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These are somewhat perplexing times for those who watch the Vatican. There have been a number of matters, in recent months, that raised eyebrows. Has the Pope been misunderstood? Is he served poorly by those under him? Or is it simply that he transcends politics?

There is the issue of globalization.

Last week, when Benedict XVI released his latest encyclical ("Love in Truth"), he made a remark that many have construed to be an endorsement of world governance.

The phrase, in relation to the current economic crisis, was that there is "an urgent need of a true world political authority" whose task would be "to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result."

That rang alarms among the many who are concerned the world is headed for a coalescence that would unite nations and allow the possibility for world hegemony by a nefarious personage -- a virulent anti-Christian, perhaps an atheist (or worse). They see world government as a cog in the coming of events that may even be related to Revelation (see chapter 17) and the end times.

Whatever the legitimacy of that particular interpretation, the trends are unmistakable: Leaders around the world and especially in Europe (where they already have formed a union) are promoting new international instruments not just to oversee finances but also problems related to the environment, trade, immigration, drug trafficking, and other matters. Just last week, as President Barack Obama traveled to Europe for the G-8 meeting, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held out a prototype for global currency -- a coin based on "unity in diversity." He wants such a currency to replace the dollar as dominant in  international trade, as do China, India, and a host of other nations.

There is thus a strong, unmistakable current in the direction of what some call a new world order and others "globalization." The Vatican always has seen certain merits in global authority -- including the United Nations, if it reacts properly. It wants the rich nations to share with the poor. It wants to protect dwindling natural resources. It wants a humanitarian, international perspective. What is not clear is if the Pope buys fears of an evil global dictator, perhaps even an anti-christ. There are few indications that he does.

This has lead to a flurry of e-mails like the following: "Very confusing time. The new encyclical of the Holy Father calling for a greater expansion of World Government and greater global centralization in finance begs to wonder if he is not advised by the wrong kind of people and does not see the spiritual implication. Here find an interesting link. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers from on high."

Said another: "I read an article last week regarding the Pope's comment about how he feels there should be one central governing power for finances throughout the world, and I have to tell you -- it made every hair on my body stand up!" 

And so it goes -- with some going so far as to question the motive of the pontiff himself.

Such apprehensions are not helped by what have been perceived (at least by elements of the Catholic media) as other Vatican missteps.

There was the decision to embrace an ultra-traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust. That caused an outcry. How did it happen?

There has been confusion on how to handle homosexuals seeking entry into seminaries.

There has been an uproar over Rome's handling of a bishop in South America.

There was confusion when the Vatican's unofficial "official" newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, seemed at odds with American bishops over President Obama's visit to Notre Dame.

Add more perplexity when just this week, the same newspaper applauded the new Harry Potter movie -- even though previous Vatican reviewers have warned about its darkness (real spells are used in certain of the books), and the Pope himself, when he was a cardinal (and prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), indicated very negatively on the novels, sending a congratulatory note to an author who attacked Potter for promoting the occult (there has been an explosion, for example, in teen witchcraft).

And so it is understandable if many wonder what is transpiring among underlings at the Vatican. Perhaps we are getting a bit too worldly.

Meanwhile, is the Holy Father a conservative or a liberal?

This too is raising commotion. There seemed to be elements of both in his encyclical.

Those who are "conservative" took issue with Benedict XVI's strong opposition to what he called (and rightly) "unbridled materialism." The Pope pointed out that the profit motive has become a god, distorting the reason we are all placed on this planet (to help each other). It is hard for Rome to look at someone holding tens of billions in wealth while families in Haiti starve for want of a dollar (or even less) a day. But to some (especially the libertarians who have assumed control of American conservatism), this is a "liberal" viewpoint. The Pope is also at odds with libertarians because he is a strong advocate for protecting the environment -- what God created. He says to be conservative is to conserve (contrary to conservative talk radio). The Pope says every economic decision has a moral consequence and calls for "forms of redistribution" of wealth "overseen by governments to help those most affected by crises." This has caused alarm that he is a "socialist."

Meanwhile, liberals had their own concerns. The encyclical made clear the Pope's unyielding stand against abortion, euthanasia, birth control, embryonic stem-cell research, and homosexual marriage -- tying those stands to human dignity itself. Brilliantly he summed up his stand and melded both sides of the political spectrum -- from abortion to ecology -- when he said, "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa." The Pope said “it is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.”

That is neither "liberal" nor "conservative."

It is Catholic.

His policies are basically those repeatedly espoused by his predecessor, the great John Paul II. Many have forgotten how ardently that pope opposed war and capital punishment -- which are "pro-life" issues at the Vatican (if not elsewhere).

And while many of the current Pope's ruminations may seem overly complicated and nuanced, and while endorsing the United Nations causes legitimate concern, he has never endorsed the idea of one-world government. In fact, as one newspaper commentator noted, the encyclical "praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos."

That puts him greatly at odds with many "liberals" and "conservatives."  This is a document that sees above politics. It is an encyclical that is not any one political "brand" because it transcends such labeling, from a man whose mind transcends traditional cerebration.

Wrote the Pope: "Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth. Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:22)."

This is a document that continues the Pope's mission of love.

Bravo for that.

But caution: There are forces out there, Your Holiness, spiritual forces, and they play both sides of the fence, seeking to either coalesce a one-world government or simply tear our current sovereignties apart and start with a new uncharitable plan for global control.

[resources: Memory and Identity, We Have  Pope!, Brotherhood of Darkness, and Spiritual warfare books]

[see also: Encyclical: something for both liberals and conservatives, Why the Vatican opposed Iraq war, and Gore and global governance]

[Text of new encyclical]

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