July 02, 2005

Culture Wars vs. Live 8

I knew if I looked hard enough, I would find a neo-conservative Catholic who opposes the Make Poverty History campaign and its partner concert, Live 8, which was held today on four continents. I found him, and it doesn't at all surprise me that the culprit was Domenico Bettinelli. Actually, I didn't go out looking for someone opposed to Live 8; I went out looking for any neo-conservative Catholic coverage of the issue at all. I was somewhat -- but not really -- surprised that social/political Catholic weblogs like Catholics in the Public Square, Catholic Light, Loose Canon, Thrown Back, etc. didn't cover it. They were, of course, too wrapped up in their endless culture wars to notice that a billion people worldwide are living in extreme poverty, meaning that they are living on less than a dollar a day. At first, I was pleasantly surprised to see the title, "Live 8 and African debt relief," on Domenico Bettinelli's blog -- but I was soon disappointed to find that he had found a reason to oppose the campaign.

His reasoning is that debt relief only benefits the corrupt governments of developing nations, and that "democratic reform . . . [and] free trade with the West" (read: democracy and capitalism at proverbial gunpoint) are the only solutions to global poverty. Mr. Bettinelli totally ignores the other two proposals of the Make Poverty History campaign: doubling aid to the developing world and reforming global trade laws.

It occurs to me that perhaps Mr. Bettinelli's real reason for opposing Live 8 is the group of people behind it: that is, liberal celebrities. For neo-conservative hardliners like Mr. Bettinelli, the sun rises and sets on the culture wars; anything that is supported by liberals must, by its very nature, be evil. Aside from simply paying no attention to global poverty, I suspect that other neo-conservative Catholic bloggers have ignored the Make Poverty History campaign and the Live 8 concert precisely because it has been so overwhelmingly supported by liberals. We are the enemy, and anything we do is anathema, even if that "anything" happens to be aimed at ending global poverty. This is the true face of the neo-conservative movement, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. I hope everyone is paying attention.

Fortunately, Pope Benedict XVI and the world's Catholic bishops are not so entrenched in the neo-conservative movement that they're willing to ignore an effort to end global poverty simply because it has been supported primarily by liberals. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI sent a message through the Vatican Secretariat of State to Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, Archbishop of St. Andrew's and Edinburgh, Scotland. Here is the text of that message:

The Holy Father was pleased to be informed of the Make Poverty History rally beginning on Saturday 2 July in Edinburgh in preparation for the G8 summit. He sends greetings to all who are gathered for this event, united by their concern for the welfare of millions of our brothers and sisters afflicted by extreme poverty. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, "God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of everyone and of all peoples; so that the good things of creation should be available equally to all" (Gaudium et Spes, 69). For this reason, people from the world's richest countries should be prepared to accept the burden of debt reduction for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, and should urge their leaders to fulfill the pledges made to reduce world poverty, especially in Africa, by the year 2015. His Holiness prays for the participants in the rally and for the world leaders soon to gather at Gleneagles, that they may all play their part in ensuring a more just distribution of the world's goods. In the ardent hope that the scourge of global poverty may one day be consigned to history, he cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing.

Pressure has also been put upon the G8 Summit by the bishops of America and Canada, and by bishops worldwide. Cardinal O'Brien and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, attended the rally in Edinburgh.

What can we say? We can say, positively, that it's good that Pope Benedict and the Catholic bishops worldwide aren't so focused on the culture wars that they've forgotten global poverty. We can say that we're very glad that the Holy Father and the world's bishops are still very much committed to Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. But we can also say that we're very disheartened that the neo-conservative Catholic bloc, especially in America, does not seem to share this commitment to ending global poverty and staying faithful to Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes. We can say that it's time for neo-conservative American Catholics to take their heads out of the culture wars for a moment and realize that there is a whole wide world out there, and that a billion people in that great big world are living on less than a dollar a day -- as a result, they are homeless, they are starving, they are sick, and they are dying.

Is there really a more pressing issue than this? I don't think there is. I challenge neo-conservative Catholic bloggers to support the Make Poverty History campaign's efforts to end global poverty before the July 6 G8 meeting. We are going to make history; it would be a shame if the neo-conservative movement were to place itself on the wrong side of history yet again.