Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Best Quote of the Week – November 22, 2019

“I confess that when I hear some speeches by someone responsible for public order or a government, I am reminded of Hitler’s speeches in 1934 and 1936.  They are typical actions of Nazism which with its persecutions of Jews, gypsies, people of homosexual orientation, represent a negative model ‘par excellence’ of a throwaway culture and a culture of hate.  That’s what they did then and today these things are resurfacing.

Pope Francis, expressing concern about modern language he’s heard targeting Jews and the LGBTQ community.

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The Grandest Trickery

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“Francis – Latin: Franciscus – ‘Free man,’ a man subservient to his government.”

Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule, 1963.

 

After a brief and heavily-publicized tour of the United States, Pope Francis returned to the Vatican last Sunday night. Amidst his hectic schedule, frequent baby-kissing and the usual slew of parades, complete with Miss America-type waves, Francis became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the first to hold mass at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The media and Catholic faithful couldn’t get enough of it. I’d had enough the moment he stepped foot on U.S. soil.

In a way, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was returning home; since he’s the first pope from the Americas and the first outside of Europe. But he’s of Italian extraction, and his hometown of Buenos Aires is more European than Latin American. So, he’s not that different from his predecessors. You know what would be different? If the Church had selected a full-blooded Indian who was raised dirt-poor in the mountains of México; perhaps even a man who had been married to a woman and then widowed or (better yet) divorced; maybe someone with a criminal background, like burglary or auto theft. But that would make him too imperfect. I can’t see someone with that many scars rising to the lead one of the most self-righteous institutions the world has ever seen.

I’m not concerned with perfection. No such quality exists in humans. Most everyone in America, from President Obama down to the latest illegal immigrant across the U.S.-México border, was smitten with Francis. As a recovered Catholic, I could see right through the velvet and silk menagerie of angelic verbiage and outstretched hand. Yes, Francis may sound different; offering juicy tidbits of progressive ideology by saying, for example, it’s improper to judge gays and lesbians and criticizing the growing wealth divide. But he’s still head of one of the most powerful and affluent entities on Earth; an empire with an estimated net fortune up to $750 billion. As a former altar boy at a Dallas Catholic church, I wonder now if any priest or nun thought of molesting me; knowing how shy and obedient I was during my childhood. Francis has convinced many people to return to the Catholic Church. I left the Church years ago for one primary reason: its mistreatment of women. And I’ll stay away. I’ve always had a tendency to hold grudges, but this goes beyond personal feelings.

 

Women’s Work

Of the world’s estimated 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, women comprise more than half, which corresponds to the world’s overall population; that is, women make up more than 50%. Yet, unlike most of the planet, certainly unlike developed nations, the Church is far behind in how it views women and their “place” in society. Women actually make the Church function; they’re the ones who teach the kids, sweep the floors, cook the meals, do the laundry, carry the water and so forth. Meanwhile, their male counterparts (term used loosely) don all those chic designer gowns and issue judgmental pronouncements on human behavior. In medieval times, for example, the Church condemned as heretics any medical practitioner who sought to ease the pains of pregnancy and birth for women. Such agonies, the Church declared, are the price all women must pay for Eve’s trickery in the ethereal “Garden of Eden.” You know the story: the one where the wicked female shoved an apple, or some type of fruit, down Adam’s throat; thus making him and all of humanity a victim of feminine wiles. Even now, the Church refuses to grant the role of priesthood to women. It was hell – almost literally – for them to allow alter girls. But, aside from the convent and church secretaries, there aren’t too many formal positions for women in Roman Catholicism. The Church still won’t even sanction birth control.

 

Native Americans

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwa. It was a unique moment in the Church’s history. Native Americans have a contentious relationship with Roman Catholicism and all of Christianity. That came to the forefront recently when the Church announced that Francis would canonize Spanish missionary Junipero Serra. Canonization is exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church; a lengthy and exhaustive process a deceased individual undergoes before achieving sainthood. Sainthood is that coveted status in the Church where people are proclaimed to be as God-like as humanly possible. Someone has to do a great deal in the name of the Church (and God) just to be considered for canonization. It’s sort of like the U.S. Medal of Honor, except the Church doesn’t acknowledge the recipient may have killed some folks along the way. More importantly, Medal of Honor recipients don’t try to convince people they’re above humanity.

In the 18th century, Serra established one of the first Christian missions in what is now the state of California. I’ve always proudly announced that Spaniards were the first Europeans to colonize the American Southwest; building entire communities. But I’m just as quick to acknowledge the other side of the epic tale: the indigenous peoples of the same region often fell victim to the violence and oppression Europeans brought in their hunger for land and precious metals. When Spain’s Queen Isabella, who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyages and who’s also one of my direct ancestors, learned that her minions were torturing and killing the Indians, she ordered them to stop – which they did. She then ordered them to begin trying to convert the Indians to Christianity – which they did. Then Isabella died, and the slaughter continued. The brutality was almost as bad as that imposed by British and French royalty who had no problems killing those people who either didn’t catch the flu and died or dropped to their knees and started praying to Jesus. In America’s infancy, many White Christians held a concept called “Manifest Destiny.” Some still do.

Francis proclaimed Serra “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and praised his willingness to abandon the comforts of his native Spain to spread Christianity in the Americas. Absent in the virtual deification is the fact that Serra was a tool in a brutal colonial system that killed thousands of Native Americans and subjugated thousands of others who didn’t perish. In August, the California state senate voted to replace a statue of Serra with one of a truly heroic figure: the late astronaut Sally Ride, a California native who was the first American woman in space. You know that had to piss off the Vatican elite. A woman given higher status than a male missionary?! How dare they!

Naturally Francis didn’t address the Native American holocaust; the longest-lasting and most far-reaching genocide in human history. Instead, he said that, when it comes to Christian missionaries, we must “examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and shortcomings.” In other words: we don’t give a shit how you people feel.

 

The Pedophile Scandal

In June of 1985, American Roman Catholic bishops held their annual conference in Colorado. There, they were presented with a report entitled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner.” Labeled “confidential,” the massive document was prepared just as the church was dealing with the case of Gilbert J. Gauthe, a priest in Lafayette, Louisiana who had been convicted of child molestation. While we now know the pedophile priest scandal stretches back for decades, the Gauthe case is where the madness first came to light. Revelations about what the Church knew and when shocked and horrified the Catholic faithful. That the Church tried to cover up the scandal by spiriting its gallery of child rapists from one diocese to another – a sort of ecumenical Witness Protection Program – initially seems unimaginable. But, with its vast financial resources and entrenched role as a global powerhouse, I’m not the least bit surprised. Like any international conglomerate, the Church didn’t want to concede it was wrong; opting instead, to pay out millions to keep the loudmouths quiet.

There’s no amount of money that can make up for the pedophile scourge. The damage has been done. This is not a 1950s-era TV show where mom dents the car, and the kids stumble around trying to keep dad from finding out. Francis grudgingly acknowledged the pedophile conundrum during his visit to the U.S. by meeting privately with a handful of victims and proclaiming that “God weeps” at the sexual abuse of children. I guess God weeps when old fuckers like Francis couch their disdain for talking about it publicly by using such generalized terminology. I say this because Francis also praised American bishops for how they confronted the scandal and told priests he felt their pain. For the record, the Roman Catholic Church never confronted this scandal, until U.S. law enforcement got involved. And the priests certainly aren’t the ones who endured any pain – unless it was pain from handcuffs that were too tight or soreness from sitting in a chair for hours, while giving a deposition. But I don’t feel that qualifies.

In the myriad dreams my writer’s psyche produces, the disintegration of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the grandest. But it’s still a dream. We’re talking about an institution nearly two millennia years of age. It’s the foundation of all Christianity – something evangelicals are loathe to admit. It’s not going away anytime soon, unless a comet strikes the Earth or every super volcano on the planet erupts simultaneously. With his soft voice and impish smile, Francis may have convinced a number of people he’s a pope unlike any other; a man wanting to bring the Church into the modern age. After all, he has a Twitter account!

Social media savvy or not, I see the same ruse. I see the same hypocrisy. I see the same figurehead. I see the same wicked entity. It just won’t change for the better. It can’t. It’s deceived too many souls.

 

Image courtesy J. Belmont.

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Food for the Soul

Paraguayan artist Koki Ruiz poses for a picture in front of an altar he built using corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12.

Paraguayan artist Koki Ruiz poses for a picture in front of an altar he built using corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12.

As Pope Francis returns to his native South America for the first time since becoming head of the Roman Catholic Church, Paraguayan artist Koki Ruiz is ready with an edible altar. Composed primarily of thousands of ears of corn and pumpkins, Ruiz’s giant art piece conveys the mixed Indian and Spanish heritage of Latin America. It’s no accident he chose corn and pumpkins: both are indigenous to the Americas. Probably originating from an archaic plant called teosinte, corn was first cultivated in what is now central México as far back as 5,600 years ago. It migrated into North America around A.D. 200 and remains a staple of the Indian people’s diet. Seeds related to pumpkins found in México have been dated to 7000 B.C.

Ruiz’s altar is 131 feet (40 meters) wide and 45 feet (14 meters) high. I don’t know if its presence had an impact on Francis. After arriving in nearby Bolivia last week, the Pontiff did something no other pope – or any well-known Christian leader – has done. He acknowledged the Church’s role in both decimating the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and subjugating the survivors.

“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” he said.

I don’t anticipate we’ll hear anything similar from the Church of England or U.S. evangelical Christian leaders in our lifetime. Those clowns never want to admit they’ve done something bad, especially if no White people got hurt. But it’s a nice gesture on Francis’ part.

Corn and pumpkins survived the European conquest of the Americas and – despite what U.S. history school books say – so did the native peoples. On that note, let’s eat!

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Detail of an altar, made of corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12 during his visit to Paraguay, in Asuncion

Detail of an altar, made of corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass during his visit to Paraguay, in Asuncion

Workers put the finishing touches to an altar, made of corn and pumpkins, where Pope Francis will give the main mass on July 12 during his visit to Paraguay, in Asuncion

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Best Quote of the Week

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“How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation?  Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit.  That goes against God!”

– Pope Francis, about the fire and collapse of a garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people on April 24.  The calamity already ranks as the worst industrial accident in history.

Laws were enacted over a century ago here in the U.S. and other developed nations to prevent such work-place disasters.  Corporations screamed and hollered that regulations would impact their profits, which in their pathetic little minds, is so much more important.  I guess that’s why such companies as Wal-Mart and the Gap Corporation keep shipping jobs over there.

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Francis Is in the House

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Now that the Roman Catholic Church has crowned Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as their new leader, followers from across the globe hope he can usher in significant and much-needed changes in an institution that has become as corrupt as it is antiquitous.  Bergoglio has taken the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a medieval cleric known for his work with the poor.  He’s also considered the Catholic patron saint of animals, which probably endears him to a greater number of people.  St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order in the early 13th century; a mission dedicated to helping the impoverished.  It’s obvious economic disparities have existed throughout humanity.  So, either the world’s political structures haven’t functioned properly for thousands of years, or religious entities aren’t doing something right.  If you realize the massive wealth the Roman Catholic Church possesses – how else can you explain their ability to pay out millions in sex abuse settlements? – then it may be a mixture of both.

Many Roman Catholics are excited about Frances, especially here in the Western Hemisphere.  But, while some people see change on the horizon, I see just another geriatric virgin (or maybe not) swaddled in silk and velvet; ensconced in a cloistered society, far removed from the real world in which most Catholics (and people of other faiths) reside.

Francis is the first pope outside of Europe.  He’s also considered the first Hispanic pope, since he’s from Argentina.  But, he’s an Argentinian of Italian ancestry.  Thus, in effect, the Church has just put another Italian in the pontiff’s chair; not much different than before Pope John Paul II.  Francis is 76, only two years younger than Pope Benedict XVI was when he ascended to the papacy in 2005.

Allegedly, as votes were being counted last week during the papal conclave, Bergoglio told a fellow cardinal, “Remember the poor.”  This is an interesting proclamation, noting that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest institutions on Earth.  No one can put an exact figure on it, primarily because the Church isn’t beholden to tax burdens.  But, it’s estimated net wealth is between $400 billion and $750 billion.  This includes its vast collection of artwork and other treasures (often made of gold or silver) that sit in its tightly-guarded environs.  It costs a great deal of money to maintain the buildings that comprise Vatican City alone, as well as the heavily-armed security guards that surround the pope.

With such massive wealth comes power.  The Roman Catholic Church ruled much of Europe for centuries; often dictating who would be crowned king or queen.  But, the advent of political democracy – first here in the U.S. and then in Europe – weakened much of that authority.  In modern times, the Church has often confronted military and political dictatorships.  That’s what makes the selection of Francis a rather curious development.  He was around during Argentina’s notorious “dirty war,” when thousands of people either were killed by the country’s military dictatorship, or mysteriously disappeared.  Criticism about his activities in those years ambushed him almost as soon as he greeted the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.  I suspect it’s something that will haunt him for the rest of his life.  Yet, when Francis spoke openly about the poor, I was reminded of Oscar Romero, the late Archbishop of El Salvador, who once said, “When I feed the poor, you call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, you call me a communist.”  For his outspoken views, Romero was assassinated while conducting Easter mass in 1980.

I left the Roman Catholic Church years ago, mainly because of its disrespectful attitude towards women who make up more than half of its 1.2 billion adherents.  After two millennia of existence, why hasn’t the Church agreed to let women into the priesthood?  It’s clearly a patriarchal entity.  But, ignoring more than half the human population is an abomination.  It’s also just plain rude.  I mean, women can do more than have kids, mop floors and cook meals for the menfolk.  Any single mom will tell you that!  Besides, women would look better in those flowing velvet gowns.

The pedophile priest scandal that has swept across the U.S. these past several years only solidified, in my mind, ineptness and utter irrelevance of the Catholic Church.  I know the great majority of priests would never harm a child.  But, I just never could understand why the Church shuffled the perverted ones from one diocese to another.  I suspect it was a matter of self- preservation – one that backfired.

There is no other institution on Earth quite like the Roman Catholic Church.  Lutherans and Methodists, for example, don’t have a supreme leader in quite the same mold.  The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches come close.  Baptists and Pentecostals here in the U.S. certainly have no central commander, which may explain why they hate Catholics so much are always pissed off.  Neither Judaism (Christianity’s cantankerous mother) nor Islam (its ugly offspring) have leaders similar to the pope.

Some observers hope that Francis will be a reformer along the same lines as Pope John XXIII who convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962 to update Church doctrines in accordance with various scientific discoveries and advancements.  But, Francis has already shown displeasure with contemporary issues, such as birth control and homosexuality, which is to be expected.  So, unless Francis accepts that some people use birth control, while others are queer, how is he going to be a reformer?

It would have been great if the Church had elected a truly unconventional and imperfect figure to the papacy; say, a 50-something man who perhaps had been married, maybe even has a juvenile criminal record, prefers vodka to wine, loves ultimate fighting and likes to tell bathroom jokes.  Somebody who – albeit multi-lingual and well-versed in religious scholarship – could still identify more clearly with the average person.  How could anyone who has spent most of their years enmeshed in prayer and meditation understand the complexities of daily life?

I don’t know what the future of the Roman Catholic Church holds under Francis’ leadership and I almost don’t care.  I know that too many people adhere to every word that spills from the gilded lips of the Church’s hierarchy, which of course, is their right.  But, it’s also their greatest fault.  I would only visit Vatican City for one reason: to check out the artwork.  Art serves a purpose; blind faith does not.

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