Rorate Caeli

"Mercy", "social justice" and "the peripheries" in practice - 500 Italian workers to be left in utter squalor by papal decision

from Sandro Magister's Italian-only blog Settimo Cielo

The Church has a social doctrine. But then there is the problem of putting it into practice. The Church makes an incontestable affirmation of the right to work, but then there are decisions imposed that take away jobs, even if these decisions are well motivated.

In these days Pope Francis finds himself at the center of these contradictions. Pope Francis made his social doctrine known in the discourse he delivered at the World Meeting of Popular Movements on October 28. But at the same time some five hundred workers who no longer have work are knocking on the Pope’s door—so far in vain-because they have been dismissed from their jobs which serve the Office of Papal Charities, that is, from that very papal office whose raison d’être is helping those who are the most needy.


Among those in Italy to applaud Francis’ discourse to the “popular movements” was the Leoncavallo Social Center in Milan. And in the daily Communist paper Il Manifesto Guido Viale gave an enthusiastic approval to what the Pope said.

But what is even more amazing about this discourse is its striking similarity to the theories held by the philosopher Toni Negri and his disciple, Michael Hardt, in a book published in 2002 that made a big splash: Empire.

Both in the Pope’s discourse and in this book the power that really rules the world is identified with a transnational empire of money, that is founded on a system of continual expropriation and destruction of men and things, and that adopts war as an instrument of regulated control, war not in the classical sense but war that is asymmetric, polycentric, global, just as the Pope himself explained:

“We are living through the third world war, but in pieces. There are economic systems that have to make war in order to survive. And so they make and sell arms. In this way the budgets of the economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money get balanced.”

In opposition to this “Empire” there arises that group that Toni Negri calls the “multitude”. This multitude is made up no longer of the assembly-line workers, the mass-worker, that phase of the working man that is dear to Negri’s thinking. It is made up instead by the innumerable and multiform social networks that rebel against this global hegemony. For Pope Francis this “multitude” is precisely those who make up these “popular movements”: “garbage collectors, recyclers, peddlers, tailors, artisans, fishermen, farmers, stone masons, mine workers, those working in the field of reclamation, members of co-operatives of every type and persons who work in more common trades. To all of these the Pope speaks with feeling: “You have your feet in the mud and your hands in flesh. You smell of where you live, of people, of struggle.”

For Francis the place where the redemptive virtues flourish in a natural way is not in the glass cities of the Empire, but rather in the “peripheries”. “In the neighborhoods where many of you live values still survive, values that by now have been forgotten in the rich centers of cities. These places are blessed by a rich popular culture, where public spaces are not mere thoroughfares but are extensions of one’s own home, where bonds are formed with one’s neighbors.”

From this “subsoil of the planet”, Francis goes on to say, “breaks forth that torrent of moral energy that is born from the participation of those excluded from the construction of the common destiny.” And it is to those who are thus excluded that the Pope entrusts a future for a humanity that is made from earth, from home, from work for all. And this will come about thanks to a process of their ascendancy to power that “transcends the obvious way of doing things in a formal democracy.”

Listening to the Pope’s discourse were many Latin Americans, among whom was the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, an example of a “popular leader”. Curiously, the university in which the octogenarian Toni Negri lectures today is in Argentina: The Free School of Rosario in Santa Fe.*


But if we now move from poetry to prose, we look at the protest of the five hundred people who have been dismissed from working for the Office of Papal Charities. They are the calligraphists, the painters, and the printers who from January 1st 2015 will stop producing on behalf of the Vatican the decorated parchments for the Papal Blessings “for specific persons” ordered and sold in bookshops and stores that have been licensed by the Vatican whose proceeds have always gone for the benefit of the Office of Papal Charities afor their donations to charitable causes.

Next year, in fact, the Office of Papal Charities will arrange on its own initiative, with other calligraphists, for the production and selling of the parchments, either directly from the Internet, or through the nunciatures throughout the world. The one who gave notice of the imminent termination of their contract to these nearly 500 men and women who do their job for the Church from outside the Vatican was the head of the Office of Papal Charities and Pope Francis’ right hand man, [Papal Almoner] Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, in a circular letter of April 12 2014.

On June 29 the five hundred sent a letter to the Pope in which they begged him to not “cast hundreds of families into economic poverty and precarious situations.”
And they concluded: “We are placing our future in Your holy hands, and our plea to revoke this decision, which will have the effect of diminishing the charitable work done by the Office of Papal Charities in the course of years and still being done today, also by means of work offered by so many devoted people.”

More than four months have passed, and there has been no response to this appeal to the Pope.
[*The Free School of Rosario is "an alternative educational experience in order to build tools for reflection and implement creative and innovative concept of education, which enables a different relationship with knowledge, linking philosophy, art, science and knowledge respecting and affirming diversity as a basis for learning." (Wikipedia)]