This Week In Doom October 6, 2013: Franciscus

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on October 6, 2013

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“I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. … Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

“Despite all the slowness, the infidelities, the errors and sins [the Church] could have committed and can still commit… it has no other sense or end but that of living and witnessing Jesus: He who was sent by Abba ‘to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:18-19)”

“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.”

“I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio


My record as a public scold on these pages has been one of pursuit of social justice. Whether writing about the cold structural injustice of the economy, the worship of Mammon in a nominally Christian nation, the Occupy movement from one man’s perspective, its foibles, or current events, my view has been consistent: That the economy is a Ponzi scheme kept afloat by the Fed, the net effect of which is to  transfer wealth from the middle class to the upper one quarter of one percent. That the government, once the refuge of common folk, is now the oppressor, its regulatory agencies captured by the corporations they were intended to regulate. That our technology has outstripped our moral capacity by at least several centuries, and that we are awash in both toys and weapons of mass distruction without ethics guiding their employment.  That the courtier media is as corrupt as it is obsequious. . .  and on and on.

This week’s effort will mark a departure from the usual diet of clucking at the weekly record of Indications The The World Is Going to Hell. Thus in a week where the moral midgets of the Midway bring government to a screeching halt, where those whose votes are directly responsible for putting over 800,000 people out of employment defend their actions and  their  paychecks under the guise of, “I need my paycheck” ,  where a man sets himself on fire on the National Mall, where we learn that the NSA continues to sort and sift every electronic communication we originate, and where a whistleblower reveals how the global elite rule the world (and aside from Michael Snyder (and the Diner), nobody notices), it is easy to elevate Blake to the level of Old Testament prophecy:

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(Blake, The Second Coming)

The Inauguration Mass For Pope Francis

Amidst the din and clamor, the utterances of one man caught my attention this week.  Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio,  has been making both statements and simple acts of faith that signify a sharp break with recent Vatican history.  The Pope’s visit to Assisi this week gathers many of these threads into one strand. Many assumed that like Benedict before him, he would be a caretaker pope, having been elevated at the age of 76.  In the brief months since his elevation, Francis has shown himself to be anything but.

After his election, Esquire’s Joe Keohane observed:

He won’t wear the shoes. He doesn’t bait the gays, or hound the nuns, or call Mohammed “evil and inhuman,” or fear the mean-girl Vatican cardinals whose solid gold multi-millennium party he’s so genially wrecking. Instead Pope Francis spends his days publicly worrying about social justice, calling attention to the problems of runaway capitalism, and entreating people to be decent to one another. He even washed the feet of a Muslim woman, which is about as double a whammy as a Pope can possible execute—especially after eight years of old Emperor Palpatine there.


What Francis says is important because as the head of the Roman Catholic Church,  his statements have a profound effect upon the lives of over one billion Catholics worldwide, especially in the global South where Catholicism is growing most quickly. But the behavior he models may be even more important.

For starters, he eschewes the opulent Vatican apartments for life in a small guest cottage.  He carries his own bags, and cooks his own dinner. He places his own calls to reporters. He prefers tooling around in a Ford Focus to the papal Mercedes-Benz. One of his earliest acts of piety was, per above, to wash and kiss the feet of a dozen young prisoners, two female, and at least one Muslim.  The ritual of footwashing is told to us in the book of John, historically seen as an act of humility. If in the last hours before his crucifixion Jesus could humble himself to clean the feet of  fishermen and camel herders, what was he telling them? And us?

It says here that Jesus’ message was one of selflessness and love. By his actions, Jesus says to take care of one another. Put the other first. Serve one another, and love one another. In a column last week, Leonard Pitts asks:

We should ask what it tells us that a pope models humility, inclusion, unpretentiousness, concern for the poor and nonjudgmental, small “c” catholic love — and people are surprised. Indeed, it generates headlines around the world.

What it should tell us is that people are not used to seeing those virtues from people of faith. Their praise, then, amounts to a stark indictment.

The political discussion advanced by the insurgent right, fueled by the Gospel according to Rand, the views the poor as so many “takers,” little better than pests seeking SNAP card handouts from the virtuous employed. Such is the drumbeat of right wing rhetoric, where people of “faith” make public statements to keep Muslims away, or pray for the president to die, or be replaced by a military coup. Against the backdrop of a decline of organized religion (with mainstream Protestantism suffering the most attrition) and a Church scandalized by  continued exposure of semi-institutionalized sodomy,  this Pope’s words elevating the rights and dignity of the poor, the humanity of those at the margins, and decrying materialism  resonate so clearly.

Francis recently criticized Catholics narrowly “obsessed” with abortion, contraception, homosexuality. He openly called for the church to be for the poor. He even, horror of horrors, said that God loves atheists too.  What Francis is done is to attempt to shift  the focus of the church from being Vatican-centric to being people-centric.

 This past week, Pope Francis visited Assisi, the birthplace of his namesake.

The pope used the occasion of the Feast Day of St. Francis to retrace the footsteps of a holy man widely respected even among people of other faiths. The pope visited the site — now a shrine — where the saint is said to have heard the voice of Jesus and been converted.

The carefully choreographed pilgrimage was sprinkled with impromptu moments, too, as the pope appealed to the church and to Christians worldwide to divest themselves of worldliness, which leads to “vanity, arrogance and pride,” because “it is bad for us,” he said.

What the Pope says is important because he sets the tone for  the church.  Carefully chosen words are one thing: actions are quite another. Since his election, Francis has initiated a series of measures for reform. These include investigating allegations of mismanagement and corruption, changes in the way the church litigates sexual abuse allegations against priests and other clergy, changes in the Vatican hierarchy, appointing a commission to investigate the Vatican bank, even choosing a Group of Eight Cardinals as his personal think tank. He has said he wants to place the Curia (the administrative arm of the Vatican) in service to the universal church, rather than the locus of centralized power.

 Perhaps it’s best to take this pontiff at face value in his own words. In a story that will be referred to, but rarely read in its original,  Francis gave an interview to the atheist editor of Italian daily La Repubblica.  The pope even called publisher Eugenio Scalfari himself  to schedule the interview. Some highlights:

“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

 “The real trouble is that those most affected by (narcissism) — which is actually a kind of mental disorder — are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists. … Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”
“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: Can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”

“I believe … that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. … I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”

Thoughts on the essence of his belief:

“I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.”

“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. … Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

Not what we are used to from the arch conservatives who have attended to the throne of Peter for the last several decades. This pope’s utterances have been enough to upset doctrinal conservatives and others of a more fundamentalist Christian stripe who are eager to see in Francis’s ascension the “Petrus Romanus” allegedly prophesied by St. Malachy.

Among the contingent that lights their own farts, we have the “Petrus Romanus” cock-and-bull story. In sites like these, where banner ads announce , “Fear No Man- Learn to Fight” targeting their audience of mom’s-house-basement-dwellers, there is this sort of thing, appealing to those whose daily  sustenance requires a steady dose of fear and loathing-

Petrus Romanus rising: Pope Francis at the Vatican to revise the church’s constitution-

Conservatives and traditionalists, however, have reacted with dismay and downright alarm at the direction Francis has taken, particularly in the interview with the Jesuit-run La Civilta Cattolica, in which he bemoaned the church’s obsession with “small-minded rules.”

If these are the people that Francis is upsetting, this gives me all the more reason to approve of what he’s doing.


In an interview conducted by the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal,  Francis doubled down:

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

 None of this goes to change church doctrine or church policy, but it marks a sharp departure in tone. For the first time in many decades, liberal Catholics, long an endangered species in the American Church, found  room for optimism.  Charlie Pierce asked if the runners-up in the Clan of the Red Beanie might not be asking the Holy Spirit for a recount:

Faith without works is dead, and I’m not seeing HMC actually budging on some of these issues very soon. But, still, if you think this isn’t shaking some of those guys all the way down to their red socks, you’re fooling yourself. This guy may turn out to be the biggest curveball since the Blessed John XXIII.

Some will talk about Bertoglio’s possible past collaboration  with the Argentine junta during its era of repression. We’ll leave that discussion for better scholars, and another time.  For this writer, it is enough that this ostensible “authoritarian,”  who has openly called for “a poor church for the poor,” is prepared to meet with Gustavo Gutierrez:

Francis… will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology. The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez. It’s a remarkable about-face for a movement that swelled in popularity but was later stamped out by the conservative pontificates of John Paul II and his longtime doctrinal czar, Benedict XVI.

And on this matter, it is enough for me to give the last word  to Charlie Pierce:


One of the great disservices that JP The Deuce [John Paul II] did to HMC  [Holy Mother Church] was to squash the liberation theologians, some of whom were actually martyred, not that it mattered to the bureaucrats in the Holy Office. If this pope is willing to let them back into the general theological life of the church, that’s nothing but a good thing, if only because it will piss off all the right people.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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