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The Ersatz Pope

Ersatz – a lower quality or artificial substitute – is how Pope Francis was described by Horatio Verbitsky, a leading Argentine investigative journalist and human rights activist, the day after the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pontiff. “His biography is that of a conservative populist…adamant on doctrinal issues but with an openness to the world, especially toward the dispossessed masses….But at the same time he attempted to unify the opposition against the first government in many years which adopted a policy favorable to those groups.”

Claiming concern for the poor while undermining a government trying to alleviate poverty, Bergoglio was elected by the College of Cardinals to preserve a Church of, by, and for the plutocracy.

As Argentina’s only cardinal and archbishop of the capital and largest city, Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was the most powerful and influential prelate in the country. He was a strong opponent of the liberal progressive administrations of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner during “a decade in which Argentina lived the largest and fastest reduction of poverty and inequality,” according to Ernesto Semán, a historian at New York University and former reporter for two Argentine newspapers.

In 2005, a military chaplain said that the Minister of Health should be thrown into the sea because of his progressive views on contraception. “It doesn’t take much effort at all to imagine what that must sound like to the ears of an Argentine with any sense of history,” Semán noted.

(One of the means used by the Church-supported military junta (1976-1983) to dispose of accused enemies was “death flights.” People were thrown alive from airplanes and helicopters into the ocean. Former Marine Captain Adolfo Scilingo, who shoved 30 individuals to their deaths including a 65 year old man, a 16 year old boy and 2 pregnant women in their early 20′s, said that the Catholic hierarchy approved this as a “Christian form of death.”)

Bergoglio refused to comply with the government’s demand for the chaplain’s resignation.  

A 2007 U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks noted that “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.”

Bergoglio opposed the 2010 legislation approving same-sex marriage as “a destructive pretension against the plan of God” and “a move by the Father of Lies which aims to confuse and deceive the children of God.” He is also opposed to adoption by gay couples.

With popular backing and in clear defiance of the Church, the Kirchners pushed for mandatory sex education in schools, free distribution of contraceptives in public hospitals, and the right for transsexuals to change their official identities on demand. Argentina became the first nation in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriages.

Sounding very much like his U.S. confreres, in 2012, Bergoglio accused the Kirchner government of “demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power.”

While Christian von Wernich, a priest sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 for crimes during the junta including 31 cases of torture and 7 aggravated homicides, continues to exercise his priestly ministry in prison; and Fr. Julio Grassi of Buenos Aires convicted of two acts of sexual abuse and aggravated corruption of minors yet defended by Bergoglio, is still a priest in good standing; Fr. José Nicolás Alessio, an Argentine theologian, was dismissed from the clerical state in February 2013 for favoring marriage equality.

The election of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope on March 13 “is a masterstroke of Vatican diplomacy. The Catholic Church, about to sink between the financial and sexual scandals, urgently needed another ‘image’ in the face of public opinion in the world and more so in Latin America. The profile of Benedict XVI, a German, hard, rigid, an Inquisitor, failed to float the ‘barque of Peter,’” explained Alessio. “In Argentina and on the continent, the right-wing sectors, both political and religious, will be strengthened,” the theologian stated.

Andrea D’Atri, founder of Bread and Roses, an Argentine human rights group, agrees that, “In Argentina, his naming as pope has been received with the warmest enthusiasm by the rightist opposition.”

The majority of Latin American nations are now governed by left-leaning parties. Semán said that the election of this “very conservative cardinal from the region might help bolster forces that are opposed to continuing this enormous change that’s occurring in Latin America.”

The cardinal/electors “are positioning their pieces in the world game of chess in order to empower political projects championed by the North and its allies in the South,” wrote Brazilian Ivone Gebara, one of Latin American’s leading theologians.

The telecommunication industry… immediately tagged Francis as a simple man, cordial and friendly. The Catholic press says nothing about many people’s suspicions regarding his role during Argentina’s recent military dictatorship, or about his current political stands against gay marriage and the legalization of abortion. Neither do they mention his well-known criticism of liberation theology or his distain for feminist theology….. There is no criticism of this perverse system, which continues to invoke the Holy Spirit in order to maintain ultraconservative positions clothed in the pretext of religiosity and docile submission….What is invoked, instead, is a set of quasi-magical teachings. On the one hand, we have a society awash with great spectacles that captivate us and urge us to accept…and on the other a system of paternalistic handouts that is equated with evangelization. To go out into the streets and give food to the poor and pray with prisoners is somewhat humanitarian, but it does not solve the problem of social exclusion that afflicts many of the world’s countries…. The highly touted commitment to evangelization as a Church priority seems instead to be a commitment to a hierarchical order in a world where the elites reign and the people applaud in great plazas, where they pray and sing and bubble over with high spirits, invoking divine blessings upon the heads of their new political-religious leaders….

Yes, Francis has made several statements in favor of economic structures which favor the poor, but so has every other modern pope. Regardless of what these pontiffs said (with the exception John XXIII), they supported imperialists, fascists, dictators, corporatists, oligarchs and plutocrats.

Very quickly, Francis assured all Vatican employees that he would be making no personnel changes until after the summer. However, on the one-month anniversary of his election, Francis named eight cardinals from around the world to be his closest advisers. He could have kept an informal cabinet of men he had been close to Argentina as John Paul II did with his fellow Poles. He could have selected a panel which included lesser Church officials, or lay men and women. But he chose cardinals, the only people who swear to keep the secrets, as well as “assert, uphold, preserve, increase and promote the rights, even temporal; the liberty, the honor, privileges and authority of the Holy Roman Church.”

Why these particular cardinals? An Argentine journalist approached Bergoglio after he was made a cardinal in 2001 to write his official biography. He didn’t assent to the project – Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in His Own Words – until after he came in second to Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave. So perhaps he gave some additional thought, if more successful in the next conclave, which cardinals would provide the type of counsel he wanted.  

A brief review of the past and present ecclesial careers of the cardinals selected provides important insights into Francis’ worldview and how he will direct the Church in the future. (I could find little information on Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Congo.)

Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello is head of the commission governing Vatican City State and the only Vatican official in the group. A longtime member of the Vatican diplomatic service, he was nuncio to Rwanda in 1991, remaining in that post during the genocide.

The Catholic Church “was the only institution involved in all the stages of genocide [which] took more than a million lives in just a hundred days….There is no doubt that throughout the history of Rwanda, Church leaders have had ties with political power. The Church was also involved in the policy of ethnic division, which degenerated into ethnic hatred,” wrote Ndahiro Tom, a Rwandan human rights commissioner. He is disheartened “to see the institutional Church protecting, instead of punishing, or at least denouncing those among its leadership or in its membership who are accused of genocide.”

Richard Johnson, a former Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Dept., wrote a paper dated March 19, 2013: “The work of many foreign and Rwandan researchers also demonstrates that the 1994 genocide raises grave issues of accountability for the Vatican and the Catholic Church more generally, including participation of Catholic clergy in the genocide, providing escape routes and safe haven to fugitive genocide suspects, and supporting the Hutu Power movement’s propaganda campaign.”  

The group, African Rights, wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II in 1978 asking him to guide the Church through “a process of reflection, confession and self-examination” in light of the Church’s historical involvement in ethnic politics. The group sent a second letter to John Paul II marking the 10th year commemoration of the 1994 genocide regretting “that no one at a senior level in the Church has responded to our earlier appeals” and asking again for “a study of institutional failings in relation to the genocide.”

No doubt, after consultation with Bertello, Francis will also ignore them.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, the retired archbishop of Santiago, made headlines in Chile for protecting Fr. Fernando Karamina, a spiritual leader among Santiago’s most influential families. In April 2010, a civil criminal complaint was filed against Karadima for child sex abuse by four men who were once his devoted followers. The claims were dismissed by a court ruling stating there was not enough evidence to charge him. One of the claimants protested, “We would have liked to appeal, but with defense attorneys like his, who have the Appeals and Supreme Court eating out of their hands, and a number of powerful people who continue to protect Karadima, we knew it would be an uphill battle that we were likely to lose.”

Karadima’s legal defense team has familial and group ties to “Comando Rolando Matus,” a paramilitary organization of the National Party (Chile, 1966–1973). It played a key role in the destabilization of the country during Salvador Allende’s democratically-elected leftist government leading to a coup by the Church-supported military dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet. According to one of the claimants, Karadima protected and hid the man wanted by Chilean police in 1970 and later sentenced for the assassination of General René Schneider for the purpose of preventing Allende’s inauguration.

Karadima is the “worst scandal” of the Chilean Catholic Church. Power is the “true point of the case. The abuses were not possible without a network of political, social and religious power working for 50 years,” Chilean political analyst Ascanio Cavallo, Dean of the Journalism School of the Adolfo Ibáñez University stated.

In January 2011, a judge ordered that Karadima be interrogated. According to court testimony, Church officials, including Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, tried to shame accusers into dropping claims, refused to meet with them or failed to carry out formal investigations for years. The first known reports of abuse by Karadima reached Errázuriz in mid-2003. In 2006, a priest appointed by Errázuriz to investigate the claims made his report to the cardinal, stating that he believed “the accusers to be credible.” Errázuriz wrote in a public letter that he did nothing because he thought the allegations were beyond the statute of limitations.

A judge dismissed the criminal case against Karadima in November 2011 because the statute of limitations had expired but also determined that the allegations were “truthful and reliable.” The Vatican “sanctioned” Karadima by ordering him to a life of “penitence and prayer,” but he remains a priest in good standing.

When Pope Francis appointed Errázuriz as one of his closest advisers, one of the claimants who had accused the cardinal of covering up Karadima’s crimes called it “a shame and a disgrace.”

Like Francis, Errázuriz is also an opponent of liberation theology. While Secretary of the Congregation for Religious at the Vatican, Errázuriz demanded that CLAR, the Latin American Conference of Religious, regarded as too heavily influenced by liberation theology, make deep reforms in its most controversial programs. Similarly, Pope Francis has already demanded the reformation of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) based on the same ideological objections.

Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, is “the leader of Opus Dei*” in Honduras which “participated actively in the 2009 coup against the constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya,” as written in a report by sociologist Marco Burgos. According to Burgos’ research, “active members of this clan are making intromissions in the Honduran national politics, despite Honduras being officially considered a secular country.” Rodríguez, “who has not denounced the violation to the constitution that the coup was, has instead blessed it.”

After the coup, former Honduran Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Paz Aguilar “considered that religious groups are operating in secrecy, becoming members of several institutions.” Coupist government Foreign Vice Minister Marta Lorena Alvarado and the Mayor of Tegucigalpa, Ricardo Alvarez, are some of the members of Opus Dei.  

Honduras now has the highest homicide rate in the world fueled by the drug trade and government corruption. Only 2 percent of murders are solved. The U.S. State Department estimates that 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America pass through Honduras.

After becoming Melbourne archbishop in 1996, Australian Cardinal George Pell invited Opus Dei to become established in that area, and then in Sydney after becoming archbishop of that city in 2001. “Opus Dei’s star is on the rise, it is said, and that of others – including other more established groups within the Church – is sinking,” Sydney Morning Herald‘s religious affairs columnist wrote in January 2002. The reporter saw “signs of a new elitism….a clerical culture is being encouraged in which there is a highly select ‘in’ crowd around Pell.”  

When asked what he thought was the root cause of the sex-abuse scandals Pell replied, “it’s obviously connected with the problem of homosexuality.”  

Accounts of clerical child sex abuse in Australia have been as appalling as those heard around the globe. Prelates and clergy considered themselves above the law so the Church covered up criminal activity, shielded the perpetrators, transferred them from parish to parish and then tried to hide it.  

The number of reports became so egregious that the state of Victoria (capital Melbourne) initiated a parliament inquiry, the state of New South Wales (capital Sydney) is investigating complaints that the Catholic Church hampered police investigations, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the formation of a Royal Commission to study child sex abuse by religious and non-government bodies.

Pell’s response was to complain about a “’persistent press campaign’ and ‘general smears that we are covering up and moving people around,’ and then capped it off with the claim that abuse by Catholic priests had been singled out and exaggerated.’”

“Catholic clergy commit six times as much abuse as those in the rest of the churches combined, ‘and that’s a conservative figure,’” Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University law professor, told the Victoria inquiry on May 30, 2013. Of thousands of offences, not a single crime was reported by a Church official to the police, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton testified.

On May 24, 2013, Pell appeared as the final witness in the parliamentary inquiry. Like other prelates, Pell made an apology which came across as insincere. “My response to Cardinal Pell’s evidence, being as fair as I can, is that it was to me a rather cynical exercise in damage control,” Dr. Bryan Keon-Cohen QC, president of community lobby group COIN (Commission of Inquiry Now) said. “He offered a lot of words, offered apologies, expressed remorse, but to me it lacked conviction,” according to Keon-Cohen.

During Pell’s testimony, “Many of his responses about his personal empathy for victims were met with laughter and scoffs from the public gallery, which included victims and victims’ advocates.” Anthony Foster, father of two young daughters repeatedly raped by a priest, said Pell showed a “sociopathic lack of empathy typifying the attitude and response of the Catholic hierarchy.” Ian Lawther, whose son was sexually abused by a priest, described Pell’s apology as “full of criminal clichés….It was a kick to the groin of every Australian Catholic, maybe even Christian.”

In his testimony, Pell denied there was a culture of abuse. ”I was certainly unaware of it. I don’t think many, if any, persons in the leadership of the Catholic Church knew what a horrendous widespread mess we were sitting on. If we’d been gossips, which we weren’t…we would have realized earlier just how widespread this business was,” Pell said.

Fr. Kevin Lee, chaplain of the New South Wales police for fourteen years, wrote a just- published book, Unholy Science, about how “widespread alleged sexual abuse of minors were covered up and not reportedto the police by the Catholic Church during a period of over 20 years of his career….Lee alleged that he complained to several Catholic Church supervisors including Cardinal George Pell without success, and had to go to the police and media as a last resort.”

Nearly three months in office, Pope Francis spoke his first words about the child sex abuse scandal. The Vatican news service had reported that Francis “recommended that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith continue along the lines set by Benedict XVI” on April 7. On June 4, Francis said three times “This is important work, keep it up!” as he greeted Prof. Hans Zollner, the German head of the Gregorian University Center for Child Protection.

Founded in 2010, the center held a symposium in February 2012 where bishops could, if they chose to do so, send representatives who “received guidance” on “what do you do with abusers, what can you and should you offer to victims and what can you do for the prevention of abuse.” The center’s “main purpose is the creation of a global E-Learning training center in academic resources for the pastoral professions [i.e. ‘bishops conferences, religious congregations, local dioceses and so forth’] responding to the sexual abuse of minors, taking into account multilingual and intercultural issues.”

In other words, regardless of the mountain of resources already available to organizations on how to deal with child sex abuse, the Vatican is still working on “a truly Catholic response.”

In the run-up to the 2013 conclave, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley was considered to be on the short list of papal candidates. He is regarded, as is Pope Francis, as a simple, humble man who cares for the poor. O’Malley is widely praised for cleaning up his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law’s, sordid record of aiding and abetting predator priests. But “a close look at O’Malley reveals a career-long pattern of resisting disclosure of information, reinstating priests of dubious suitability, and negotiating mass settlements that are among the least generous in the history of the crisis.”

On May 10, 2013, O’Malley issued a statement that he would not attend the Boston College commencement because the Catholic institution should not have invited Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny as speaker.  “Mr. Kenny is aggressively promoting abortion legislation,” O’Malley declared. Kenny is doing nothing of the sort replied the Irish government.

The Irish government made the case firmly that Kenny had very reluctantly introduced the minimal legislation which safeguards the life of the mother on the back of a Supreme Court judgment that mandated he or some future Irish government had to do it. Kenny moved in response to public uproar over the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian-born dentist who died of sepsis after doctors in Galway refused to terminate her non-viable fetus despite her desperate pleas to do so. The subsequent inquest found the hospital deeply culpable in her treatment.

Kenny is leader of the Fine Gael party which governs in a coalition with the Labour Party. Like the anti-same sex marriage demonstrations in France are being used to weaken François Hollande, and the Philippine Church’s opposition to the Reproductive Health legislation attacks Benigno Aquino, Ireland is another country where the pope is spreading the U.S. “culture wars” to rally right-wingers against progressive governments. Francis would like to repeat the Church’s success in defeating Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

Pres. George W. Bush went to the Vatican on June 4, 2004, complaining that “’Not all the American bishops are with me’ on the cultural issues. The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism.” So Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) gave the American bishops their marching orders: Kerry was to be denied communion because he supported legal abortion. The U.S. bishops mounted a huge media campaign against Kerry for “aggressively promoting abortion.” Although the senator had led among Catholics at the beginning of the campaign, Bush won the Catholic vote, especially in Ohio giving him the re-election. “The hierarchical attacks on Kerry had a real impact on the race….The Ratzinger effect? Parochially speaking, there’s no doubt about it.”

Currently, O’Malley is in the forefront of U.S. bishops’ attacks againstObamacare although the cardinal led no campaign against Romneycare which provided insurance coverage for abortion

The Boston cardinal is a faithful supporter of Opus Dei even sponsoring the canonization of the priest who “established an Opus Dei presence among students and professors at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology” between 1946 and 1956.

The inclusion of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, on Francis’ list of eight advisors represents the Vatican’s recent alignment with Germany since that country has become the financial powerhouse of Europe.

Pope Benedict XVI chose German Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller to head the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and appointed and promoted now Archbishop Georg Gänswein as his personal secretary and Prefect of the Pontifical Household. The Italian economist, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was ingloriously dumped as president of the layman’s commission of the Vatican Bank and the German industrialist, Ernst von Freyberg, chosen to take his place.

The previous Italian prime minister, the technocrat Mario Monti, was a frequent visitor to the Vatican. He even accompanied Pope Benedict to the airport before the pontiff’s “apostolic” trade junkets. But the new Italian prime minister and member of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, has yet to visit Francis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, seeking her third four-year-term election in September, met with the pope on May 18. Unlike other world leaders who stop at the Vatican when they are in Rome on other business, Merkel, accompanied by a delegation of 15 people  came to Rome for the sole purpose of conferring with Francis. “I see continuity in the missionary aspect, in becoming aware of the importance of Christianity for our Christian roots,” said Merkel, adding that the “simple and touching words” of Francis are already reaching people.

Merkel said they spoke about the regulation of the financial markets but no “sorry” from either leader for the crushing austerity measures responsible for the suicides, crippling economic dislocations and record-high levels of unemployment in Europe imposed by German and Church-supported financiers.

The Vatican Bank accounts in Italy suspected of laundering money were in the process of moving Church funds into Frankfurt, the financial capital of Germany. “There are seven skyscrapers in Frankfurt…Every one is about finance” and “At the top of each of those skyscrapers will be Opus Dei,” noted author Matthew Fox tells us.

Cardinal Marx was the invited speaker for 300 guests of Opus Dei held in the Deutsche Bank, the country’s central bank. Like O’Malley, Marx has presided at Masses celebrating Opus Dei founder, Josemaria Escrivá, and visited one of the worldwide network of Opus Dei centers for university students in Munich.  

On March 28, Francis greeted 3,000 attendees from 200 schools around the world who are part of an Opus Dei program for university students. The pontiff delighted the group by quoting Escrivá.

The first American priest chosen by Francis to co-celebrate Mass with him is Opus Dei Archbishop José H. Gomez on April 9. The Los Angeles prelate was accompanying a group of U.S. Latino businessmen who were attending  a series of private meetings with Vatican officials.

Francis’ selection of Cardinals O’Malley and Marx remind us that guns are no longer necessary for our enslavement. The same can now be accomplished by the financial “masters of the universe” and their hierarchical promoters.

*Opus Dei is a secret society of global financiers, bankers, businessmen, politicians and their supporters directing the Catholic Church’s geopolitics. The names of members are never disclosed unless a person self-identifies him/herself as a member. The clergy and prelates ordained into the Opus Dei religious order are, however, public. In return for their financial support – including funding “scientific” apologetics for the Church’s anti-women, anti-gay agenda – the Church provides a “moral” veneer to their work in promoting the 1%. Opus Dei’s primary “charity” is running schools and supporting students in an estimated 80-90 countries to train more plutocrats, bioethicists and whatever other skills are deemed necessary to their growing wealth and power. (See Robert Hutchison Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei Thomas Dunne Books, 2006). Put simply, “Opus Dei is a radical, fascist, right-wing Catholic movement,” according to Matthew Fox.


5 Responses

  1. The OD connections are probably telling. Appointing Maradiaga to his gang of 8 truly put me in a tail spin. So far Francis has mostly espoused the type of spiritual insight common to all religions and spiritual systems. I rue the day he starts getting more Catholic specific, but given his embrace of OD, the Neo Cats, and other so called ‘new movements’, I’m sure this initial spate of generic comments will be coming to an end.

    My biggest fear is that he will try to out evangelize the evangelicals, using their own rhetoric and mind set, with the same theocratic goals in mind. If that happens, well, I’ll once again be energized and out will come the sword.

    • Thanks so very much, Colleen. I always value your input and opinions. I don’t think Francis will alter his manner of speaking. He’s had his entire adult life to practice his crowd-pleasing words. He will, however, leave it to others to do the dirty work and speak the harsh words. He will continue to bask in the admiration while few notice he’s doing nothing to rein in the bulldogs.

  2. Francis is a love bomber, and the world has allowed itself to be love bombed — naively.

  3. I have read several good stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to make such a magnificent informative web site. egkaecggafed

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