Belmont Club

Francis

The verdict on Pope Francis I is already in. A left-wing posting site  notes in horror that a “priest on CBC says anti-gay pope who hid political prisoners on an island from human rights groups is ‘with the times,'”  that is to say Francis can’t be with the times. Another poster says, “worrying questions raised over Pope Francis and hiding of political prisoners from human rights commission,”  another way of saying  that Bergoglio was not on the “correct” side of the Argentinian civil war. The Guardian’s Hugh O’Shaughnessy puts the case more clearly and says that Francis now has a chance to make up for his “sins” in that conflict.

What one did not hear from any senior member of the Argentine hierarchy was any expression of regret for the church’s collaboration and in these crimes. The extent of the church’s complicity in the dark deeds was excellently set out by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina’s most notable journalists, in his book El Silencio (Silence). He recounts how the Argentine navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship’s political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate. The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio’s name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to chose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment

One would have thought that the Argentine bishops would have seized the opportunity to call for pardon for themselves and put on sackcloth and ashes as the sentences were announced in Córdoba but that has not so far happened.

But that is to shade the truth. As a Wikileaks State Department cable points out, the Argentinian Roman Catholic clergy was divided also; they were chaplains to both sides in the de facto civil war.  And both sides committed atrocities. If apologies are in order, they are probably in order all around. Nevertheless  Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, was, according to the State Department cable, a political opponent of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.

(SBU) Von Wernich’s conviction and sentencing are a significant milestone in Argentina’s ongoing efforts to seek justice in the cases of major human rights violations from the 1970s. They also draw attention to the support given by Roman Catholic clergy to both sides in the Dirty War. Many on the political left allege the Church was complicit with atrocities committed by the state and believe the Church has failed to account or atone for its actions. As noted above, the Church has not yet disciplined nor defrocked Von Wernich but has sought to distance itself from the unauthorized, maverick operations of rogue priests. Nonetheless, at a time when some observers consider Roman Catholic primate Cardinal Bergoglio to be a leader of the opposition to the Kirchner administration because of his comments about social issues, the Von Wernich case could also have the effect, some believe, of undermining the Church’s (and, by extension, Cardinal Bergoglio’s) moral authority or capacity to comment on political, social or economic questions.

So in terms of the current context of Latin American politics, Bergoglio stands in a position analogous to that of John Paul II  in relationship to the politics of Eastern Europe.

He is in de facto opposition to the Left; on the wrong theological side, as far as the Guardian is concerned, of the “religious” — if that word can be used in an atheist context — debate.  In other words, he’s not a big fan of Chavez, Castro, or Kirchner.

The political divisions of the world — left wing vs right wing, sexual politics, abortions, etc — are all reflected by factions with the Roman Church and it is inevitable that the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics should be caught in the middle of things. What has shocked the Guardian is why  Francis — and not some left wing cardinal — is the new pontiff of the Roman Church.

In the Leftist narrative, Marxism and atheism, with their fellow-traveler belief systems like sexual politics and nature worship, are always the coming thing.  They are what the Church must become. Why then did the Roman Church — forever dying but never dead and increasingly Third World in character — not elect some gay-marriage friendly, left-wing, liberation-theology clergyman? God knows there are enough such candidates around.

It is because, as Walter Russell Mead points out, the liberation theologians and their adherents have weeded themselves out of the church. They have basically left the institution. What remains are those who are willing to sign up to the doctrine as it stands. The stats show that “liberation theology” is really the belief system of Catholic oldsters. The young Catholics are increasingly conservative; that is “traditional.”

As other blogs have noticed, support for female priests is at 72 percent among Catholics aged 45-64, but at 68 percent among those 18-44. Only 11 percent of older respondents oppose birth control, but that number ticks up to 15 percent among the young. Support for eliminating the requirement for priestly celibacy falls by a whopping 15 percent from the older to the younger generation. …

The reason younger respondents are more conservative than the Boomers is likely because the rise of the non-affiliated “nones” has picked off the more “liberal” Catholics among Gen Y. Boomers unhappy with the Church’s teachings often remain in the Church, but in the next generation those with more liberal instincts tend to leave the faith altogether.

In the coming decades, then, we’re likely to see a smaller, but more fervent Catholic Church. The “cultural Catholic” will increasingly become an endangered species. However, that smaller church will probably grow: Religious people have more kids, and people are drawn to communities that have strong beliefs.

The young are looking for a challenging faith, the faith of their fathers. They are not looking for a career in academia or social work.

Thus, Francis I is not only the first Latin American pope, he is also the first pope to mirror the new post-post-Vatican II demographic: the electoral product of a more concentrated, religious, and conservative Church.

These are the realities but the left wing is in shock. The Independent writes: “the quick election [which requires a 2/3 vote of the qualified cardinals] was a surprise given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation.”

It was a surprise, but only to them. Since John Paul II and continuing through Benedict to Francis, the Left in the Church has been in slow retreat.

Given the fact that there is no campaign season to speak of, the rapid election of Francis means that the cardinals came to the conclave with their minds made up. They knew they wanted a man like Bergoglio to fill the Shoes of the Fisherman even before the conclave. Francis is not an aberration; he represents the direction that the church is trending.

So what is Francis likely to do? The short answer is nothing. The papacy’s role is to do nothing that will upset tradition. The pope is the steward who serves as a placeholder until the Return of the King.

Anything else is destabilizing. The Roman Catholic Church, despite its outward solidity, is on closer inspection an extraordinary patchwork of orders, missions, cabals, factions, and political movements. It encompasses monks, media men, intellectuals, rascals, idiots, and plain ordinary folk. In its duration, cosmopolitan span, and membership across social classes it is probably the most diverse organization in human history.

All that holds it together is memory and tradition: the White Tree in the courtyard — or in the Church’s case, the crucifix behind the altar. Catholics derive an enormous sense of security from the seemingly unchanging nature of the Church.  They want to wake up to the same old things. Thus the liturgy, doctrine, the usages, and even the vestments of the church literally date back in cases to Rome. Nothing could be worse for the Church than a “mod” pope trying to mingle with Beyonce or Lady Gaga.

Francis was a known quantity. At 76 years of age, his views, demeanor, and pattern of behavior are pretty much set in stone. Not that there isn’t much to admire in that. He’s a Jesuit and a veteran of the Latin American liberation theology wars, which gives him a background similar to, but greater in scope than, that played by clerics during the anti-Marcos era. In Latin America, unlike in the Philippines, the internal war never stopped. So he will know as much about secret meetings and daggers in the night as the finer points of theology. He will know all about the literal choices between faith and death. In that, he will be similar to Pope John Paul II as well.

How will he do? Only time will tell. The Church has lasted nearly 2,000 years and outlived Rome itself. It saw Byzantium fall. It was there before Islam. It is there still. The early popes died like criminals or were hunted like fugitives. The later popes were incredibly corrupt, venal, and vicious. And yet the institution itself survived it all: the Borgias, the Enlightmentment,  Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin. All came and went.

The secret of that durability is that popes in fact count for nothing. They are there to keep things in expectation; to preside from one age to the next in a seemingly fossilized condition. The bargain was with another long ago. “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

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