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CATH 370 -- Administration of Religious Institutions

Welcome to the course page for CATH 370, a course dedicated to the Administration of Religious Institutions. This course is being offered through the Catholic Studies program of McGill University, but is open to continuing education students (including a non-credit option), as well as to students from other universities.

Parish and fabrique: an introduction

One of the ways that the province of Quebec is rather unique in the world is that its civil law includes a special statute on the governance of Roman Catholic parishes. It is a throwback to the old French colonial regime, when the king of France had a special responsibility for the protection and promotion of the Catholic faith. Quebec has not been a French colony for centuries, of course, and the current cultural climate definitely favours a separation of Church and State. That being said, this law is still on the books and still serves to provide the legal structure for Roman Catholic parishes in Quebec.

Catholics growing up in Quebec are sometimes surprised to discover that there is no corresponding statute in other jurisdictions. On the other hand, Catholics coming to Quebec are usually quite surprise to discover the degree of legal “interference” that exists in the internal management of the Roman Catholic Church. This is especially true of priests and lay persons involved in parish leadership, who (if they come from elsewhere in North America) are often used to the model of a “corporation sole”. In this model, an episcopal corporation (headed by the diocesan bishop) actually owns all the parishes of a diocese: the subdivision of the diocese into parishes is handled internally within that overall legal structure (much as how a company might be divided into operating divisions that are not themselves separate corporations). A individual coming from this sort of environment often does not understand how to legally administer a parish within the Quebec context.

The purpose of this article is to try and clear up any such confusion, with an eye especially to helping people understand the practical ecclesiology of Roman Catholic parishes in Quebec.

Concept #1: groups and organizations

Human beings are social animals. They form communities. Some of these exist on the level of human nature itself, such as the family (the basic unit of society) or the State. The key characteristic of the State is that the people generally accord it the legitimate right to use coercion to enforce social policy. In other words, the State has the right to not only make laws but to enforce them. The State is obliged, however, to only use this power to promote the common good: if it fails to do so, the people (whether in whole or in part) will generally rebel in some form and replace the current state structure with another.

In addition to the family and the State there are many other forms of human community. Sometimes these are mere groups, gathered together for some purpose but without any clear structure. Some groups, however, do possess a level of organization, and are therefore themselves called “organizations”. The key aspect of an organization is that it is a group (i.e. is possesses a purpose) with a form of internal government (i.e. a leadership structure of some kind, along with a set of policies or traditions that govern its existence and action).

Concept #2: trusts and corporations

One of the realities regarding organizations is that they continue to exist even if the members change. A seniors club, for example, may continue to exist long after the original members have died or moved on, thanks to the influx of new members over time. Because the organization has an existence that transcends the individual members, it often also possesses its own assets as a kind of patrimony dedicated to the carrying out of the purpose of the organization. For example, the seniors club mentioned above may own its own clubhouse where the members meet. The clubhouse is part of the patrimony of the club.

A key difficulty that often arises in the management of an organization, however, is this: who actually legally owns the assets involved? What if a power struggle erupts within the organization, for example, with one group wanting to sell certain assets and another group wanting to retain them? Who actually “owns” these assets, and therefore gets the right to decide? One obvious answer is that no one actually owns the assets, in that they are owned by the organization as a whole. While this may be true in theory, however, because the organization may not have any legal recognition of its existence, it is not possible for “the organization” to go to court and defend its rights.

The difficulty mentioned above gets worse when we consider the debts of an organization. If the seniors club borrowed money to buy the clubhouse, for example, and then stops paying its debts, whom will the bank sue in order to get its money back? Once again, in theory “the organization” as a whole is responsible, but if it is not legally recognized then technically there is no one to actually sue. In such cases the leadership of the organization becomes personally responsible for the debts and other liabilities. On one level this seems only natural – after all, if a group of people is responsible for incurring a debt, they should be responsible for paying it back. But what if the debt was incurred by a previous administration? Or what if the debt arises out of something unforeseen, such as an accident on the property of the clubhouse? Is it really fair that the new administrators be held responsible for these things? Indeed, the fact that they would be is often a powerful disincentive for people to become involved in organizations.

Society, of course, has an interest in fostering and promoting organizations, so it has developed a couple of legal mechanisms to deal with these issues: trusts, and corporations.

A “trust” is founded on the basis of a legally recognized “trust document” of some kind. This document describes the assets to be managed and the purpose for which the trust is created. The document also describes who the leaders of the trust are, and how they are to be replaced. These leaders are called “trustees”, and the notion behind their appointment is that they are trustworthy to manage assets that are not their own for the purposes given. Once a trust is founded its assets are recognized to constitute a separate patrimony, and legal powers are given to the trustees to defend that patrimony in accordance with the purpose of the trust.

A “corporation” takes this notion one step further. The word “corporation” comes from the Latin word “corpus”, meaning “body”. Just as a human body is composed of many parts which nevertheless work together despite their diversity, an organization is composed of many persons who each (in theory) contribute to the overall good of the organization as a whole. For an organization to be “incorporated” means that a particular legal jurisdiction gives a parallel status of “personhood” to the organization, recognizing that the organization is greater than the sum of its parts. And because this organization is now recognized as a legal person, it possesses a number of legal powers, such as the right to enter into contracts, to own assets, to borrow money, and so on. Of course, this new “virtual reality” person does not possess a brain to think with, for example, or hands with which to sign cheques, so it also has trusted people to manage its affairs. The title given to these persons is sometimes also “trustees”, but other titles also exist, such as “governor” or “director”. This last title is actually the most common.

On a conceptual level, a trust and a corporation may seem to be the same thing, and in many ways they resemble each other. The key difference, apart from how they are managed legally in the different jurisdictions of the world, is in emphasis. A trust exists to manage assets in accordance with a purpose; an organization exists to promote a purpose and is given the powers it needs to get and use assets. Trusts, therefore, often have a temporary existence and may not even have any living members (for example, the executor of a will is acting as a trustee of the deceased person). Corporations, on the other hand, have a perpetual existence by definition – they only cease to exist if the same jurisdiction that gave them existence then revokes it. They also almost always have members, as the whole reason for their existence is to “incorporate” those members into a single “body”.

Concept #3: corporations, jurisdictions…and parishes

Legal recognition as a corporation can only be given by a sovereign entity, such as a country or a province. This is because a corporation is given a number of rights, such as the right to defend itself in court, and therefore only the same body that runs the court system can offer incorporation to organizations. The technical name for the actual paper certifying the creation of a corporation is something like “letters patent” or “articles of incorporation”. In older times these letters patent were often signed by the king himself, and even today they must be issued by a sovereign entity or someone delegated by it.

What happens, however, when a corporation wants to do business in a territory different from the one controlled by the original sovereign entity? For example, suppose a Canadian corporation wants to do business in France. It is recognized as a legal person in Canada, and so can go to court to defend its rights in Canada, but can it do so in France? In fact, the government of France must also recognize this corporation in order for the corporation to have legal rights. Usually an existing corporation simply needs to register itself within the new jurisdiction – it does not actually have to be “re-incorporated” within that jurisdiction. There are exceptions, though. In some countries, every kind of corporation needs to have a locally incorporated version. In other countries, only certain kinds of corporations need to follow this requirement.

When it comes to the Catholic Church, there is a long-standing recognition that the Church is a sovereign entity. After all, the Holy See predates the vast majority of modern states, and the Catholic Church does possess its own internal court system for the settling of disputes. Catholic canon law even includes clauses related to the creation of what are called “juridical persons”: some of these are aggregates of goods (i.e. they are like trusts) while others are aggregates of persons (they are like corporations). Once a juridical person has been canonically created it possess certain rights within canon law as well. And one example of a juridical person within canon law is a parish, which is an aggregate of persons called “parishioners”.

While the Church possesses the right to erect ecclesiastical juridical persons (thanks to the sovereignty conferred upon it by God), this does not however mean that these “corporations” are automatically recognized elsewhere in other jurisdictions. In some cases the Holy See signs a treaty with a country (called a “concordat”) thanks to which civil legal recognition is automatically given to ecclesiastical corporations. In most cases, though, the particular church organization has to go through the same sort of local registration process any other foreign corporation must do. Again, the laws vary from place to place, but the following are typical scenarios:

  • The ecclesiastical corporation remains incorporated only within canon law, and all the assets are actually owned by the corporation of the diocesan bishop (the “corporation sole” model often found in North America).
  • The ecclesiastical corporation remains incorporated only within canon law, but a trust is established to govern the property. This is rarely done in North America, although ironically the Quebec model for parishes most closely resembles this approach (in that a civil corporation, the fabrique, acts like a trustee for the ecclesiastical corporation).
  • The organization has only a civil incorporation, but applies to the Church for recognition (much like the above example where the Canadian corporation applies to France for recognition). This model is most typically used for associations of lay faithful, not for public ecclesiastical institutions (like parishes).
  • The ecclesiastical corporation gets incorporated a second time within the local jurisdiction; it therefore has a kind of “double incorporation”, once within canon law, and once within civil law.

Quebec is a very special civil jurisdiction with regards to the way it recognizes ecclesiastical corporations. There are at least three separate laws dealing with how Roman Catholic organizations are specifically handled:

  • The Roman Catholic Bishops Act (RSQ, chapter E-17) permits the creation of a corporation for each diocesan bishop, so that when the bishop is replaced as head of the diocese the corporation continues under the leadership of the new bishop; it also allows the diocesan bishop to himself incorporate new organizations, which then have automatic legal recognition as well.
  • The Religious Corporations Act (RSQ, chapter C-71) generally governs corporations for religious orders. They have their own law because traditionally they possess a certain independence within canon law vis-à-vis the diocesan bishop, and so it would not be appropriate for them to be incorporated (and therefore governed) by the bishops as would be the case were they to be incorporated under the first law mentioned above. Because of this independent structure it is also possible for a non-Catholic group to seek incorporation under this law as well, although in practical terms most choose to simply get incorporated under the non-profit section of the regular law governing Quebec corporations (as it is more flexible).
  • The Act Respecting Fabriques (RSQ, chapter F-1) is a special law meant to govern the most common form of ecclesiastical corporation: the parish. In canon law, a parish comes under the jurisdiction of a bishop but also possesses a certain independence of action. There are many stories of bishops who tried to boss around (or even dissolve) a parish and who found themselves having to defend their actions before a Roman ecclesiastical tribunal. Quebec recognizes this distinction by having its own parallel law specifically for parishes.

There are also many private laws on the books regulating specific Church institutions, but this is beyond the scope of this article. With regard to parishes, the typical legal situation in Quebec works as follows:

  1. The diocesan bishop decides to create a new parish. He issues an ecclesiastical decree to that effect, and the parish is constituted under canon law.
  2. This new parish is a legal person under canon law, but still has no right to represent itself under civil law (as this is a separate jurisdiction). The bishop therefore registers the existence of this new ecclesiastical corporation with the Quebec government.
  3. The Quebec government, rather than simply extending recognition of this ecclesiastical corporation, instead creates a separate civil corporation called a “fabrique”. The fabrique acts like a trustee on behalf of the parish, owning and managing all its assets for the sake of the purposes of the parish.

In short, under the Quebec system two separate but related corporations actually come into existence. The parish comes into existence by the bishops decree but does not have any civil recognition within the province of Quebec, and so cannot own property or defend its rights in civil court. The fabrique comes into existence once this episcopal decree is deposited with the government (specifically, the Enterprise Registrar) and so therefore does have these powers, but the law that governs it restricts the use of those powers to the promotion of the purpose of the underlying parish.

Parish and fabrique compared

Originating jurisdiction: Roman Catholic Church Province of Quebec
Name: Parish of Saint Brendan Fabrique of the parish of Saint Brendan
Purpose: The purpose is religious: strictly speaking it is undefined in canon law, but generally it is to engage in divine worship and acts of charity in accordance with the gospel. The purpose is strictly temporal: to acquire, possess, hold and administer property for the practice of the Roman Catholic religion in the parish for which it is constituted.
Membership: Hundreds, possibly thousands of people: the Catholics that live within its territorial bounds (sometimes also limited by ethnic or ritual criteria), also known as parishioners. Seven or eight people: the pastor, six churchwardens elected from among the parishioners, and possibly an additional person appointed by the bishop to act as chairman.
Leadership: The pastor, aided by the pastoral council and finance council (constituted according to the directives of the bishop). The pastoral council is a consultative body only, and sometimes does not even exist: the pastor usually has final say in pastoral matters. The finance council must exist, and where it does not two or three other persons are designated to assist the pastor in governing the temporal matters of the parish. The pastor often also has final say, but must consult for certain matters according to the directives of the diocesan bishop. (Note that, in Quebec, given that parishes each have a corresponding fabrique, they do not usually have a finance council: these duties are delegated to the fabrique.) The pastor is the automatic chairman if no external chairman has been appointed by the bishop. The chairman (pastor or not) has no special powers apart from the right to call and chair meetings of the fabrique. Only the fabrique as a whole may make decisions. It delegates to whom it chooses the right to act on its behalf (such as delegating the right to sign cheques). A vice-chairman may also be appointed by the bishop, but only from among the current churchwardens; the vice-chair does not have the power to call meetings of the fabrique, but may preside over duly called meetings in the case the regular chairman is absent. A fabrique cannot hold a legal meeting without either the chairman or vice-chairman present.

Common issues

The parish-fabrique system as found in Quebec is meant to solve a particular problem, i.e. how a non-Quebec corporation (the parish) is legally allowed to own expensive properties, take out insurance, etc. The Quebec solution is to create a parallel civil corporation (the fabrique) to handle these temporal duties for the parish. In most cases, the system works well, but problems can arise due to the particular power relationships between the main stakeholders, i.e. the bishop, the pastor, and the churchwardens.

While the bishop has the legal right to prevent the fabrique from undertaking certain actions (e.g. going to court, undertaking major renovations, undertaking risky investments), he is also very limited in what he can compel the fabrique to do. This applies as well to the pastor: even if the churchwardens are people of goodwill, there can sometimes be considerable resistance to necessary (but costly) pastoral initiatives. The pastor, after all, only has one vote in seven (or eight).

And what if the churchwardens are not people of goodwill? Because the fabrique controls all the assets (including the money), if a clique of parishioners gets control of a fabrique they can make life a nightmare for the pastor (or even the diocesan bishop). Stories abound of churchwardens each having a key to the parish rectory, for example, coming and going as they please, or of churchwardens refusing to make necessary repairs to the residence of the priests.

As well, the churchwardens do not always understand that they have no power on an individual basis, but only as a group when voting on something (or when specifically delegated to carry out something that has been voted on). A certain arrogance sometimes sets in: a lay chairman, for example, may begin to think he is “President of the Parish” and the pastor is his employee (therefore turning the fabrique into a congregationalist parish, in fact if not in theory).

Pastors also do not always understand the possibility of these power dynamics. As already stated, things usually work out well, but in cases of tension or conflict a pastor who tries to “throw his weight around” can find himself in trouble quite quickly. Rather than being diplomatic he may act in an even-more authoritative manner, which is then felt as bullying (thereby increasing resistance even more). Sometimes the pastor instead begins to act secretively, hoping to by-pass the fabrique, but this then breeds more suspicion. Often the pastor, feeling terribly frustrated by the hampering of his pastoral drive by potential delays, appeals to the bishop for him to “do something”, not understanding that in many cases there is little that the bishop can do except hope that the obstructionist churchwardens do not get re-elected at the next annual meeting of the parishioners.

While it may seem that this system creates more headaches than necessary, this is only true if the natural tensions between these power centres grow into mistrust. And the fabrique system is not without its benefits: one key advantage of the Quebec model over that of the “corporation sole” (i.e. the one used in the rest of North America) is that the assets of the parishes are protected. In the recent sex-abuse cases that have rocked several North American dioceses, many innocent parishes have seen their assets threatened by lawsuits because all those assets are actually legally owned by the diocese. Some diocesan bishops in the USA have attempted to argue that, since the parishes are separate entities in canon law, their assets should not be seized should a lawsuit go badly against the diocese; these arguments have not worked up until now, simply because those ecclesiastical corporations do not have civil recognition (as explained above). There is greater central control in the “corporation sole” model, of course, but at the cost of greater joint liability. The same economic situation simply cannot happen in Quebec, however, because each parish has its own civil corporation for the ownership and management of those assets (i.e. the patrimony is kept separate). We have less centralised control, but the parishes are better protected from the poor decisions of their neighbours (or their bishop!)

Some practical advice: things a pastor needs to know about managing a fabrique

To help keep things running smoothly, a pastor should keep in mind the following:

  1. A fabrique can only make legal decisions at a legal meeting of the churchwardens. For a fabrique meeting to be legally valid, the churchwardens need to be given proper advance notice (i.e. they get the notice on Monday for a meeting on Friday, with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being the three clear days typically required). This advance notice also needs to mention the business that will be discussed at the meeting – no new items may be added at the meeting itself except for information purposes only. While many fabriques set out a schedule of meetings for the entire year to allow the churchwardens the chance to reserve the dates in their agendas, a formal notice of meeting must still be sent for each individual fabrique meeting.
  2. For a fabrique meeting to be legal it must be presided by the chairman or vice-chairman.
  3. A fabrique may only make decisions according to the powers given to it by the Fabrique Act. Many of these decisions require the approval of the bishop before they can be implemented; others also require approval by a meeting of the parishioners.
  4. If churchwardens put into practice any decisions that were made at a meeting that was not legally valid, or any decisions that required the approval of the bishop and/or parishioners but for which this approval was not obtained, those churchwardens (including the pastor) become personally liable for the financial consequences of that decision. For example, if a fabrique signs a renovations contract without prior diocesan approval, and problems arise, the churchwardens can be personally sued by the other company (instead of just the fabrique being sued).
  5. The items discussed at a fabrique meeting should be limited to the acquisition and management of the property required for the activities of the parish. This is, after all, the legal purpose of the fabrique. The actual spiritual life and direction of the parish is for the parish itself, as a separate entity, to look after.

Pastoral leadership of a Roman Catholic parish in Quebec is a tricky thing. A pastor must be a leader, but must exercise this leadership with patience and diplomacy. The churchwardens have a legal responsibility to act in the best interests of the parish, and the pastor should recognize and respect this fact and help them as best he can in this duty. Transparency and tidy administration are critical to avoiding distrust, and pay off in the long run. In short, just as the parish and fabrique are partner corporations, the pastor and his churchwardens are also partners.

The Financial Crisis

I could not help but notice that many of my readers feel somewhat befuddled by the financial crisis that is going on.

You are not alone, of course. Reading other internet blogs, for example, I can sense the rising tide of confusion and anger.

As for myself, before I went into the priesthood I got a degree in international business and finance. I’m often therefore called upon to “translate” economic news and events for my friends into ordinary language.

The origins of this economic problem come from institutions making bad loans. To be honest, this happens all the time - every loan is a bit of a crap shoot, after all - and the economy is normally able to absorb bad debt and deal with it as a matter of course. Imagine a scenario where you are seated in a chair and somebody is tossing small marbles one by one at your head. You feel them as they bounce off, but they don't really hurt you. The person could toss a thousand marbles at you, and it wouldn't make a huge difference.

But what if those marbles were instead tossed at your head all at the same time? Imagine being hit in the head by a bag of a thousand marbles. At the least, it will give you a concussion or knock you unconscious. It might even crush your skull.

My friends, to put this in the simplest possible terms, each of those bad loans was like a marble. The marbles were packaged together in instruments called "asset-backed commercial paper". And now the great big bag is being tossed at the head of Western society. It hasn't hit yet, but nothing can stop its flight - NOTHING. Yes, the origin of this crisis comes from bad loans, but the reason for the severity of this crisis is that all these loans are coming apart at the same time. The sudden collapse of a huge mountain of debt is causing a shrinking of the money supply, otherwise known as a "liquidity crisis". Let me explain this idea of a money supply a bit more.

We live in a money economy, not a barter economy. In other words, we don't trade real goods for real goods. Instead, we use a virtual good, called money, as a medium of exchange. Money, in itself, has no intrinsic value. If you were on a deserted island and had a choice between a dollar and an apple, you'd pick the apple. Money has value only because we, as a society, say it does.

We use money as a medium of exchange because it simplifies transactions. This simplification provides value to the economy, and everyone benefits as a result. Money, however, is subject to a particular danger that real goods are not: the problem of counterfeiting. This is why, for most of human history, we've actually used metals like gold and silver as the basis of our monetary system. Metal coins are hard to counterfeit, especially when you know how much they are supposed to weigh.

The problem with using metal, however, is that the size of the money supply depends on how much metal has literally been dug out of the ground. Sudden discoveries of new deposits can boost the money supply, like what happened in the Gold Rush period, but all that new money injected into the economy is usually accompanied by a sudden rise in inflation. It is great to have all that new money, but the economy can't swallow it all at once, so it starts to choke.

The switch to paper money was the next logical step. At first, paper bills were really just coupons which could be exchanged for metal coins. What happened, however, is that people started exchanging the paper bills with each other instead of the coins, knowing the coins were "backing" the paper in a vault somewhere. Eventually the government mandated that stores and other vendors HAD to accept the paper instead of the precious metals if it was offered - the paper became "legal tender". Thanks to this, the use of precious metals as currency dropped dramatically and basically became limited to certain specialized transactions between the central banks that issued the paper currencies.

We learned a few hard lessons with paper currency, however. Just as too much gold at once can cause a gold rush with its accompanying inflation, too much paper at once can create inflationary scenarios that can ruin an economy. How many times have we heard of countries experiencing hyper-inflation, with people carrying around wheelbarrows full of paper money? Flooding the market with more money should, in theory, encourage people to produce more to earn that money, but if this increase in money supply is exaggerated people will just take the easy way out and raise the price of the goods and services they are already producing anyway. Money, after all, doesn't have any intrinsic value of its own.

The reverse situation is also true: the money supply can shrink, bringing with it the opposite scenario known as deflation. Prices drop, which sounds good, but so do wages. Because of this, as bad as inflation can be for an economy, deflation is far, far worse. Remember these simple equations:

  • A collapse in the money suppley = deflation.
  • Deflation = unemployment.

Why does deflation lead to unemployment? Quite frankly, it is because of human psychology. The same $100 can be used to buy things from any store in the mall: it can be converted to groceries, clothes, video games, whatever. Money has value because it gives us the power to acquire, and so we naturally want more of it. What we forget, however, is that money only has relative value.

In an inflationary scenario, where prices rise (say) 5%, a company can raise wages for every employee by 5% to compensate. No one minds this. Imagine, however, a deflationary scenario, where prices drop 5%. The same company now needs to lower its cost of wages by 5%. It can do so by one of two ways: it could lower wages by 5% across the board, or it can lay off 5% of its workers. Which of the two will it do? Or, more to the point, which of these two scenarios will the workers themselves accept? In theory, the employees should not mind the 5% wage drop, because after all prices also dropped by 5%. In practice, however, companies hardly ever implement across-the-board wage cuts, in large part because employees themselves will not accept them. It is easier to lay people off. Deflation leads to unemployment. The bigger the collapse of the money supply, the worse it gets.

But even worse, deflation is also a phenomenon that feeds on itself. Consider a typical bank deposit: you deposit $100 now, and with a promise to receive (say) $105 a year from now: a 5% return. If inflation suddenly rises, rates of return on new loans have to rise to keep pace, or else people will stop investing: after all, who would invest for a 5% return if inflation is running at 15%? Interest rates therefore match inflation rates, plus a little bit. But now consider interest rates in a deflationary scenario: inflation is actually NEGATIVE, and if it is negative by enough the bank can't offer a positive rate of return at all. If inflation is running at 15% (very high) you might still invest if the promised rate of return was 20%. But if inflation was running at -15% (i.e. deflation), would you still invest in a bank if the promised rate of return was -10%? Of course not. You'd take your money out of the bank and stuff it in your mattress, awaiting the day when interest rates became positive again. In doing so, however, you are taking your money (literally) out of the money supply, thus making the problem worse. That bank now has less money to lend, and with less money circulating in the system due to deflation, the virtuous cycle of borrowing and lending for investment in our future grinds to a halt. Bye bye economy.

What happens in the real world, therefore, is that central banks are constantly monitoring and managing the overall money supply to keep inflation from running away while at the same time avoiding deflation. This has been the money supply goal of the post-Depression, post-World War II bargain of the liberal democracies. Deflationary scenarios, as well as excessive inflationary scenarios, can only really be managed by authoritarian regimes, who avoid civil unrest simply by curtailing people's rights by fiat. It should be no surprise then, too, that people living these scenarios are either ruled by dictators, or tend to turn to dictators for salvation.

The collapse of stocks on Wall Street during the financial crisis is not really the problem, but is instead a symptom is a greater problem. You see, because stocks are traded very freely, their prices can inflate or deflate quickly and easily. But Wall Street acts like a thermometer for the temperature of the economy: a collapse in world stock prices must eventually be followed by a collapse in the prices of other real goods, and eventually a collapse in wages. It is like ripples in a pond. Who exactly will lose their job, and how long it will take to lose it, we cannot say. But we should not imagine it won't happen, and the consequences will affect us all.

This is why the $700-billion bailout package was necessary. The package had the effect of injecting a huge amount of money into the money supply, thereby staving off the deflationary scenario. This extra money will act like "grease" in the "motor" of the economy, giving banks and other financial institutions time to reorganize their portfolios. Again, it is like the marbles. The banks will still get hit in the head by the marbles, but those marbles will at least be spread over time rather than coming in all at once. The financial system will be stung but at least will survive.

Website: Les Cellules paroissiales d'évangélisation

Juste quelques mots pour vous partager l'existence d'un mouvement d'espérance pour l'Église au Québec: les Cellules Paroissiales d'Évangélisation.

Human origins: Evolution

Just what does the Catholic Church think of the theory of evolution? To be honest, it depends on which theory of evolution we mean. More than that, it depends on what we believe about the explanatory power of the theory. There are some who seem to treat the "theory of evolution" more like an ideology than like a scientific theory. So we need to be clear on what we mean by "evolution".

There is an amazing variety of living creatures on this planet. These creatures, however, can typically be classified into broad groups which share common characteristics. Plants are different from animals, for example. Among animals, vertebrates are different from invertebrates. Among vertebrates, mammals are different from birds. The family of mammals can itself be broken down into its own subdivisions (the cat-like mammals being different from the ape-like mammals, and so on). Eventually we get to a special level known as a species, and this is where the fun begins.

The levels of biological subdivision above that of the species are usually known as a genus, a term that is related to English words like "generic" and "general". A genus is a category of species that possess certain common traits, such as having a backbone (vertebrates) or having feathers (birds). The word "species", on the other hand, is related to English words like "special" and "specific". This word also describes a biological subdivision, but a biological subdivision with a special feature for creatures that reproduce sexually: its members are able to interbreed and produce non-sterile offspring. The capacity to reproduce is what makes individual animals members of the same species. A chicken is a vertebrate; so is a monkey. But a chicken and a monkey, despite both being vertebrates, cannot reproduce together. They may be part of of the same genus, but they are of two different species.

As an aside, I should point out that there are types animals that are so closely related that they can produce offspring, despite being members of two different species. A donkey and a horse, for example, can mate and produce the animal we know as a "mule" (or in rarer cases, produce a "hinny"). A tiger and a lion can also mate, believe it or not, and their offspring are known as "ligers" and "tigons". A key feature of these inter-species hybrids, however, is that the offspring are either sterile or can only mate with a member of a parent species. As such, they do not consitute a new species of their own.

I should also point out that biologists also identify groups below the level of species, known as a sub-species. Again, these are animals which share particular characteristics, and so are grouped accordingly; however, they are still able to inter-breed freely within the larger species, and so cannot be considered separate species of their own. One of the most visible examples of this principle can actually be found within our own species, Homo sapiens. People from sub-Saharan Africa tend to have dark brown skin; people from northern Europe often have blue eyes or blonde hair; and people from eastern Asia tend to have upper eyelids without a visible crease. These distinctions mean nothing, however, when it comes to the capacity to reproduce, such that we humans really are part of one overall species.

Where did all these different species come from? The question is particularly compelling when we examine the fossil record, where we discover the remains of countless creatures that simply don't exist anymore. One of the most common fossil types is the trilobite, and yet they disappear from the fossil record at a distant point in Earth's past; it would seem that trilobites have been extinct for at least 250 million years. If species after species can be shown to have gone extinct, why are any species alive now at all, and with such amazing diversity? While trilobites disappear after a certain point, however, what is really interesting is how evidence of certain types of creatures cannot be found before a certain point. One of the best documented cases of this is that of the modern horse.

Evidence for the existence of modern horses can only be found starting from about 1 million years ago. However, prior to that point there is evidence of another creature, called "pliohippus", whose remains closely resemble that of a modern horse while not being exactly the same (it is significantly smaller with differently-shaped bones). Remains of pliohippus, however, can only be traced back to approximately 10 million years ago. Prior to pliohippus, we discover the remains of a similar-but-different creature called "merychippus". Merychippus cannot be found prior to 30 million years ago, but "mesohippus" (another similar creature) can, which in turn cannot be found prior to 40 million years ago. The earliest horse-like creature we can find in the fossil record is "esohippus", which was approximately the size of a dog and had toes. If we were to put a modern horse and an esohippus beside each other we might have trouble believing that they were related creatures at all, but that is without the evidence of the intervening years. It is like putting a picture of a person at age 1 and another picture of the same person at age 100 next to each other — the two look very different, and yet there may very well be a strangely compelling similarity between them at the same time. If we were to "fill in the blanks" with other pictures from intervening years, though, the similarity would be even more striking, until a true continuity could be found. We would realise that all the photos were actually of the same person!

While individual human beings certainly do change (dare we say evolve?) during their lifetimes, however, the case of the modern horse is an example of what "evolution" really means: that a species taken as a whole can change over time.

Human beings have long recognized that children inherit certain characteristics from their parents, and not only among our own kind: after all, we have been breeding dogs for centuries, selecting parent dogs with particular traits so that those traits might appear in a concentrated form in the offspring. We have typically bred dogs for their utility in certain environments: huskies, for example, are excellent cold-weather animals, while Newfoundland dogs have webbed feet and an amazing capacity to swim. These dog breeds are another example of sub-species, in that while the different breeds might be quite different from each other they can still mutually reproduce. But what would happen if specialized breeding eventually meant that each breed became so different from the other that they couldn't make babies with each other anymore? They would then be considered two different species, and an "evolutionary leap" called speciation would be considered to have taken place.

Speciation is difficult to observe in practice, because it is assumed to be a gradual process that takes place over many generations — generations which, taken together, add up to a longer period of time than the lifetime of the observer! Despite this, we do know that the human breeding of animals has indeed resulted in speciation. Domestic sheep are the result of centuries of the breeding of what were originally wild sheep, including the mouflon. But while the mouflon still exist as an independent species, domestic sheep and mouflon can no longer produce viable offspring together.

So what is evolution? In short, it is the theory that speciation does not only occur as the result of human intervention and breeding programs, but is also a naturally-occurring phenomenon. A particular species may give rise to sub-species, which in turn eventually become their own separate species, and so on, eventually contributing to the amazing diversity of life on this planet as we know it.

This theory of evolution has amazing explanatory power, but it raises a serious question: how does speciation occur in nature? It took centuries for domestic sheep to become a distinct species from the mouflon, and that was with direct human intervention. Given the time scales involved, therefore, we should not be surprised to discover that natural speciation has never been directly observed.

Going beyond the "how" is the "why": why should speciation occur in the natural world? After all, if particular species are already well-enough adapted to their environments to be able to maintain relatively stable populations, why change?

Enter Charles Darwin, whose book The Origin of Species is considered the ground-breaking book in this area. Darwin not only proposed that new species arise from old, but also offered an explanation of the "how" and the "why". In short, while each species is in harmony with its environment, that harmony is itself unstable. A major change in climate, for example, can have far greater deleterious effects on one species than on another, causing a major shift in population balance. Beyond this, a change to one of the species that is part of this "balance of nature" can itself upset the current balance. We know that predatory behaviour exists, with nature being "red in tooth and claw"; there is even competition for simpler resources like sunlight, where the tallest trees have the advantage. The potential hostility that exists in nature means that only the fittest creatures survive to pass on their successful traits to their offspring. Why, therefore, do new species arise and achieve a significant level of population? It is because the unstable and changing circumstances of the balance of nature require that creatures be able to adapt to those circumstances, and those adaptations would be heightened by the "survival of the fittest" mechanism which would tend to reduce the availability of mating partners to those creatures that did, in fact, survive.

While the "survival of the fittest" mechanism does tend to explain how one species might replace another, it does not however explain how a new species arises from another. After all, why should we observe new species as a result of a change in climate? Why not just simply a redistribution of the species that currently exist? A second "how" mechanism is therefore required, called mutation. In essence, mutation proposes that changes frequently occur in a species from one generation to the next. Many, perhaps even most of these mutations are actually defects, i.e. they make survival more difficult, and so they are eliminated by the survival of the fittest mechanism. Others may be relatively innocuous, but some confer a marked survival advantage, an advantage that is often most apparent when the balance of nature undergoes a shock (like a climate change). Again, the survival of the fittest mechanism would select for these traits, and the species as a whole would eventually be transformed as the new characteristic spread through the population. It is not really that a new species arises and kills off the old, but that the new species *is* the old one, only improved. Think of the primitive horses mentioned earlier: if this theory of mutation is correct, the modern horse did not "replace" the esohippus, the modern horse *IS* the esohippus after millenia of gradual changes, changes including the development of longer legs and hooves.

The mutation argument alone is not sufficient, however, to explain the rise of new species, because it can only explain the evolution of a single species within its own population. For mutation to result in speciation, therefore, something else is required, such as geographic isolation, or the instinct to only mate with members of the same species.

Think about it. Suppose an animal is born with the ability to better camouflage itself against predators. That animal could then pass this trait on to its offspring, who will tend to survive better and therefore pass that trait on to more offspring, and so on, such that the trait on that one individual becomes a trait of the species. Suppose this same original species also sees the rise of an individual that has an improved ability to catch food. It too could then pass this trait on to its offspring, who will tend to survive better and therefore pass that trait on to more offspring, and so on. One could say that two new sub-species have arisen within the original species thanks to these mutations, but one *cannot* say that speciation has taken place, as the two groups can still interbreed. Indeed, given the "survival of the fittest" mechanism, the best individuals would be those that possess both mutations, such that the two branches would tend to merge over time back into a single species branch (albeit one that has "evolved"). For mutation to result in speciation, therefore, either single mutations must be sufficiently "large" as to result in incompatible breeding populations right away, or there has to be a way for two populations of the same species to remain distinct long enough for the many small mutations to add up to a breeding incompatibility.

The theory of "large" mutations has not tended to be favoured, simply because it would require that several individuals arise simultaneously with the same mutation; otherwise, the new individual would be (in effect) a species with a population of 1, and would go extinct as soon as that one individual died (as the breeding incompatibility would mean it could never pass on its traits to fertile offspring). Typical evolutionary theory proposes that mutations occur randomly, and so mutations that result in speciation (no matter how successful for the individual) simply do not happen. On the other hand, if it were possible to propose an evolutionary theory that allows for simultaneous "large" mutations, it would go a long way to explaining speciation.

For "small" mutations to result in speciation, therefore, some other mechanism is required. Geographical isolation is a commonly proposed explanation, the idea being that two populations that are sufficiently isolated will develop independent sets of minor mutations, the cumulative effect of which will be populations so distinct that they can no longer interbreed (i.e. they will have become separate species). Again, while speciation has never been observed in nature, we do nevertheless see a tantalizing hint of the speciation mechanism in the Larus gulls that live around the North pole. These birds have a very broad geographic range, and gulls that live on one extreme of the range cannot breed any longer with gulls that live on the opposite extreme. These populations are different species to each other.

Another mechanism to explain how populations become isolated does not depend on geography but on the instinctual mechanisms for selecting mating partners. The basic idea is that "like attracts like". How do cats know to only mate with other cats, and not with dogs? On some level they grasp their own "catness", and they are drawn to mate only with other cats. The same effect may occur when a mutation happens: mutants may be drawn to mate only with similar mutants, while original members of the species might tend to reject mating with mutants in favour of their own kind. At first glance it might appear that this approach would require the appearance of several mutants at once, and therefore this theory would suffer the same problems as the "large mutation" approach already seen, but this is not necessarily the case. A new mutant would be at a disadvantage, of course, but because its mutation is not "large" it can still breed with the dominant population. It the mutation truly did confer a major survival advantage, such that this advantage meant that it could "force" its traits onto the population at large, eventually a small mutant population would develop, and the "like attracts like" mechanism could take place within those different populations. New mutations would accumulate within those populations, until they speciated. They two groups may not be separated by distance, but they nevertheless do not mix until eventually they cannot. This "like attracts like" mechanism has been observed experiments with multiple generations of fruit flies, where the descendants of these multiple generations show they prefer to associate with (and mate with) fruit flies that share similar characteristics.

The problem with both of these arguments is that while individual populations may be out of direct contact with each other, they are rarely without some sort of mediated contact. For the gulls, the "extreme end" populations may be species to each other, but they are considered sub-species with relation to the population in the middle of the range, as both populations can breed with the population found in the middle. The case of the Larus gulls certainly appears to be an example of sub-species become species in their own right; on the other hand, it is also possible that the reverse is occurring, and that the two previously incompatible branches will actually collapse into a single branch thanks to the presence of this "intermediate population". In other words, while evolution as described could result in the rise of divergent species, it could also result in the merging of previously incompatible species thanks to new "bridge" species emerging (i.e. evolution could also be "convergent"). Nevertheless, if dependent on random mutations, evolution is likely a largely divergent process, as more specific mutations would be needed for the creation of reproductive compatibility than reproductive incompatibility.

Despite the incomplete nature of these explanations, and the practical impossibility of directly observing a speciation event, it is still possible to demonstrate the likelihood of evolutionary speciation in an indirect way. If new multiple new species truly can arise from a single parent species, these new species can be said to have a common ancestor. If the existence of a common ancestor can be demonstrated, then the fact of speciation can be affirmed even if it cannot be entirely explained. Much of the sifting through the fossil record has been an attempt to find such common ancestors in the distant past. Unfortunately, because resemblance does not necessarily demonstrate descent, this is essentially impossible to prove. For example, one would expect that a common ancestor of birds and reptiles would share features of both, but the discovery of a fossil that resembles a bird in some ways and a reptile in others does not necessarily mean that this fossil is that common ancestor. After all, perhaps they resemble each other because each independently evolved to be well adapted to a similar environment (such as the resemblence between dolphins and ichthyosaurs). Simply put, the fossil record cannot provide direct evidence of common ancestors.

The recent discovery of the importance of DNA in living organisms, on the other hand, has changed this situation. "DNA" is the short form for deoxyribonucleic acid, a chemical common to all living organisms that contains the "blueprints" for how that organism is to be structured (mostly by coding for the development of the proteins used in the various chemical processes of the body). The various amino acids found in DNA act as letters of the genetic alphabet, and their collective set is called the genome. The slightest change in the sequence of amino acids in a gene can have a major outcome: the origin of the deadly disease cystic fibrosis, for example, can be traced to changes in a single gene.

Because DNA patterns are transmitted from one generation to the next, common DNA patterns can be used to identify members of the same family — or even the same species. What research has also discovered, however, is that there are often large portions of DNA that are common across species boundaries. These portions are apparently inactive, so their presence cannot be explained by the same kind of independent-but-convergent process of natural selection that produced dolphins and ichthyosaurs. Instead, it is far more likely that these portions of DNA are simply the "fossil remains" of DNA that was once part of the genome of an ancestor and that is still passed down. But because these portions of DNA can be common across certain species boundaries (depending on the organisms under discussion), their presence points to the existence of a common ancestor. It is not direct proof, but it certainly is compelling evidence, such that the study of these similarities and differences in DNA patterns is provoking the revision of our current classification of species. Before, we used to classify the relatedness of species based on similar external characteristics; now this data is being completely reviewed, using the internal evidence of DNA.

So what is evolution? It is a scientific theory that states that the characteristics of a given species can change over the course of generations, and that these changes can result in reproductive incompatibility such that a new species can be said to have resulted. While the process of speciation has never been directly observed in the natural world, certain DNA evidence certainly points to the existence of common ancestors for reproductively divergent species. Evolution, therefore, is more than a mere hypothesis: there is serious evidence that it has actually occurred. How evolution works, however, is still open for discussion. The most common explanations involve minor random mutations accumulating over time, with defects being weeded out by a "survival of the fittest" mechanism, but as we do not know enough of how a genome "works" there are still plenty of questions to answer.

Where does the Catholic Church stand on all of this? Pope John Paul II made international headlines in 1996 when, in an October 22 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he spoke of evolution as "more than an hypothesis". Some were shocked, while others applauded, with both groups believing that such a statement represented a change in attitude of the Catholic Church on the question. Those aware of the issues, however, simply shrugged, as the Catholic Church has never had a real difficulty with evolution as such. Pope Pius XII, for example, wrote an encyclical letter in 1950 entitled Humani Generis, in which he expressly authorized research into evolution:

The Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. (HG, no. 36)

At the time Humani Generis was written, evolution was little more than a theoretical framework — a compelling one, no doubt, but lacking evidence. By the time Pope John Paul II spoke 46 years later, however, evidence (particularly DNA evidence) was now present. His statement, therefore, that evolution was more than a mere hypothesis was simply recognizing the current scientific state of affairs.

The theory of evolution has, however, tended to get hijacked. Because its explanatory structure is very compelling, evolutionary explanations have also arisen regarding the structure of societies and cultures, and even the structure of human ideas (such as the theory of memes). These evolution-like paradigms often become actual ideologies, with recommendations for how human behaviour should adapt (social Darwinism being one of the first examples). Some even propose theological conclusions from the evolutionary paradigm, implying that evolution is a closed system that needs no intervention from God (a position that completely ignores the philosophical distinction between primary and secondary causes, I might add). The Catholic Church, therefore, has tended to be cautious when it comes to voicing support for evolution — not because it is suspicious of the physical theory, but because the word "evolution" is also often associated with a package of ideas and conclusions that fall well outside the bounds of the merely physical theory.

As for myself, I am firmly in agreement with Pope John Paul II. The biological theory of evolution, which modestly states that speciation has occurred in the natural world, certainly seems to possess sufficient evidence to go beyond the stage of a mere hypothesis, although much more work remains to be done. But I also agree with the modesty of John Paul II (and Pius XII before him), when they caution against potentially misapplying the explanatory structure of the theory of evolution, particularly when that explanatory structure is still in need of fine-tuning regarding how speciation actually occurs. I accept evolution, but that does not mean I accept the package of secondary ideas that have become associated with what is otherwise a merely biological theory.

So why can't we use this explanatory structure in other ways? Because doing so rests on the hidden assumption that man is merely a biological entity. The explanatory structure of the evolutionary paradigm is compelling thanks to its elegant simplicity, and so I suppose people can hardly be blamed for using it in the development of other theories, ideologies, and even theologies (or anti-theologies, as the case may be). But what if human beings also have spiritual souls? The evolutionary paradigm is not built to account for possibilities such as this, and therefore the application of that paradigm, as though it were complete in itself, to realities that it might not be able to explain fully could have monstrous consequences: the full reality of human nature would not be respected, and the resulting ideological recommendations for action would actually be dehumanizing and destructive to happiness.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that Pope Pius XII mentioned the concept of the spiritual soul as a boundary between evolution as a biological theory and evolution as an ideological package. And it should equally be of no surprise that part 2 of this series on human origins will be on the human soul.

Website: National Catholic Bioethics Center

Why is Easter always on a Sunday when Passover isn't always on a Sunday?

From a faithful reader:

Since Easter is the celebration of the Crucifixion & Resurrection of Christ which took place during Passover why do we not celebrate it at the same time as the celebration of Passover? When did the change take place and why?

First, a bit of background. The feast of Passover, in the Jewish calendar, is on a fixed date, the 14 day of the month of Nisan. Just as Christmas can fall on any day of the week, so can Passover.

That being said, the timing of the Passover that was connected to the death and resurrection of Christ meant that Jesus died on a Friday, that the Passover also fell on a sabbath, and that Jesus rose on a Sunday.

We therefore have a double meaning regarding the timing of the pascal mystery: it is connected to Passover, but it is also connected to the sabbath. Since the Passover does not always fall on a sabbath, however, the early church was faced with having to decide how to celebrate Easter and respect this double meaning.

Some Christians, known as Quartodecimans (meaning "14th-day-ers"), celebrated Easter on 14 Nisan, i.e. along with Passover. The early tradition in Rome, however, was to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following Passover; unlike the quartodeciman tradition, it therefore preserved (as best as possible) the double meaning.

Why is Sunday so important? It has to do with the meaning of the resurrection itself. Sunday is the first day of the week, but spiritually it is also the "eighth day" of creation itself! The Bible depicts the earth as having been created in 6 days, with God resting on the 7th. Humans (i.e. Adam and Eve) were created on the 6th day — but Christ, the new Adam, was killed on the 6th day (a Friday). God rested on the 7th day, just as Christ rested in the tomb on the 7th day. Yet on Sunday, the day after, Christ rose from the dead in a new and glorified body — it is a new state of being, a new form of existence that the universe has never seen before! In the resurrection, God has done a new thing, and every Sunday ever after is his pledge to make "all things new".

There is, therefore, a powerful spiritual connection between day of Sunday and the resurrection of Christ. The "quartodeciman controversy" threatened to divide the Church at one point, until the very first ecumenical council settled the matter in favour of the Sunday tradition.

For more on the spirituality of Sunday, I recommend the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, entitled Dies Domini.

Distractions during prayer?

A friend writes:

I have a question that I hope you can answer for me or maybe give me some direction on. How do you keep focused when praying. I know this may sound odd, but I often experience my mind drifting from one thought to another while saying my nightly prayers. The harder I try to keep what I'm saying front and centre the more distracted I become.

Your question about distractions during prayer is very old. Many saints faced such issues, and a lot of wisdom has been passed down through the ages about this.

The first major piece of wisdom the saints have shared with us is that, in general, we should not pay too much attention to distractions - otherwise, the fact of distractions becomes the distraction itself! Distractions represent some of the basic flotsam and jetsam of our minds. Only those who have passed completely through the Dark Night of the Soul are truly free from them. So, in the meantime, we just need to deal with them while accepting that they will likely be present for most of our spiritual life.

Having a written text helps deal with distractions. Reading written texts are our way to speak to God, or writing down our thoughts in a spiritual journal, are great helps in this, because as the distraction comes it is easy to come back to the original thread once the distraction passes, rather than having to go searching for it again.

The strength of distractions are greatly depends on our current interior state. For example, when we are tired they tend to increase. They also tend to be stronger in the evening than in the morning - that is partly why monks do most of their meditation in the morning, as they don't have a day's worth of issues to process while trying to pray.

Finally, while distractions should generally be ignored, there are two exceptions to this rule:

  1. When a specific distraction repeats itself. This kind of distraction usually represents some sort of "worldly attachment" that, if broken, will set free our spiritual life even more. That being said, this kind should normally be brought to a spiritual director, as the root issue behind the distraction is not always obvious.
  2. When a specific distraction activates our conscience. This can be because the distraction tempts our mind to dwell on some sort of sin (dreams of revenge, for example, or impure thoughts, or temptations to self-pity, etc.). It can also be because God is actually speaking to us in a more direct way, such that we *can't* just push ignore the thought - the distraction is not simply a distraction, it is a direct communication from God.

In the case of sinful distractions, the best route is to begin to pray rote prayers (such as a decade of the rosary), so that the distraction can't get a "foothold" in our mind. In the case of the "communication from God" distractions, my advice is to journal about it. Keep a journal book handy, just in case such moments come, and write these things down. Then, when the moment passes, go back to the usual prayers, and bring the written notes to your spiritual director.

Website: Kiva

Despite the many evils that circulate on the Internet, I firmly believe that it can also be a powerful tool for good. The Kiva website is an example of what I mean.

Kiva is an example of micro-financial lending, in which participants like you and me don't *give* money so much as *lend* it to micro-entrepreneurs who are then obliged to pay it back. Of course, by paying it back the money then re-enters the borrowing and lending cycle and can be used to help another micro-entrepreneur.

This kind of thing really tickles me, especially given my background in finance. I mentioned in my previous post how the poor are often caught in cycles of usurious loans which keep them down. These kinds of programs are a real chance to break free.

Feed people, not animals

The big headline across the new lately is the dramatic rise in global food prices. This issue touches me in a special way, because in college I once did a paper studying starvation economics, i.e. how "standard" economics changes when food availability reaches critical levels. It isn't pretty, and experience shows that one round of starvation economics is sufficient to create structures of social injustice that can last generations.

I therefore submit to you that the main reason why food prices have risen is due to our values, and not our capacity to actually produce food.

For example, did you know that in 2004 the market for pet food for cats and dogs was $14.7 billion? And that is just cats and dogs, not fish or birds or other exotic creatures.

And then there is agricultural feed. According to this Wikipedia article, 635 million TONS of feed are grown each year as food for animals. Some of it is food we cannot eat, but is grown on land that could be used to grow food for humans. Some of it (like corn) we could eat, and by diverting that food to feed animals, not people, it actually inflates the price and makes it harder for the poorest to purchase.

Now some may argue that we actually *do* eat that corn, in the form of meat. The problem is that this is a very inefficient kind of diet. I once read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. As long as the possibility of starvation economics reigns, plant matter is more ethical as people food, not animal food.

I am not proposing we all become vegetarians.

I am proposing that richer nations immediately impose a tax on the sale of animals and animal products (such as food that comes from animals, like meat, or food that goes into animals, like pet food).

This tax would accomplish two things.

First, the price of animal products would rise. Supply and demand being what it is, demand for such products would drop. People would have to compete less with animals, so prices for human food could drop.

Second, this tax would then be used to help those at risk avoiding the trap of starvation economics. Insurance and credit union systems could be put in place to give people options in lean times, thus avoiding the trap of falling into usurious debt (or worse, having to sell off their land and other means of production).

As a final point, I think the Church might be in a special position to help. The creation of systems of wealth transfer from animals to the poor will do no good if that wealth gets diverted through corruption. The struggle for genuine property rights regardless of so-called social status is part of the path of justice — and part of the Gospel of Christ.