Friday, 15 March 2013

How much influence, really, does the Pope have?

Last Tuesday, I received an email from a friend in the US: "Why are the BBC spending so much time on the new Pope business?"

Well, the very next day, the new Pope had a name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to be known henceforth (in English at least) as Pope Francis.

And since his new job involves leading the largest Christian community in the world, and offering guidance on issues such as same sex marriage, abortion, contraception and priestly celibacy, you could argue that the Pope, whoever he is, is one of the most influential leaders on earth.

But here comes the but. How many of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics actually follow their church's teaching on matters such as contraception and abortion? How many actually believe its teaching on transubstantiation, that during Holy Communion the bread and wine offered to the congregation are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Christ?

I can't help wondering if the Pope is, in fact, rather less influential in terms of people's everyday behaviour than is often assumed. On the other hand, if he were to pop up on Sunday morning and say he's changed his mind about same sex marriage (he is vehemently opposed, you won't be surprised to learn) -- and that as a result, the teaching of the Catholic church will also change -- well, that would make a real difference to many people's lives.

Ditto if he were to change the Catholic church's teaching on abortion, or priestly celibacy. In fact, though, there seems to be little to no chance of any of that happening.

So yet another conservative Cardinal with traditional views has been elected Pope? Maybe -- but after all, what kind of institution would deliberately elect a leader who was pledged to tear up the rule book? So I don't find any of this surprising.

What is interesting, I think, are the indications of a more modest Papacy than we're used to, in the hands of a man who has little taste for the trappings of religious leadership and who prefers to stay close to the people he believes he has been elected to serve. Modesty and compassion don't necessarily mean he's a liberal, of course -- look at Mother Teresa of Calcutta, not short of compassion, certainly, but no one would ever have called her a liberal.

And as for all the hullabaloo about the new pontiff being the first non-European pope since the year dot, well, sorry, but that doesn't impress me at all. For one thing, his parents were both Italian immigrants, which makes him non-European only in the sense that he wasn't born and brought up in Europe. (I've always thought of Argentina anyway as a country largely inhabited by Italians who think they are Spanish.)

And for another thing, if you go back a mere 1,200 years, you come across Popes like Sisinnius, Constantine and Gregory III, all of whom hailed from what is now Syria, and were, therefore, far less European than their successor Pope Francis. Where he comes from, on the other hand, is the continent where more Catholics live than anywhere else, so he does have some claim to represent a break with the church's Euro-centric past. 

But what are we to make of suggestions that the new Pope has a murky past when it comes to his record during the grim days of Argentina's military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983? He was leader of the country's Jesuits at the time, and some critics claim he did nothing to halt the brutal treatment of the junta's opponents, including Catholic priests.

He denies it, and the facts seem less than clear. What is clear is that he was not among the loudest voices condemning the dictatorship, even if last year, under his leadership,
Argentina’s bishops did issue a collective apology for the church’s failure to protect its followers.

So: a conservative with simple tastes who cares about the poor. And a man with a nice dry sense of humour who owes little to the Vatican barons who have run the place so disastrously for so many years.

My guess? He'll do away with some of the pomp (not all of it, though, he's still the Pope, after all), but he won't budge on doctrine. The big question is how much notice people will take of what he says.


Gaye Berry said...

Here is the coincidence: major trial opened up in Buenos Aires on March 5, 2013 a week prior to Cardinal Bergoglio’s investiture as Pontiff. The ongoing trial in Buenos Aires is: “to consider the totality of crimes carried out under Operation Condor - coordinated by various US-backed Latin American dictatorships to hunt down, torture and murder tens of thousands of opponents of those regimes.”
Junta led by General Jorge Videla was responsible for countless assassinations, including priests and nuns who opposed military rule following the CIA sponsored March 24, 1976 coup which overthrew the government of Isabel Peron.
One key junta appointment junta was the Minister of Economy, Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, a member of Argentina’s business establishment & close friend of David Rockefeller - copy of that imposed in October 1973 in Chile by Pinochet, following assassination of president Salvador Allende.
Under Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, CB bank monetary policy was largely determined by Wall Street and the IMF. The currency market was manipulated. The Peso was deliberately overvalued = insurmountable external debt.
Wall Street was firmly behind the military Junta which waged “The Dirty War”. It is true Catholic Church played a central role in sustaining the legitimacy of the military Junta. The Order of Jesus – closely associated with Argentina’s economic elites– was firmly behind the military Junta, against so-called “Leftists” in the Peronista movement.
Allegations directed Against Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio:
In 2005, human rights lawyer Myriam Bregman filed a criminal suit against Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, accusing him of conspiring with the military junta in the 1976 kidnapping of two Jesuit priests. Several years later, the survivors of the “Dirty War” openly accused Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of complicity in the kidnapping of priests Francisco Jalics y Orlando Yorio as well six members of their parish.
While the two priests Francisco Jalics y Orlando Yorio, kidnapped by the death squads in May 1976 were released five months later. after having been tortured, six other people associated with their parish kidnapped as part of the same operation were “disappeared”.
During trial, 2005: Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive. While Bergoglio was an important figure in the Catholic Church, he was certainly not alone in supporting the Military Junta.
Bergoglio’s own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing/ killing its citizens. In endorsing the military Junta, the Catholic hierarchy was complicit in torture and mass killings, an estimated 22,000 dead and disappeared, from 1976 to 1978 … Thousands of additional victims were killed between 1978 and 1983 when the military was forced from power.
The Vatican under Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II also played a central in supporting the Argentinian military Junta.
Election of Cardinal Bergoglio by the Vatican conclave to serve as Pope Francis I will have immediate repercussions regarding the ongoing “Operation Condor” Trial in Buenos Aires.
In Latin America, where a number of governments are now challenging US hegemony, one would expect –given Bergoglio’s track record– that the new Pontiff Francis I as leader of the Catholic Church, will play de facto, a discrete “undercover” political role on behalf of Washington.
Similarly, the CIA has a longstanding covert relationship with the Vatican.

Political Refugee from the Global Village said...

The Pope is a Catholic and so will the next one be, and the one after and....

My take:

quietoaktree said...

I believe some may be missing the possible significance of the recent couple of sentences uttered by Pope Francis.

Argentina is only a small part of the whole picture in South America and Middle America( and beyond)

This is the battle ground--


--and its flag has been waved by many Jesuits, priests and nuns.

Americas attempt to ´rot out´any form of Socialism and Communism in Middle and South America brought much ´Church´support-- not wishing to diminish its wealth and power-- at the forefront however was Pope Paul and the then Ratzinger --his loyal helper.-- The hatred of any form of Communism by Pope Paul,was easily transferred from events in his native Poland to the Americas.

The Jesuits especially were a ´thorn in his side´--and were often ´called to heel´

" liberation theology argues that God identifies with the oppressed, and that Christianity should take upon itself the lens of the poor. Both theologies are also often derided as "Marxist" by conservatives

But Francis has opposed liberation theology in Argentina. According to the National Catholic Reporter, this seems to have to do more with keeping Jesuits from becoming politically active or working directly in community groups"

One tortured priest now in Germany, has said they both have kissed and have a good relationship.

Let him have his first 100 days --his ´one-liners´have been bomb shells up to now -- for Liberation Theology, its opponents and those ´nuisances´--the Jesuits.

quietoaktree said...

This is the beginning--

´New Pope seeks to heal divisions in Latin America´

quieoaktree said...

A long and interesting article from ´Spiegel´-- an addition to #1 by GB