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'CARITAS IN VERITATE'

Ultimo Aggiornamento: 29/08/2009 20.08
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A Dominican social scientist on CIV:
She hopes the Pope has rattled
the consciences of business leaders

by Edward Pentin
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28 August 2009


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The first thing that strikes you when meeting Sister Helen Alford is that she is dressed immaculately in a black-and-white Dominican habit.

Rather than dispense with the wimple and scapula to angrily fight for equal rights, she conveys a moderate and considered approach to social justice that is surprisingly positive, and refreshingly traditional.

Born in 1964 in South Croydon, Sister Helen was educated at a Catholic comprehensive in south London before going on to Cambridge University, where she studied engineering and joined the Dominicans.

Hers is a background that has naturally given her a nuanced and intellectual view of social justice issues - one that could almost be described as prophetic.

In 2001 she co-authored Managing as if Faith Mattered, a kind of forerunner to the latest papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, that drew attention to the need for ethics and faith in business.

We meet at Rome's Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (otherwise known as the Angelicum), where Sister Helen is dean of the social sciences faculty. She is the first female faculty head at the Angelicum and only the second in the history of Rome's pontifical universities.

But her offices, slightly away from the old cloisters of the university, are modern, grey and somewhat dull - very different to her own personality. A quick talker with a sunny personality, she conveys a sharp mind that's bristling with ideas.

A Dominican specialising in social sciences comes as no shock. The Order of Preachers has a long tradition dedicated to social justice: St Thomas's writings fused Christian revelation with political and economic questions such as usury, slavery and bonded labour, and Sister Helen keenly points out that international law owes as much to Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suárez as it does to Hugo Grotius.

Another Dominican, St Antoninus of Florence, wrote a three-volume summa to help priests hear the confessions of merchants and traders.

But Sister Helen's own initial interest in social sciences owes itself not to the Dominican order but studying engineering and, in particular, coming across Engineers and the Work People Do by H Rosenbrock.

The book, she says, "really hit me between the eyes" as it showed her how the world had a predominantly techno-centric, rather than anthropocentric, approach to engineering and industry dating back to the Industrial Revolution.

"I saw that the whole approach to the design of these systems was wrong," she recalls, "so I studied human-centered technology as a PhD."

Not surprisingly, Sister Helen welcomes Pope Benedict XVI's first social encyclical. She calls it "quite a sophisticated document" and appears pleased with its emphasis on the economy being a place of "civilising love" where fraternity as well as solidarity need to be developed.

She says it's possible to "see the hand of Italian economists in certain phrases" and notes that some have called it a "little too long". But she thinks overall it will have a very positive impact. "We shouldn't underestimate the influence of these encyclicals," she says.

John Paul II's 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, which was dedicated to how development needs to be focused on the human being, was discussed at a major United Nations seminar a year later. Soon after, Sister Helen recalls, the UN produced its first Human Development Report which looked at other economic variables such as education and healthcare as well as GDP.

"I don't know whether there's a direct connection between that seminar and these reports," she says, "but encyclicals can have all kinds of influences all over the place."

She is especially hopeful the encyclical will prick the consciences of business leaders, especially Catholic ones whose companies might, for instance, be running labour camps in Dubai or sweatshops in India. She sees such outsourcing as a clear injustice.

"Because those jobs would be going to poor people at home, we're playing off the poor people in our own country against even poorer people in a poorer country," she explains. "But these rich people are playing off vulnerable groups in society and getting the best deal for themselves, saying in the end that it's best for poor people."

Sister Helen argues that there are, in fact, only around 700 large multinationals which control the vast bulk of world trade, so campaigning for their top managers to change their ways is not such an unfeasible task.

She also points out that some businesses are trying to be more just. Although she says they have "a long way to go", she praises companies such as McDonald's and Wal-Mart for developing "a supply-chain management system" to ensure overseas suppliers are justly treated.

She also concedes that business leaders are not always entirely guilty of such injustices as they are also governed by shareholders, but she is reluctant to believe that nothing can be done. "Anyone who knows anything about business strategy knows there's always another way of doing things," she says. "That's another way this encyclical is important because it gives people a motivation."

That motivation is love, which, she says, is central to the encyclical and what makes it transcend Left and Right political ideologies.

"The encyclical says that love is this motivational force that makes us work for development," Sister Helen explains. "These top managers are not nasty people with not no ethical values. If they really have that force of love within them to push them, they could come up with better solutions than this."

Social justice campaigners in the Church are often accused of leaning towards the political Left. Sister Helen responds knowingly to the accusation, but says those who do take a socialist line - or even a heavily weighted free-market line - are missing the point.

"Love is at the heart of our faith and people who really love will work for justice and peace," she says. Social justice is integral to the proclamation of the Christian faith, she continues, but it's also integrally connected with evangelisation because it's about the Gospel of love and the two great commandments: love of God and love of neighbour.

"Maybe the second position has purified some of the problems of the first," she says.

Sister Helen clearly backs effective government intervention and agrees with the encyclical's call for stronger international governance. She also underlines that Benedict XVI immediately balances this with a call for "structures of subsidiarity". {That's precisely the point I made in one of my rejoinders to Prof. Reno's First Things essay - bottom of the preceding page.]

But I ask her why governments come in for less criticism than perhaps they deserve in the document. There is no mention, for instance, of fiscal irresponsibility.

She replies that the encyclical is more concerned with individuals and their relationships with others rather than governments, and also the fact that the world has placed too much trust in markets. "If the governments hadn't withdrawn so much, we wouldn't have had such a big crisis," she believes.

Yet Sister Helen is aware of how both authorities and businesses can too often demand truth at the expense of charity, and show a lack of mercy that too quickly condemns people for their mistakes.

She says that's been particularly visible in Britain in the Government's dealings with priests and teachers.

"Increasingly there's a cage of rules and procedures being applied to priests and teachers but with ever less understanding of particular circumstances - that they're human beings, too, and can fail," she says. "It has become Stalinist and negative and a lot of people have left teaching because they just don't like the way we're going."

Similarly, she gives today's families as an example of charity without truth, which of course is not charity at all.

"If we are always kind and always nice, never trying to show the child that if you go beyond this line you're infringing on other people's need to have their space, then you get children growing up now who are really unable to relate in society," she explains. "So it's about finding the virtuous means, coming back to this idea of the virtues."

Sister Helen often returns to what she calls "the virtuous path" that is essentially charity in truth. But as with most conversions, developing this virtuous path is a long process and not something people will acquire overnight.

And although it's not made any easier in today's society suffering from relativism and syncretism she does see an anthropocentric approach gaining in popularity in industry and business.

For her, the most exciting challenge is getting economists to recognise the importance of fraternity - and not just solidarity - in economic systems. Whereas the latter is connected with justice, she says, the former is "more connected with freedom and individual development, and both are needed in the economy".

As economists' old established theories are not working and they're looking for other ones, so it's "an interesting time to be thinking about economic questions", Sister Helen says. "And there's an openness now that we've not seen for a long time
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 29/08/2009 19.58]
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29/08/2009 20.08
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It took ZENIT 10 days to get around to reporting this - we posted the text of the letter and its signatories from FIRST THINGS on August 19 (see preceding page)... But, unless I missed seeing any of it anywhere, still to be heard from are the major Christian church leaders, from the Orthodox to the Anglicans and Protestants!



68 Protestant leaders applaud encyclical,
call on all Christians to respond to it

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 28, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's latest encyclical was lauded by 68 Evangelical Protestant community leaders from the United States, Canada, England, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

In a message released last month, titled "Doing the Truth in Love," a group of university leaders and professors, press editors and presidents of various institutions signed a message to "applaud" the Pope's encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

The message called on Christians everywhere to "read, wrestle with, and respond to Caritas in Veritate and its identification of the twin call of love and truth upon our lives as citizens, entrepreneurs, workers and, most fundamentally, as followers of Christ."

It commended the way in which the encyclical "considers economic development in terms of the true trajectory for human flourishing."

The evangelicals echoed the call for "a new vision of development that recognizes the dignity of human life in its fullness, and that includes a concern for life from conception to natural death, for religious liberty, for the alleviation of poverty, and for the care of creation."

They underlined the document's analysis of global affairs that "rejects the oversimplifying polarization of free market and active government solutions."

"Economic institutions," they added, "including markets themselves, must be marked by internal relations of solidarity and trust."

The message affirmed the encyclical's emphasis on "business efforts guided by a mutualist principle that transcends the dichotomy of for-profit and not-for-profit and that instead pursues social ends while covering costs and providing for investment."

Economy of charity

It called on other evangelicals to "rethink who must be included among corporate stakeholders and what the moral significance of investment is."

The evangelicals endorsed "the affirmation that an economy of charity demands space for myriad human communities and institutions, not just for the state and the market, but also families and the many relationships of civil society."

"Ethical globalization," they wrote, "demands of evangelical churches everywhere that we attend to the call to do the truth in love, as we continue to respond to the great commission to 'disciple the nations.'"

They affirmed a shared fear about the "growth of an overweening welfare state, which degrades social and civic pluralism," and agreed that "subsidiarity and solidarity must be held in tandem."

The message voiced a commitment to be, as "Caritas in Veritate" stated, protagonists in the effort for "global solidarity, economic justice, and the common good, as norms that transcend and transform the motives of economic profit and technical progress."

It concluded with a call for "serious dialogue among all Christians and with many others to make these goals practical realities."
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