FaithWorld

FInancial crisis boosts European suicide rates, especially in Greece, Ireland

(Suicide hotline sign at telephone booth near Beachy Head, the chalk cliffs near Eastbourne, a leading UK suicide spot, 29 January 2009/Les Chatfield)

Suicides rates rose sharply in Europe in 2007 to 2009 as the financial crisis drove unemployment up and squeezed incomes, with the worst hit countries like Greece and Ireland seeing the most dramatic increases, researchers said on Friday. Rates of road deaths in the region fell during the same period, possibly because higher numbers of jobless people led to lower car use, according to an initial analysis of data from 10 European Union (EU) countries.

“Even though we’re starting to see signs of a financial recovery, what we’re now also seeing is a human crisis. There’s likely to be a long tail of human suffering following the downturn,” said David Stuckler, a sociologist at Britain’s Cambridge University, who worked on the analysis.

Stuckler said he feared the social and health costs of the recent global economic downturn would turn out to be high. “We can already see that the countries facing the most severe financial reversals of fortune, such as Greece and Ireland, had greater rises in suicides,” he said. “And suicides are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of mental health problems. Suicide itself is a relatively rare event, but wherever you see a rise in suicides there is also a rise in failed suicide attempts and in new cases of depression.”

Analyzing data available so far, Stuckler and colleagues found that suicide rates were up 17 percent in Greece and 13 percent in Ireland. Unemployment increased by 2.6 percentage points — a 35 percent relative increase — between 2007 and 2009 across the EU as a whole, they said.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s speech to British society

westminster pope (Photo: Pope Benedict speaks in Westminster Hall in London September 17, 2010/Tim Ireland)

Pope Benedict addressed British society on Friday in a speech in Westminster Hall and argued that faith and reason are not in conflict.

Here are excerpts from the pope’s speech:

“…I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process…

“…Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.

Crises plague centuries-old German passion play

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Andreas Richter hangs on the cross as he plays the character of Jesus Christ during a rehearsal of the Passion Play in Oberammergau on April 10, 2010/Michaela Rehle

Every 10 years, a mountain village cradled in the German Catholic stronghold of Bavaria nails Jesus Christ to a cross and charges spectators to watch. However, add a financial crisis, a wide-ranging scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and a cloud of volcanic ash to the mix, and suddenly enthusiasm for a 376-year-old Passion Play can begin to ebb.

“I don’t think the world has got the message yet. During the last passion play, people were suddenly knocking at my door looking for rooms and a ticket,” Renate Frank, owner of Gasthof zur Rose, a popular Oberammergau guesthouse told Reuters.  Today her lodgings are only half booked for the show. By this time 10 years ago, she was fully booked.

Greek Orthodox Church gears up to provide relief for crisis victims

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Trade union members march in Athens during a nationwide strike in Greece, May 5, 2010Yiorgos Karahalis

The Greek Orthodox Church is gearing up to provide relief supplies and psychological help when the country’s financial crisis really hits ordinary people after the summer, a senior churchman has said.

Greece plans draconian budget cuts to tackle a debt crisis threatening to spread across Europe. Some 50,000 Greeks marched against the austerity programme in Athens on Wednesday in a protest that saw three people killed in a fire-bombed bank.

Tax dispute flairs between Cyprus gov’t and Orthodox Church

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An Orthodox church in Limassol, Cyprus, 20 Nov 2007/Ewa Dryjanska

A furious dispute has erupted in Cyprus after the ruling communists set their sights on the island’s wealthy Orthodox Church of Cyprus to help plug a runaway deficit. The island’s government says it wants to start a dialogue with the Church regarding the millions it says the church owes in unpaid taxes.

The church says it does not owe a penny.

“We are not tax dodgers,” said Archbishop Chrysostomos, the prelate of the ancient church which traces its roots to some of the earliest followers of Jesus. The church has broad business interests ranging from a bank to a brewery.

Read the whole story here.

This echoes recent moves in Greece, where the government has decided to tax bequests and revenues from the Greek Orthodox Church’s property to help tackle a 300 billion euro ($409.9 billion) debt pile. The Church, in Greece as in Cyprus one of the country’s biggest owners of prime real estate, has until now been largely exempt from taxes even though the state pays priests’ salaries.

Sharia boards face scrutiny amid financial crisis

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A teller at Bank Syariah Mandiri in Jakarta February 17, 2010/Supri

Sharia boards face increased scrutiny and criticism as high-profile corporate defaults and cautionary comments from respected scholars cast a harsh light on the fast growth of financial products touted as Islamic.

Experts say rapid growth in the industry, which some estimates value at around $1 trillion, has put more pressure on scholars to sign off on increasingly complicated structures, wrapped in sharia packaging.

“In areas that have to do with capital guarantees, fixed income and derivatives … 40 to 50 percent of what’s being sent out is form over substance,” said Jawad Ali, managing partner at Dubai-based law firm King & Spalding.  “Mistakes do happen when a sharia board focuses on the instrument being presented … and there is little scrutiny on how the structures are being implemented.”

Ethics angle missing in financial crisis debate

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Worried Wall Street traders watch stocks fall on September 29, 2008/Brendan McDermid

In the ongoing financial crisis debate, many people think that unrestricted subprime loans, credit default swaps, astronomical bonuses, huge bank bailouts and other aspects of today’s economy are somehow unfair or wrong. This issue is not only economic or political, it’s also about ethics and morality, these people think. But that view doesn’t get traction in our political discourse. Asking the big question about what is right/fair or wrong/unfair is not really debated. Sure, there are contrary views on this and any debate would be long and lively. But it doesn’t really happen.

Some moral issues do get traction in politics. Look at abortion or same-sex marriage. The forces on both sides of this argument have considerable clout (at varying levels, depending on the country). They hold heated debates over ethical  principles such as the sanctity of human life, the freedom of individual choice or the principle of equality. But those are questions that are not primarily about the economy. When money gets thrown into the equation, there is much more of a tendency to let the market decide. What’s not illegal can’t be unethical, this view seems to argue.

POLL: Is Goldman Sachs “doing God’s work”? Its CEO thinks so

sunday-times

Check out the headline at the bottom left of the Sunday Times front page. The man the London paper calls the most powerful banker on Earth says he is “just a banker ‘doing God’s work’” .

The report says Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein“proudly pays himself more in a year than most of us could ever dream of — $68m in 2007 alone, a record for any Wall Street CEO, to add to the more than $500m of Goldman stock he owns” .

Goldman Sachs looks set to pay about $20 billion in bonuses for its top traders this year, at a time when the fallout from last year’s financial crisis is still being felt and the United States unemployment rate has hit 10.2 percent, a 26-1/2-year high.

Italian Muslims approve pope’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate

caritas-in-veritate1When Pope Benedict issued his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) in July, he addressed it to “the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful and all people of good will”. That list puts Catholics first, but it gets around to a wider audience by the end. Maybe because of that sequence, most of the discussion about the document has been in Catholic circles.

But in the pope’s back yard, i.e. in Italy, the message has attracted a wider audience. In a rare reaction from a non-Christian organisation, the Italian Muslim association Comunità Religiosa Islamica (CO.RE.IS.) Italiana has welcomed the encyclical and drawn parallels between its outlook and that of Islamic economic and social thinking. CO.RE.IS presented its reaction on the occasion of the Ecumenical Day of Christian-Islamic Dialogue in Italy on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts:

“The recent financial crisis, that witnessed an almost worldwide economic crash, should constitute a further confirmation of the impossibility of establishing a presumed society of wellbeing only upon market rules, excluding any transcendence, any metaphysical and religious perspective, as the pontiff has well expressed it … Just like the market cannot find in itself the meta-principles that would discipline it according to nature and to the function that God has entrusted to man on earth, money and capital cannot constitute a value in themselves, regardless of the finality of actions and of the realities that underlie their use…

U.S. Catholic CEO responds to Benedict’s economic encyclical

charity-in-truthPope Benedict’s encyclical “Charity in Truth” proposed a sweeping reform of the world economic system from one based on the profit motive to one based on solidarity and concern for the common good. Like other such documents in the Roman Catholic Church’s social teaching tradition, the encyclical delivers a strong critique of unbridled capitalism. This can be uncomfortable for Catholics who champion free enterprise and some conservative Catholic writers reacted quickly and critically. One of them, George Weigel, wrote the encyclical “resembles a duck-billed platypus.” (Image: Charity in Truth/Ignatius Press)

We wanted to hear the views of a Catholic executive, one who’s involved in business rather than reacting from the sidelines. So I called Frank Keating, president and chief executive officer of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). The former Republican governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003) is a former chairman of the National Catholic Review Board, which he said “sought to identify and correct the horror of sexual abuse on the part of the clergy.” He is a Knight of Malta and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

DB: What’s your overall reaction to the encyclical?

keatingFK:“I haven’t read the 30,000 words but I think what the pope is proposing is not inconsistent with other papal messages. The common denominator to all of them is the worth of the individual, the dignity of every human person. So Benedict XVI focuses on the right to life, he speaks against euthanasia, he speaks against the evil of abortion, he speaks against cloning. But at the same time he talks about duties and responsibilities to the vulnerable because the vulnerable are dignified human beings as well as those who are rich and powerful.