Just in case you may have wondered about my attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church, I want to make it clear that I am deeply anti-Catholic. While I think Islam is perhaps the greater danger to the world, the Roman Catholic Church in my opinion runs a very close second. Both religions are reactionary religious sects, no matter how large they are. Their aim is to put a lid on the liberalisation of our laws and practices, to keep women in a secondary role in society, and to impose a frightened masculine heterosexuality on everyone without exception. Both religions are focused on achieving and holding onto power, and do not shrink from attempting to subvert democratic processes wherever such opportunities present themselves. In the United States, as I have pointed out recently, the Roman Catholic Church has challenged governments and is deliberately buying up or suborning medical real estate in order to make sure that their death-cult writ reaches more and more people, whether they are Roman Catholics or not.
This is why Simon Jenkins’ op-ed in the Guardian yesterday is perhaps the only comment so far on the election of Pope Bergoglio which has hit the nail directly on the head. The opening paragraph, in a sense, says all that needs to be said:
Papal elections are God’s Olympics. The splendour, the global publicity, the weeping crowds, the human drama, the race to the finish, all dazzle the senses and beg interpretive meaning. There is none. The conclave is showmanship. Those who believe the pope to be God’s minister on Earth must regard his choice as no more than an act of God. Those who believe otherwise see him as leader of a large but declining conservative sect, a genial figurehead but with a mostly baleful influence on the societies over which he claims authority. It is in the latter respect that his election matters.
Remember what I quoted from something that Jason Rosenhouse said yesterday about Bergoglio’s much touted humility:
Let us recall that with his new position comes the ability to speak infallibly, at least some of the time. It is part of the job description that he is closer to God than the rest of us, and has unique authority to hold forth on the will of God. It is the teaching of his Church that they, and they alone, are qualified to interpret scripture. You place your eternal soul in jeopardy by rejecting their moral teachings. I could go on.
Humble people do not accept such positions. Quite the contrary, in fact. It is only the most arrogant of men who speak with the Church’s level of certainty. The new Pope may be many things, but humble definitely is not one of them.
This is something, apparently, that needs to be repeated constantly. This is not a humble man! No matter how ordinary a man he is, he is a man of power. Not only because of the claims that the church makes about the exalted position of the pope, or about the arrogance of those who speak with the church’s level of certainty. No, this is something that those who knew him in Argentina knew, quite independently of his position in the church. According to Eduardo de la Serna, a coordinator of an left-wing Argentinian group of priests who focus on the plight of the poor,
Bergoglio is a man of power and he knows how to position himself among powerful people. I still have many doubts about his role regarding the Jesuits who went missing under the dictatorship.
This is in an article by Uki Goni and Jonathan Watts in the Guardian: “Pope Francis: questions remain over his role during Argentina’s dictatorship.” A man of power such as this would know exactly how he would have to position himself to come out of the regime of the generals in a strong position and with plausible deniability.
Let’s not beat about the bush, shall we? Bergoglio is a man who knows when humility pays off, when silence provides the best path to power, how to deny complicity in evil when it threatens to tarnish his reputation, and how to wait patiently, not making a pitch for power, when he must have known, given the account of his coming a close second to Ratizinger in the last papal election, that being silent and appearing holy might lead his fellow cardinals to see him as compromise candidate, who had no particular irons in the fire, nothing apparently to gain or to lose. The pretence that this man is somehow holier than the rest of us, more pious, closer to god, someone worthy of reverence is all part of the papal circus. This is not to deny some of Begoglio’s more humane aspects — his concern for unwed mothers and their children, his visit to the death-bed of an ostracised bishop who married, and celebrated mass with his wife, his concern for the poor, and his own modest life, shunning opulent bishops’ palaces and chauffeur-driven cars, all of which suggest a life modelled on Francis of Assisi. But that Francis would never have accepted high office in the church, and Bergoglio, the man who is “not only passionately committed to the gospel of poverty, but also highly intelligent and cultured,” can also be what some of his Jesuit confreres believe, despite showing evidence of compassion, “harsh and disciplinarian,” “conservative and severe.”
Margaret Hebblethwaite may think that Bergoglio
will not let us down, and will be a beacon of Franciscan poverty and simplicity in a Vatican that still operates like a medieval court.
But the signs are not encouraging. In ”The Pope Francis I know” she says:
we can hope Francis may start not only with a new name but with a clean bill of moral health, and that the world can make its own judgment on what kind of man he is – not based on misunderstandings that come from painful and difficult moments in the past, but responding to his call from St Peter’s balcony for “fraternity, love and trust among us”.
That “among us” is the sticking point, for in his homily to the cardinals at the mass on the evening of his ascension, he spoke bluntly of those who disagree as in league with the devil. As reported in the National Post, “Francis in his own words,” (which, we are told, give the measure of the man — they sure do!) the “Holy Father”,
citing Leon Bloy, the 19th-century French writer who preached spiritual revival through suffering and poverty, … affirmed: “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil [because] when we don’t witness to Jesus Christ, we witness to the worldliness of the devil.”
To Ratzinger, the former member of the Hitler Jugend, atheists were Nazis. To Pope Bergoglio, anyone who fails to witness to Jesus Christ is a “witness to the worldliness of the devil.” That is true hyperbole, Vatican fashion! That it is the simple truth to Bergoglio should set off our early warning systems.
Let us return, then, to the significance of Bergoglio’s election to the non-Catholic world, which, as Jenkins says, is the only matter of importance in this election for those who are not Catholic, at least those who are not taken in by the pageantry and pomp and the trappings of tradition, like the CNN reporter who gushed on about being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Jenkins says:
The fact that various candidates for the papacy were declared liberal or conservative mocked their status as mouthpieces for celestial authority. The reality is that these are modern, unelected politicians. Their views purport to regulate the ordinary lives of 1.2 billion adherents round the globe and should be subjected to democratic scrutiny. [my emphasis]
This needs to be stressed. These men have enormous power, power that is conferred on them by a few men wrapped in cardinal red, privileged, powerful men, who believe that their writ comes down from heaven, and what ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ mean in this context is completely misleading as to what these words are ordinarily taken to mean. As the Argentinian writer Martín Caparró says in a New York Times article, “God Is an Argentine“:
Catholicism has never excelled at letting nonbelievers live as they believe they should. The right to legal abortion, for one, will be a ruthless field of that battle: “our” pope will surely never allow his own country, where legal abortion remains severely limited, to set a bad example. Here, as everywhere, the Vatican is a main lobbying force for conservative, even reactionary, issues. An Argentine pope can bring this power to uncharted heights.
Or perhaps not. I hope I am wrong: it has often been my lot. For infallibility, please ask for el Papa Francisco. [my emphasis of the opening understatement]
Perhaps not, but almost certainly likely. The Vatican “is a main lobbying force for conservative, even reactionary issues.” This is why the election of a pope matters, because he’s the one that lends so much symbolic weight to that lobbying, exercised in practically every country by his diplomatic representatives, as well as by those who are appointed by him in every diocese throughout the world. That’s how far his reach extends, right down to every parish in the world. It is no wonder that the investiture of bishops was such a controversy in medieval Europe. Pope Bergoglio’s compassion may be genuine, but his certainty is absolute, and that, in itself, is the dangerous thing, because his office gives worldwide expression to that certainty. As Jenkins says, after mentioning the accolades received by the new pope by his fawning supporters:
But what of the misery his beliefs offer those over whom he claims unquestioning dominance? He asserts an undemocratic authority over civil societies round the world, including democratic ones. This church is fully entitled to the tolerance owed to all beliefs. But when it chooses such painfully reactionary leadership, it can hardly complain if democrats criticise it and its adherents shrug, and walk away.
As Hilary Mantel said, the Roman Catholic Church is not a place for respectable people, and with the election of another conservative pope — Surprise! Surprise! — it is still not. It is time that this was said continuously, until the poisonous influence of this reactionary institution, only slightly less reactionary than the ayatollahs and mullahs who are dragging the Islamic world into the pit of the past, is diminished, so that anyone who continues to support this ancient theocracy will feel they have to apologise for their beliefs. We may tolerate them, but we don’t have to respect them. I don’t!