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The pope's divisions

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The political roundups of 2013 make little mention of perhaps the most important event to alter the political landscape in the last 12 months. It was not the incompetence of the Obamacare rollout - though that will resonate beyond the November midterms. Nor was it House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) finally snapping at the Tea Party hounds who have been nipping at his heels.

No, it was the March 13 election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cardinal from Argentina, as pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is significant the new pope chose as his name Francis, after Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint who shunned comfort and wealth, and devoted his life to helping the poor and treating animals humanely. Pope Francis said he was inspired by a Brazilian colleague, who whispered to him, "Don't forget the poor." Since then he has rarely missed the chance to reprimand the rich and embrace the poor, as shown by his refusal to adopt the palatial papal lifestyle in favor of more modest accommodation.

The conservative saint Margaret Thatcher also embraced Francis of Assisi on being elected British prime minister in 1979. On the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, she quoted the verse attributed to St. Francis (though not written by him), "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony."

Thatcher, incapable of irony, plainly meant what she said. Though few who lived through her reign would recognize the spirit of reconciliation in her divisive policies.

Thatcher has often been bracketed with the Polish Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan as architects of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The most pious act of adulation to this conservative trinity was "The President, the Pope and the Prime Minister: Three who Changed the World" by John O'Sullivan, a former Thatcher speechwriter now executive editor of Radio Liberty, the federally-funded propaganda network.

Those who credit Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II alone with defeating communism do not give enough credit to the real heroes of the Soviet Union, whose constant criticism of communism eventually bore fruit. They were the intellectuals who risked their lives and their freedom. Leaders like Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslovakia, who invited a Russian tank invasion by daring to suggest "Socialism with a human face," and above all the courageous trade union leader Lech Walesa in Gdansk, Poland, whose defiance of the Soviet gerontocracy hastened the collapse of Marxism-Leninism.

John Paul II provided strong moral support for Walesa's Polish uprising. The pope's actions confirmed to many conservatives that the Catholic Church was a trusted ally in battling socialism and countering the 1960s permissive revolution in personal morality. Conservatives have also claimed Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (the German pope) as their own.

It was not always thus. In the reign of Pope John XXIII, Democrats took comfort from the popular pontiff, who came from Lombardy peasant stock, modernized Catholic doctrine through Vatican II and befriended the United States' first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Indeed, in Catholic homes, Italian restaurants and Irish bars today you can still see Pope John's portrait side by side with Kennedy.

The election of Francis, however, has called into question the nearly 50-year-long alliance between the papacy and conservatives. Francis has been so outspoken about the need to express compassion for those less fortunate that some have come to ask, Is the pope a socialist?

Of course, the pope is nothing of the sort. But his clear call for a reappraisal of capitalism and the relentless barren materialism that the market system promulgates, has left conservatives wondering whose side he is on.

Here is Francis on "the new idolatry of money": "The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation."

As for Francis's view of Tea Party conservatives: "They reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."

If anyone doubt his clarity, Francis said: "I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: 'Not to share one's wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.'"

Blimey! Perhaps Francis is a socialist after all.

You don't have to be a theologian to understand what the pope is saying. Those who have commoditized the whole of human life, and insist that elected governments do nothing to rectify the capitalist system's inequalities, are evil. Those conservative sages who have relied on the Vatican to condone their indifference to those who fall through the cracks of the market are understandably put out by losing the support of such a valuable and powerful institution.

One aspect of today's U.S. conservatism is its lack of sympathy toward economic migrants. Francis's first trip outside the Vatican, however, was to comfort survivors of a boatload of North African illegal immigrants that overturned en route to Italy.

"In this world of globalization," Francis declared, "we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn't concern us, it's none of our business."

In his first Christmas message last week, Francis urged non-believers to join him in bringing peace to the world. He urged diplomacy rather than direct military action to settle longstanding differences. Ignoring the "clash of cultures," he urged peace between Muslims on both sides in Syria and Iraq.

These are not stray remarks. Francis is urging Christ's message - treat your neighbors as you would like to be treated.

But does it matter what the pope thinks? The Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin was once asked to soften his persecution of Christians, to persuade Pope Pius XII to abandon his indifference toward Nazism. "Oho!" said Stalin. "The pope! How many divisions has he got?"

The answer is: a great many. There are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, 40% of whom live in Latin America and are hugely influential among Latinos living in the United States. There are 78.2 million Catholics here and many are relatively new immigrants. In the last 50 years the number of American Catholics has increased by 60%.

As long as conservatives oppose immigration reform, as long as they tacitly condone racism, as long as they devote themselves to opposing government intervention to rectify the miseries caused by the unbridled free market, as long as they insist there is nothing wrong with vast differences in wealth and income, Francis will oppose them. And it could be that not many Catholics will vote for them.

Francis may not be a true socialist, but it appears he has unequivocally taken sides.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2014.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

7 Comments
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The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits

As excemplified by Mother Church for more than a millenia.

The church put itself up as a gateway between man and god, and profited handsomely by accepting gifts or charging penance to it's followers. The leaders of the church were vain men whose thirst for power and possessions extended the church's reach around the world. The wealth of the church was for a long time greater than the wealth of the greater parts of the wealth of nations. This was done under the guise of good, and much of it was good. But "all roads lead to Rome", as they say, and Rome was and is ever hungry for gold.

In the past, the church taught that poverty was a virtue, that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were poor. The church taught that all were equal in the eyes of god, and that the difficulties we endured in our mortal life were to be repaid in paradise (or hell) in the eternity which we would exist there. "Inequality" due to money, or the lack thereof, was never a consideration.

But now times have changed, it seems. People now care more about their handful of decades of mortal life than the eternity beyond. Membership in the church is declining. There are fewer and fewer priests entering the vocation. Simply stated, Mother Church is no longer popular, and fewer people believe stories of heaven or hell and brimstone. No one cares or believes about the stories of the saints and their miracles.

So now Mother Church is trying a new strategy, using the same tactics used by politicians. The focus has shifted from saving souls from hell to saving bodies from financial inequlity. Mother Church is now quite happy to look the other way if people are living in sin, so far as they convert, and tithe 10% of their income to the Hill. If they can cure their financial inequality, so much the better, more will go to the church.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I am bewildered and dumbfounded how anyone can make the assertion that the holy father Pope Francis is a socialist. Obviously the author does not understand Catholic doctrine. From the very beginning of the Catholic Church our founder Jesus Christ made it clear that he was closest to the poor and sick. The very famous saying of our Lord Jesus "it will be easier for a camel to pas through the needles eye than it will be for a rich man to enter into heaven" resounds today as it has with all previous Pontiffs. Therefore those who criticize the Pope for admonishing the rich or greed is sorely missing his message.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The hypocritical nonsense mostly coming from the Christian US rightwing can be safely ignored. I'm an atheist but regard myself as having beliefs closer to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than the sickening hypocrites claiming to be holier than thou. Many socialists find inspiration in the teachings of Jesus with regards to the immorality of those hoarding billions while children, supposedly god's children, die of starvation or through drinking polluted water. I'd argue that if Jesus were around today, he would be in Goldman Sachs overturning tables and treating the leaders of the US right with the disdain he showed towards the Pharisees making a show of charitable donations. Many febrile right wingers reach for the shotgun above the fireplace when they hear the words 'socialist' or 'wealth redistribution' but less fevered imaginations call it morality.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Spot on, Paul Vulaj !

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My name is César De Lucas Ivorra.I´m from Spain.I live in Saint John of Alicante.After reading the article, I believe there are two kind of personality in the two Popes.The las Pope Benedictus is a priest with very hard knowledge in theology in spite of his written books when he was Pope are a little basic.For another hand Pope Francesco is more familiar but he hasn´t got the great knowledge related to the theology.We need a middle point a pope with a familiar character, but with good theologian knowledge.This formule is necessary in these times because the most important laws for survivence of the church like an organization.The problem is the humanity walk with a great speed and the Popes have another speed more slowly about its ideas, creating a very clasical church.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"it will be easier for a camel to pas through the needles eye than it will be for a rich man to enter into heaven"

Literally translated, the verse says "window", not needle, meaning that it is difficult for a rich man to go to heaven, not impossible. The "needle" change in the translation was made to encourage rich men to give up all their wealth before they died, usually to the church. Convenient, huh? The pope may be a good man, but he controls more wealth, and has more power than many of the world's richest men. He lives in a palace, rides around in luxury cars, and certainly doesn't fly in economy class. Does this mean he can't go to heaven?

The upper heirarchy of the church is full vain men with wealth, power, and authority, just like in politics or in business, quite different than how Jesus envisioned it. There are good men in the church, just as there are everywhere else, but being good doesn't get you to the top as quickly as being corrupt.

Shaw said that Jesus was the world's first communist, and that is arguably true. But unlike communism and socialism in general, Jesus preached that it was an individual action which one did by personal choice, not through collective coercion. One made a choice to follow god and live for his goodness, if there were no choice, what would be the point? But then again, the story of the life of Jesus (and the saints) has grown in the telling, as all stories do, and the translations of his life we read of in the modern bible were not without a little modification.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

boy it would be nice if the new pope actually kept from being labeled socialist/democratic or liberal. and was just espousing the teachings of faith.

that would be nice for a change, perhaps the previous political maneuvering of the vatican will not allow this to occur but it is a nice dream

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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