As Pope Benedict XVI steps down, observers have criticized his tenure as lacking diplomatic focus. In fact, thanks to his efforts, the Holy See was able to establish full diplomatic relations with several new countries, including Russia, and improve its ties with many more, not least Saudi Arabia.
What grade does Vatican’s foreign policy under Benedict XVI deserves? What record in international relations does he leave behind? «Admirable, if somewhat chequered», answered Edward Pentin in Foreign Affairs on February 27, 2013. «His influence in foreign affairs -like that of all popes- has been considerable», he added.
Such a general and positive remark, however, cannot make justice, as Pentin rapidly pointed out, to «a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a vast network of humanitarian aid organizations».
The Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can. That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.
To understand Benedict XVI’s approach to foreign affairs, it’s important to note his background as a professor. More at home with books than with the diplomatic corps (many of his recent predecessors had been trained statesmen), he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and his methods bore fruit, although not without a cost.
His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused.
And yet his comments struck a chord with many who began to debate in their own minds the problem of violence among certain Islamic groups, even if they were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly…
On April 11, 2008, a few days before the arrival of Benedict XVI in his first official visit as pope, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly organized a debate on the Pope’s foreign policy, anchored by Deborah Potter and broadcasted by PBS. The full script can still be read in the magazine under the title Pope Benedict’s Foreign Policy.
The first five paragraphs of the debate:
KIM LAWTON: Soviet leader Josef Stalin was once questioned about the influence of the Vatican. Stalin is famously said to have replied, “The pope? How many divisions has he got?” The answer, as it turns out, is more than Stalin and many others might have guessed. Experts say the pope and the Vatican wield considerable global influence.
JAMES NICHOLSON: (Former U.S. Ambassador): They don’t have economic engines they have to feed. They don’t have armies. They don’t have land. The Vatican is only 106 acres. It’s the smallest nation-state in the world, but it is a huge moral, spiritual superpower.
LAWTON: As the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI is the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. But he also wears another hat: head of state for the independent territory of Vatican City and the Catholic Church’s government, called the Holy See.
Professor J. PETER PHAM (Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs, James Madison University): It’s the tension between those two roles that actually gives him a resilience on the international stage, that he doesn’t just speak for a geopolitical unit but also for a demographic within the world.
LAWTON: The Holy See has played an active global role for centuries. It has permanent observer status at the United Nations and has all the rights of full UN membership except voting. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 177 countries around the world, including the US. Ambassadors, called apostolic nuncios, represent the Holy See from embassies like this one in Washington, DC. The US has sent an ambassador to the Holy See since 1984. The current U.S. ambassador at the Vatican is Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who took up her post in February. James Nicholson held the position from 2001 to 2005……
Capitalismo salvaje y medio ambiente
Los pilares del pensamiento geopolítico de Benedicto XV
Con el título y antetítulo anteriores, Juan Pablo Somiedo abordaba en un articulo publicado el 14 de febrero por Periodista Digital, las ideas básicas que subyacen tras la acción exterior de Benedicto XVI analizada por Pentin. Los dos principios sobre los que ha pivotado el pensamiento político del ya papa emerito y, por lo tanto, también sobre su acción exterior son, en su opinión, el capitalismo financiero incontrolado y un medio ambiente en proceso imparable de deterioro.
Lejos de ser compartimentos estancos, ambos principios forman un todo correlacionado, pues el capitalismo sin control termina por afectar al medio ambiente en su ansia por explotar la mayor cantidad de los recursos minerales y energéticos disponibles para mantener el bienestar adquirido por los países más desarrollados y ampliar la asimetría entre los países ricos y los países pobres, fomentando así el surgimiento de conflictos que minan la posibilidad de una paz estable y duradera. La visión del Papa, aunque desde otros ángulos y presupuestos menos teológicos, es compartida también por otros autores como es el caso del español Jose María Naredo….
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