Gregory Paul: "Pope Francis, the Dark Side"

The new pope is getting way too much of a free ride from the center-left and the news media. One abetted by the unreasonable tendency of the public and the news media to be dazzled by the seeming benign strongman who rules over a major organization or nation without due democratic certification. Specifically, the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State, Article 1, Section 1, declares that the “Supreme Pontiff, Sovereign of Vatican City State, has the fullness of legislative, executive and judicial powers.” In other words the pope is the royal dictator of the Holy See, and of the church at large, answerable only to a God that does not exist. 

I do enjoy how Francis is giving right wing theists Catholic and otherwise – including the outraged Steven Colbert hyperconservative character (the actual SC being a liberal observant Catholic) – conniptions that expose their expedient hypocrisy. For years conservative parishioners have been going on and on about how liberal church members are unprincipled “cafeteria Catholics” because they do not consistently observe all dictates of the pope who according to doctrine must be obeyed and shut up about it. This is a cynical manipulation. The popes have been issuing a consistent series of doctrinarial encyclicals and lesser statements denouncing unfettered capitalism going back to into the 1800s, and have long opposed the death penalty except possibly maybe in hyperextreme cases such as perhaps Hitler. That includes JP 2 and Benedict 16. What Francis has done is make it screamingly obvious to everyone on the planet including the conservoCatholics that the church does not favor libertarian economics and the death penalty, while he has played down opposition to gay lifestyles and church control of women’s reproduction. Both liberal and conservative members of the Roman church are cafeteria Catholics – how many people do you know who are opposed to abortion, contraception, the death penalty, and laissez-faire economics all at the same time? None? Even among Catholics this atypical opinion combo is pretty much limited to those segments of the clergy and laity that take being devout papists very seriously. Conservative Catholics are no more principled than the liberals they love to denounce for being as unprincipled as the conservatives actually are. 

That theoconservatives are being unsettled by Francis is a good thing. What is disturbing is how so many, but by no means all, liberals – including atheist Bill Maher – are being significantly seduced by the guy. A reason this is occurring is in part because the news media is as it often does is buying into a storyline that boosts ratings, so they conveniently stick to it without checking the objective facts that is supposed to be their job. 

Here is a question that Francis needs to be asked. Directly, and with follow ups to pin him down if he issues another nice little homily that dodges the issue. 

What is he going to do concerning abortion? Really do. Regarding its legality. 

Spain once upon a time was a strongly Catholic monarchy. Between the world wars is was on its way to becoming a progressive republic when the Catholic church and fascists allied to replace the democracy via a rebellion that quickly descended into a vicious civil war, with the right wingers aided by the pope, Mussolini, and most of all Hitler. The result was the archconservative Franco dictatorship that lasted to the same year that Saturday Night Live premiered. Since then Spain has evolved into a progressive 1st world nation where gays can marry and -- like the heteros -- get divorced, where contraceptives are so widely used that the fertility level is one of the lowest in Europe, and where abortion was legal. When I was in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly territory north of Madrid a few years ago I noted that the only churches were Catholic, just one per town in general, and with too few pews to accommodate more than a small fraction of the local population of a highly irreligious society.  

Unfortunately a real estate bubble abetted by the wild west economics of the last few decades crashed the still delicate economy of the marginally 1st world country. As a result the Spanish people unwisely elected a conservative government that promised it would solve the nation’s financial troubles. Having taken over the legislature, they have done what Ameroconservatives are prone to do when they get power, go wild imposing the social controls they have been hankering to do all along. It looks like Spain is on its way to imposing draconian controls on the reproductive activities of women, including banning virtually all abortions, that will strip half the population of their sovereignty, and push them towards the dangerous, illicit abortions that are always common in societies that make the procedure illegal. The move is being made despite the eight out of ten Spanish being opposed to changing the laws of abortion

Does the Francis who is delighting so many progressives oppose the reimposition of state controls on the reproduction of Spanish women? When asked last year what he felt about a woman who is considering abortion because of poverty or rape he replied, “Who can remain unmoved before such a painful situation?” It was a gentle sounding platitude that may have signaled that his church will not be placing as much emphasis on the issue as prior popes, but it did not reverse the harsh reality of doctrine and policy -- Catholics should feel sympathy and concern for women who wish to end their pregnancy, but they should do so by kindly helping the female reproductive vessel come to terms with that she must under no circumstances fail to experience the entire pregnancy, preferably in the context of strict laws that force her to give birth. We know that Francis is of that opinion because he endorsed a mass held to celebrate the Iberian war on women.

Nor is there reason to imagine that Francis opposes the long standing ban on abortions in historically Catholic but now highly secularized Ireland. Same for the harsh laws against women’s rights in other Cathocountries such as El Salvador, where women who have an abortion are legally considered to have committed murder and are subject to harsh penalties including imprisonment. Since Francis wants abortion to be illegal, what forms of state coercion and fear does he think suitable to enforce the ban? Does he think abortion should be treated as murder, and women who have abortions prosecuted as murderers? And what is his opinion on the legality of contraceptives? Is he fine about how the expanding Catholic run medical facilities in the US are increasingly denying adult women access to birth control? 

There are liberals who do not want Francis to be asked these vital questions. They are hoping that he is a stealth progressive who intends to gradually liberalize the church, but does not want to reveal his intentions too early, while conservatives still have so much power in the Holy See and world wide church bureaucracy. This is the naïve gamble of nondemocracy. 

And a reflection of the human tendency to suck up and kowtow to strongmen in the hope that the autocrat will make things right by being a good guy who does what is best for those under his power. It is a form of the dysfunctional Stockholm syndrome, the childish psychological pathology that explains why dictators are often popular (childish because that is the situation all children are stuck in, grownups are not). The theme of the good strongman is a constant in the Middle Earth tales written by the arch-conservative, democracy disliking Catholic Tolkien; the stories that theoconservatives laud as moral allegories. There is no democracy in Middle Earth. It is always about the hope and search for the benign autocrat who will rule with wisdom, Aragorn/King Elessar being the exemplar of the pattern -- when rulers forget their responsibilities and become narcissists then decline and ruin ensues. The people are left at the mercy of their autocrats, having no political mechanism to enforce change by the vote. 

That is a critical flaw of the Catholic Church, in which the general laity has no mechanism for influencing the policies of the institution (unlike Protestant sects in which a given flock chooses their pastor and so on). The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church which is the Mother Church because it claims to a direct link through papal succession all the way back to Jesus Christ who is God via the Holy Trinity, ergo the current pope is the Vicar of the Christ-God and the church is the one true church. If the laity is allowed to influence the selection of the pope then the chain of divine authorization is automatically broken, and the CC will become just another Protestant sect, it will no longer be the Mother Church. 

But as we all know absolute power corrupts absolutely. So the structure of the CC dooms it to chronic dysfunction, which is why the entity has been riven by scandals and outrages from the get go. Plus it is a patriarchy, which further ensures bad results. If there is a creator god, and if the CC is his organization on earth, then the Lord guaranteed that his representatives would screw up on a regular basis (which makes sense considering the disastrous state of our planet, in which the mass loss of the preborn due to the inefficient reproductive tract proves that no creator cares much about their fate). 

Whatever Francis does, his ability to remake the church is limited, and that will always be true as long as the CC is the autocracy it must be if it is to remain the Mother Church. Hoping that the true church of the Lord God will became female friendly, and that churchly corruption will after a couple of millennia finally be suppressed, are naïve dreams rather than a practical reality. And not being naïve children requires asking the hard practical questions, the ones that put those in power on the spot.


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