(As posted on Daily Kos)
The secular plutocracy has already jettisoned the U.S. Catholic episcopate as unwanted baggage. Post-election, no national Republican leader has mentioned birth control, “religious freedom,” abortion or same-sex marriage – not House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Feb. 5 speech “to show that Republicans want to improve life for everyday Americans,” not Marco Rubio nor Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal when he addressed the Republican National Committee a couple of weeks ago. Jindal, in fact, rejected the Louisiana bishops’ request to halt the scheduled Ash Wednesday execution of a convicted murderer. (The execution has since been delayed due to other legal technicalities.)
Any broad-based influence or political capital the American Catholic bishops may have had in the past has been erased by their justifiably-earned reputation as criminal conspirators in the sexual torture of tens of thousands of children in this country.
As go the bishops, so goes the Religious Right. If you doubt that the Catholic Church has been directing the quest for “Christian nationalism,” then think how many times you’ve heard non-Catholic clergy mention contraception before the 2012 Election Year.
Evangelical pastors are independent; they have no central authority. Without the Catholic Church’s well-run, well-heeled massive organization, getting those pastors to come together for political common cause in the future will be, as the old saying goes, like trying to herd cats.
Without political clout, the Religious Right’s secular big donor base will find more reliable organizations – think tanks, “dark money” PACs, conservative activists – in which to place their money.
Catholic bishops are bound to grow more irritable as their influence and funds continue to shrink.
It’s not just Republicans distancing themselves from a Church infamous for its systemic torture of hundreds of thousands of children around the world. The Vatican prides itself as being the “UN of Trastevere” (from the Latin trans Tiberim meaning “beyond the Tiber”) so the following are painful diplomatic snubs:
Hillary Clinton is the first secretary of state since the beginning of the Nixon administration who has not visited a pope. Neither has Pres. Obama appointed a new ambassador to the Holy See, a position vacant since Nov. 10, 2012.
Throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth II has always met with whoever is pope when she is in Rome. But no meeting is planned for her March 6-7 trip.
Similarly, no courtesy call to the pope was scheduled for Irish Pres. Michael D. Higgins during his official visit to Rome Feb. 7-9.
The Church is losing influence in other countries in addition to traditionally-Catholic Ireland which is considering legalizing abortion. Equally Catholic, the Philippines recently enacted a Reproductive Health bill bitterly opposed by the Church. The British House of Commons passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage as did the French after a very expensive and extensive campaign waged by the bishops.
The Australian government’s Special Commission of Inquiry into child sex abuse, prompted by the same sickening reports of widespread clerical crimes and episcopal cover-ups, begins its public hearings on Wednesday. Last week, the Irish government released its report made at the request of the UN Committee Against Torture on the abuse suffered by 30,000 women and girls in the infamous Magdalene Laundries. Even in über-Catholic Poland, the first exposé of bishops’ maltreatment of pedophilia victims has just been published.
Internationally, prelates appear clueless on how to stop their churches from emptying.
All this only energizes Opus Dei members who, like all religious fundamentalists, think they alone have the right answers. I have been remiss in not noticing this. To me, Opus Dei’s misogynist, homophobic and free market agenda had already been adopted by the hierarchy so I saw no disunity at least in regard to core values. But there were signals that Opusians were seeking dominance.
Their most obvious show of power in this country was when Opus Dei Archbishop Gomez declared on Jan. 31 that his predecessor, Cardinal Mahony, would “no longer have any administrative or public duties” in the Los Angeles archdiocese. It is unheard of that a lower ranking prelate would rebuke a cardinal, an action reserved only to a pope and made by Gomez without Benedict’s approval. On Feb. 4, Gomez’s mentor, Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput, not only jumped the gun on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s president, New York Cardinal Dolan, by rejecting the HHS contraceptive insurance coverage revision before the official USCCB response, but his statement was also viewed as a “direct, even snarky, challenge to the leadership of Cardinal Dolan.”
Perhaps both archbishops blatantly and without precedent broke rank because they knew that Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation was imminent? With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems clearer that Opus Dei was waiting to secure its position before the pope stepped down, possibly at the “suggestion” of the papal personal secretary and Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Gänswein, formerly a professor at Opus Dei’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.
The opportunity for an Opus Dei power-grab presented itself with the Vatileaks scandal when thousands of Vatican documents were given to the press, documents to which only members of the curia had access. During the first half of 2012, one disclosure after another of financial corruption, indifference to the sex abuse of children, petty infighting, backbiting and power-plays were published for the whole word to see. Benedict was stunned by the lack of loyalty from within. It seems natural now the pope would turn to members of a secret society to keep his official secrets.
Vatican expert, Sandro Magister, reported in June 2012 that “in just a few weeks there has been an increase in the curia of the visible role of Opus Dei.” Benedict put Cardinal Julian Herranz in charge of a commission to uncover the sources of the leaks, an indication that not even the pope believed his butler was working alone. American Fox News reporter and numerary – meaning he has taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – Greg Burke, was hired for the media “crisis unit” and to shape communication strategy. A Secretariat of State official and another member of Opus Dei, Msgr. Peter Brian Wells, handled the legal case against the butler, Paolo Gabriele, and his “accomplice,” IT technician Claudio Sciarpelletti.
The curia, already jittery over increased internal spying on their phone and email communications, was informed on Jan. 26 that the priest who headed logistics at the Opus Dei headquarters in Rome was now in charge of the Vatican’s Department of Technical Services.
It’s not just their private communications hierarchs have to worry about. Two European hierarchs just found out that any independent thinking beneath the miter will not be tolerated by their new bosses. At a widely reported Feb. 4 press conference, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, “acknowledged that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to protect the rights of unmarried couples — including, potentially, gay and lesbian couples.” Two days later, (a chastised?) Paglia “blamed the media for ‘derailing’ his remarks on possible legal protections for unmarried couples, while reaffirming his support for British and French bishops who have been vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.”
Similarly, on Feb. 4, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne stated that it would be possible for Germany’s Catholic hospitals to give rape victims the pill known in the U.S. as Plan B. “Meisner said he had changed his view after learning from scientists that some newer pills did not abort fertilized eggs but rather prevented fertilization altogether” which would be “acceptable in his view.” Archbishop Chaput’s Catholic News Agency reported on Feb. 7 that “News stories declaring that Cardinal Meisner will allow the ‘morning-after’ pill for rape victims were the result of his words being manipulated and scientists giving him inaccurate information about the drug…”
In an organization which founded the university system and took pride in world-renowned institutions of higher learning, we cringe at the offensive language of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (i.e. defender of doctrine and dogma) who, on Feb. 2, compared European and American criticism of the Church to “pogroms against Jews in Europe;” and at the stupidity when the theologian of the papal household, Father Giertych, told us on Jan. 31 that women can’t be ordained because “priests love the church in a characteristically ‘male way’ when they show concern ‘about structures, about the buildings of the church,about the roof of the church which is leaking, about the bishops’ conference, about the concordat between the church and the state.’”
And Burke’s chutzpah in thinking that the new Vatican Promoter of Justice (he judges clerical sex abuse crimes) kissing up to the press (last Wednesday he praised the media who “did a service” in bringing the sex abuse crisis to light) would show the Vatican was making “progress” in handling their monstrous guilt when what the world is waiting for is the complete disclosure of all the hidden records, action against the prelates who aided and abetted these crimes, an honest attempt to compensate the victims and a genuine apology.
Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson suits Opus Dei needs in a number of ways. Africa is the only continent left on the planet where there is a chance of gaining hegemony. He is anti-Muslim, and defended the homophobic African governments. Best of all, Turkson is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a Vatican think-tank, which has called for “a true world political authority” and for the establishments of a “central world bank” to regulate the global financial industry and the international money supply. I can’t think of a better description of what Opus Dei hopes to achieve for a Vatican with its own leaders in control.
Within hours of Benedict’s resignation, bookmakers have already called Turkson as the odds-on favorite to be the next pope.
All bets are off, however, if the International Criminal Court at The Hague agrees to act on the case brought before it by the Church’s victims and charges Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials with crimes against humanity. This is something even Opus Dei can’t overcome.
One way or the other, however, this is the end of the line for the Vatican and its men around the world. The current regime can no longer sustain itself under the pretense of being a religious organization. The pact with the devil made by Pope John Paul II to ally with the global plutocracy in return for Polish freedom from communism is reaching its inevitable demise. For all the signs of distress I’ve mentioned, and all the reasons I’ve no more time to include, the Catholic Church may soon become an institution for doing good.
(Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))
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