Thursday, March 14, 2013

Assisi Dove vs Austerian Hawk

I'll admit it. I indulged myself in a spate of silly cynicism as I watched CNN's coverage of the Pope-a-Palooza yesterday afternoon. I even started humming "The March of the Flying Monkeys" from The Wizard of Oz as the Swiss Guard strutted around St. Peter's Square.  I mused over the possible genetic origins of Chris Cuomo's speech patterns (he sounds just like his dad, Mario and a more refined version of his guv bro, Andy) while I paid no attention to what he was actually blathering on about.  

Then my ears perked up when they announced the name that the new Argentinian pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had chosen: Francis. I at first assumed it had to be an homage to fellow Jesuit Francis Xavier, of the elitist class of xenophobe, proselytizer and inquisitor saints. Then came confirmation that Bergoglio had taken his name after that most radical leftist of Christian saints, Francis of Assisi. Then came news that, while a typical hardliner in matters of contraception and gay rights, the new pope is both a champion of poor people and a foe of government austerity for poor people. And given that popes, despite all the well-deserved bad press the Church has gotten lately, are news-makers and that what they say always gets covered in the corporate press, that just maybe the deficit hysteria possessing not only this country but most of Europe, will finally get a much-needed exorcism. 

Dylan Matthews, an economics writer at the Washington Post, has written an interesting piece on the new pope's macroeconomic philosophy, which is more Keynes/Krugman than Milton Friedman and disaster capitalism Chicago school. Bergoglio, unfortunately, is not so radically humanitarian as to have been a supporter of South America's Liberation Theology movement; he was even implicated in the "disappearance" of two politically active Jesuits during a right-wing junta in 1976. But at least, the new pope and his fellow bishops did fight back against the Argentinian government when it mulled the imposition of austerity during its own economic meltdown in 2002. A free-market neoliberal the new pope most certainly is not:

A paper by Thomas Trebat, “Argentina, the Church, and Debt,” details the church’s role in the crisis’s resolution. Argentine bishops, including Francis, had long criticized the laissez-faire policies of Carlos Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999. “The bishops were critical of the economic model as a generator of poverty and unemployment, notwithstanding the stability it had brought to the country,” Trebat wrote.
And when the debt crisis hit in 2002, the church called in strong terms for a debt restructuring to take place which privileged social programs above debt repayment. They argued that the true problems in the Argentinian economy were, in their words, “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, insecurity, corruption, social and family violence, serious deficiencies in the educational system and in public health, the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of the markets.”
I guess you can tell how far to the right this whole capitalist world has swung when we can rejoice when a new pope chooses a symbolic name that does not glorify rich people. No Pope Lloyds yet, even though Blankfein is infallible and and immune, and has publicly declared he is doing God's work and lightning did not strike. Jorge/Francis has got a whole lot of his own Vatican bank chicanery to clean up as it is. And as Charles Pierce astutely points out, the new guy is an old guy and thus a convenient place-holder for the real guys in charge. Plus, he has only one lung.
Joe Biden is reportedly going to attend the anti-bling pope's coronation. Maybe Jorge/Francis can whisper a little sermonette into the the VP's ear on the evils of austerity, the class war, income disparity and sequestration. Maybe Joe Biden will undergo another epiphany and can once again "get out ahead of his skis" like he did on marriage equality and shoot his mouth off on national television about the need for Medicare for All. Maybe the corporate media will develop some honesty about the cruelty of not only Paul Ryan's latest Randian manifesto, but also about President Obama's own war against older people. Dean Baker has crunched the numbers, and proven what we already knew:  Obama's so-called "balanced approach" of cuts and revenues actually does punish retirees in a cruelly lopsided way:

Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is reprising his supporting role in the continuing saga known as American Austerity Theater. He is the useful idiot of the Deficit Brigade, acting out ever more extreme Randian fantasies. He is the indestructible Rasputin cast against the centrist Democrats' phony Franciscan monastery. He is a parody of himself at this point. Even the negative attention he is getting from the usual purveyors of progressive outrage is misplaced, because it merely serves to make the similarly cruel Obama seem reasonable. Ryan, as he rails against food stamps and medical care for the poor, looks like the devil incarnate. Obama, as he flashes his boyish, aren't-I-adorable grin, is the devil in disguise.

Francis of Assisi repudiated riches and lived to serve the downtrodden. Ryan and Obama have repudiated the downtrodden and live to serve the rich. May the spirit of St. Francis rise again, and become a continuous thorn in both their sides.


Pearl said...

There were some interesting comments to an article about the election of the new pope in the N.Y. Times from knowledgeable people about the history of the Catholic
church. It indicates that there will not be a real revolution with new Pope

I wonder if anyone thought to ask this cardinal from Argentina about his
actions during the years that the thousands and thousands of
"disappearances" were carried out.

Let us hope that he made an attempt to stop those proceedings.

March 14, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.

anon iv

According to this morning's Chicago Tribune, a book by Argentine journalist
Horacio Verbitsky, "The Silence," criticizes his actions during the
dictatorship ("Bergoglio lifted church protection from two leftist priests
of his order, effectively allowing them to be jailed..."), and, from
Fortunato Mallimaci, former dean of social sciences at U. of Buenos Aires:
"... he was very cozy with the military."

March 14, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.

James F Traynor said...

I'm not only lapsed (as in Irish Catholic) I'm long gone - as soon as I turned 18. But I've never been bitter about the Church - there's been so many really good people in it. I heard my sister, a long time ago, commiserate with my mother about my leaving. She answered that it saddened her, but that I'd left for the right reasons. That alleviated my sense of guilt (we Irish Catholics, like Jews, are big on guilt) towards my mother, for which I'm grateful. But, for all of it, I'm still, a goddamned Irish American Catholic in an ethnic, secular sense. You just can't, especially for us of the first generation, get away from it.

Believe me, this new pope, is just the same old bull shitting, down home fascist. And the Jesuits know it better than I do. The last decent Pope was John XXIII - if ever there was a decent pope. The whole thing's been a disaster since Constantine. Epicurus is my man.

Denis Neville said...

Yes, may the spirit of Saint Francis rise again!

Saint Francis, who was critical of Church riches and hierarchy and lived a simple life, was a model for the liberation theology movement.

Liberation theology held that the Catholic Church's basic mission was one of relieving poverty and social injustice. It sought to tell the poor through homilies that they had the power to unite to change the political and economic systems under which they lived. Liberation theology called on priests to take an active stand on political, social, and economic issues.

The Catholic hierarchy hasn't given a damn what the people - the real church – wants. The Church is not a democratic institution. The Church relies on the power of the institutions of the rich and wealthy. The Church is of the rich for the poor, but it is not of the poor.

The United States considered any organized movements for social justice in South America as a threat to American economic domination. Wikileaks cables reveal a shared hostility to liberation theology by the USA and the Vatican. Priests were murdered and horrific human rights abuses committed by USA - backed forces throughout South America.

One hopes that Pope Francis will return the Catholic Church towards its roots of service to the poor against crushing systemic poverty. Any reversal of the church's war against liberation theology in Latin America would be welcome.

However, Pope Francis will likely be as "hopey-changey" for the Catholic Church as Obama was for America. A Jesuit hiding in the cloak of a Franciscan in that tradition of Catholic support for Mussolini, Franco and Salazar.

Suzan said...

It's always great to read you, K.

Always heart warming to see comrades-in-arms make points you have written about many times previously.

He's the truly black candidate.

They both seem more Manchurian than the original.



Obama, as he flashes his boyish, aren't-I-adorable grin, is the devil in disguise.

"... he was very cozy with the military."

Francis of Assisi repudiated riches and lived to serve the downtrodden. Ryan and Obama have repudiated the downtrodden and live to serve the rich.

4Runner said...

One of my fond memories of visiting Vatican City: being approached by a street vendor who opened one flap of his overcoat. "Would you like to buy a religious souvenir?" he asked, showing pockets filled with medals and crucifixes. When I answered No, he flipped open the other flap of his coat, showing an array of hand weapons: "Maybe a Beretta, brass knuckles or a stiletto?" He warned us that tourists were easy victims in St. Pete's Square and to be wary of pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Forewarned is forearmed!

Pearl said...

Today on CNN they mentioned the incident of the two left wing priests who were jailed because they were denied the protection of the Church against the government's political policies. It was reported that Pope Francis denied these accusations either now or in the past. There was no further explanation of what was involved. Regardless, it is an interesting red flag. As you pointed out Denis, the Catholic church is a carbon copy of the U.S. political structure and resists any change from within. And I doubt the Cardinals would have voted for a priest from Argentina were he too revolutionary.

Regardless, merely the denial of birth control for diehard members which is a major reason for poverty in families is an example of how being behind the times on reproductive issues creates misery for many loyal Catholics.

Denis Neville said...

Concordats, the Vatican and Human rights

Concordats are international treaties with the Vatican. These concordats protect the Vatican as it reaches its greedy anti-democratic tentacles into the pockets of secular states and protects its power to violate human rights as it sees fit. The Vatican gains certain political and financial benefits in return for support of a policy or arm of the national government. Such a concordat in a nation with numerous Catholics is also helpful in getting their allegiance or in curbing opposition to the government.

For anyone who is interested in state and church separation, especially regarding the Catholic Church, there is an interesting website that sheds light on these Concordats @

Agreement between the Republic of Argentina and the Holy See on Military Jurisdiction and Pastoral Care to the Armed Forces:

“This concordat established a military chaplaincy which helped to consolidate Church influence in the military government after the 1955 coup. It also consolidated state power by helping to create a closed confessional loop. Military chaplains were given jurisdiction over everyone connected with the military, which really meant everyone likely to have reliable information about the military policy of abduction, torture and murder during the 1976–1983 ‘Dirty War.’”

Accord between the Holy See and the Republic of Argentina, Signed in Buenos Aires, the 10th of October 1966:

“We are pleased to point out that the Accord of Buenos Aires is the first fruit in the field of Church-state relations of the Ecumenical Council Vatican II.” — Pope Paul VI, 1966, on concluding a concordat with the brutal dictator of Argentina, General Juan Carlos Onganía.

Bishop shocks Argentina: President cancels concordat:

Pearl said...

'Vatican Rejects Argentine Accusations Against Pope Francis' has appeared in the N.Y.Times raising questions about Pope Francis' past history in Argentina.

Denis: Thank you for the many referrals to the questions I asked about this new Pope's history as well as the Church's position during those years. It doesn't look like Pope Francis has an unblemished record regarding his role in Argentina's military history. It is interesting that these questions are now being raised and so shortly after being chosen as the new leader for Catholics.

Evidently his vows of poverty may not be enough to silence all the questions.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Francis I, having moved though the ranks from black to purple to red and now white, is the latest choice of cardinals carefully groomed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI – whatever that portends. Journalists say Cardinal Bergoglio lived simply and was sympathetic with the poor – but not excessively sympathetic, according to a few of his brother Jesuits who were disappeared and tortured because of their commitment to the poor. On remaining matters of doctrine, we are assured, there is scant difference from predecessor popes, especially on matters of sex. Reformers are in despair, hoping for miracles.

It baffles me that someone who claims to be a transparent follower of St Francis of Assisi would ever want to undermine Liberation Theology. LT lifts the downtrodden by teaching them to think independently about their own condition and to work locally for just correctives. I doubt St Francis would ever declaim the “communism” of peasants. The greed of the mighty was his preoccupation, his lesson nothing like Rome’s worldliness.

Any church-inspired programs for South America amounting to less than Liberation Theology should be regarded with suspicion as a fake alliance with the poor. Anything less than LT amounts to lukewarm reform that makes the poor – and the politically aware – vomit. Anything less than LT in South America amounts to the same old cozy alliance of Church and State under the same old gradualism that is forever falling behind in its results for the downtrodden, thanks to the alliance’s continued protection of institutions and practices meant to crush the poor.

Indignation is not encouraged by the hierarchy or their well-behaved catechists. They preach a congenial patience unto death. Furthermore, if you encourage or at least tolerate machismo to keep women down in both religious and secular spheres, half the job of keeping the lid on can be seen to by men, night and day, whether churchgoers or not.

Dedicated church workers do spend their lives in behalf of the poor and marginalized for their own sake, sometimes. Most often the effort serves to swell church ranks, not advance justice and autonomy. As a rule, the Church Administrative, shod in slippers by Prada, prefers its adherents barefoot, poor and docile. Look at the educated born-Catholics of Europe: too much art and science in the heads of the people results in empty pews. Turn out populations that are credulous, pious and accepting, however, and the State will reward you, whether you wear a helmet or a bishop’s mitre.

It is not sufficient that Jorge Mario Bergoglio has lived simply in a small apartment, forsaking mansions, chefs and chauffeurs. That’s pretty much how the rest of us lucky ones hope to live the good life.

Here’s the dark shadow over Francis I: Was Bergoglio too friendly with the military during the dirty war? When did this Francis ever share the pain of the common people? Was he ever hungry, pinned down by poverty and ignorance, hunted by the military, tortured? Did he betray those who were in that condition? Did he ever betray a brother Jesuit who lived and worked in the slums? Isn't the name Francis a mask?

The world on top accepts enormous crimes without a shrug, the cost of doing business. Like murder, torture, theft, luxury, indifference and oppression. Is Bergoglio likely to shame the world-class criminals? And who are they? The poor? The oppressed? Women? Gays?

Pearl said...

Jay: Thank you for your brilliant analysis of what my gut was telling me.
The fact that many of the disappeared and other hunteds and tortured were
undoubtedly devout Catholics indicates that the Church in Argentina was not
protecting its members which goes against basic church doctrine.
It will be interesting to see whether Pope Francis' history will cloud his

And Jay, it is obvious that you have written such inflammatory information
because you have lived in Ottawa too long! Many thanks.

James: I have no objection to people who follow the basic truly moral precepts of religion whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Catholocism, etc. It is the takeover of the power structure that distorts and manipulates and poisons the well. That is why many reform Rabbis have joined and formed peace groups decrying the
distortions of basic Judaism which permits oppression of others, solving problems with war, etc etc. But as in the political sphere, it is up to the people to do something about the box they have been locked into and who knows, more Catholic revolt may occur if Pope Francis' background has further close scrutiny.

From Pearl, who has lived in Canada too long (thank goodness). My daughter just went through an expensive surgery along with endless blood tests, MRI's, excellent care without costing her a cent (although she pays Canadian taxes) and since she is not of senior status yet would not have been able to get this kind of coverage as well as continual medical checkups regularly if she lived in the U.S. She is fine now, with nothing untoward being found for which I am grateful and thankful for as well for living here. Krugman's readers are becoming more and more outspoken about the Health care fiasco in the U.S. once he actually began to step out of his box and make some critical comments about Obamacare.

Pearl said...

Interesting article:

Making nice? Argentina's Kirchner and Pope Francis meet in Rome via @CSMonitor