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Santorum – the Catholic Theocrat

Ever since Rick Santorum surged ahead in recent GOP primaries, pundits and journalists have been quick to point out how Santorum isn’t a “real” Catholic in the mold of former American Catholic leaders. This opinion has intensified after Santorum’s attacks on President John F. Kennedy. Santorum, however, is advocating theocracy and that is very much in the Roman Catholic political tradition if one looks at the last 1600 years of Church history.

Yes, American bishops in the past have defended the separation of church and state because they were appointed nominally by Roman pontiffs largely unconcerned with a predominantly Protestant United States. The Curia relied on the recommendations of other Americans, or a candidate’s ability to raise money, rather than any interest they held in U.S. political affairs. Post World War II, the Church and U.S. intelligence united against the “Red” threat. That changed somewhat from 1958 to 1978 when Popes John XXIII and Paul VI sought an accommodation with the USSR and tried to reform the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council. Both appointed the type of American bishop who would champion civil rights and world peace, but politically progressive prelates are not the historical norm.

Since becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the Vatican – a hill in Rome given to the Church by the Emperor Constantine and location of its headquarters ever since – has been an institution with a supreme interest in temporal affairs of state. Privileges, money, land and royal titles were given to prelates by Roman emperors and subsequent monarchs through the Dark and Middle Ages. In promulgating the “divine right of kings,” prelates exhorted, threatened damnation, propagandized and murdered when necessary to deliver an obedient and docile populace to their protectors and benefactors. Even after the Protestant Reformation, the remaining Catholic ancien régimes were solid unions of church and state. Both prelates and royalty did everything in their power to thwart the democratization of Europe. The Roman Church’s temporal power was only lost along with the Papal States in the reunification of Italy. 

The Lateran Treaty signed with Benito Mussolini in 1929 provided Pope Pius XI with over $1 billion in today’s dollars in reparations for the loss of the Papal States. He wisely chose financial genius Bernardino Nogara to invest his money without regard for the morality or ethics of his investments. 

“Within a few years, the Vatican was one of the strongest participants in the world-wide financial network which gave the Holy See enormous leverage during the 1930’s depression. The pope now had international clout. Any threat to withdraw Vatican investments would have serious consequences. When Mussolini needed arms to invade Ethiopia in 1935, Vatican-owned munitions plants supplied the dictator. Other fascist governments were aided in return for non-interference in the Vatican’s business interests. As would remain true for the next fifty years, often times the quid quo pro for Vatican funds was the bloody suppression of communist movements.”[i] 

The Roman Catholic Church was now a full-fledged member of the international plutocracy, or what Charles Higham, author of Trading with the Enemy, dubbed The Fraternity – those “business leaders entangled with the others through interlocking directorates or financial sources.” They not only sought a continuing alliance of interests for the duration of World War II but would place The Fraternity in postwar possession of financial, industrial and political autonomy.[ii] 

There is never too much money or power for The Fraternity, so in the late 1960s and early 1970s American neoconservatives planned for the take-over of the U.S. government and the subsequent transfer of wealth from the working and middle classes to their own pockets. The “Religious Right” is their artificial creation to accomplish the same results as the alliance of church and state during the ancien régimes, i.e. religious leaders would produce compliant and submissive voters easily controlled by the corporatists and the corporatists would provide religious leaders with prestige, deference, and money. 

Napoleon Bonaparte already had this figured out. Before signing a concordat with the pope in 1801 restoring some of the Church’s rights lost in the French Revolution, he wrote of the First Estate: “What is it that makes the poor man take it for granted that ten chimneys smoke in my palace while he dies of cold, that I have ten changes of raiment in my wardrobe while he is naked, that on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have.”[iii] 

For the neocons, who better than elite Catholics already tied into global corporate and religious networks and the Roman Catholic Church with a millennium of experience in mutually beneficial church/state coalitions to bring this about? 

William Simon, Nixon’s secretary of the treasury and a Knight of Malta, an international fraternity of very rich and reactionary Catholics, invented the neocon foundation as a clearing house for corporate donations to be bundled with others creating sums large enough to make a difference. Paul Weyrich was the logistical genius behind creation of the Religious Right, hiring Jerry Falwell and choosing the name, the Moral Majority, for his first such organization. Weyrich also engineered the success of the right-wing media echo chamber and founded ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, among many other organizations. Michael Novak and George Weigel were the “intellects” who justified avarice, war, torture, and impoverishing America as a higher moral order. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran minister, was charged with uniting formerly bitter enemies (fundamentalist Catholics and Evangelicals) into a single voting bloc.  

The first neocon president and pontiff, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, became collaborators towards the downfall of the USSR, the bloody suppression of freedom movements in Latin America and the creation of a corporatist U.S. government. Wojtyla did his part by appointing American bishops no longer interested in banning the bomb but rather focused on electing Republicans. He also handed control of the Vatican over to Opus Dei, a clandestine group of plutocrats who had already gained control of the Spanish government and were expanding to other parts of the world.[iv]

Many have also incorrectly suggested that because Santorum is Catholic and has links to Opus Dei that he has the backing of the Catholic Church. But as in Reagan and both Bush presidents, as well as the U.S. episcopate’s vicious assault against the Catholic John Kerry in 2004, it makes no difference if an American politician is or is not Catholic or even a member of Opus Dei in order to get the backing of the Catholic Church.  As we have seen by the sex-abuse scandals, the pre-eminent concern of Church hierarchs is the retention and growth of their own influence and money. Therefore, they will support any pro-business candidate willing to partner with them who they think is electable.

If none of the GOP candidates are electable, that does not necessarily translate into a damaging loss of prestige for the Vatican. Unlike his predecessor’s reliance on American hegemony, Joseph Ratzinger has strengthened his independence from the U.S. with a more Euro-centric power base and has opened new diplomatic channels.

Forbes Magazine (“Information for the World’s Business Leaders”) named Pope Benedict XVI fifth on their 2010 list of the World’s Most Powerful People, slipping to number seven in 2011(the Koch brothers were numbers 54 and 55), an acknowledgement not only of his political muscle but also the inestimable wealth controlled by the Catholic Church around the world, most of it hidden from public scrutiny and both tax-free and providing tax deductions to its donors. One of the Vatican’s financial advisers is Master of the Universe Peter Sutherland, former chairman of BP Oil, chairman of Goldman Sachs International and the Trilateral Commission, a member of the Bilderberg Group’s steering committee, vice chairman of the European Round Table of Industrialists and adviser to at least one of Opus Dei’s business management “feeder” schools.[v]  

Both Putin and Medvedev have met with Ratzinger and he has strengthened ties with Russian and Greek Orthodox leaders to re-Christianize Europe. 

As reported by the Italian newspaper La Stampa in the English edition of its “Vatican Insider” supplement, British Prime Minister David Cameron recently sent a delegation to discuss with Vatican officials “the risk of nuclear weapons development in Iran, the Israeli threat of military action against Iran, the escalating violence in Syria, the tensions in the Sudan, next week’s London conference on Somalia, and the urgent need to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” Spain’s last election was won by the conservative party with backing from the Catholic Church and Catholic support is reported to be strong enough to influence the upcoming French election. Bishops still show political savvy and willingness to sway elections and government policy in Eastern Europe, Croatia and Latin America. The Vatican has dropped its objection to communism enough to hold high-level talks with Hanoi, Havana and Beijing. 

Mario Monti, within days of being asked to form a new Italian government, was on the tarmac to extend his good wishes to Pope Benedict beginning his second trip to Africa to bolster the Church’s authority in that oil-rich continent. After their embarrassing support for Silvio Berlusconi, Monti is more than agreeable to the Vatican and the premier and pope have had several subsequent meetings. 

In other words, the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to lose the next U.S. presidential election but will continue trying to influence the electorate in support of other Republican candidates until 2016. 

(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))


[i] Peter J. Wosh review of John E. Pollard, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican 1850-1950  (Cambridge University Press, 2005) http://www.hbs.edu/bhr/archives/bookreviews/79/pwosh2.pdf 

[ii] Charles Higham, Trading with the Enemy (Delacorte Press, 1983) p. xiv

[iii] Alec R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution (Penguin Books Ltd, 1961) p. 19 

[iv] Robert Hutchison, Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei (Thomas Dunne Books, 1997, 2006)

 

6 Responses

  1. Nice to see you back Betty. Hard hitting piece.

    I despair that enough Catholics will ever understand just how wealthy the Vatican actually is and how ruthless it can be in protecting and garnering assets. Governments and business leaders don’t suck up to the Vatican for holiness points. The Vatican is a real major player. Thanks for all your efforts in helping to expose some of this.

    • Thanks. You say it better than I do!!

  2. Betty, any essay or book of yours that I read, bells go off one after another in my head. I suddenly realize that this is why they do A, and why A connects to B.

    Thank you for sharing your wealth of such important information that I had never learned until I read what you write.

    This is especially illuminating for me: “William Simon, Nixon’s secretary of the treasury and a Knight of Malta, an international fraternity of very rich and reactionary Catholics, invented the neocon foundation as a clearing house for corporate donations to be bundled with others creating sums large enough to make a difference.”

    And so now I understand some things I’ve sort of seen, but which haven’t been crystal clear. For instance, I understand why the Institute for Religion and Democracy, which was founded with the sole purpose of tearing up mainline Protestant churches with progressive social teaching, was founded and run primarily by neocon Catholics.

    They’re applying what they’ve learned about creating those neocon foundations to channel corporate money (and attack progressive ideas in churches).

    I also understand why George Weigel, who has never been anything in his entire career as a theologian except a hired neocon hack–who never writes anything of any theological importance but writes only what his neocon handlers tell him to write–has had such entree. And why the media listen to him, when he has absolutely nothing to say.

    And I understand why it is we now have a majority of right-wing Catholics on the Supreme Court, and who worked to put them there–who bought those seats.

    After reading you, I understand better how planned all this is, and why they’ve been planning it and executing it for some years now. Thank you for making these bells go off for me.

    • Thanks, you are very kind. Even if only one person at a time understands the dynamics and sources of the “Religious Right,” bit by bit others will too until, hopefully, their power to elect Republicans will be diminished.

  3. Betty is Paul Ryan a member of Opus Dei?

    • I don’t know. Does it matter? He is fighting for the protection and
      advancement of the wealth of the 1% i.e. he has the same goal.

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