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When the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church was published in the year before Pope John Paul II died, some of those who most welcomed it also noted that it should have been affixed with the cautionary sticker, “for external use only!” – The Church has this great tradition, this profound gift, of Catholic Social Teaching to offer to the world, but how is it going about applying these principles to its internal life?
This and a variety of other questions were posed to Father Anthony after dinner and his introduction to the work of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Our guest presider and speaker this evening was a presbyter of the diocese of Manchester, NH who has served the last four years with the PCJP, and four years previously as part of the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations.
He was able to share a few personal observations of the new president of the Council, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, a “soft-spoken” and “highly intelligent” man who seemed to have hit it off well with the staff that he will lead in the coming years. The Cardinal has currently returned to his home diocese to set things in order before leaving for Rome.
The question of secularism and religion, democracy and Europe came into the conversation from questions, and allowed Fr. Frontiero to relate experiences from his days with at the U.N. and from his doctoral work. At a meeting in Warsaw on human rights, he was compelled to respond to the European Humanist Federation who, while at a meeting on tolerance and non-discrimination, suggested that religion and religious people have no role in public sphere, and no rights of protection against hate-speech:
“Demonizing Christianity, or deliberately mocking and undermining central tenets of the Christian faith as a means to promoting the rights of other groups is a clear and flagrant contradiction to the religious freedom and mutual respect that all people should enjoy, not to mention the work of building a more just and peaceful community. Such practices and must be seen for what they are: a subversive attempt to dismantle the progress made thus far in the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination.” (Monsignor Anthony R. Frontiero, representative of the Holy See, HDIM 2007, session 2)
We peppered him with questions about AIDS in Africa, about the Euro-centric focus of the “secular culture” and battle with modernism/relativism, about post-modernism, and the internal ecclesiological applications of the Church’s social principles. (Unfortunately, I forgot to ask: What’s the deal with the Church and unions? There is this historical symbiosis between the two on one hand, and an unspoken allergy to even asking if there could/should be unions of church ministers or other employees…)
To Father Anthony’s credit, he gave honest answers to all questions, including the challenges of reception of the Church’s teaching within her own life – a situation as familiar to ecumenists as to peace and justice advocates, and probably, every office in the Roman curia!