Red Flags Round Pope Francis

Jorge Bergoglio

Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, (later to become Pope Francis) celebrates mass at the XX Exposición del Libro Católico (20th Catholic Book Fair), in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Aibdescalzo/Creative Commons

Like everyone else on earth, I wish the new pope well and I hope he truly emulates some of Francis of Assisi’s priorities of defending Mother Earth who is in so much peril, living simply (how one does that in a palace like the Vatican surrounded by an obsequious court is another question), speaking out on behalf of the poor, impoverished, sick, and neglected, and speaking out on those social and economic structures that institutionalize injustice. I also hope he cleans up the rat’s nest of corruption, pedophile cover-up, ego mania, and power-addicted prelates who run the curia that in turn runs the Vatican. Good luck and God’s Blessing!

Looking at the pope’s simple lifestyle while cardinal in Argentina—rejecting the bishop’s palace, living in an apartment, rejecting a limousine and taking the bus to work, cooking his own meals, and speaking off the cuff since being made pope—gives one hope (again, not sure how it translates to a world of pope mobiles and court hangers-on in the last monarchy of the Western world, the Vatican). But good luck there also.

But Red Flags do emerge as we learn more of this man who is heralded as the first non-European pope in 1,400 years, the first citizen of the “third world,” and more. One has to be a bit careful here of the hagiographic hype that gushed upon us from CNN and elsewhere the day he was elected. These starry-eyed journalists wallowing in pious sentimentalism for a few days have not done their homework about the recent papacy (or past papacies). I have. That is why I wrote The Pope’s Wars: How Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved. Here are some areas to watch out for:

1. This pope opposed liberation theology and base communities in Latin America—that theology being the grassroots church that took seriously the teaching of Vatican II that the church is “the people” not the hierarchy. Many heroes of that movement were killed and tortured throughout Latin America—Oscar Romero being the most visible. Bergoglio was nowhere to be seen standing with them. Quite the opposite—he fought liberation theology tooth and nail as head of the bishops’ conference and he was an effective instigator of papal attitudes in this regard (the CIA under Reagan linked up with Pope John Paul II to kill liberation theology as I prove in my book, The Pope’s War).

Can he change as pope? One prays. But don’t bet the farm on it. One tends to dance with the ones who brung ya—even to the top of the clerical heap.

Protest against Communion and Liberation

Demonstrators protest against the Communion and Liberation ecclesial movement for the suspension of an officer from the Lombardy Region. Credit: Creative Commons/Mattia Luigi Nappi.

2. This pope’s allegiance is not to the principles of justice enunciated by Vatican II (or of freedom of conscience or of empowerment of laity or of national bishops’ conferences independence, or of sensus fidelium. etc.) but to Communion and Liberation. (See chapter seven of my pope book). Communion and Liberation–also called CL– is a neo-fascist movement supported strongly by the past two popes (the women who will cook and wash clothes for Ratzinger as pope emeritus are CL people). CL is all about obedience, all about hierarchy, all about centralizing power in the pope, all about pronouncing on “sins of the flesh” (i.e. homosexuals, birth control, abortion, women sans rights). CL is much like Opus Dei though less secretive and Italian based rather than Spanish based—very powerful and very rich and in fact larger and more influential today than Opus Dei (though not as embedded in the American media or supreme court or CIA and FBI).

3. Not only was Ratzinger, who published often with their publishing house, a champion of CL, but Cardinal Law was also a big cheerleader of CL, as is Cardinal Cordez, a very influential German bishop who actually invokes Pope Gregory VII as an example for our times—the pope who said “the pope may be judged by no one” and the Roman Catholic church “has never erred, nor never shall err to all eternity.” Yikes!

Dictator Jorge Videla

Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla at the opening of 1976's "Exposición Rural" in Palermo, Buenos Aires. Credit: Creative Commons/Edgardo E. Carbajal.

4. Serious questions persist about this pope’s refusal to stand up to the military junta’s torture programs during the years of dictatorship in Argentina. Two of his fellow Jesuit priests were tortured—along with 30, 000 other Argentinians who were murdered—and he was silent (some say he was complicit but not enough facts have been uncovered to say either way). What is clear is this: in general the hierarchy of Argentina stood by even when one of their own, a liberation theology bishop, was murdered along with 30,000 others. Photos exist of Bergoglio giving communion to the notorious murdering dictator, General Jorge Videla, who was convicted in 1985 of murder, torture, and many “disappearances.” An Argentine historian who was in the country during the “dirty war” writes: “while the upper echelons of the Church were supportive of the military Junta, the grassroots of the Church was firmly opposed to the imposition of military rule.”

5. This reminds one of Nazi times in Germany where some, but not many, bishops stood up to be heard. Bergoglio dismissed two Jesuit priests committed to liberation theology. The result? They were kidnapped and tortured for six months and six parishioners of theirs were “disappeared.” One of the priests, Fr. Orlando Yorio, accused Bergoglio of “effectively handing them over [including six other people] to the death squads.” The second priest has spent his life since in seclusion in a German monastery.

It should be noted that secretary of state Henry Kissinger and the United States supported the military coup and junta just as it supported the Pinochet coup and dictatorship in Chile. The Chilean hierarchy opposed Pinochet however (except for Pope John Paul II’s legate Cardinal Sodono, who was so close to Pinochet that he received a special award from him when he left to become John Paul II’ s hand-picked secretary of state in the Vatican). CL is fiercely opposed to liberation theology.

Can this pope confess and move on? One hopes so.

6. Bergoglio’s connection to the right-wing faction of the German church is very clear. When an Argentinian autobiographer says, “he is not a third world priest,” he is noting that he has resisted the call for systemic justice of liberation theology. What is he then, since he lived in the third world most of his life? Very late in life, in his late sixties, Bergoglio traveled to Germany to get a doctorate in theology. I think one can conclude that he was also receiving a deep marination in the kind of right wing German thinking that Ratzinger and his cronies represent. That plus more link ups with CL and Cardinal Cordes, cheerleader of CL. The German bishops are the most influential in the church, due to the fact that Germany gives more money to the Vatican than any other group because it’s lay people are taxed whether they go to church or not. Pope Francis represents them far more than the “third world” unfortunately.

Can he change? One does believe in and pray for miracles—in this case that he flies the cage of CL in favor of the church far larger and diverse than tribal sects.

7. Bergoglio called the gay rights movement a work of “the Father of Lies” (though he says one should be nice to gay people). The president of his country called his opposition to gay marriage “medieval” and smacking of the inquisition in its tone. I see no evidence that he even considers women’s rights to be an issue. Do not expect any theological depth or breadth beyond what we have been witnessing for forty-two years, years of schism in my opinion, from two (now three?) popes who have stuffed Vatican II even though in Catholic theology a council trumps a pope and not vice versa. Thus, they are in schism—not those who follow the principles of Vatican II. All Catholics are free of all hierarchy since the present hierarchy—like the 115 cardinals in the papal conclave—are in schism. Get moving. Start true base communities in the spirit of Jesus and Vatican II.

In short, the new pope is presented as a pastoral person. His visiting AIDS victims and his walking in the slums and riding buses to work attest to this. His charm and spontaneity with the press and people since becoming bishop of Rome attest to the same. But the papal job is much more than one-on-one pastoral action. Love is not just about charity; it is also about justice. Is he up to that? Will he take on power structures of economic injustice and support those who do? We shall see.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

Cardinal Keith O'Brien "had to recuse himself from the papal conclave because three priests accused him of sexual misconduct with them," writes the author. Credit: Creative Commons/Gavin Scott.

8. A key to his job today is cleaning up the church itself which is mired in pedophile scandals and their cover-ups, financial scandals, rings of gay prostitutes blackmailing curia officials, blatant in-your-face hypocrisy around such issues as homosexuality (the Cardinal of Scotland had to recuse himself from the papal conclave because three priests accused him of sexual misconduct with them, even though that cardinal was a loudmouth ranting anti-gay voice in Scotland). How many other of the “homosexuality is evil” preachers in the Curia and elsewhere are having gay sex on the side? By the way, do they use condoms? They say that would be another sin.

Of course the on-going Inquisition which was brought back by the two previous popes—I list 105 of their victims in my book of which I was only one—will the new pope address that? As a Jesuit you would hope he has some intellectual awareness that goes beyond CL’s theology of “Obey the Pope.” As a Jesuit one would hope that he would have been exposed to the vast depth and width of the Catholic intellectual tradition no matter what the neo-fascist and anti-intellectual sects tell us—that the pope is the only teacher, a heresy in itself. Maybe he was playing a game all along with the German wing to get elected—and now will let the Spirit open things up and cut bait with his right-wing handlers. One can hope. One would expect a Jesuit pope to have some respect for Teilhard de Charin, Karl Rahner, Anthony de Mello and other Jesuits whom the fierce right wing castigates.

Where does he stand on the New Inquisition fostered by Cardinal Ratzinger and his minions? We shall soon know. Is he able to throw off the narrow shackles of the C&L and Opus Dei sects and serve the whole church? We shall soon know. Can he overcome the sin of sexism so rife in ecclesial Boys Club circles? We shall soon know. Can he end the unmentionable cover up of priestly pedophiles by the hierarchy and fire all those who did so and put “millstones around their necks” (figuratively at least) as Jesus proposed for all those who endanger children? We shall soon know.

The key to the work of this pope is the person he appoints as secretary of state. That is the person who must clean up the curia. Will he appoint someone who can take on that heavy task? Or will he appoint someone who is content to keep the power games and cover-ups and hypocrisy going on there essentially as they have been for forty-two years? One of the 115 who got him elected in order to keep things as they are? Stay tuned.

It is false thinking to look up to the papacy to represent Jesus’s teaching at this time in history. Look to yourself and the base communities of many stripes that put justice and love ahead of power games, sentimental pomp and papalolotry. One action I am involved in currently, along with Andrew Harvey, is the Christ Path Seminar, which is an effort to resurrect the real story and teaching of Jesus and the Cosmic Christ tradition. The Holy Spirit may be doing a very great thing in ending the papacy as we know it and starting Jesus’s message over again through the people, not the ecclesial potentates. Surely we all pray that Pope Francis will join that work and be part of the rebirth of the Christ message.

Already some good things have resulted from Bergoglio as pope. The press (usually non-mainstream press invented by the Internet that bypasses the ruling financial, political, and religious elite) is finally taking a critical look at the history of the American government in Latin America (its role in the military coups of Argentina and Chile to name a few); and the new press is finally taking a critical look at the dark and fascist side of recent church history, a side I lay out in detail in my book, The Pope’s War, which has been studiously ignored by the mainline press. In my book I tell the truth about Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and more coddled children of the past two schismatic papacies. To shed light on these dark sects, as the non-mainline press is finally doing, is already a positive result of the papacy of Pope Francis. Will he and it be able to tolerate the light? Stay tuned.

St. Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen. Credit: Creative Commons/Энциклопедия конопли.

In closing, let us call on the recently canonized saint and Doctor of the Church, the twelfth-century reformer Hildegard of Bingen. Her words to the pope of her day follow:

O man, the eye of your discernment weakens…..You are neglecting Justice, the King’s daughter, the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you. Her crown and jeweled raiments are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night. They are hypocrites. With their words they make a show of illusory peace, but within, in their hearts, they grind their teeth like a dog who wags its tail at a recognized friend but bites with its sharp teeth an experienced warrior who fights for the King’s house. Why do you tolerate the evil ways of people who in the darkness of foolishness draw everything harmful to themselves? They are like hens who make noise during the night and terrify themselves.

It is difficult to find a more apt naming of the curia today than these words of Hildegard who also said: “The Catholic chair of Peter will be shaken through erroneous teaching… The vineyard of the Lord smolders with sorrow… The injustice of the clergy will be recognized as thoroughly despicable. And yet no on will dare to raise a sharp and insistent call for repentence.” She raised such a call. One hopes that Pope Francis will do so also.


5 thoughts on “Red Flags Round Pope Francis

  1. Great essay. Althoug Matthew obviously does so to some degree I would suggest that a much wider and deeper historical context needs to be taken into account when looking at Francis and hoping that he may be a catalyst for some far-reaching changes. Which I suggest is highly unlikely because of the almost unstoppable momentum of the toxicity of applied Papal/Vatican pollitics.

    For instance Google: The Vatican in World Politics.
    One very interesting reference that comes up is this one

  2. Oh yeah, Matthew Fox at his usual – uninformed but disinforming, spiteful but pretending to be humble, extremely biased but parading his propaganda as the truth. What else’s new?

  3. Thanks Matthew, for a good read.

    You didn’t mention that the Vatican City State exists because of collaboration with Mussolini – the ‘Church’ gave the Fascists their blessing in return for being acknowledged as the official religion of Italy & given statehood.

    That the RCC is in a state of schism with itself is a very interesting & quite abstruse point. How can anyone have any faith in it?

    According to Rahner & Vorgrimmler, loss of faith is justified if the church is in a state of sin. This does not necessarily indicate/indict ‘The Church’ (the transcendental Church, the Body of Christ in humanity, vehicle for theosis, informed by the Holy Spirit, etc.), but the ‘worldly’ organisation. However, if it DOES mean that ‘The Church’ is in a state of sin, then the Holy Spirit must be absent, & so the course of action is surely to reject ‘The Church’ as anathema, unless the people (citizenry) of The Church (as a nation) have some form of revolution that reinvokes the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    Hildegard of Bingen: brilliant, nice final touch.

  4. If they actually transform their corporate assets into liveable, workable, sustainable housing, medical care, and food programs then they will earn respect. Words alone don’t cut it. Fox is being a bit sensationalist and focusing on the man. But it is the Church itself that needs to change and there are tangible, material ways to translate symbols into actions. Let’s wait and see.

  5. I think you should go to an Opus Dei center and really see what it’s all about before calling them a secretive sect. Anyone can go in, just knock the door. If you go with an open heart I think you’ll find what you’re looking for…