FaithWorld

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Austerity is a moral issue

Security worker opens the door of a government job center as people wait to enter in Marbella, Spain, December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

In the nearly five years since the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, the remedy for the world’s economic doldrums has swung from full-on Keynesianism to unforgiving austerity and back.

The initial Keynesian response halted the collapse in economic activity. But it was soon met by borrowers’ remorse in the shape of paying down debt and raising taxes without delay. In the last year, full-throttle austerity has fallen out of favor with those charged with monitoring the world economy.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has been urging German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been imposing singeing public spending cuts on her neighbors, and George Osborne, Britain’s finance minister, who has been doing the same to the Brits, to ease up. The IMF is now urging fiscal measures beyond monetary easing “to nurture a sustainable recovery and restore the resilience of the global economy.”

Earlier this month, Lagarde criticized America’s automatic sequester cuts for being too deep, too soon. The United States, she said, “should consolidate less in the short term, but give … economic actors the certainty that there will be fiscal consolidation going forward.”

Pope tells Croatians EU too bureaucratic, sometimes ignores local cultures

(Pope Benedict XVI arrives in his "popemobile" in front of Zagreb's main cathedral June 4, 2011/Nikola Solic)

Pope Benedict criticized the European Union’s bureaucracy on Saturday as overly centralised and rationalistic, saying it sometimes neglected historical differences and national cultures. He made the comments as he started a lightning trip to Croatia, which is bidding to become an EU member and is expected to join the bloc in 2013.

“Croatia’s entry into Europe is logical, right and necessary,” the pope told reporters aboard the plane from Rome.  But he also said he could understand how some people in a small country like Croatia, whose entire population of some 4.4 million people is little more than that of some major European cities, would be wary of joining a big bloc. Some 50 percent of Croatians support EU entry, while some 30 percent oppose it and 20 percent are still undecided, according to recent opinion polls.

EU assures religious leaders it backs freedom of belief in Middle East

(European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (L), European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (C) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (R) hold a news conference after a meeting with religious leaders in Brussels May 30, 2011/Yves Herman)

European Union leaders assured senior religious figures on Monday they would defend the freedom of belief in the Middle East as part of their support for the spread of democracy in the Arab world. European Commission President Jose Barroso told about 20 Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders at an annual consultation in Brussels that the EU aimed to promote democracy and human rights both in Europe and in its neighbouring countries.

Several of the Christian representatives present expressed concern about religious freedom in the mostly Muslim Arab world, which has seen more freedom of speech in recent months but also more violent attacks on Christian minorities in some countries.

Italy blocks EU religious persecution text ignoring Christians

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(Christians protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them, in Cairo January 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

The European Union failed to agree on a statement against the persecution of religious minorities on Monday after Italy objected to the omission of any reference to the protection of Christians. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a draft proposed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers expressing concern about increasing numbers of attacks on places of worship and pilgrims showed an “excess of secularism”.

“The final text didn’t include any mention of Christians, as if we were talking of something else, so I asked the text to be withdrawn, so in fact it has been withdrawn,” he told reporters.

Vatican Bank head in money laundering probe–sources

2_euro_coin_Va_serie_3The Vatican bank’s top two officials are under investigation for suspected money laundering and police have frozen 23 million euros ($30.21 million) of its funds, Italian judicial sources said on Tuesday.

They said President Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and director-general Paolo Cipriani were being investigated by Rome magistrates Nello Rossi and Stefano Fava in a case involving alleged violations of European Union money-laundering rules.

The Vatican confirmed the Rome magistrates’ action in a statement that expressed “perplexity and amazement” at the move and “utmost faith” in the two men who head the bank, officially known as Institute for Religious Works (IOR).  It said the bank had committed no wrongdoing because it was transferring its own money between its own accounts.

from Global News Journal:

Religious leaders and the EU take tentative first steps

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Top European Union officials held talks this week with religious leaders, part of a policy of holding consultations with religious groups that was enshrined in the EU's Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force last December. But not everyone supports the move.
 
More than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders -- joined by a representative each from the Hindu and Sikh communities -- met  the presidents of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council on Monday to discuss how to fight poverty and social exclusion.

It was the the sixth such consultation since 2005, but the first to take place in the context of the Lisbon treaty, the EU’s latest collective agreement.  Article 17 of the treaty commits the EU to maintaining "an open, transparent and regular dialogue with ... churches and (non-confessional and philosophical) organisations".

But opponents of the guidance say that because many Europeans are secular and an increasing number practise non-Christian religions, churches should not have special rights.

Greek faithful return to pray in ancient Turkish homeland

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew leads prayers at St Theodore in central Turkey on June 27/Photo by Simon Johns

About 1,000 Greek Orthodox gathered in central Turkey this weekend for a pair of emotional liturgies led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the Greek faithful seek to reclaim a cultural and religious link to their ancient homeland.

Elderly women wept as black-clad nuns and monks recited mournful chants on Sunday in the 19th-century St Theodore’s Church in Derinkuyu, a sleepy hamlet Greeks once called Malakopi in the popular tourist region of Cappadocia. Most of the worshippers were the descendants of Greeks who were expelled from Turkey almost 90 years ago with the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at St Theodore’s Church in Turkey, 27 June 2010/Simon Johns)

Bartholomew of Constantinople faced the altar flanked by three crowns: Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria, Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece and Archbishop Hilarion, the head of Russian Orthodox external relations. Hilarion has been a key player in a rapprochement between the Churches of Moscow and Istanbul. Bartholomew said Hilarion came on a pilgrimage to Cappadocia.

New Turkish opposition party leader sacks secularist old guard

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Istanbul, 24 May 2008/Tom Heneghan

Turkey’s new opposition leader has purged key hardline secularists and set a tentative reformist course in a bid to regain ground lost to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party government, which critics accuse of secretly pursuing an Islamic state.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a 62-year former civil servant, was elected chairman on Saturday following the resignation of veteran party leader Deniz Baykal over a sex tape scandal. The CHP delegates elected the new party assembly on Sunday.

While courting the more militant secularist elite, the CHP has lost support among urban, middle-class voters by firmly resisting AK’s European Union-inspired reform steps to pare back army influence and liberalise the economy. The CHP has vigorously opposed moves by AK, which denies Islamist ambitions, to reform a constitution born of a 1980 military coup.

New Serbian Orthodox patriarch seen open to dialogue

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New Patriarch Irinej in Nis on 19 Jan 2010/Stevan Lazarevic

The  Serbian Orthodox Church elected a new leader on Friday seen as open to modernisation and interfaith dialogue at a time the country is seeking a future with the European Union. Bishop Irinej Gavrilovic, 80, will be Serbia’s 45th patriarch and the successor to the late Patriarch Pavle.

The church is an important moral force in Serbian society and politicians often seek its tacit support. Religion has long been a defining, and often dividing, characteristic of Slavs in former Yugoslavia, identified as Orthodox Christians, Catholics or Muslims whether or not they are believers.

Zivica Tucic, a Belgrade-based religious affairs journalist, described him as a moderate and constructive man.  “Patriarch Irinej is also very open to other churches and is a man of dialogue,” he told Reuters.

French foreign ministry bureau studies faith issues worldwide

kouchner sarkozy

Bernard Kouchner (L) and Nicholas Sarkozy (R), 10 July 2008/Vincent Kessler

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, one of the original “French doctors” who has been active in humanitarian causes for decades, once said the only major conflict he knew that had nothing to do with religion was the 1969 “football war” between El Salvador and Honduras. With a perspective like that, he naturally asked when he took over the foreign ministry in 2007 where religion figured in its diplomatic analysis and strategy. The answer was that it didn’t really figure in it, at least not in a systematic way. Laïcité — France’s trademark separation of church and state — had created a kind of “we don’t do God” reflex in its diplomacy. Kouchner began a series of internal discussions about the new challenges to diplomacy,  issues such as global warming, terrorism, sustainable development or religion. One of the results was the establishment last summer of a religious affairs bureau at the Quai d’Orsay.

Joseph Maïla, the former rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris appointed to head this bureau, explained the thinking behind this step in an interview that ran on our newswire today. As he explained in that story, the issue has an interesting European dimension, because the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty calls for a regular dialogue with religious groups in Europe. He added that  President Nicolas Sarkozy’s more flexible approach to laïcité also helped bring about a new appreciation of the role religion plays in public affairs. This has nothing to do with any loosening of the actual church-state separation in France, he stressed, but creates an atmosphere in which it’s easier for religious issues to be considered as factors in policy planning. Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Maïla said the bureau’s tasks were to study the links between religion and conflict, follow issues of church-state separation in Europe and advise the ministry on which positions to take on issues where religion is involved. He stressed that France had obviously dealt with international religious issues in the past, when they were clearly relevant to a problem, but didn’t take a systematic approach to faith in public affairs. Now, with a six-person bureau dedicated to the issue, it has one of the largest staffs dealing with the question in Europe. Most other European countries, which don’t have the same traditional reluctance to discuss religion in politics, usually have only one or two diplomats tracking faith issues.