Erle Frayne Argonza
U.S. President George Bush seems to have honored the Vatican’s chief prelate with an unusual pomp. The news were all revelatory of the unprecedented treatment the Pope received in his recent visit, a behavior that quite baffles many observers most especially the foreign relations experts.
Not even chiefs-of-state from other countries normally receive such a treatment accorded on the Pope, a fact that the state officials themselves pronounced. Yet here is the Vatican’s chief-of-state receiving precisely that ‘most preferred status’ among the various chief executives of the planet.
The most obvious answer that can be advanced by unthinking observers is that the Pope is a pious figure. This being so, he deserves the accolades and respect that any eminently pious personage deserves to have. This reasoning is old hat, simplistic or simpleton reasoning and has nothing to do with the reality of the moment.
That reality has a great deal to do with economic malaise that America and its northern allies are currently experiencing. Growth has all but flattened in most OECD nations, including Japan and Canada. The USA is coming off as worst, given that it already experienced a recession at the inception of this new decade (2001-02), and here it comes off again with a 2nd recession within the same decade.
The recession is surely bad news for America. For an economy of a size so large it contributes to 22% of the World Gross Product or WDP, a 2nd recession within a decade spells enormous disasters bordering catastrophe and total collapse. The collapse could lead to a depression, and the depression could lead to massive capital flight by both portfolio and strategic corporate investors.
Americans surely don’t know the gravity that the economic malaise had befallen their super-nation, don’t know the consequences of faulty actions and old solutions that hardly work anymore. Among those old tools are the interest rate intervention, fiscal incentives (tax cuts) and further liberalization of the economy. A faulty action would be the rescue of bankrupt banks such as that done on the Bear & Stearns, which was copied from Japan’s experience in the 1990s of ‘crisis management’.
The Vatican is watching all of these events, on top of its keen observation of the political aggressions of the USA from 2001 onwards. The aggressions have angered Moslems no end, and the political volcano of the Islamic world could very well spill over into Europe which is the Vatican’s home sweet home. Likewise does the Vatican, which is so awash with money, watching the unusual cross-border financial flows occurring as the Northern economies, led by the USA, are in panic response over their respective shocks and crisis.
The world has to admit this: the Catholic Church is the largest global corporation. There resides the power of the Vatican: in the power of its purse. So huge is the Church organization-wise, so vast its financial and estate assets, that no one single corporate group can ever match its resources at hand.
It would surely be stupid and suicidal for any corporate group or nation to ever challenge the might of the Vatican head on. Instead of clashing with the Vatican, the appropriate foreign relations template must be that of cooperation and dialogue.
And this is what the inner circles of Bush surely have in mind during the Pope’s visit to America lately. Show some semblance of infatuation with the Church, for it can potentially help the USA solve its cash starvation to pay $50 Trillion worth of debts, balance its perennially deficit budget, put some plugs on capital flight, and loan out gold bullions to shore up the pathetically low gross international reserves.
That, fellows, is the true reason behind the unprecedented reverence and most honorable treatment on the head of the Catholic Church by the state officialdom of America lately. And that show of respect must have paid off well in the short run.
[Writ 28 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]