Archive for the ‘Roman Catholicism’ Category


December 31, 2015


My father was raised as a Catholic. He left the Catholic Church as a young man. I remember when I was growing up, my younger brother once attended a party at a neighbor’s house. My family learned afterwards that he had spoken to a priest at the party. My father become extremely upset when he heard about this. The rest of us couldn’t understand why.

Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation of child sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives as the new editor of the Globe, people are afraid he’s going to cut jobs. Instead, he suggests to the paper’s Spotlight investigative team, led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), that they investigate a case of a local priest who has been accused of molesting a child. In the course of their investigation, they learn that there may be as many as 87 pedophile priests in the city. They eventually learn that Cardinal Law, the head of the archdiocese, has been aware of this for over a decade.

I’ve never been able to share the admiration that some leftists have for Pope Francis. He is part of the system that produces the sort of behavior depicted in this film. It tells us something that the Church’s reaction to the scandal in Boston was to promote Law. At the very least, Law should have removed these pedophiles from the priesthood. Instead, he moved them from one parish to another, knowing that they would likely carry out the same abuses. Even in terms of self-interest, such behavior makes no sense. These pedophile priests cause people to leave the church. They undermine its moral authority. They cause the church to become embroiled in costly lawsuits. The fact that the church leaders can’t see this shows that they are out of touch with reality, let alone common decency.

Religion is a Business

July 2, 2014

Pope Francis

Now that the Supreme Court has decided that business owners have a right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, I think this is an appropriate time to remind people that religion itself is a business, a point I made in a previous post:

    Sun Myung Moon was one of the greatest entrepreneurial geniuses of the twentieth century. Like L. Ron Hubbard, he grasped the essential truth that religion is a business. You promise salvation to people, and they pay you money for it. (Salvation is a special kind of commodity. Although it has no form or substance, it is nonetheless fungible.)

No one should know this better than Pope Francis. Salon recently posted an article by Anna Marsh about the pontiff. In it, Marsh destroys the Pope’s reputation as a populist. She writes:

    While the pope transmits a populist vibe—particularly about the economy— he is an old-school conservative who, despite his great PR, maintains nearly all of the socialpolicies of his predecessors and keeps up a hardline Vatican “cabinet.” He has done virtually nothing to change the policies of the church to match his more compassionate rhetoric. People excuse the pope, claiming that he doesn’t have much power to make changes, but this simply isn’t true. Further, it is ludicrous to suggest that a man who denies comprehensive reproductive health care (including all forms of birth control including condoms and abortion) and comprehensive family planning is a man who cares about the poor of this world.

Marsh tells us that the Pope’s populist rhetoric has a venal motive:

    According to The Economist, “The American church may account for as much as 60 percent of the global institution’s wealth. Little surprise, then, that it is the biggest contributor to head office (ahead of Germany, Italy and France). Everything from renovations to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to the Pontifical Gregorian University, the church’s version of West Point, is largely paid for with American money.” The National Catholic Reporter points out that American Catholics put more than $150 million a week into the collection plate, totaling $8 billion annually. Even if, as they assert, ninety percent of those donations never leave their parish, that means that about $800 million a year donated by American Catholics is being used to fund the Catholic Church around the world.

    Forbes points out that U.S. Catholics are responsible for almost a third of the charitable contributions that directly fund the Holy See, contributions that were down from $82 million in 2009 to 70 million in 2011. This time period overlaps the decline in Pope Benedict’s favorable numbers among U.S. Catholics and is widely attributed to Benedict’s lack of PR finesse, handling of the church’s sexual abuse scandal, and launching of an investigation into the practices of the American nuns.

The Vatican hired a PR man named Greg Burke to help them with this problem. Burke used to work for Fox News, and he is a member of the reactionary Opus Dei. It is apparently Burke who has largely engineered the new pope’s reputation as a populist. A lot of people have apparently fallen for this, but I wonder how long Francis will be able to continue this charade.

Pope Francis

March 14, 2013

The newly elected Pope Francis I waves to the crowds from St Peter's basilica.

The college of cardinals has selected a new pope. He is an Argentinian named Jorge Bergoglio, but he will rule under the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. The Guradian reports:

    Inside the Sistine Chapel after the final vote was cast, the most junior of the cardinals, James Harvey, a former prefect of the papal household, called in the secretary of the college of cardinals, Monsignor Lorenzo Baldisseri, and the master of papal liturgical ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, to witness the new pope’s acceptance of one of the most daunting jobs on Earth.

Daunting? Really? I imagine being a coal miner would be a daunting job, as would being a factory worker at Foxconn. But being Pope? You mostly just have to wear funny clothes and make reactionary statements. Sounds like a sweet gig to me. The Guardian also reports:

    No indication of how or why the new pope was chosen was expected to emerge. On Tuesday, before the start of the conclave, the cardinal-electors took an oath of secrecy, as had those Vatican employees and officials involved in the election.

    Additional precautions included a sweep of the Sistine Chapel to ensure that no listening devices had been planted inside and the use of electronic jamming techniques.

If history teaches us one thing, it’s that people who obsess over secrecy are usually up to no good. And when one looks into the background of this man, Bergoglio, one can see that he has good reasons for secrecy. According to another article in the Guardian:

    The main charge against Bergoglio involves the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken by Navy officers in May 1976 and held under inhumane conditions for the missionary work they conducted in the country’s slums, a politically risky activity at the time.

    His chief accuser is journalist Horacio Verbitsky, the author of a book on the church called “El Silencio” (“The Silence”), which claims that Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection from the two priests, effectively giving the military a green light for their abduction.

Actually, the election of Bergoglio makes perfect sense to me. With the church besieged by accusations of money laundering and child abuse, who better to have as Pope than a criminal?

Ratzinger – er, I mean Pope Benedict XVI – got a lot of grief for having been a member of the Hitler Youth as a child. In my view, that’s negated by the fact that he refused to serve in the German army during World War II. But what are we to make of a man who aided and abetted a murderous regime? And what should we make of a church that promotes such a man to its highest position?

Paul Ryan

August 12, 2012

It used to be that the Republicans would run as the “no new taxes” party. Now we have a Republican ticket that is effectively promising to raise taxes on most Americans, while giving huge tax cuts to the richest Americans. At the risk of sounding portentous, I can’t help but wonder if we are entering a new phase of capitalism, one in which politicians no longer even pretend to care about the general welfare. Ronald Reagan pretended to be a friend of the working class, even as he attacked workers’ living standards. Romney and Ryan are effectively giving the finger to the working class. They are here to benefit the rich, and they want everyone to know it. The question is: how many Americans will buy this? True, there are a lot of people who have read Atlas Shrugged, but there are a lot more who haven’t. Not everybody has been indoctrinated into the Randroid zombie army. Not yet, anyway.

There must be a deep affinity between Romney and Ryan, for one can see no other reason why Romney would choose him. According to this article in the New York Times, Ryan doesn’t give Romney any electoral advantage. Being a Catholic, he won’t help the Mormon Romney with evangelicals, although he won’t hurt him either. The Catholic fanatic, Rick Santorum, had his strongest support during the primaries among Protestant fundamentalists. (Interestingly, Santorum tended to do poorly in states with large Catholic populations.)

Ryan’s proposed budget calls for cuts in Social Security and effectively scrapping Medicare. As I have pointed out before, attacking Social Security and Medicare is a losing argument for the Republicans, since their largest voting base consists of old people. Ryan has even echoed Rick Perry’s claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Perhaps Romney and Ryan are gambling that their supporters are too senile to know what they are talking about.

In this admiring article about Ryan from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (“Wisconsin’s Free Market Think Tank”), we learn: “With his father’s passing, young Paul collected Social Security benefits until age 18, which he put away for college.” Assuming that Ryan is a principled man, he would certainly want to return his ill-gotten gains from our national Ponzi scheme, wouldn’t he?

We Have a Pope

June 27, 2012

Although I am not a Catholic, I have always felt a peculiar connection to the Catholic Church. My father came from a family of devout Catholics. My great-father reportedly came to this country to escape the kulturkampf, Bismarck’s campaign to suppress the power of the Catholic Church in Germany. (Since my great-grandfather was a coal miner, it’s not clear to me why this would have affected him. I will have to do more research on this.) My father was sent to a Catholic school, an experience that had the happy effect of making him into an atheist. What’s more, most of my friends were raised as Catholics, and the ones who aren’t traumatized still go to mass occasionally. Oh, and I once played a priest in a school play.

So, I was naturally interested in seeing Nanni Moretti’s latest film, We Have a Pope. I didn’t know whether this film would be a satire of the Church or simply a “feel good” comedy in priestly drag. Strange to say, it turns out to be neither.

The College of Cardinals has gathered to choose a new Pope. After several inconclusive ballots, they elect the unassuming Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) as the new pontiff. Just before he is to be presented to the crowd in St. Peter’s square, however, he suffers a panic attack that turns into a nervous breakdown. He tells the Cardinals that the burden of the papacy would be too much for him. (Could it really be that much of a burden? Basically all the Pope has to do is make speeches denouncing contraception.) Out of desperation, the cardinals bring in a psychoanalyst, Brezzi, (Nanni Moretti) to examine Melville. Their sessions get nowhere. Brezzi mentions that his wife, (Margherita Buy), is also a therapist. Melville persuades the Vatican press agent (Jerzy Stuhr) to take him in disguise to see this woman. On their way back, Melville manages to run away. Melville wanders around Rome. He eventually falls in with a troupe of actors who are putting on a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. Meanwhile, the cardinals are stuck at the Vatican, because, according to tradition, they cannot leave the conclave until the new Pope has been announced. To pass the time, Brezzi organizes a volleyball tournament.

The main problem with We Have a Pope is that it’s never made clear why Melville is so afraid of becoming Pope. He merely mumbles vague statements about how he is not worthy of the position. The closest we get to an explanation is when he tells Brezzi’s wife that he once wanted to be an actor. But wouldn’t that make the papacy attractive to him? After all, church ceremonies are basically a form of theater.

There are a few funny moments, but not enough for this film to qualify as a comedy. The ending is inexplicably melodramatic. From a balcony, Melville tells a huge crowd in St. Peter’s square that he cannot be Pope. He then goes inside and the screen goes black. It’s not clear what exactly Moretti is trying to say about the Catholic Church. Moretti has said about this film: “I wanted to depict a fragile man, Cardinal Melville, who feels inadequate in the face of power and the role he’s called to fill … I think this feeling of inadequacy happens to all cardinals elected Pope, or at least that’s what they say.” Unfortunately, Moretti is unable to show why we should care about this.