Monday, 15 November 2010

Pope Paul VI lecture 2010 (1): questions of collaboration

The Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture proved, as far as Claudette Werleigh's lecture was concerned, to be very interesting (in my view, any way). Ms Werleigh offered a very careful analysis of the situation in her home country of Haiti, both before and after January's earthquake. This situation was evaluated by reference to the encyclicals Populorum Progressio and Caritas in Veritate. Evaluation was also offered in terms of a notion of "human flourishing" from an author whose name I didn't catch. The full text of the lecture is due to appear on the CAFOD website from 26th November, and I intend offering a fuller comment when I have access to the published text. (Unfortunately, I do not think that the report by Anita Boniface at Independent Catholic News describes Ms Werleigh's lecture very well.)

What was apparent in two respects during the evening was the general question of how a Catholic organisation like CAFOD collaborates with others in public life who have views at odds with Catholic teaching.

1. Jon Snow's views were the subject of some comment before the lecture - see here, for example. As he introduced the lecture, Mr Snow described his first encounter with CAFOD. This was after he had been asked to go to El Salvador to cover events after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Mr Snow's crash course in El Salvador and Archbishop Romero was provided by Julian Filichowski, then the director of CAFOD.  This, I would suggest, was a positive side of collaboration - briefing someone - though Mr Snow's references to "liberation theology" and "the Jesuits in central America" did leave me hoping that he actually realised Archbishop Romero was no advocate of "liberation theology". Since he had just returned from covering the cholera outbreak in El Salvador, Mr Snow was also able to make some useful observations about the situation in Haiti later in the lecture.

2. Before the lecture began, two of CAFOD's promotional videos were shown on screen. In one of them, Nelson Mandela appears, calling for the overcoming of poverty: Your Kingdom Come Part 1. In the second, it is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who appears, urging us to "say no to injustice": Your Kingdom Come Trailer. Both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are great advocates of freedom, when that is seen in a certain respect. But Desmond Tutu, for example, had this to say when Pope Benedict XVI was elected:
"We would have hoped for someone more open to the more recent developments in the world, the whole question of the ministry of women and a more reasonable position with regards to condoms and HIV/Aids... (source here)
I have memories of him expressing his criticism of Pope Benedict (and the Catholic Church's) stance on condom use and HIV/AIDS more strongly than this when Pope Benedict visited Africa.

The nature of political engagement is that you work with people on one issue when, on another issue, you might be strongly opposing them. The collaboration on one issue would not thereby be seen as support on the other issue. For a Catholic organisation like CAFOD, I think this kind of political pragmatism has legitimacy. In political advocacy and the practical provision of overseas aid, it is possible to work alongside partners who don't fully hold one's own position without compromising your own inegrity.

The position is slightly different, though, when it comes to promotional activities or materials. I think that the discernment of what it is that you do share and value in the person of the collaborator should be more explicitly acknowledged. If it is not made more explicit, there can be a counter-witness to the values of the Catholic organisation involved. The notion of freedom to which Desmond Tutu is a great witness is not, because of his different position on contraceptive provision, quite the same as that which the Catholic Church would advocate. Whilst CAFOD might share his notion of freedom in some respects, in another respect they should not, and should take some care to avoid any misunderstanding on the point. The point actually matters, because a Catholic organisation like CAFOD promotes an integral development, and not a  partial development. So a misunderstanding of their use of Desmond Tutu as a "lead figure" in a promotional video can lead to a misunderstanding of something that is central to the purpose of their existence and activity. A smiliar consideration applies to Jon Snow's chairing of the Pope Paul VI lecture.

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