The Catholic conundrum named Francis

Is there a theological chasm opening between: 1) the economic-equality message of Pope Francis; and 2) the continued manic obsession of U.S. Bishops and Catholic lay leaders with gay rights and women’s reproductive rights?

It’s not really an issue of the ‘official’ positions of the Catholic Church having changed — they haven’t. Instead, we used to have an American Catholic leadership, and a Papacy, working in tandem to keep the church focused liked a laser-beam on hard-right social conservatism. Economic issues were a footnote.

Now we have a relatively new pope who has expressed the heretical (to conservatives) notion that unfettered capitalism is not a guarantor of freedom, prosperity, or human dignity. He’s even suggested economic inequality is a more important concern for the church, and humanity, than condemning gay people or women who use contraception.  And as a result, far right Catholic activists and social conservatives, including Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, are freaking out.

So what happens now?

Pope Francis. neneo /

Pope Francis. neneo /

A conservative-fundamentalist alliance once grew

Not that long ago, American Catholic leaders — the Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals — were perfectly in alignment with the official Vatican positions on just about everything. Social policy, abortion and contraception, LGBT/gay rights, politics, you name it.

Essentially, to be a Catholic leader was synonymous with being joined at the hip with the increasingly radical-conservative Republicans and their Tea Party extremist cohorts. And the American radical right liked it that way. It granted them what they perceived to be moral legitimacy in their hard-right positions.

Vatican City

Vatican City

There wasn’t always much consistency, though, behind this attempted and imperfect alliance with official Vatican positions.

For example, we’ve witnessed numerous instances of American Catholic politicians (and even simple voters) being threatened with the withholding of the communion Eucharist (the blessed wafer), or even excommunication, over support for reproductive rights for women and gay rights.

Yet these threats are never leveled against politicians who are in favor of capital punishment — which the Catholic Church also opposes. Or politicians who look to cut financial or food aid to the poor. Or those who have voted for wars of aggression, such as the one in Iraq.

In fact, when you get down to it, as Markos Moulitsas pointed out, the notion that the Roman Catholic Church’s positions on everything were 100% equivalent to those of the American hard-right was never more than an illusion anyway. Yes, the Church was always anti-sex and anti-gay on everything — but they’ve also been in favor of helping the poor, having economies serve the people (not the other way around), and opposing both capital punishment and war.

As with those who point to Leviticus as to why they think being gay is a sin, yet have no problem enjoying cheeseburgers, shrimp, and lobster, and who cut their hair and wear mixed fabrics (all frowned on by Leviticus as well), the would-be social-religious conservatives ignore any part of the Church’s teachings they don’t want to talk about.

Or adhere to.

Then along comes Pope Francis

Pope Francis (photo: Creative Commons)

Pope Francis (photo: Creative Commons)

Argentinian-born Jorge Mario Gergoglio joined the priesthood in 1969, and had a somewhat unremarkable career as a Jesuit priest for the next few decades until being appointed ‘Auxiliary Bishop’ of Buenos Aires in ’92. He rose to Archbishop by ’98.

Among his major initiatives was an effort to have more priests serve in the slums of Buenos Aires (of which there are lots). His was also an active voice in trying to make amends for the silence of the Catholic Church in Argentina during the military juntas of the 70s. In one remark, he said the Argentinian Catholic Church needed “to put on garments of public penance for the sins committed during the years of the dictatorship.”

In 2001, Pope John Paul II elevated Gergoglio to Cardinal. On 13 March 2013, former Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis (the first of this name) — the first Jesuit pope, and the first from the Americas.

Gergoglio long had a reputation as a man who eschews opulence in all forms. As Bishop in Buenos Aires, he was entitled to live in a posh official Bishop’s residence in Olivos, but instead stayed in a small apartment. He used public transportation and preferred to cook his own meals (and still does, for the latter, although the former is no longer practical). As one story goes, after he was elected Pope in Rome, but before his formal appointment to the office, he took a bus back to his hotel so he could pay his bill and check out.

(The Vatican has denied the reports that Pope Francis has disguised himself as an ordinary priest to sneak out at night and tend to the homeless. Yet the fact such a story was reported, and deemed believable by many, speaks volumes as to just how different a pope Francis really is.)

Most of all, Bergoglio was very well liked by his fellow Cardinals, hence why he was reported to have been in the running for pope when John Paul II passed away in 2005.

Make no mistake, Pope Francis is no social liberal

Francis is not at all liberal or progressive on many issues — most notably reproductive rights, on which he hasn’t budged (although he’s refrained from saying that contraception is 100% wrong 100% of the time).

He’s also on the record as being against the ordination of female priests (but he has said he’d like to see more women in administrative and leadership positions within the Church).

He’s totally against same-sex marriage, and holds to the Church teaching that to be LGBT is “intrinsically immoral.” He had this to say when Argentina was considering the ultimately successful passage of a marriage equality law:

In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family… At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.

And although he’s spoken out often and vehemently against child abuse and child sex trafficking, he’s been accused of the usual whitewashing when crimes against children were committed by Catholic clergy.

Yet where as his predecessor, Pope Benedict, led the Church in becoming always more hard-line, and more tightly aligned with hard-right political parties and positions throughout the world, Pope Francis seems to be bringing at least some of the usual Jesuit pragmatism to the office.

The Roman Catholic Church hasn’t changed its positions either

While much of the focus from the progressive left has been on the Church’s conservative positions on reproductive rights and LGBT rights, having Popes speak out against the evils of unfettered capitalism and the spiritual poverty of those who worship money is nothing new. Even the most conservative of the recent popes — John Paul II and Benedict XVI — both spoke out against economic inequality and urge the wealthy nations it was their duty to be generous and to fight poverty.

The difference between before and now is a matter of focus and emphasis. And I would contend that we are seeing a pope whose preferred focus and emphasis is no longer in alignment with the direction the Roman Catholic Church had been moving, particularly during the reigns of the last two popes, and especially Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Consider how Francis has gone out of his way repeatedly now to draw attention to income inequality and poverty, whereas Benedict couldn’t seem to pass up a chance to avow that gay people would destroy human civilization utterly.

American Catholic leaders have led the charge to the hard-right

As I noted earlier, we don’t see American Catholic Bishops threatening to withhold communion or other sacraments from politicians who vote in favor of cuts to programs that help the poor. Or who vote in favor of wars. Or who vote to protect moneyed interests over the good of the people. Or who vote repeatedly to deny healthcare to the sick and needy.

I’ve also pointed out how the hard right conservative contingent has increasingly become rigidly dogmatic and unforgiving of any deviation from conservative orthodoxy.

Just consider the reaction of the far right to Republican politicians who tried to pay their respects for the passing of Nelson Mandela. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Eric Cantor, and John Boehner — ultra-conservative Republicans all — were savaged online because they failed to denounce Mandela as a terrorist nor promise to go urinate on his grave at the earliest opportunity.

Courtesy of TPM.

Courtesy of TPM.

American Catholic leaders appear to have adopted this culture of conservative orthodoxy and dogma as well.

The part I find fascinating is how much they’re willing to overlook all the different ways their far-right allies don’t meet with ‘official’ Catholic positions — provided certain pet issues are supported:

  • Abortion and access to contraceptives? Against.
  • Gay rights? Against.
  • Protect the Church from prosecution for the pedophiles in its clergy? Absolutely.

Other Church positions, none of which are new:

  • Help for the poor? Not important enough to lobby for.
  • End wars and redirect military spending to peaceful causes? (((crickets)))
  • Abolish capital punishment? (Not even crickets.)
  • Poverty and economic inequality? Talk, sure, but that’s all.

Yes, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has objected to GOP cuts in food stamps and social programs, at times going so far as to send a sternly worded letter to the individuals involved.

But don’t worry, Senator GOPer! Voting to eliminate food stamps, unemployment benefits, repeal of minimum wage, and abolishing Social Security and Medicare won’t put your Communion wafer or eternal salvation at risk at all. Just don’t ever listen to those naughty Jezebels who want to claim that hormonal contraceptive medication is used for non-contraceptive purposes 58% of the time and you’ll be fine.

Priorities and pragmatism… and anathemas

This is the real problem for the hard right radicals, and for the American Catholic Bishops: They don’t know how to bend at all. They don’t want to bend.

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Illinois conducted an exorcism to “cure” the state of its impending gay marriages.

Now then, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the RCC Diocese of Springfield, Illinois knows how it’s supposed to be done. Never mind the sheer heresy* in calling for a public exorcism, contrary to De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam (v.1999, rev 2004; translates as ‘Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications’). Bishop Paprocki called for a public prayer exorcism for the entire state of Illinois — because its secular state legislature had passed and Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a marriage equality bill.

(* = Heresy in that it is abundantly clear that exorcisms are supposed to be performed quietly and without any public or media attention whatsoever.)

Not content with having an estimated 500 people pray to exorcise the symbolic demons of democratic governance, Paprocki also issued a veiled threat of eternal damnation for anybody who votes to elect any pro-gay rights politician:

“If you’re voting for someone because you have the intention of trying to promote something that is gravely sinful then you are putting your salvation in jeopardy.”

Good to see you love America so very much, Bishop Paprocki.

It’s the same deal with adoptions in states with laws that ban discrimination against gay and lesbian parents. Rather than comply with anti-discrimination laws, the Catholic Church opted to shut down their orphanages. (Although given what happened to the kids in Catholic-run orphanages in Ireland, and elsewhere throughout the world, I’m not so sure this was a bad idea…)

Or contraceptive medication, constantly misrepresented as an abortifacient, when what it actually does is prevent ovulation. Apparently utterly lacking in irony, the American Roman Catholic Church wants a religious exemption from having to cover this in group insurance — without realizing the same argument could and will likely be used by anybody with any particular belief or whim. Suppose one is a Christian Scientist — would that not grant a blanket exemption from offering health insurance at all, since they don’t believe in doctors?

Cardinal Dolan (Credit: Cy White)

Cardinal Dolan (Credit: Cy White)

Yet Cardinal and Archibishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, had these apocalyptic words to say:

To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to healthcare as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.

C’mon: We all pay taxes. Taxes pay for military weaponry. Military weapons are used in wars. Are not wars inherently immoral, according to the Roman Catholic Church?

Its not permitting the preventable deaths of innocent civilians a far more unconscionable crime than whether or not a woman uses contraceptive medication?

As ever, Dolan emphasized his (and his Church’s) opposition to PPCACA mandated coverage for contraceptives and sterilization as an attack on pregnancy — ignoring all the other reasons (often medically necessary) as for why these medical treatments exist in the first place. Yet it’s worth noting that in 1966, Paul VI’s commission on birth control recommended lifting the Church ban, but he refused.

The Catholic conundrum named Francis

I feel like I’m going to get beaten up if I don’t reiterate this, so I shall: Pope Francis is not a progressive Catholic, certainly not on social policy.

Francis hasn’t proposed any changes in Church policy on gay or trans issues, contraception, or anything else. In fact, with respect to women’s reproductive freedoms, he earns a big fat goose egg from me.

Nevertheless, he’s committed numerous heresies against radical conservatism, and that should peak our interest. Radical conservatives, especially the Tea Party, do not tolerate conservative apostasy, and they’re not terribly thrilled with what Francis has been saying. Their displeasure, if anything, is proof of why we should be paying attention.

Pope Francis suggested that maybe the Church and its clergy and its allies — politicians, pundits, lobbyists, and hangers-on — shouldn’t be so focused on judging and condemning others.

Last July, he was reported as saying, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” It’s noted that unlike his predecessors (and many American Bishops) who prefer the clinically pejorative term ‘homosexual’, Francis actually used the word ‘gay’ even though the rest of what he said was in Italian.

In a long interview in September, in remarks that reverberated throughout the Church and the media, Pope Francis said:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

American Bishops have already expressed dismay that Francis isn’t obsessed with Teh Gay and abortion pills like they are. Here in the States, the Archbishop of Chicago would not condemn the comparison of Obama with Hitler and Stalin, and equated Gay Pride with the Ku Klux Klan.

Well, most of this sort of news was fodder for page A-2 in the newspapers and a Slot-B mention on the nightly news programs. However, Pope Francis really stepped into it when he contradicted Saint Ronnie and averred the economic teachings of the Catholic Church, including calling into question the bedrock dogmas of unfettered laissez faire capitalism. In a papal statement, the Evangelii Gaudinum, he wrote:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

Boy did this cause wailing and gnashing of teeth. Half-term former Alaska governor Sarah Palin referred to the remarks as kind of “liberal.” Rush Limbaugh went further and said it was “pure Marxism.”

His remarks caused one Fox News editor, Adam Shaw, to lose his cool and also reportedly his side-gig writing for the Catholic News Service. (Shaw’s column? “Pope Francis is the Catholic Church’s Obama — God help us.”)

And of course, Fox Business News’s Stuart Varney blithely dismissed the problems of the poor and referred to Pope Francis’ remarks on income inequality as Neo-Socialism. Fortunately, Jon Stewart was there to point out the crass cruelty of Varney as well.

U.S. Bishops (and allies) versus Pope Francis and the Church?

So this is my question, and I’m hoping you folks will take it up in the comments: Can this contradiction be resolved? Or is the Catholic Church heading slowly towards schism?

The American Catholic Church appears to be quite comfortable with its GOP/Tea Party/Ultra-Conservative alliance. Sure, from time to time, the U.S. Bishops will make some noise in opposition to budget cuts that hurt the poor. But as I’ve said, none of their objections rise to the level of threatened withholding of Communion, Excommunication, and/or eternal damnation.

Vote to let women use a safe and legal drug — for contraception and also for other medical needs — and it’s worthy of consignment to Hell. Same thing if you merely vote for a politician you know will vote in favor of gay marriage or gay rights.

On the other hand, we now have a Pope who is saying we shouldn’t be focused on those things at all. That we, if we follow his example, shouldn’t presume to judge others. He even had harsh words for priests who refused to baptize the children of unwed mothers, saying:

“In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”

Or — and I have to ask this in honesty — is this pope really no different from his predecessors, other than being much better at public relations?

The soap box is yours.

Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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60 Responses to “The Catholic conundrum named Francis”

  1. Nathanael says:

    There’s a reason Francis cooks his own meals, and it ain’t humility.

  2. Nathanael says:

    Francis is anti-authoritarian and has made it very clear that he doesn’t believe that bishops or priests have the right to order laity around. He has absolutely condemned the withholding of communion under all circumstances.

    This raises the question: will he deal with the heretical American bishops who are attempting to act as secular lords by *firing* them, or simply by dismantling the hierarchy entirely?

  3. Ninong says:

    Back in 1988, when Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four new bishops, he and the four bishops were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II. Actually all five automatically excommunicated themselves because they did it without the authorization of the Pope. Then in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI reversed the excommunications for the bishops still alive. I think there are three of them left. That was in an effort to work out a deal to bring them back into the Church. That’s probably why Benedict announced that it would be acceptable to say the Mass in Latin again. I don’t remember the details of that but I remember reading about it in the regular secular media.

    So what happens next with them? That’s anybody’s guess. They don’t like Pope Francis at all. Their three bishops are no longer excommunicated but they could be at some time in the near future. They have almost 600 priests and a few hundred brothers and nuns. They’re in three dozen countries. They operate 100 schools, six seminaries and two universities. They’re concentrated in France, where their parishes attract conservative Catholics who prefer everything the way it was before the changes made by Vatican II in the early 1960’s. I think they became effective in 1964.

  4. ComradeRutherford says:

    Just amazing. I read about the ‘no canonical status within the Catholic Church’ on that wiki link. Anti-Jesus extremists that do the exact opposite of what Jesus supposedly said and did.

    I like the New Pope®™, sneaking out at night dressed as a regular priest to help the poor and homeless in Rome, for example.

  5. Ninong says:

    Wikipedia covers the most recent developments that could lead to a schism. SSPX has broken off discussions with the Vatican on reconciliation.

  6. ComradeRutherford says:

    I meant about the schism, not the organization itself…

    Thanks for that link, Phew! And I thought Opus Dei was bad…

  7. Ninong says:

    Well, in the Kingdom of Stupid, Bill Donohue is king.

  8. ComradeRutherford says:

    Haven’t heard of that one. But I haven’t been going out of my way to learn about it, either…

  9. Ninong says:

    That won’t happen.

  10. Ninong says:

    Istituto per le Opere di Religione (aka The Vatican Bank) and its most famous president, American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (aka “The Gorilla”). Marcinkus was head of The Institute for Religious Works (Vatican-speak for money-laundering bank) from 1971 to 1989. He was most famous for his 1971 involvement in conterfeit US Treasury Bonds ($14.5 million worth on hand, part of $950 million worth requested on Vatican notepaper) and the Mafia. He was about to be charged by the US Treasury Department in 1973 with all sorts of criminal racketeering and other unholy endeavors but President Nixon shut it down.

    I distinctly remember when an Italian court in Milan “requested” that he testify at the trial of a Mafia guy who had connections to the Vatican Bank but Marcinkus politely declined the “invitation” based on diplomatic immunity, etc. Then there was the time his good buddy, Roberto Calvi, Chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, was found hanging underneath Blackfriars Bridge in London. Banco Ambrosiano and the Vatican Bank were joined at the hip. Marcinkus was very famous in the 1970’s and ’80’s. His picture was the cover story of more than one weekly newsmagazine over here and countless more in Europe. What a guy!

  11. fletcher says:

    Bill Donahue of the Catholic League has no cause to freak out over the criticisms of unfettered capitalism by Pope Francis. What Francis was saying had already been said in a papal encyclical more than 100 years ago by Pope Leo XIII. That encyclical said nobody could be a good Catholic unless he cared for the lives and prosperity of all workers. In the U.S. it spurred the formation of labor unions, mostly by Central European immigrants.

  12. Badgerite says:

    It is delightful. He actually seems to think more like most American Catholics than the American Catholic Church leadership.

  13. ComradeRutherford says:

    It would be hilarious if the US Bishops decreed that the New Pope®™ was the anti-christ and refused to accept him as their leader. How dare a pope repeat word-for-word what Jesus (supposedly) said! That is unChristian!

  14. Lawerence Collins says:

    Very sad, but true. I doubt he’s the kind to request a food taster…

  15. karmanot says:

    So true.

  16. kenthomes says:

    All of it could be wiped out without a single tear being shed.

  17. kenthomes says:

    This Pope was brought in to stem the flow of people leaving the church. He says all the right things, but until such words are actually implemented, they mean nothing. It is all Public relations so far. Religion does more evil than just about anything on the planet. Without religion, good people would still be good and bad people would still be bad. Religion is the only thing that can make good people do evil – even joyously!

  18. Ninong says:

    Oh, my goodness, let’s not mention the Vatican Bank of we will never get to the end of this discussion during my lifetime. LOL

    Note to Pope Francis: Don’t drink the cocoa.

  19. BeccaM says:

    According to a story relayed by Susie Madrack over at Crooks and Liars, Pope Francis has also been making enemies among the Italian Mafia, due to Francis’ attempts to clean up the corruption of the Vatican Bank…

  20. Ninong says:

    They should have expected that something like this would happen following JPII and his little protegé Benny. Remember, John XXIII followed Pius XII. There’s a saying for that: Seguite sempre un papa grasso con sottile. Always follow a fat pope with a thin one. They don’t mean it literally, just that the conclave has a habit of voting for someone different following the death of a pope.

    I don’t know if they ever anticipated anything like the current arrangement with a pope emeritus living in retirement in the Vatican Gardens. I will restrain myself and not comment on Bel Giorgio but I do wonder if they took some of the Pratesi sheets with them?

  21. Ninong says:

    The Catholic Church sees a distinction in that the sex act is open to conception using the rhythm method (natural family planning). They still hold to the belief that all sex acts must be open to conception but they allow the individual couple to choose to abstain from sex acts during fertile periods provided they have a good reason to do so. They leave it up to the individual’s conscience to decide if they have a good reason or not.

    So anyway, that’s the way they see it. And, of course, the rhythm method (being open to conception) is not foolproof. Some women do get pregnant in spite of all the calendars they mark. Remember, they’re not allowed to use condoms.

    They don’t consider it contraception to simply refrain from having sex. It would be considered contraception to use a condom so that you could engage in sex during periods of fertility. Of course, it’s common knowledge that virtually no Catholics follow that rule anymore anyway. Those who don’t believe it other forms of contraception will at least use condoms if they don’t want to get pregnant and wish to have sex at certain times of the month.
    The Church teaches a lot of stuff that most Catholics don’t follow.

  22. Loona_c says:

    And my aregument all along was that if you allow one type of bc (rhythm) you’ve opened the door to all of them.

  23. Randy says:

    IT’s all over for the conservatives. You see, when the Pope on down all said the same thing, all conservative things, they told us that we cannot question the Pope, and that it is our duty to be obedient Catholics. We are not told to think or reason the scriptures our selves. We are supposed to have deference towards authority.

    This, btw, is no unique to the catholic church. Conservatives in all areas are much more demanding of deference to authority than liberals are. This is sometimes good, sometimes bad, depending upon the issues and the situations, so I don’t think there one is always better than the other. Nonetheless, die hard conservatives always demand fealty to authority figures, regardless of whether the issue is gay rights, religious beliefs, abortion, or political issues.

    Now with the Pope making statements that differ from these conservatives, they are actually questioning their deal leader. That means that they have given up the argument — leaders CAN and SHOULD be questioned.

    I’m sure they don’t even understand how they have just undermined their own arguments. But they did — once you agree that it’s okay to question your leaders, that means that YOU can be questioned as well. It never stops. And once people start questioning, they don’t stop. And once they start questioning the pope, they will question you and every thing else. The whole deference to authority goes out the window.

    And when people start questioning conservatives, they will find that they sometimes lose. In fact, they often do.

  24. BeccaM says:

    Aye… my capacity for cynicism is vast, but it’s not infinite.

    At minimum, I’m laughing myself silly listening to the wingnut brigade wrap themselves into knots over this new pope.

  25. karmanot says:

    Exactly. There are two churches: The one held by the laity and the other a parasitic oligarchy held by bishops on up. The latter could be wiped from the face of the earth without a single tear being shred.

  26. karmanot says:

    Sounds like my family of Irish Catholics. As far as I know I was the only child in that lineage to choose public schools.

  27. emjayay says:

    I was raised and educated Catholic, but not a believer now. I do think there is a lot of good in Christianity and other religions. Not in the American fundie ones who have no concept of the message of Christ and give the good guys a black eye.

    A lot of the commenters on the pope topic remind me of commenters here (maybe some of the same ones) who hate Obama and think everything he does is some kind of cynical move for some reason and we shouldn’t vote at all or vote for the Green party or Ralph Nader (oh wait, that was that time we got Bush instead of Gore becsause they were just identical corporation tools anyway), because Obama isn’t their ideal president or close enough to it. Mine neither by a long shot, but considering the American political system, and considering the Catholic Church, both these guys are a lot better than any real alternative.

    All the bishops and cardinals in the Church are the result of five decades of right wing conservative popes since an amazingly progressive and unfortunately short term one. Under the circumstances, the new guy is a welcome surprise.

    Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
    Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

  28. lynchie says:

    My wife is Ukranian Catholic and grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada on a farm. She is one of 16 brothers and sisters. 2 born on December 25. 3 boys and 13 girls. She never remembers seeing her mother not pregnant.

  29. Ninong says:

    Nothing the current pope is saying contradicts any of the previous teachings of the Vatican. All he’s doing is switching the conversation to other topics and saying that’s it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t have gay sex. He doesn’t wear full papal drag like Benny did but nothing has really changed.

  30. Ninong says:

    I’m 25 years older than you and it was the same when I was growing up. I don’t think they have really changed at all in my lifetime.

  31. Ninong says:

    Most of my ancestors were Catholics for as far back as I could go on I already knew that my maternal grandmother was the oldest of 10 children, my maternal grandfather the oldest of 9, my paternal grandmother one of 10 and my paternal grandfather one of only 4 but that’s because his father died young. What I didn’t know was that the same pattern held true going back to previous generations, too. In fact, I found one great-great-great grandfather who was one of 15 children!

    All of my ancestors were Franch Catholics except for one German grandmother who was from a strict Lutheran family. They all had lots of children!

  32. BeccaM says:

    What you’ve said there is in keeping with what I learned.

  33. Ninong says:

    I guess I should have used a semi-colon instead of a period after that first sentence in the second paragraph. I went on to clarify in the third sentence that the only exemption was a matter of conscience on the part of the married couple.

    Natural family planning (rhythm method) was previously allowed but only if the married couple believed in good conscience that it was not the right time for them to accept God’s gift of a child. In other words, you could use the rhythm method if you had a good reason and the good reason was entirely up to your individual conscience. So I don’t think Humanae Vitae changed that, do you?

    Natural family planning (meaning abstinence during fertile periods, or the rhythm method) was previously allowed for those married couples who did not think the time was right for them to get pregnant. No other forms of birth control were permitted. No sex for you if you’re trying to avoid getting pregnant. Just don’t do it, period.

  34. BeccaM says:

    In 1968, the Humanae Vitae said that the ‘rhythm method’ was in fact an acceptable form of family planning for Catholics.

    Having grown up Catholic and attending Sunday School for a number of years (until the parish priest requested my parents remove me because I wouldn’t stop asking impertinent questions), I remember well being taught that the rhythm method was the only accepted birth control for Catholics.

    Unless that was a typo up there and you meant ‘any form of contraception, except for use of the rhythm method.’

  35. BeccaM says:

    Maybe they’re afraid Bernard Law would attempt to cut a deal with prosecutors, in exchange for sworn testimony and the names of other Catholic clergy leadership responsible for the generations of criminal coverups.

  36. Ninong says:

    I forgot to add that the Catholic Church’s official position on contraception was clarified in 1966, as you pointed out, and it hasn’t changed since then except for the statement by the Vatican that the use of condoms by married men in Africa who were infected with HIV could be permitted provided said condoms were used only for sex within their marriage. So it’s okay to use condoms if you have HIV but only if you’re married and only for sex with your wife. Unmarried men with HIV would not be covered by that exemption.

    That 1966 Vatican statement on contraception made it quite clear that any from of contraception, including use of the rhythm method, was forbidden by the Church. Catholic couples were expected to accept children as a gift from God and not to inhibit God’s plans for them. The only exemption was if the married couple believed in their hearts that having a child was not something they could accept at the moment for reasons they believed in their hearts to be justified, then in such cases, and only such cases, they were allowed to use the rhythm method to avoid pregnancy. Condoms were not allowed, as well as any other forms of birth control — only the rhythm method.

  37. BeccaM says:

    Thanks dear

  38. Ninong says:

    Excellent reporting, Becca, but I would like to point out that some Catholic prelates have done more than just threaten to withhold Communion from Catholic politicians who support abortion, stem-cell research or gay marriage, they have actually carried out their threats by publicly banning certain Catholic politicians by name and adminishing them not to dare to present themselves for Communion in their archdiocese. John Kerry was publicly banned from more than one Catholic diocese during his campaign for the presidency in 2004 and he wasn’t the only one. It’s worth noting that Catholic Republican politicians who publicly supported abortion (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gov. George Patacki, Mayor Rudy Giulianni, et al) were never mentioned by name.

    Kerry wasn’t the only Catholic politcian from Massachusetts to be told by a Catholic archbishop not to present himself at the Communion rail, at least one or two of the Kennedys was told privately by their local archbishop that they were prohibited from receiving Communion. Amazingly, Mayor Rudy Giulianni even presented himself for Communion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the company of his then-mistress and future No. 3 wife, Judy Nathan. At the time his divorce from No. 2 wife, Donna Hanover, was not yet finalized. As I’m sure we all know, he was granted an annulment of his first marriage to wife No. 1, Regina Peruggi, after more than 14 years after he discovered that he and Regina were second cousins and they forgot to request a dispensation from the church before getting married. So that marriage never happened in the eyes of the Catholic Church. That rule has since been dropped and second cousins no longer need apply for a dispensation before getting married.

    Anyway, the Catholic Church works in strange and mysterious ways, and one of those mysterious ways was to make Giulianni’s first marriage non-existant. His marriage to wife No. 2, Donna Hanover, was his first marriage in the eyes of the church. Let’s not dwell on the fact that, like Newt Gingrich, another Catholic politician, Giulianni tried out all of his future wives while still married to the previous wife. In Newt’s case, he made some effort to conceal his adulterious relationships but Giulianni flaunted his mistresses. I don’t recall either one of them being publicly admonished and warned not to attempt to receive communion, do you?

    Yes, some American Catholic bishops and archbishops have done more than simply threaten to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who voted for any of the dreaded three — abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage — they have actually banned them publicly.

    When Pope Francis called for Argentinian bishops to repent for their silence during the 1970’s, he was talking mainly about himself and his inaction as head of the Jesuit Order there. He did nothing publicly to rescue two of his Jesuits who were arrested and tortured by the regime for their pro-revolutionary positions. If he did anything, it was behind the scenes, because he made no public statements. He did not criticize the regime publicly.

    You are right to point out that nothing Pope Francis is saying now is in any way new. All he’s doing is switching the public relations emphasis away from abortion and gay marriage. He’s still very much against gay marriage and still hold the belief that it will destroy marriage and lead to the downfall of humanity. He hasn’t changed that position at all. He’s just switched to pointing out that being gay is not a sin as long as the gay person is chaste. Total abstinence from any sexual activity makes a gay person acceptable in the eyes of the church.

  39. Monoceros Forth says:

    Ooh, interesting point. I hadn’t thought that there might be some subconscious desire to recall the olden days when the Roman church was still a major European power in its own right. I wonder if a similar idea lies behind the mania of conservative bishops for excommunicating senators, as if they were imitating all those Popes who excommunicated kings at the drop of a hat. Er, a miter.

  40. nicho says:

    Meanwhile, Catholic bishop of RI slams Nelson Mandela because he supported reproductive choice.

    There isn’t one Catholic bishop who is fit to lick the soles of Mandela’s shoes. What makes these people think thay have even a shred of moral authority?

  41. Thom Allen says:

    Well done, Becca, great post!
    Jesuits, like Francis, are very astute at manipulation. They have a good understanding of the human psyche and make excellent politicians because they obfuscate the issues and use doublespeak. Then, later they just say that they were misunderstood. They’re the politician’s idols. So, I think Francis is just trying to shift focus from the child molestation by priests and the cover ups that ensued, the emphasis on being anti-birth control, anti-abortion and anti-gay, all of which are proving divisive in the US RCC. If he does the “let’s all get along and help each other” many will be overwhelmed by the warm fuzzies and forget all of the horror and hate that the church has been spewing in the last 20 years.

    He has to be careful in what he does. He can’t alienate the rapidly-growing African (virulently anti-gay, anti-women, anti-celibacy) church. Some priests, still in the RCC have live in “housekeepers” with whom they have children. Some visit prostitutes. The church mostly turns its back on that. It’s OK as long as these priests remain partially (heterosexually) “closeted” about their sub rosa marriages. Some priests there have already defected and formed a schismatic catholic church that allows marriage. Francis wants to keep the African faction happy. If he goes soft on gays, celibacy, women he’ll lose them. He’s doing a balancing act. Make the West happy without losing Africa.

    As for catholic thought, it can be conveniently bent to serve the owners of the church. In the 60s and 70s, catholic nuns and lay women in parts of Africa were allowed to use birth control because there was a high probability that they could be raped. A statement from that time said that birth control was “a defense against RAPE.” Of course, bc pills didn’t DEFEND against rape, they prevented pregnancies. But the RCC ignored that. The official line was that the Pill killed the embryo, blatantly untrue. So, it’s OK to use the pill to prevent raped nuns from having babies, but it’s NOT OK to use the morning after pill to prevent other raped women from having babies. To add to the nonsense, nuns get breast cancer more frequently than women who get pregnant. The pill could help prevent cancer in these women. But the RCC won’t allow nuns to use the pill, that could save their lives, even though, there’s NO CHANCE that it could be killing embryos in those ladies.

    Of course, the US clergy have to support Francis. At least, publicly. Cardinal Dolan said that Francis was a “shot in the arm” to the church in the Americas. But when questioned about the US catholics deemphasizing their rabid pro-life, anti-birth control and anti-gay positions, Dolan pretty much implied that those things weren’t going to change. And then Paprocki became Merin and acted out from “The Exorcist” pretty much showing how the US hierarchy will react to Francis’ telling them to chill and help the poor. There will be lip service to Francis’ call to become less political and more charitable, but the underlying venom will continue to circulate in the ecclesiastical US catholic corpus.

  42. Indigo says:

    That’s exactly right but that’s an old, old quarrel. Recall that Thomas a Beckett was the archbishop of Canterbury who stood up to Henry II over the issue of felonious clergy. He was murdered-martyred at the altar for his protect-the-clergy stance and canonized a saint for his trouble. I wonder sometimes, when I note how strident some local bishops are, whether they aren’t jonesing for sensationalized martyrdom. The trick is to not indulge them with death but arrest them and take them to trial. But even that is beyond our authorities, let alone the willingness of church officials to cooperate. They act as if they’re a state church even when they’re not and that’s where it all goes off the rails.

  43. karmanot says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

  44. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’ve never quite understood what was supposed to be so horrible about turning over accused felons to the law just like everyone else. If the Roman church had been doing that all along their name wouldn’t be mud now and they wouldn’t be fighting a million lawsuits.

  45. Bose says:

    Isn’t one of the biggest questions about Francis’ influence on appointment of bishops and cardinals in the U.S.? Will the USCCB have an iron grip on only allowing conservative candidates into the pipeline? Here in Minnesota, I’m mindful of Abp Nienstedt having been a conservative enforcer from a smaller, heavily rural diocese.

  46. karmanot says:

    An excellent article Becca!

  47. karmanot says:


  48. Indigo says:

    The “manifesto” as some are calling it, is neatly done and easily perused, topic by topic. It’s mostly standard-issue Catholicism as the Emperor Constantine left it in the 4th century complete with a mission to evangelize the world and manifest Romanism at every street corner. That does include the long-neglected economic teachings that have been supplanted by predatory capitalism within the last hundred years or so, mostly in that non-Catholic northern Europe where Protestantism took root centuries back. It also includes instructions to vote your church’s teaching, not some permissive folderol. Interesting, huh?

    The conundrum for American Catholics and their wingnut apologists puts me in mind of the story about Gorbachev’s mother during the waning days of the Soviet Union. The story reports that he was showing off his collection of antique and sport cars to his mother. She supposedly said, “That’s nice, son, but what if the Communists take over?” It would seem American Catholics are up against it, the real Catholics are trying to take over.

    Have a look for yourself:

  49. UncleBucky says:

    Right. Pope Red Herring. And absolutely right, no change in church policy OR behaviour. And it’s in the behaviour (works) that I focus.

  50. nicho says:

    If Pope Francis has the vast majority of Catholics on his side, perhaps
    he just might need to “fire” a couple of higher-ranking leaders in the

    I’d be encouraged if he’d just turn the fugitive Bernard Law over to the US authorities for prosecution in the child rape scandal, instead of allowing him to hide out in the Vatican with a place of honor in the hierarchy.

  51. UncleBucky says:

    Well, tentatively I am calling him Pope Francis instead of Pope Bergoglio. But I still don’t trust him… ;o)

  52. chris10858 says:

    I must first say that I am not a Catholic but from the line of evangelical protestanism. Having said that, I must say that I believe in that saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” If the hard-right here in America (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) hates him, then he must be doing something right.

    Perhaps many of the things he has been saying are just PR. However, given the choice between a bullshit PR pope and a downright conservative orthodox-spouting pope, I’ll take the former.

    I have read reports that his words and actions as pope are bringing people back to the church. Regardless of his beliefs on lgbt equality, women serving as priests, abortion or contraception, it does seem that he has always focused on social justice for the poor, living a humble life instead of materialism, etc…

    As a liberal/progressive and as a Christian, I can only hope that he is able to sway the Catholic Church towards caring more for those in need and thereby fulfill the calling as set forth in the New Testament.

    As far as conservative Bishops and others who might balk at the Pope’s emphasis on social justice, the last I checked, the Catholic Church is not a democracy. If Pope Francis has the vast majority of Catholics on his side, perhaps he just might need to “fire” a couple of higher-ranking leaders in the church. While many of the Bishops and leaders might not agree with the Pope, I believe that most of them would fall quickly in line with his directives. They do not want to risk losing their positions.

  53. BeccaM says:

    Apologies for the grammatical and spelling errors above, most notably the use of the word ‘peak’ when I meant ‘pique. I was working on this post quite late last night.

  54. nicho says:

    Don’t make sweeping judgment about Francis based on what you read in the “penny press,” as we used to call it.

    He said he wanted to de-emphasize the anti-woman and anti-gay hate campaign of Wotyla and Ratzi the Nazi, but he never repudiated the church’s opposition to gays, women, etc. I’ll believe he’s changed the church’s tune when I see some evidence of it. Hating on gays and women was getting them a lot of very bad PR. One of his jobs was to address the PR problem.

    As far as his economic concerns, poverty is the Jesuits’ schtick. So there’s nothing surprising here. The three great human motivators are sex, power, and money. That’s why religious orders require vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

    Jesuits take the poverty part very seriously. To their credit, they don’t live in the splendor that other Catholic “leaders” indulge in. Most Jesuits I’ve encountered live very simply in plain surroundings.

    However, they balance that off with the drive for power. Don’t forget that the Jesuits were founded specifically to meddle in the political affairs of nations with the goal of bringing them into line with Rome. So, I’m going to wait to jump on the “Francis has changed the church” bandwagon.

    As far as the conservatives opposing him, that’s understandable because they wanted the focus to remain on hating gays, women, etc. But I don’t see the change as being as dramatic as they see it — and not even close to the view that the MSM gets through its rose-colored glasses.

  55. beergoggles says:

    So far it just looks like the Pope’s just there to generate good PR while the church carries on with their gay and women hate. For all his talking I have not seen a single change in church policy.

  56. loona_c says:

    One can hope.

  57. MyrddinWilt says:

    The pity is that it seems he rebuffed attempts to elect him to replace John Paul II in place of Benedict. So we could have been eight years in to his rein.

    Still the most significant decision Benedict may have made is deciding to retire. That is likely to make a huge difference in years to come. Any institution that requires its leader to serve until they die these days is going to be saddled with a senile/incompetent leader for a decade or more at a time.

    Mandela lived to 95 despite the years of imprisonment. But he retired from the Presidency in 1999. Imagine what people would be saying about him now if he had clung to office for the past 23 years. I suspect the obituaries would be remarkably less warm.

    Unfortunately the nature of being a priest is to peddle traditional values which is inherently reactionary. Francis is dragging the Catholic church kicking and screaming into the 1930s. Which is a long way forward from where it was before. But it is still far behind society.

  58. Monoceros Forth says:

    Francis really feels more like a figurehead, than anyone who is setting any official policy.

    And that’s basically what it boils down to. At bottom nobody outside of Vatican church politics really cares who the Pope is or what he says. I’m reminded of G. K. Chesterton’s jibe at British aristocracy and how its one saving merit was that it couldn’t be taken seriously.

    As for U. S. Catholic bishops I think they’re just merging into the scarcely differentiated and quivering mass that is American right-wing Christianity, in which voting for the correct laws and politicians is far more important a sacrament than attending Mass or fasting for Lent.

  59. Naja pallida says:

    I don’t see a conundrum at all. I see a guy who obviously takes his job a little more seriously than the last guy. Realizing that the church is about people above money and politics, but until they open their doors and records, and allow a complete independent investigation of how they’ve spent decades committing, condoning, and covering up child rape, he’s just another blind man leading a blind flock. Plus, I don’t see Francis’ personal flavor of honoring his namesake to be filtering down to American Bishops or other church leaders. They’re operating as if nothing has, or will ever, change with the leadership in the Vatican. Francis really feels more like a figurehead, than anyone who is setting any official policy. I’m sure many people are willing to ignore the past, and adore him, but I will never bring myself to believe any of it until past atrocities are adequately addressed. I’m not interested in waiting 300 years for an apology, like they did for the Inquisition.

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