From Washington Post God in Government Blog

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Signs of Media Savvy at the Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to delay the release of his encyclical on the global economy, poverty and the worldwide financial crisis until just before the G8 summit at L'Aquila, Italy, next week, according to Italian reports.

He was expected to sign the document this week but, in a sign of some PR chops somewhere in the Vatican, won't release it until next week, according the reports. The timing should help it attract maximum media coverage.

The encyclical, "Caritas in veritate" (Charity in Truth), will outline the goals and values that the faithful must "tirelessly defend" to ensure "true freedom and solidarity" among humans, Benedict said in a recent speech.

The pope is expected to wade full-bore into the economic crisis. The encyclical analyzes the destructive effect on society of the pursuit of commercial or private interests without "social responsibility" or "conscience and honesty." It proposes an international agreement on globalization based on "the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity" and "the values of charity and truth."

A Religious Angle in the Energy Bill

After a spirited (pun intended) lobbying effort, a group of faith-based organizations has persuaded House movers and shakers to include benefits for religious organizations in the energy bill that passed last week.

At the last minute, at the behest of a coalition led by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, House leaders inserted a provision that would provide subsidies of up to one-half the cost of retrofitting energy systems of faith-based and other nonprofit groups. It's a testament to the lobbying clout of faith-based groups, although how far that influence will extend into other issues looming in Congress is an open question.

On the energy bill, Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, said today that his group noticed in March, when House Democrats unveiled the bill, that it didn't include anything for nonprofits. His group met with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and subcommittee Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) -- "both of whom were receptive" to the idea that nonprofit groups should be included.

The Orthodox Union put together an influential coalition, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches and United Jewish Communities, as well as the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Florida-based mega-church Northland; the Rev. Jim Ball, head of the Evangelical Environmental Network; and the Rev. Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners.

By the time the committee marked up the bill, Waxman had inserted language making nonprofits, including faith-based groups, eligible for the retrofit-subsidy program.

Victory there. Now on to the Senate. The bill in the works in the Senate doesn't have an analogous provision.

The coalition is working on increasing the subsidy beyond 50 percent because, Diament said, many nonprofits wouldn't be able to afford pricey energy retrofits even with a 50 percent subsidy.

Washington Post religion reporters Jacqueline L. Salmon, Michelle Boorstein and William Wan blog regularly on religion, politics and policy at

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