World Banker studies work of Church in developing world


One hundred and forty thousand schools, ten thousand orphanages, five thousand five hundred hospitals. What’s not to like, right? Robert Calderisi offers a frank account of the role of the Church in development.

Earthly Mission: the Catholic Church and world development by Robert Calderisi (Yale University Press).

- Review by The Tablet

Thousands of words have been written about the scandals that have beset the Catholic Church in recent years, so it’s good to see a detailed account of the Church’s outstanding contribution to international development. Or is it?

True, the Church is an indisputable leader in education and health services across the world. It has 140,000 schools, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, 12,000 nurseries, 10,000 orphanages, 37,000 centres of informal education, and 5,500 hospitals, 65 per cent of them located in developing countries.

But it is not all good news. Robert Calderisi presents a wide-ranging and comprehensive overview of the Church’s charitable and development work, but he is also refreshingly honest and critical where he feels the Church has not been true to itself.

He is an outspoken critic of some aspects of church doctrine, particularly in regard to its impact on human development. He left the Church for a decade after the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968, because of the serious harm he believed the ban on birth control would do in the developing world. He is also critical of the Church’s stance on homosexuality, on condom use to prevent HIV/Aids infection, and its role in the Rwanda genocide.

As well as being a Catholic, Calderisi is a former employee of the Organisation for Economic Development and the World Bank, and a writer and lecturer on Africa, international development and foreign aid. He is therefore well qualified to present an authoritative, critical assessment of the Church’s development work. Although he presents an impressive, and often moving, picture of the work that is done by many Catholic men and women working in the world’s poorest countries, this should not be a source of comfort for the Catholic Church, let alone hubris. The Church can, and should, be doing more. Charity alone will not help the poor; there is still an urgent need to address the root causes of poverty. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, we are facing a global economic crisis, food shortages and climate change that threatens to set back years of development progress...

Photo: Catholic nun in Myanmar

Read Full Review in The Tablet: Earthly Mission: the Catholic Church and world development

Related coverage:

Review in The Economist: Hardly a unifying Church

A recommendation from New Statesman: Books in brief

Watch: Robert Calderisi  discusses the Catholic Church and development in a video from Georgetown University’s Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace & World Affairs: Of New Things: The Catholic Church and World Development Since 1945

Listen: Robert Calderisi discusses the failings of foreign aid programs in Africa with Radio National’s Phillip Adams:

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