The Catholic Church and World Politics

Coleman, John A.

BOOKS Mission to the ends ol the earth ric Hanson has tackled a giant and, basically, tied it down. There exist few more capacious and elusive topics for investigation than the Catholic...

...Moreover, the ideological conflation of the curial service bureaucracy with the papacy makes anything like organizational accountability a chimera...
...The two main interests in the study include: (1) the Catholic church in world politics with an emphasis on Soviet and American security policy and the question of arms control...
...The book is, almost always, a lively read...
...and quasi-autonomous transnational units such as Opus Dei, the Jesuits, Communion and Liberation, etc...
...Hanson traces church and politics in France, Britain, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Protugal, West Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Zaire, the Union of South Africa, Japan, and China...
...Nevertheless, in fact, "Vatican foreign policy most closely approximates that of Jordan in the Middle East, of Austria in its emphasis on fostering East-West relations, of the Netherlands in public support for a European rather than a nationalist orientation, and of the People's Republic of China in focusing on reformist solutions to North-South disparities...
...The Vatican wants to play a role of mediator between East and West and pursues its own Ostpolitik...
...Hanson restricts his treatment of the second topic to "the expressive power" of the Catholic symbol system and the shrewd use of the media by John Paul II whose various trips provide a lens for the countries he visits...
...Finally, we need a deeper account than Hanson gives of how other trans-national actors constrain the scope of church politics and how institutional interests represent a sort of bottom-line raison a" eglise similar to the constraints of raison a" etat...
...We are never really given, however, the ideological background to see just how this constellation of foreign policy concerns coheres and why it is not merely adventitious...
...Buy it...
...Thus, the Vatican is for detente, for international agencies such as the United Nations and the World Court, for religious freedom, for human rights...
...After exposing us to much vivid and useful descriptive material, we are never quite sure that Hanson demonstrates a coherent Catholic foreign policy or view of world politics...
...Few more capacious since the scope of the research includes politicotheological ideology...
...John Paul II, unfortunately, has no Howard Baker...
...Indeed, the book remains short on explanatory schemes...
...In one section of the book, Hanson contrasts various ideological trends in contemporary world Catholicism: traditional Catholicism, progressive European Catholicism, the liberation poets, and Catholic democratic capitalism...
...The church is less free institutionally than its ideology about politics allows one to believe...
...Still, one misses a distinctive perspective or viewpoint that would allow some critical leverage in assessing Catholic political stands...
...The object is to win and preserve the best position for the church...
...What it all comes down to is that the Vatican is against what is against its interests and most of all is against a persecuting power...
...His is a well-written, lively narrative which puts together a staggering mass of recent research on Catholicism as an international system of action, political influence, and belief...
...regional episcopal groupings such as CELAM in Latin America...
...But these are mere cavils...
...Hanson attempted the near impossible and, basically, pulled it off rather brilliantly...
...You will learn more about Catholicism and world politics from it than from any other competing source...
...Frequently, Hanson's primary focus is on Vatican foreign policy...
...I have no doubt that Hanson's book may achieve the same status...
...Nowhere else has this mass of data been so well marshaled...
...He notes, "The Vatican claims that the Catholic church has no foreign policy in the political sense as all its activities are directed toward the religious good of the faithful...
...organizational analysis of the papal service bureaucracy whose mentality the long-time British Vatican watcher, Peter Nichols, describes as "formalistic, fussy, and devotedly jealous...
...18 December 1987: 757...
...I note it is a recent choice of the Catholic Book Club...
...We would need a much better sense of Catholic theories of society than we get here to see how the church is, in Nichols's terms, anything more than a Machiavellian actor maximizing its own institutional interests a frequent and not entirely incredible charge...
...Hanson is at his best in dealing with the issues of arms control and peace movements and the Catholic church's role in both...
...I am not totally convinced, for this reason, that Hanson refutes Peter Nichols's counter-charge: "Politics enters the Vatican's thinking only indirectly...
...The major weakness of the book lies in its treatment of a Catholic political culture, too simplistically it strikes me juxtaposed to socialism and capitalism...
...Especially with the current, almost pathologically peripatetic pope, no one seems really in charge at the curia...
...national church units and episcopal conferences in, e.g., West Germany, Poland, the U.S.A...
...Years ago, Robert Graham wrote a book on Vatican diplomacy which, despite its flaws (it is basically overly apologetic to the system) remains the standard work with which one has to contend for starters...
...Hanson, a political scientist at the University of Santa Clara, mines secondary sources about these countries with great skill...
...No reader of Hanson could come away seeing the Roman church as a monolith...
...and (2) the impact of modern political and technological developments on the internal politics of the Catholic church...
...Nailing down resource transactions (the transfer of authoritative decisions, money, personnel, and innovative ideas and structures) across national boundaries from the Roman center to the periphery and vice versa proves an exceedingly elusive task since Vatican bureaucratic practice, as Hanson contends, shows striking similarities to the Soviets...
...We move so quickly from country to country and issue to issue...
...Detente is in the best interests of the Catholic churches in Eastern Europe...
...But, as Hanson notes, unlike Pope John XXIII who mediated between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis, "it is difficult to imagine this particular pope being perceived as a neutral mediator by the Kremlin...
...I would have much preferred to those thumb-nail impressionistic accounts a more systematic teasing-out of comparative church-world stances such as one finds in Daniel Levine's book, Religion and Politics in Latin America, or Scott Mainwaring's excellent, The Catholic Church and Politics in Brazil...
...The scope of research covered by Hanson's book is simply daunting...
...the Vatican diplomatic corps operating within national boundTHE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN WORLD POLITICS Eric O. Hanson Princeton, $24.95, 455 pp...
...He runs a risk, however, in his eclectic use of other authors whose explanatory interpretations are not, necessarily, his own...
...He stresses, unfortunately, representative writers rather than living movements...
...Shrouded in secrecy, the real meaning of the periodic musical-chair changing of the curial guard in the 756: Commonweal Byzantine Vatican bureaucracy is often, as in the Soviet system, anyone's guess...
...There exist few more capacious and elusive topics for investigation than the Catholic church in world politics...
...John A. Coleman aries and in international agencies...
...Hanson's sprawling map confuses at times...

Vol. 114 • December 1987 • No. 22


 
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