Today (August 31) the new body was formally established through the Apostolic Letter Humanam Progressionem. It was named, not after “Charity and Justice” (which at least are the names of virtues), but as the “Dicastery for promoting Integral Human Development” — a name that can only be described as unmistakably secular.
The first paragraph of Humanam Progressionem duly mentions the Gospel, but is marked by this secularized, “NGO” tone:
In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel. This development takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation. The Successor of the Apostle Peter, in his work of affirming these values, is continuously adapting the institutions which collaborate with him, so that they may better meet the needs of the men and women whom they are called to serve.
Various news sources name Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson — current President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and known for the enthusiasm with which he has promoted Laudato Si (which he recently called the “Rerum novarum of the 21st century”) — as the head of the new body. He will turn 68 in October of this year. The last President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (Archbishop Zimowski) died last month at the age of 67, the Presidency of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” has been vacant since Cardinal Sarah was transferred to CDW, and the President of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, Cardinal Veglio, is already 78 years old.
There is the added twist that the section of this new body that is dedicated to refugees and migrants will for the time being be directly under the Pope. It is a mark of the importance that he wishes to give to the issue of refugees and migration, and recalls how the Popes used to be themselves the Prefects of the Holy Office back when doctrine had primary importance (in fact and not just in theory) for the Holy See.
Like the recently-established one for “Laity, Family and Life”, the new body is merely called a “Dicastery” and not a “Congregation” or “Pontifical Council”. It is a sign of the provisional character that the project of Curial reform still retains. Nevertheless, with this announcement, the number of Pontifical Councils abolished or slated for abolition now reaches 7 — the 4 that will be replaced by the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the 2 replaced by the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications that was merged into the Secretariat for Communications earlier this year.
Last year we published a short essay lamenting the tendency in today’s Church to look at things from a merely sociological and immanent manner. The essay’s conclusions is particularly appropriate to today’s news:
One sees … a serpentine movement to lower the level of discussion of these issues: to level out, to become more “mainstream” within a perspective that is merely and exclusively that of the world, to reduce every question to its immanent nature, blotting out explanations that are more true and more full, that is, explanations that deal with the transcendent. What this means is a process of reducing the presence of the Church in the world to a sort of philanthropic version of the United Nations. It was Benedict the XVI who warned us about this in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (31a):
Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.
But, evidently, there are those who consider Benedict XVI no longer “in fashion”.