Letter from the Director -- April 2010


Dear Friends of Istituto Acton,

Religion and economics, along with the enormous cloud of volcanic ash lingering over most of Europe, have dominated the news headlines in April, so there is an abundance of material for reflection and commentary.

The Vatican’s handling of clerical sexual abuse cases continues to draw massive attention from the international media. Pope Benedict’s trip to Malta, where he met with several abuse victims, seems to have done quite a bit of good, though the general consensus remains that the Vatican lacks a coherent, organized strategy, at least when it comes to its press office and the somewhat random statements coming from various Cardinals and preachers in recent weeks.

While there is quite a bit of truth to this criticism, it is worth remembering that the Catholic Church is not run like a multinational corporation or some kind of authoritarian regime; the Church actually does try to practice what she preaches about human freedom and human dignity, despite the failings and weaknesses of her sons and daughters.

Those who dissent from Church teaching, such as Hans Küng, are playing a different game. It is one thing to say that Vatican needs to be run more efficiently and professionally, yet quite another to say that the Church needs to allow for women priests and end the rule of celibacy for the priesthood. (See George Weigel’s open letter in response to Küng’s open letter to all bishops.) As Fr. Raymond de Souza pointed out, reform is ultimately a matter of deciding whether the Church becomes more Catholic or less so. This is an excellent way to determine the fidelity and true concern coming from critics.

Speaking of reform, the United States Congress is currently considering a huge restructuring of the financial industry, and, by “coincidence”, the Securities and Exchange Commission has accused the mega-investment bank Goldman Sachs of massive fraud. For a good summary of the charges, read First Things senior editor David Goldman’s “What the Goldman Sachs scandal is all about” and “Leviathan Eats the Giant Vampire Squid”, and watch this clip on CNBC’s Kudlow Report. Corporatist solutions, a.k.a. crony capitalism, will only increase the influence of big government and big business to the detriment of capital-starved entrepreneurs and small businesses.

And just in case you still think big government is the way to go, consider the complete shut-down of European air traffic due to the volcanic ash coming from Iceland. It should go without saying that we need to be careful about the safety of passengers, but one wonders whether we’ve developed an irrational fear of worst-case scenarios and have become much too risk-averse. Perhaps this is a consequence of certain form of idolatry.

We hope you enjoy our two Acton News and Commentary pieces this month on the stewardship and sustainability of GMO crops and the staggering economic ignorance of the popular preacher Jim Wallis. For those of you are or will be in Rome or Krakow, please consider attending our upcoming events: our study day on the contribution of Christianity to representative government in Rome on May 12, and the third conference in our international series on poverty, entrepreneurship and integral human development in Krakow on May 19. Both will deal with issues that are always relevant and important to those concerned with building a free and virtuous society. Under these circumstances, God knows we need all the help we can get.

Kishore Jayabalan
Director