, and it has manifestly gone against Catholic teaching in numerous ways.
2. "Fairtrade" and "Climate change" are the only dogmas it adheres to.
3. It is basically a left-wing secular charity.

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