Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development [NOOK Book]


With 1.2 billion members, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest organization and perhaps its most controversial. The Church’s obstinacy on matters like clerical celibacy, the role of women, birth control, and the child abuse scandal has alienated many Catholics, especially in the West. Yet in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Church is highly esteemed for its support of education, health, and social justice. In this deeply informed book, Robert Calderisi unravels the paradoxes of the Catholic Church’s ...

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Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development

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With 1.2 billion members, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest organization and perhaps its most controversial. The Church’s obstinacy on matters like clerical celibacy, the role of women, birth control, and the child abuse scandal has alienated many Catholics, especially in the West. Yet in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Church is highly esteemed for its support of education, health, and social justice. In this deeply informed book, Robert Calderisi unravels the paradoxes of the Catholic Church’s role in the developing world over the past 60 years.

Has the Catholic Church on balance been a force for good? Calderisi weighs the Church’s various missteps and poor decisions against its positive contributions, looking back as far as the Spanish Conquest in Latin America and the arrival of missionaries in Africa and Asia. He also looks forward, highlighting difficult issues that threaten to disrupt the Church's future social role. The author’s answer to the question he poses will fascinate Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike, providing a wealth of insights into international affairs, development economics, humanitarian concerns, history, and theology.

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Editorial Reviews

Literary Review - Caroline Moorehead

"‘I do not believe’, wrote Bertrand Russell, a man famous for his hostility to all religion, ‘there is a single saint in the whole calendar whose saintship is due to work of public utility’. In Earthly Mission, Robert Calderisi sets out to prove him wrong . . . Calderisi’s credentials for such a task are impeccable. Much of what Calderisi describes is indeed admirable, and his decision to focus on individuals within the Catholic Church – nuns and missionaries as well as popes and cardinals – makes for lively reading.”—Caroline Moorehead, Literary Review
The Economist

“Few will approach his [Calderisi’s] book with an open mind. The faithful will find his candid assessment of the church’s transgressions unsettling. Its critics will find his praise of its mission similarly discomforting. Both can learn, though, from his work.”—The Economist
Methodist Recorder - Ed Standhaft
“The reason this book is so stimulating is Robert Calderisi’s research over five continents and his conversations with laity, with priests, bishops and with the highest officials in the Vatican itself. He offers a cogent analysis of both the present and future trends in development.”—Ed Standhaft, Methodist Recorder
The Tablet - Lesley-Anne Knight

“Robert Calderisi presents a wide-ranging and comprehensive overview of the Church’s charitable and development work, but he is also refreshingly honest and critical where he feels the Church has not been true to itself.”—Lesley-Anne Knight, The Tablet
Kirkus Reviews
A wide-ranging survey with many touching stories of the work the Catholic Church has achieved in the developing world: much good, some bad. Former World Bank director Calderisi (The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working, 2006) gives a fairly evenhanded, critical appraisal of where the church has best used its vast resources for real change in the lives of the poor, in terms of education, basic services and as a liaison with local governments. Other than the Jesuits, who were trailblazers in spreading universities across the world, and early missionaries, who made education available to all social classes and to females, international action in rebuilding war-torn economies really took off at the end of World War II. Treading carefully, the author looks at the role of religion in world development, defined broadly as meeting "basic needs" so that "people will have the freedom and opportunity to lead lives they value." The Catholic Church, Calderisi notes, is a bundle of sublime contradictions: an emphasis on materialism as well as spirituality; guarding a staggering wealth yet having the ability to bestow enormous benefits on the poor; the upholding of reason "as the most marvelous of God's creations"; and one of the few religions that offers women leading roles in governance yet blocks their accession to priest or pope. While the church has a top-down structure, it also has an unparalleled commitment to the value of human dignity and to a sense of "collective well-being." The Second Vatican Council in 1965 helped unleash a yearning for diversity-rich mission work. As the author moves from Africa to Asia to Latin America, he spotlights some tremendous examples of courageous and significant Catholics. He takes exception to the church's role in the Rwandan genocide and in the failure to meet the need for birth control and effectively combat the AIDS crisis. A levelheaded work by an author determined to hold the church to its humanitarian ideals.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300196764
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 445 KB

Meet the Author

Robert Calderisi, a former World Bank director concerned with issues of international development, lectures widely on Africa, development, and foreign aid. His book The Trouble with Africa was named one of the best books of 2006 by The Economist. A committed but by no means uncritical Catholic, the author has often differed with Church policies and married a former monk. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

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Read an Excerpt





Copyright © 2013 Robert Calderisi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-17512-7


Two Troublemakers

Christians believe that people are more important than dogmas, structures, scriptures, and rituals. So one way to introduce the role of the Catholic Church, but also its contradictions and limitations, is to look at the lives of two remarkable men who exemplified what was best in the Christian tradition and yet paid a price for it. Like the imaginary nun at the start of this book, they did not spend a lot of time weighing the "pros" and "cons" of throwing themselves into the struggle. Even less did they worry about what their superiors would think of them. Both were senior churchmen who saw their personal prominence as yet another reason to live out the Gospel, rather than as a stepping stone to higher office. Neither was typical of people in their positions, but they inspired two generations of Catholics – and Christians more broadly – to expect more of themselves, as well as of other Church leaders. One lived in Brazil; the other in South Africa.

By today's standards, it is hard to see why Hélder Câmara was regarded as a threat to the established order – even if he wanted to be. The archbishop of Recife (Brazil) certainly flirted with radical chic. In a speech in Paris just days before the French students' revolt of 1968, he told young people: "Instead of planning to go to the Third World to incite violence there, stay home and help your countries realize that they need a cultural revolution, too, a new hierarchy of values, a new world vision, a global strategy of development." Describing working conditions in Brazil as "sub-human," he urged the Church to side with the "underdeveloped masses" and support non-violent action against "landowners who are still living in the Middle Ages." "What's the use of venerating pretty images of Christ, if we fail to see him in those who need to be rescued from their poverty? Christ in the northeast [of Brazil] is called José, Antonio, Severino ..."

Câmara was fearless in the face of personal attacks: "If people in power describe Catholic bishops as 'subversive' when we are simply defending broken human beings, how will they treat our priests and laity if we let them?" He was not overly worried about Communism, feeling that it would collapse once spiritual leaders abandoned their "Machiavellianism" – apparently referring to the Church's material interests – and promoted human rights. He said this in Rome in November 1965, during the Second Vatican Council – the twenty-first gathering in history of all the bishops of the Church – and may have been considered naive for doing so. But at least one other person there, Karol Wojtyla, the cardinal archbishop of Kraków, may have been having similar thoughts, unaware that he would be able to act on them as Pope John Paul II. Câmara did not think mere charity would solve very much. In cases of emergency, obviously one had to help; but generosity and "slight reforms" would not fix broader injustices: "The true Christian social order must be founded not on assistance, but on justice." He was impatient with labels: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." Peace and order, he said, were not an excuse for authoritarian rule. This was a direct shot aimed at Brazil's military governments (1964–84). He was also suspicious of intellectual fashions and overbearing advice from overseas: "Anyone who claims that the secret to development is birth control needs to have his head examined."

Latin American Christians, he thought, were responsible for the injustice around them. They had condoned the slavery of Indians and Africans and failed to defy the rich and the powerful: "Aren't we just drugging our consciences with church building and social projects? Haven't we proved Marx right by being passive in the face of tyrants?" Like many saints, he could be self-righteous and tiresome, complaining that an early session of Vatican II had not been down-to-earth enough and should end in "penitence" rather than "thanksgiving." But, despite his doubts, he was loyal to the Catholic Church. Asked by a young Frenchman how he could bear reading the starchy, authoritarian documents issued by the Vatican, Câmara replied: "There is always something good to be found there, as if the Holy Spirit had insisted on slipping in between the lines."

In Recife he tried to live up to the idea of a "Church of the Poor." He stopped wearing his purple archbishop's sash, abandoned the pretentious palace of his predecessors for a humbler residence next to the old cathedral at Olinda, had supper at the taxi-drivers' stall across the road, and hitched lifts into town instead of using an official car. More substantively, Câmara donated Church land to those who needed it, set up a credit union for the poor, involved clergy and laity in the running of the diocese, told seminarians to live in local neighborhoods rather than their colleges, and set up a theological institute where lay people and future priests were trained by women as well as men. Câmara was part of a progressive generation. Between 1959 and 1964 (when the military took power) the Church set up more than 6,500 literacy schools in northeastern Brazil, using Catholic radio programs and a textbook called Viver e Lutar ("To Live is to Struggle") which challenged current income and land distribution in the country and advised people against selling their votes. The Church organized farmer unions, sixty of them just in Câmara's state of Pernambuco by 1962. Small Christian communities were also established, and the first nation-wide conference of these grassroots bodies was held in Rio in 1966. All of these initiatives anticipated the call that the Second Vatican Council in 1962–65 would make for the Church to be more active in the world.

Remarkably for a churchman of the time, Câmara did not shy away from economic subjects, recognizing that people's lives could be transformed through a radical change in international trade policy. He recommended a regional common market to compete with the rest of the world: "Perhaps the moral force of the Church can help Latin America overcome its adolescent vanity and accept interdependence. Otherwise, we will be stuck fighting an unequal battle against international greed and selfishness."

The Brazilian military tried muzzling him, preventing the media from interviewing or quoting him, and forbidding him to speak in public. A young associate, Father Henrique Pereira Neto, was tortured, killed, and left hanging on a tree as an apparent warning to the Archbishop. On another occasion, Câmara answered the door to find a hired killer with his gun drawn. "I have come to assassinate you, Dom Hélder," the man said. The Archbishop answered, "Then you will send me straight to the Lord." The man lowered his gun and burst into tears. "I can't kill you," he sobbed. "You belong to God." Undeterred, students invited him to their meetings and graduation ceremonies, and his reputation spread around the world.

On his retirement in 1985, the pastor and prophet was succeeded by a canon lawyer, part of a generation of appointments that, in many people's eyes, would choke the breath out of a reforming institution, like a blanket of carbon monoxide. But even worse, Câmara would now be tortured by his own Church in a way that the Brazilian military could only have dreamed of. In September 1988, his successor shut down the Documentation and Public Information Service in the diocese and, a few months later, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights as well. He ordered the Justice and Peace Commission to stop using diocesan stationery. A year later, on his recommendation, the Vatican closed the Theological Institute that Câmara had founded and that had been a center of "liberation theology" for twenty years. The new archbishop also tried to close the Salesian Institute of Philosophy, but the Salesians (a religious order dedicated to teaching) protested successfully to Rome. In the face of such demolition work, Câmara was instructed to remain silent.

In December 1989, the new archbishop dismissed the pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country) and suspended him from the priesthood because of his "left-wing" politics (speaking out in defense of the poor) and his public criticism of the archbishop. Thousands took to the streets and local residents blockaded the shrine for months to prevent the installation of the new priest. (The doors were finally forced by a large squadron of military police.) In February 2012, I talked to an elderly woman who was still a staunch defender of the former pastor, more than two decades after he had been fired. The supposed rabble-rouser lives in a small house next to the church with his wife and two children (he married two years after being disciplined, apparently believing he had nothing left to lose) and says mass to a dwindling parallel community. "I decided not to follow him into his new Church," the woman told me. "But it was very hard. It was like choosing between a Christ one can only imagine and someone in the flesh who was his most perfect representative on earth." In August 1991, the archbishop stayed away from the mass celebrating Câmara's sixty years of priesthood. In return, only twenty-five of the diocese's two hundred priests attended meetings called by the archbishop.

Câmara died in 1999 and is buried in the second-oldest church in Brazil (built in 1540), high up on a hill at Olinda, overlooking the skyscrapers of modern Recife in the distance. His tomb is a slab of black marble in front of the main altar, inscribed with his signature and a dove in bronze. On either side are immense bouquets of white and yellow carnations, which are replaced every week. No other bishop is buried in the church – the remains of his predecessors lie in an ossuary behind the cathedral – and undoubtedly there will be some debate about where to place his successor.

* * *

On the other side of the Atlantic, 4,500 miles southeast of Recife, during the same period, the Catholic archbishop of Durban (South Africa) was also irritating the authorities. Unlike Câmara and his future comrade-in-arms, the Anglican Desmond Tutu, Denis Hurley was a great bear of a man. (It would later be said of him: "When you're in the hurly-burly, it's good to have the burly Hurley.") He grew up on Robben Island, where his father was the lighthouse-keeper (and where Nelson Mandela would spend most of his years in prison). He studied in Ireland and Rome and soon overcame the racism that most young South African whites grew up with at the time. In 1938, when Hitler visited Rome, excited fellow students called Hurley up onto the roof of the seminary to see the German chancellor reviewing a parade nearby. But the young South African stayed where he was. Pius XI (1922–39) had left the city for his summer residence so as not to have to meet Hitler, and had also closed the Vatican Museums; Hurley was simply following the Pope's example. In 1947, he was appointed bishop of Durban, choosing an episcopal motto (taken from St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians) that was a sign of things to come: " Where the Spirit is, there is freedom." At the age of thirty-one, he was the youngest bishop in the world, and would stay in the diocese for forty-five years, becoming archbishop in 1951.

A year after he took office, the National Party won power and began to introduce the notorious apartheid laws. Hurley did not muse very long about what to do. When the Bantu Education Act (1953) withdrew government funding from church schools so that the state could control black education, Hurley organized a fundraising campaign to keep Catholic schools open. In 1957, when the government tried to outlaw racially mixed worship, he denounced apartheid as "anti-Christian" and told his clergy to ignore the order "regardless of the consequences." In the uproar that followed, the legislation was withdrawn. As one observer put it, "This was language and action never before seen from a Catholic leader in South Africa."

Hurley played a prominent role at the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), where he met activist bishops from other countries and grew even bolder, talking about a "global church struggle for justice." In 1968, as part of a national plan to create separate black "homelands," people were forcibly removed from their village in Natal to a barren area known as Limehill. Hurley showed up on the day of the removal to express his solidarity, and then ministered to the uprooted community. When the government denied that children had died from malnutrition and dirty water in the new settlement, the Archbishop counted every child's grave, noted their names and ages, and released the list to the media. In 1981, as president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, he issued a statement opposing the celebration of South Africa's twentieth anniversary as a republic, pointing out that "the vast majority of the people see no cause for celebration, since they are deprived and oppressed in the land of their birth." He also backed conscientious objectors who refused to be conscripted into the army to fight the racist government's regional wars. Described by one politician as an "ecclesiastical Che Guevara," he was placed with Desmond Tutu and others on the list of opponents of the state, rendering him open to being smeared or harassed by the security services. Yet, later, he regretted that he had not done more to fight the system: "Had we been better politicians, we would have known that they were more afraid of us than we of them."

In 1971, the South African Church did not look very different from the rest of society. It had 170,000 white members and a million blacks; but whites had a priest for every 120 parishioners, while blacks had just one for every 6,600. There were twenty-five white bishops and only one black one. But Hurley's moral leadership was so strong and his opposition to apartheid so persistent that many wondered why he was never named a cardinal.

They did not have to look very far for the reason. Like his opposite number in Brazil, Hurley could be a thorn in the Church's side. Successive papal nuncios and his fellow prelates urged him to be less confrontational with the government. He believed in open intellectual debate and was impatient with the repressive role of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At the Second Vatican Council, in front of 2,200 bishops, he praised the "vision" of the French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), who had been forbidden to speak or publish anything for the last twenty years of his life. And in 1985, when Rome silenced the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, Hurley accused the Vatican of violating its own principle of "subsidiarity," which held that important decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level of an institution. Although it was a key feature of the Church's social teaching, "we do not always find it easy to practice ourselves." He was deeply disturbed by the Church's restatement of its position on birth control in 1968 and told the Pope as much to his face – Paul VI, a usually gentle man, was furious. When colleagues criticized him for taking a public position on the matter, Hurley said he was ready "to lose my mitre" over it.

In 1974, he was almost barred from an important meeting in Rome after writing an article on contraception in an American Jesuit magazine. "No authority has the right to command the impossible," he had said, and he warned the Church against earning Christ's rebuke: "You load on men burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not move a finger to lift (Luke 11:46)." When Hurley threatened to make public his disagreement with the Pope's staff, the Vatican backed down and let him attend the Rome meeting. Even if his superiors had been able to accept his outspokenness, realpolitik would probably have got in the way of making him a "prince" of the Church. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Vatican diplomats wanted to maintain good relations with the racist government of South Africa, in the same way as they were subduing moral qualms about communist regimes in Eastern Europe and military dictatorships in Latin America. Making Hurley a cardinal would have been tantamount to giving him a Nobel Prize.

It is not clear that he ever sought such a distinction. In 1951, just four years after becoming bishop, he contrasted Christ's large-heartedness to the Church's "arrogant claims," "crusty dogmatizing," and "regimented religious drudgery." Fortunately, he said, most Catholics remembered the simplicity and beauty of Christ's ideals:

That is why many men, many of them old and broken, gentle in their upbringing, studious in their pursuits, retiring in their habits, humble of mind, timid by nature perhaps, have stood up like the wrath of God and raised their voices till the thunder shook the world; for the Church that spoke through them was far greater than they.

Like a chrysalis beginning to quiver in its cocoon, the Church was about to break out of the crust that Hurley had complained about.

Excerpted from EARTHLY MISSION by ROBERT CALDERISI. Copyright © 2013 Robert Calderisi. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgements....................     vi     

Introduction....................     1     

1 Two Troublemakers....................     13     

2 The Catholic Church: "Seven Inches of Condemnation and One of Praise"....     23     

3 Social Teaching: From Caesar to Centesimus Annus....................     43     

4 Religion and Development: "A Task of Fraternity"....................     69     

5 Africa: "No One Is Opposed to a School"....................     95     

6 Asia: A Determined Minority....................     119     

7 Latin America: From Las Casas to Romero....................     143     

8 Horror in Rwanda....................     167     

9 Tilting at Condoms....................     179     

10 Catholic Charity: "A Network to Die For"....................     205     

11 Looking Ahead: A Fading Social Mission?....................     227     

12 Conclusions: "Everyone Who Fights for Justice Upsets People"............     241     

Notes....................     249     

Bibliography....................     263     

Index....................     269     

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