National Catholic Register


Gathering at the Vatican Examines Globalization

Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences met in the Vatican gardens to discuss “Charity and Justice in the Relations Among Peoples and Nations.”



May 20-26, 2007 Issue | Posted 5/15/07 at 10:00 AM


“This has been one of our most important meetings ever, touching upon issues which affect the daily lives of billions of people,” said Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Glendon was speaking at the conclusion of the academy’s annual plenary session, a four-day meeting in early May devoted to the theme of “Charity and Justice in the Relations Among Peoples and Nations.”

The academy — made up of leading social science scholars from around the world — meets each year in the Vatican Gardens. This year’s plenary session concluded a multi-year project on globalization.

The academy publishes the fruit of its research, and presents its work to the Holy See so that the Church’s social teaching might be informed by the best scholarship in the social sciences.

“The meetings of the academy are also a privileged place for the Church to listen to and converse with the world of scholarship,” said Glendon, explaining the academy’s decision to invite several prominent guests to address the plenary session.

Most attention went to Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, who addressed a closed session of the academy on the changing role of the nation-state in international relations. Despite press speculation, he was at pains to emphasize that he is not an adviser to Pope Benedict XVI.

“Dr. Kissinger spoke about how globalization is weakening the power of nation-states, precisely as their own citizens expect them to do more to mitigate the effects of that same globalization,” said Glendon.

Other speakers included Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista, former foreign minister of Mexico, who addressed the vulnerability of poorer countries to sudden swings in world capital markets, and called for greater regulations of international capital flows. Also from Latin America, José Miguel Insulza, general secretary of the Organization of American States, addressed the strengths and weaknesses of international law in building peaceful relations between states.

Jacques Diouf, general director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, addressed the issue of access to safe water.

The members of the academy also heard from members of the Church, including an address from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, who spoke of the weakness of international governance in the face of problems beyond the scope of any single national government to solve.

Father Di Noia

Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, began the meeting by uniting theology to the work of the assembled scholars, outlining the relevance of Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), to the social sciences.

“It is of the greatest possible importance for social scientists like you to resist reductionist accounts of human nature and society, and relativistic accounts of moral reasoning and norms — accounts which almost by definition obscure the wider horizons of faith about which Pope Benedict speaks in his encyclical,” Father -Di Noia said, arguing against the tendency to let the human person disappear from social science research.

“The Church faces a huge challenge in the present day in her interaction with international agencies and national governments whose social policies have been influenced by reductionist social science,” Father Di Noia continued. “It can be demonstrated that an entirely secular anthropology — in the sense of an alternative account of the meaning of human existence — has, especially since the ’90s, come to shape the programs and policies of many international organizations, including the United Nations. … Although the roots of this secular anthropology are philosophical, the social sciences have been the principal vehicle for its diffusion in modern Western societies. … It is urgent for social scientists whose practice of their disciplines does not in principle exclude some broad account of the integral human good to counter this secular anthropology and the social engineering programs inspired by it.”

Meeting of Minds

In his summary comments, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the academy’s chancellor, noted that this year’s meeting showed remarkable overlap between papal social teaching and the work of social scientists.

Bishop Sanchez cited the example of a proposal at the meeting that the taxation of extraterritorial natural resources could be used to fund greater international aid, in accord with the Catholic social principle that the goods of the earth are for the benefit of all.

The academy will meet over the coming months to review and synthesize the work of several meetings devoted to globalization, Glendon said. Final conclusions from the academy’s work on globalization should emerge in the next year.

Father Raymond J. de Souza served as the Register’s Rome correspondent from 1999-2003. He filed this report from Rome.