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Jorge Bergoglio had come in second behind Joe Ratzinger in 2005 at the conclave tasked with electing the next pope. Eight years later, Bergoglio himself was elected to the holy and powerful office. The American media, treading water as usual on the surface, proclaimed Pope Francis to be a reformer. After all, he was the first non-European to hold the office in more than a millennium. However, Francis is a reformer in a very narrow sense, and he is not as much of an outsider as one might suppose from the media reports. As with most matters in life, the truth is more nuanced.

I begin with the matter of the pope ostensibly being an outsider. Because Bergoglio had been born and raised in Argentina, his election quickly came to stand for or personify the increasing salience of Latin America in the contemporary Catholic Church. At the announcement habamus papam, Latino Catholics in the Vatican’s square and on a much larger scale in Argentina spontaneously rose in celebration. However, the assumption that Bergoglio is the first Latin American pope needs some qualification because his parents were Italian immigrants. Not surprisingly, he grew up speaking fluent Italian in addition to Spanish. Accordingly, he had no trouble giving the homily of his first papal Mass in Italian. Italian culture was doubtless a part of his upbringing as well. So it is not strictly true that a non-European was elected pope. More accurately, Pope Francis is a hybrid, or “third culture person,” consisting of Latin American and European elements.

Moreover, in having achieved the high office of cardinal, Pope Francis is not an outsider. His status as an outsider is relatively narrow, being that he has not worked in the Curia at the Vatican. However, even this respect could be moderated by the pope’s Italian upbringing. That is to say, he undoubtedly has the sense of being in the familia in virtue of his Italian roots. Italian cardinals and bishops in the Curia could thus expect to have some pull with him. I doubt this point was not lost on at least some of the Italian cardinals in the conclave. Of course, the fact that the pope appointed so many reformers to his advisory council on the Curia suggests that the term “reformer” applies to him in respect to dealing with the corruption in the Vatican, including its bank and senior officials. This does not mean that he is a reformer writ large—meaning in terms of doctrine, the hierarchy, and social issues.

Even though feminist groups dared to hope that the new pope might finally bring the Church into the twenty-first century on social issues, Bergoglio had been stanchly conservative on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, women in the Church, and even contraception. Therefore, it is very unlikely the new pope would make any changes along the lines sought in the developed West.

Indeed, a month after becoming pope, Francis reaffirmed his predecessor’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of the Women Religious (LCWR). The umbrella group of American nuns had been accused of excessive feminism and too much attention to social justice and the poor at the expense of preventing abortions. The affirmation is particularly astonishing because Bergoglio had emphasized social justice and the poor as an archbishop  in Argentina. That his reaffirmation of the previous pope’s rebuke pertains to a group that shares his own priorities on social justice and the poor suggests that his role as a reformer is narrow indeed. His reforms inside the Church are likely to be limited to reforming the Curia to get rid of its corruption and insularity. To be sure, that he had spoken out against unregulated markets and oppression could suggest that the pope might be a reformer in terms of human rights outside the Church. He might even urge governments to enhance financial regulation and fortify safety nets for the poor. Crucially for our purposes here, this would not make him a doctrinal or social-issue reformer in terms of Catholicism.

George Weigel, a traditionalist Catholic theologian, put the matter of the pope’s orientation very well. “He is a reformer, and making clear that the LCWR’s program in recent decades has been incompatible with Catholicism is part of the reform-by-purification that he is going to lead.” The term “purification” is key here, for it describes the traditionalist approach of the prior two popes wherein a traditionalist interpretation of doctrine (including on social issues) has been used to purge the marginal (i.e., moderate and liberal) Catholics on the way to restoring the true Church to the true believers. In a sense, the traditionalists had succeeded in using the “reform” label for their own purposes, but this does not mean that Pope Francis will open up the Church to women or married priests or relaxed positions on gay marriage, abortion and even contraception. Rather, a bishops’-led return to outward caring for the poor in place of insular infighting and corruption is the sort of “reform” that is perfectly consistent with the ecclesiastical traditionalism of the cardinals who elected the Italian-Argentinian cardinal.

 

 

For more, see Jaweed Kaleem’s article, “Pope Francis Gets Strong Ratings From U.S. Catholics in First Days,” in the Huffington Post on March 15, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/pope-francis-approval-us-catholics_n_2884494.html?utm_hp_ref=religion ; Cathy Grossman, “Pope Francis Keeps Tight Rein on U.S. Nuns,” USA Today, April 16, 2013; Laurie Goodstein, “Pope Upholds Reprimand of American Nuns’ Group,” in the New York Times on April 16, 2013

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The Family Research Council had already been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010. In late 2012, a petition was created at the White House’s online system to have the Catholic Church labeled as a hate group. The petition came on the heels of the Pope’s address to Vatican administrators in which he denounced gay marriage as a threat to Western civilization. The petition claims the Pope used “hateful language and discriminatory remarks” implying “that gay families are sub-human.” Closer to the truth, the objection was that the clergy viewed gays themselves as subhuman. Closer still, the reaction was to the hatred itself. Meanwhile, Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, was being criticized for having claimed that Jewish leaders are “enemies of the Church.” Here again, hatred is salient. Rather than being a “gay issue,” the hatred of Catholic traditionalist clergy is toward modernity itself, which the traditionalists assume is secularist in nature. The modern phenomenon of religious fundamentalism (including in evangelical Christianity) belies this assumption.

The hatred is really directed to those holding a very different ideological stance. Since the clergy dominating the Vatican as of 2012 was traditionalist in ideological orientation, it is natural to conclude that ideological differences pertain to modernists. Interestingly, even evangelical Christianity is marginalized, though not hated, within the Catholic Church. Both hatred and dismissiveness are easily manifested in the traditionalists’ demeanor toward those holding a very different opinion even on non-religious matters. This goes far beyond gay rights, feminism and the Jews.

The core of the pathology is in the very intensity of the hatred, the blind spot of which is furnished by the incredible allowance for hypocrisy. God is rationalized as essentially traditionalist, ideologically. That ideology is distinct from faith means that the traditionalist dominant coalition at the Vatican had gone off its terra firma onto alien fauna without any recognition of so doing. This over-reach by religious functionaries, plus the intensity of their hatred toward those with whom they disagree, is the issue. Put another way, hatred in the name of religion is a seething poison. Ironically, it can contaminate the very thing that religious purport to love.

 

For more, see “Bernard Fellay, Head of Traditionalist Catholic Sect”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/bernard-fellay-jews-enemies-of-the-church-radical-catholic-sect_n_2425711.html

“Catholic Hate Group?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/catholic-hate-group-activists-mobilize-around-white-house-online-petition-system_n_2427266.html

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Beginning in 1979 and continuing at least into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a “movement,” or “step,” back—in the sense of turning back from the shifts made possible by the Second Vatican Council. Aspects of the reactionary agenda include a greater distance between the clergy and the laity (as eventuated in less emphasis on lay ministries, ironically as the proportion of priests decreases) and more emphasis on two particular political issues: abortion and stem-cells. In other words, the clergy in the movement tend to hold themselves in a more elitist position vis a vis the laity while feeling more confident in asserting their particular partisan position. One such priest at a parish, and indeed diocese, “gone reactionary” is reported to have added a prayer in the petitions at Mass as the campaigns for the Republican primaries were revving up in 2011, “We pray for the election of a pro-life president.” As Barak Obama is pro-choice and most of the Republican candidates are pro-life in terms of being anti-abortion, the prayer was in fact for a Republican to win the White House. There are a number of problems with this sort of petition—none of which evidently had swayed the overconfident “high” priest

First, the partisan nature of the petition could be expected to turn off any independents and Democrats in the congregation. In fact, they could have felt alienated—some strident Obama supporters may perhaps have even skipped taking Communion. In attending the Mass, the members of that parish had agreed to take part in Roman Catholic religion; they had not agreed to attend a Republican or even a politically partisan club. Indeed, you can bet that priest would have quickly dismissed any members identifying themselves as intending to vote for Barak Obama. The priestly arrogance falls particularly flat when politics, wherein each person has one vote, is the priest’s chosen field of endeavor. Lest he object that religion is everywhere and thus preemptive in other domains, one might wonder whether he has any self-control or restraint, not to mention humility—particularly as it is his favored ideological stance that reigns supreme and trumps all others.

Second, the petition itself may be self-defeatist. According to the New York Times, “attacks on the E.P.A., climate change science and environmental regulation more broadly” are red meat to many if not most Republican voters. Some
of the Republican candidates would do away with the E.P.A. outright. Michele Bachmann, for instance, said, “I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off.” Now, if we let corporations and drivers send our climate to a new equilibrium that is incompatible with the human species, then any pro-life political agenda would be thwarted, at least with respect to human life. The partisan priest could take solace, however, in that there would not be any abortions.

In fact, not only is the petition narrow-minded and self-defeating, it bears a contradiction if universalized (i.e., everyone votes anti-abortion) that renders the maxim immoral, at least according to Kant’s categorical imperative. For the maxim “Vote anti-abortion” universalized could bring with it a trashing of the environment to the extent that the maxim no longer makes sense because there is no possibility for abortions when there are no human beings remaining. In other words, the maxim universalized is self-contradictory, so the maxim cannot be taken as a fact of reason (i.e., as having the necessity of reason, as in 4+5=9) and thus the maxim is immoral. This is obviously a rationalist method of assessing morality.

The main oversight by the reactionary politicized priest is that voting on a single issue opens one up to the risk of having voted recklessly with respect to other issues. Moreover, the tenet that one single issue is so much more important than all the others, such as social justice and aiding the poor, even with respect to the religion (and religious morals) not to mention politics is faulty at best. In Christianity, for example, Jesus is depicted as urging aid to the poor—the least of us or the lowly being exalted. Considering the Republican condition for raising the debt-ceiling in July 2011 that unemployment compensation be ended, it is difficult to see how voting for a “pro-life” candidate on abortion could be
consistent with Jesus’ admonition. Even from the standpoint of following Jesus, the self-vaunted ideology of the priest is problematic for him. With respect to humility, which the Catholic Pope (Joe Ratzinger) has maintained is God, a partisan petition is at the very least unseemly and ultimately self-defeating with respect to union with God.

See John M. Broder, “Bashing E.P.A. Is New Theme in G.O.P. Race,” The New York Times (August 18, 2011).

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As Madrid prepared for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in August 2011, many people, including 120 priests, were raising objections to the Pope’s visit. Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman at the Vatican, said at a briefing at Rome that the protests were not very surprising. Dismissing the objections, he said, “It’s part of life in a democratic country.”  I contend that there is a certain arrogance in this statement. Would the spokesman use the same statement regarding protests against apartheid, for example?  Oh, well, what can you expect; there are always protests. To be sure, the frequency of protest does indeed rarify the impact of any particular protest. Surely, however, the gravity of the causes differs. Exterminating the Jews, for example, should not be treated as of similar importance as saving some bird species, yet both causes could be expected to eventuate in protests.

In the case of the Pope’s visit to Madrid for the youth festival, priests who work with the poor objected to the “lavish $72 million celebration.” That some of this sum would be paid with tax dollars even as Spain was in an austerity program affecting the poor had more than some people shaking their heads at the priorities of the Vatican and Spain. It was not as though the Pope had not visited the state. In fact, Esther Lopez Barcelo, a youth coordinate for a political party, observed, “They still can’t tell us how much the pope’s visit cost two years ago. Every time he comes here, the figures become opaque.” Cost-containment is obviously not a priority at the Vatican.

To be sure, having more than a million visitors in Madrid could be expected to benefit both local business and the government’s coffers, though it is doubtful that the spending by the youth would match the increased municipal expenses such as trash removal. In short, Spain—one of the PIGS in the E.U. in terms of the debt crisis—was in no position to host a church’s youth day. The Pope’s home region of Bavaria in Germany would have been a better pick, considering the state of the German economy.

For the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s dismissiveness of the protest signed by 120 of its own priests plus others rings of the sort of heartlessness in ignoring someone. It is the sort of heartlessness in someone who has no qualms about enjoying himself even as he knows that some people nearby are suffering. There is a fakeness to such a smile that involves willful blocking of something that is not convenient.

In a broader context, the Vatican’s indifference regarding objections to its lavish spending was amid a trend since 1979 away from social justice and human rights and toward a hypertrophy in abortion and stem-cell protests. I wonder, by the way, whether “It’s all part of life in a democratic country” could also be used by pro-choice groups to dismiss pro-life rallies? Furthermore, I wonder if the Vatican would object to that use of its statement?  Would the Vatican be willing to contend that using a human stem-cell in research is more objectionable than diverting religious and public funds from the poor in a time of need?

On the Church’s “own turf,” one could point to Jesus’ use of the five loafs and two fishes to feed the multitudes. Furthermore, one could recount the saying attributed to Jesus about the rich man getting into the kingdom of heaven being like a camel getting through the eye of a needle. Surely, profligate spending for a festival as the poor are suffering from austerity-program cut-backs is hard to square with Jesus’s teachings. Higher human love (caritas), and especially selfless divine love (agape), manifest justly in terms of universal benevolence (benevolentia universalis). Leibniz, for example, based this justness of this obligation on the fact that we all share in being—God is perfect Being. Augustine based the justness on caritas applying even to one’s enemies (as opposed to merely one’s friends—Cicero’s amicitia).

Similarly, John Rawls points to the unfairness involved in knowing beforehand where one is situated in benefiting from the benevolence. Under a veil of ignorance concerning one’s station, it is only fair to see to it that the least fortunate position benefits. Practically speaking, one never knows if one will someday occupy such a position. For a person (or organization) to ignore the poor while using funds that those people who are barely surviving badly need (from the state)—particularly when one knows one’s station (i.e., as not poor)—is to add selfishness and a hardened heart to the unfairness. This is not exactly a station of the Cross. Rather, it pertains to the lofty, who are justly brought low, rather than to the lowly, who are to be exalted.

To refuse to take part in the exaltation of the lowly by ignoring the obligation of redistributive justice, particularly as arrives at a festival as the star of the show, reflects on one’s underlying attitude toward the teachings attributed to Jesus (or Gandhi, for that matter) as well as the ethical principle of basic fairness. It is, in short, to practice hypocrisy, if one represents a Church in the name of a simple carpenter who may well have gone from meal to meal.

See Suzanne Daley, “Catholic Clergy Protest Pope’s Visit, and Its Price Tag,” New York Times, August 16, 2011.

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The pope in his homily at the 2009 midnight (actually 10pm) mass quoted Origen (early Xn theologian) who wrote that pagans (who worship stone images of God…which would include Hindus today) can only have hearts of stone (meaning they cannot love…even each other).  Specifically, according to Ratzinger, “Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9).”  So a Hindu believer cannot feel love or use reason.  Being as though lifeless matter, such humans are in effect not human, or sub-human.  This is the implication from Ratzinger’s quote of Origen.  At the very least, one must wonder how insulting good-meaning Hindus (and people of other religions where the deities are in images other than that of Jesus, the “true image of God” according to Ratzinger) can possibly be reconciled with subscribing to a religion wherein God is love and that love is in neighbor-love universalized

Ratzinger continues in his homily,  “The God of whom no image may be made – because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him – this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image.”   Is this not a contradiction?  If no image can be made, then none–even one believed to be correspond to the divine essence–could be made or seen by humans without distortion.  Otherwise, the statement would read, “the God of whom only one image can be made.”   Any image is distorting because God as the source of existence transcends any image within the limits of human cognition and perception.  Also, even if there were a true image, it would be presumptuous to assume that human beings can know which, if any, is the true image.  Even revelation must go through human hands in being written down.  Furthermore, the presumption that one’s particular image of God is THE true image involves a conflict of interest.   In other words, it is convenient for Joe Ratzinger that his image of God is THE true image of God.  At the very least, Joe Ratzinger’s claim ought to be doubted because it is self-serving. 

C’est vraiment incroyable.  Certainement, un mauvais homme qui croit que il est bon.  …Ratzinger, je veux dire.  Bien sur (ou naturalement), les journalists ont dit rien de ca plus tard.  Hindus ne pouvent pas aimer ou penser.  Sprechen das ist schlecter als  “they can’t be saved” because “being saved” is a Christian artifact.  Ratzinger’s homily represents Christianity on steroids.  …or an 82 year old man on steroids.  No wonder some (other) crazy person jumped on him during the procession.  To be sure, that was crazy too, but after he got up, it is telling that his eyes were shifty.   In watching him, I got the sense that he is not a very trusting person.  It is difficult to judge, but I would not be surprised were he a spiteful rather than a spiritual man.  I view his decision to quote Origen as just as crazy, and him comments on God’s image as convenient at the very least.  …yet in spite of his comments, the legitimacy is presumed to go with him so no one questions it, at least publically.  The Roman emperor, I submit, is not wearing any clothes.  Yet unlike the baby in the manger, he is all decked out.  It is time, in other words, to see through the glittering robe to uncover the man behind the curtain.

Source: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20091224_christmas_en.html

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The Vatican said at the end of December, 2009, that moving Pope Pius XII  closer to sainthood is not a hostile act against Jews, even though the wartime pontiff has been criticized for not speaking out enough against the Holocaust.  According to the NYT, the Vatican “sought to quell the outrage sparked among many Jewish groups after Benedict signed a decree on Pius’s virtues.”

Had the Roman Catholic Church clergy in Europe known about the Nazi atrocities–not only against the Jews, but the 20 million Russian civilians killed in their villages–it is an interesting question whether “taking up your cross” would have meant risking death in preaching out against the murder.  Being a silent “witness” of God’s presence would probably not cut it, under those circumstances.  Would prayer be a viable alternative to action, were a priest aware that a girl was being raped down the street in an alley?  I submit that it would not. 

However interesting the religious-ethical question of the clergy’s responsibility is, I want to point to another ethical issue that is involved in the sainthood of so many clerics…by other clerics.   There seems something odd, if not nepharious, about a church organization recognizing its own as saints.  It can be likened to a sort of spiritual masterbation.   At the very least, it evinces an institutional conflict of interest…a pope pushing the canonization of two popes from his century (at least one of whom he knew well).   “Make me pope and I’ll make you a saint” may be a bit too much of a stretch, but it is possible that such a deal was struck.  Joe Ratzinger was not, after all, an outsider to the hierarchy under John Paul II.   Indeed, look at the names they pick for themselves.  Joe Ratzinger decided that he would be called Blessed (Benedict).  Pope Pius had decided that he would be called pious.   Besides being hardly humble (Jesus didn’t tell people to call him Pious or Blessed), selecting one’s own name in such terms can be viewed as involving a personal conflict of interest.  

Essentially, my argument here is that we do not recognize institutional or personal conflicts of interest (though we do have a nose for the latter when it involves money!), and that consequently we don’t go far enough in critiquing organizations and the people who run them.  Instead, we get sidetracked into heated polemical debates, such as in whether the pope during WWII knew about the Nazi crimes and yet did nothing to stop them.   We need to take a hint from stories like the Da Vinci Code…we are not going far enough as investigators; paradoxically, some of the answers are left undiscovered right under our noses. 

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34571154/ns/world_news-world_faith/

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