Last time, we talked about how our local church influences the world-wide church. But our local church must also be open to the influence of the church around the world, especially when the pope puts something squarely on our plate. An example of this can also be found in Benedict XVI’s United Nations address.
The Holy Father spoke of a need to develop a “multilateral consensus” on issues ranging from “security,” to “reduction of local and global inequalities,” to “the environment and the climate.” While such problems require all international leaders “to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith,” it is a paradox that such efforts are thwarted because everything is still “subordinated to the decisions of a few.”
Now the Holy Father is much too diplomatic to enumerate the list of those “few,” but is it really necessary? However long or short the list, our country must be placed near the top of it.
What is the pope telling us? Well, he doesn’t spell it out in so many words, so we have to give our attention to the topics he presents, and try to work out the details. What would a “multilateral consensus” look like in practice and how would we get there? And how are such matters being “subordinated to the decisions of a few?”
Let’s look at security first. How should we deal with it? The pope seems to be suggesting that we should take a leadership role in the development of a real international consensus on this problem, rather than acting on the basis of “a coalition of the willing” that sounds a lot like “the decisions of a few.”
That might go a long way toward explaining why the Holy See has made so many pronouncements opposing the current war in Iraq. Perhaps the position of the Holy Father on “multilateral consensus” suggests that no one country has a right to call for “regime change” in another country. If one nation has a veto power over another nation’s government, as the very concept of “regime change” seems to suggest, isn’t that the essence of empire? Perhaps the pope would agree with the insight of former President Ronald Reagan, that empires are evil.
Perhaps we should reflect, both as Catholics and as Americans, on whether our recent foreign policy lives up the finest part of our religious or our national traditions.
For another example, let’s take the environment and the climate. How does our nation help form a “multilateral consensus” on this topic? Well, to start with, we talk to each other and listen to each other, both at home and in the international community. We realize that new facts are being developed all the time, and that as a result reasoned opinions about the best course of action will change as well.
But we also realize that we cannot afford to sit around and do nothing until the perfect answer emerges. We have a responsibility to act now, on the basis of the best information we have so far. And when a true “multilateral consensus” emerges on what should be done now, on the basis of evidence to date, it is probably not helpful for any one nation to refuse its assent on the basis of private national interests, saying that it would cost our workers too many jobs or our corporations too much in profits. (Does the word “Kyoto” ring a bell?)
These may be uncomfortable thoughts for American Catholics, bishops, priests and laity alike, but can we be a part of the worldwide church and not listen to the voice of the rest of the church, especially when it is put to us by our Holy Father? I suggest that no one who has experienced celebrating the Eucharist with the pope and felt in his or her bones that we are all a part of something 25,000 miles around and 2,000 years deep can ignore such challenges.
Father Richard T. Lawrence is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul church in Baltimore city.