Letter from the Director - November/December 2010


Dear Friends of Istituto Acton,

Welcome back to our regular Acton analysis on issues concerning religion and economics. Because of our December 2 Rome conference on the ethical care of the elderly and the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays, we decided to combine our November and December editions into one. Which is not to say that there has been any lack of news coming from Rome and the Vatican the last few weeks.

As you surely know, the international media jumped all over the news of Pope Benedict’s comments on the use of condoms in the book-length interview, Light of the World. Yet, as our Acton colleague Samuel Gregg points out, there is much more to the interview than this one headline-grabbing issue. The more cynical side of me wants to say that the Vatican publishing house as well as the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano knew what would catch the media’s attention and decided to release the Holy Father’s comments ahead of time – though it also appears that Benedict himself has been wanting to clarify what he thinks about the use of condoms to prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases for some time. However that may be, no one can accuse the Pope of avoiding controversial subjects.

Diplomatic circles in Rome and the Vatican have also been buzzing over the Wikileaks publication of U.S. State Department cables, and the British newspaper The Guardian has released those coming from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, an embassy with which I have worked with for many years going back to my time at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The publishing of these documents will have serious consequences on the ability of U.S. diplomats to do their job, since many of their sources of information will be reluctant to speak with them “off the record”. It is a very unfortunate sign of our times that every utterance made between persons has become fit for public consumption.

On a more positive note, the Istituto Acton was pleased to welcome our old friend John O’Sullivan back to Rome for the Italian publication of his book on the relationship between President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, The President, The Pope and The Prime Minister. As John told the packed room at Fondazione Lepanto, the most surprising element of their collective success was that each was considered too extreme in one way or another just before coming to power – Reagan was too “American”, the Pope too “Catholic” (and especially Polish), and Thatcher too “Conservative”. But succeed they did, thanks to a shared understanding of human liberty, and they eventually helped end the Cold War with victory for the West. John was most appreciative that those whose who worked with and knew John Paul II can now read his stirring account in the local language.

We have three articles for you in this edition all by our prolific authority on European matters, Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg. While I may have a quibble or two with some of his observations, such as the supposed medieval origins of human rights, I am certain that his main points are on the mark and hope that you find them illuminating as well.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you and your families a Merry and Holy Christmas and a prosperous 2011 from all of us at Istituto Acton. We have very much appreciated your support of our activities over the last year and look forward to more of the same over the next one.

With my personal best regards,

Kishore Jayabalan
Director