After Benedict

Changing Expectations for the Papacy

"The church is not the pope, and the pope is not the church,” theologian Joseph Komonchak reminds us (see “Benedict’s Act of Humility”). Amen to that. Komonchak also cautions about the “hullabaloo over the upcoming conclave,” urging Catholics of every theological and ideological disposition to place Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation in the broader and deeper context of the responsibilities every Catholic has for building up the church and spreading the gospel. Expectations for the papacy need to change.

Amen to that as well.

Even Benedict’s most ardent supporters concede that his papacy has been marred by too many scandals and too many gaffes. The few glimpses the public has gotten into the opaque operations of the Holy See—from the Vatican bank controversy to the inept machinations of the pope’s own butler—reveal an institution in crisis. These intrigues are especially disconcerting as the church still struggles to come to terms with the legacy of the sexual-abuse crisis. Unfortunately, the courtly secrecy surrounding the deliberations to elect the next pope provides an all-too-obvious reminder of the lack of transparency and accountability in the operations of the entire hierarchy.

In the modern era, but especially over the past half-century, there has been an unprecedented concentration of authority in the papacy and the Roman curia. Under the tireless and charismatic John Paul II, this focus on the pope seemed providential to many. Yet John Paul’s commanding personality left little room for younger episcopal talent to flourish or alternative institutional structures of leadership and authority to develop. Only the most obdurate ultramontanists think the governance of a global church of more than 1 billion should rest principally on the shoulders of one man. In resigning for reasons of ill health and physical frailty, Benedict himself strongly suggested that the demands of the papacy have become a crippling burden, especially for a man of his age. Many think that the papacy is now a crippling burden for a man of any age—and that this is one of the many signs that ecclesial authority has become too centralized.

Benedict will surely be remembered for his personal humility and profound piety. He will also be remembered as a theologian and teacher of rare gifts. His three encyclicals are remarkably rich documents—especially Caritas in veritate, which remains one of the most thoughtful responses to the recent financial crisis, a reminder of the inescapable moral dimensions of a globalized economy.

What this shy scholar evidently could not do was manage or reform a sclerotic church bureaucracy riven by factions and left to function on its own for far too long. Real reform can return the governance of the church to the bishops in true partnership with the pope, and reduce the curia to the status of a modest administrative apparatus. Perhaps, as some have speculated, this is what Benedict hoped to set in motion in taking the exceptional step of resigning. Let’s hope so.

Many Catholics first heard of Joseph Ratzinger in 1985 when, a few years into his tenure as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a series of his conversations with the journalist Vittorio Messori was published as The Ratzinger Report. Readers were stunned by Ratzinger’s dour appraisal of the implementation of Vatican II’s reforms and his stinging criticism of liberal democratic societies. In the Report, the future pope comes across as deeply pessimistic about the trajectory of the church and even about the competence of local bishops. Western culture as a whole, he insisted, had also lost its moorings. Only Rome could be trusted on questions of faith and morals.

Writing in Commonweal in November, 1985, Lutheran theologian George Lindbeck, an official observer at Vatican II, suggested that Ratzinger’s emphasis on Roman authority was “more a product of despair than of authoritarianism.” Lindbeck, although sympathetic to Ratzinger’s theological and cultural agenda, lamented his “uncritical and one-sided emphasis on the official magisterium.” He feared that Ratzinger despaired “of the struggle pursued at Vatican II” to find a way to make the church’s teachings accessible and compelling to the scientifically sophisticated and increasingly secular world.

It is possible to see Benedict’s resignation as another gesture of discouragement. Certainly in his final remarks to the priests of Rome only days after announcing his resignation, Benedict struck a note of anguish over what he characterized as the “calamities” and “miseries” that followed the council. He blamed the media and secular politics for that disarray. But much of the responsibility lies with the Vatican, for guarding its own power and privileges too jealously. If we are not to despair of the worthy project pursued by the bishops at Vatican II, the whole church, and not just Peter’s successor, must now be allowed to take responsibility for it. 



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"But much of the responsibility lies with the Vatican, for guarding its own power and privileges too jealously."

Sounds like rethorical a sleigh of hand. The massive disarray of cathechesis and evangelization produced by theological liberalism after the council had nothing to do with organizational disarray in the Roman curia.

And one could easily argue that without a strong Papacy the effect of 1960-style neo-modernism would have been even worse.


Carlo L ... Tell us ... what in the hell does 'worse ' look like?

To state the obvious: The Catholic Church’s cardinal princes have “no clothes.”  

Despite how intriguing their colorful medieval costuming may be to us, Catholic hierarchs are hopelessly irrelevant to and dangerously alienated from, even hostile to, the lived experience of growing millions of Catholic, indeed Christian, women and men around the world.


The upcoming papal conclave does indeed place the hierarchs at the fork of a fateful historic crossroads:  Do they continue to lead the church down this same treacherous road over the almost certain extinction cliff?


Or, with no preordained fore-promise of their survival or endurance, do the cardinals embrace the slow evolution toward a Peoples Church?


On “the road not taken,” the Holy Spirit has left a clear road “sign of the times” for any pilgrim to see where to find the required anecdote:  LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

eg gleason:


oh you know: the brilliant "Hans Kung" plan of turning the RCC in another dying liberal Protestant denomination.

Carlos L.. one blessed hope of the post-BXVI is that nobody will give the  SSPX  the new phone #

     O.K. my comments on Brother Komonchak's article didn't make it into your current editorial comments.  But I'll repeat them here.  It is a fact that the organized, well-funded conservative sector of our church, led by Brother Ratzinger and before him by Brother Wojtala, is exactly where they want it--scandals and all.  In fact their premise is that the likes of us liberals and modernists are the cause of all the scandals.

     And so this "retirement" of Brother Ratzinger is not an act of humility as much as a wise step to do all he can do to consolidate his years of extreme conservatism.  By not continuing on to death and/or senilty and putting off a papal election, he and the legion of conservative followers--not just a few curial workers--will bask in the admiration of this "scholarly", "humble" " servant and support a worthy replacement.  An African cardinal dedicated to the conservative's unique "evil" target--LGBT-- would very admirably fulfill a lot of their goals.

     We in the liberal/radical wing--proven all too often to be powerless-- can opine and do these critiques that will only be noticed by ourselves.  Without beginning now to effect a real dynamic, loving, unified, moral force within the church, there will be no change.  Waiting for things to change--short of populating seminaries with our liberal children--just is not a respectable approach.

     All the radical change groups have been easily shut out and even though we call ourselves "catholic", we simply aren't.  We have to gather our fellow-sister pew mates and do an impressive "sit-in" or "stand-in" and get attention for a real pastoral aim.  I've suggested we use the moral persuasion of "loving dissent" with the voice/body of all those who say they are for change but who are silenced to almost everyone.  Why be afraid of being threatened with excommunication?  I suggest what I call "The Least Harm--Loving Dissent" where we call our opposition to sit down and agree to lay aside the medieval approach of the past and agree to begin by doing the least harm while we sift out the real issues before us to arrive at change without the litter of the likes of the ashes of Giordano Brunos ashes and Galileo's house arrest.  I would call for  "Galileo Reconcilation Commission" to carry this out. Brother Wojtala's "pardon" hundreds of years later is just not the Christian way.

    Thanks.   Tom Luce [email protected]

@ Thomas Luce:  

I think you're on to something: The Catholic Church hierarchy has never really accepted the Copernican revolution which dislodged them as the sole gatekeepers to the Divine.  The hierarchs have been fighting a rear-guard action against all things modern ever since.

The hierarchs have been living on borrowed time since the time of Galileo and the rise of the scientific era.  Sadly, the hierarchs about to receive a very nasty lesson from the laws of evolution: The hierarchs are very shortly going to become vestigle organs on the Body of Christ - the process has been going on for decades with the evidence all around us.

Either we celebrate their time with us with a proper Catholic funeral and burial - something that Catholics should be really good at given our central defining mythologies about death and resurrection - so that new life can emerge, and the Gospel can continue to be spread.

Or, the hierarchs' remains will pile up like petrified dionsaurs in a boneyard at the bottom of history's extinction cliff.

This editorial is rubbish.  Read Benedict's books.  Then you will know what it means to be Catholic.

The following letters to PBS and to Professor Gillis and Reverend McBrien are as appropriate today as they were in 2005. Only some of the players are different. 

Sent: Wed, Apr 27, 2005 3:39 pm Subject: On Religion Sent to PBS Wide Angle First I would like to congratulate you on the program 'White Smoke' which provided a fair and balanced look into the election of a new Pope for the Catholic Church. Unfortunately the program was marred by selecting James Carroll a former priest who has spent his time since renouncing his priestly vows  by attacking the Catholic Church in books and columns. Hardly an unbiased commentator for what had been a memorable program. Mr. Carrol's primary arguments against Pope John Paul Ii and now Pope Benedict XVI is that they are not sufficiently protestant, not Episcopalian enough. His thesis is 'that if only we were more like them' his Catholic church would reign supreme, satisfying everyone. Mr. Carrol must have blinders on as his protestant model is suffering even greater losses of followers here, in Europe and the world than the Catholic Church. Several renowned Catholic  theologians have posited the same thesis and the following letter was addressed to them. I would ask you forward my feedback to Mr Carroll as a favor. Thank you  in advance "Professsor Gillis and Reverend McBrien, I sincerely hope that I did not misunderstand the points you were making but I came away with the following impressions. Both of you were interviewed on TV programs this past week-end and introduced as theologians from 'Catholic' Universities, Georgetown and Notre Dame, respectively. The subject was John Paul II who passed away on Saturday. While the world wept, President Bush, world leaders, both political and religious, journalists and common folk remembered him, praised him and spoke of his influence on the world. But not our 'Catholic' theologians from 'Catholic' Universities who spoke of his divisiveness, his being out of step with American Catholics on abortion, birth control, gay issues, celibacy and women in the priesthood. Apparently American Catholics, not the Pope, have the The Truth on all matters of morality which Professor Gillis confirmed by pointing out that Georgetown students ignore the Pope and selected polls show that a majority of American Catholics elect a Chinese menu approach to their catholic faith based on their own subjective conscience which provides self-justification for a hedonistic, immoral life style absent any religious underpinnings. An ex-President, while not a Catholic but a graduate of Georgetown, was well schooled in moral relativism and represents a classic example of a Professor Gillis's student, there is no right or wrong, no intrinsic good or evil, there is only one's subjective conscience to look to for approval. The subjective conscience combined with moral relativism enables one to lie, to cheat, to commit perjury and any other nefarious act, all the while proclaiming one's innocence and, if 'catholic', firmly believe that he/she is a catholic in good standing while holding that the Pope and the Vatican are just not with it, too conservative, not Protestant enough. To argue that one is free to follow his own conscience on matters of religion and morals, even to supporting abortion, birth control, gay marriage, celibacy and other issues presumes that one's own subjective conscience is infallible and superior to all others which leads to the absurd conclusion that there is no truth in moral and religious matters as there would be an infinite number of right answers. Since Vatican II the liberal wing of the Catholic Church has promulgated the superiority of the subjective conscience and in February 1991 Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the Church's response in his presentation 'Conscience and Truth" delivered at the '10th Workshop for Bishops; in Dallas Texas. Cardinal Ratzinger touched on the correct understanding of conscience," "Conscience is understood by many to be sort of deification of subjectivity, a rock on which even the magisterium can founder. It claimed that in the light of conscience no other reason applies. Finally, conscience appears as the supreme level of subjectivity; but conscience is an organ, not an oracle; it requires growth, exercise and development." For those who hold that one's own subjective conscience is infallible, superior to all others and that the Church Authority cannot impose restrictions on those whose conscience brings them to decisions contrary to the Church's teachings, Cardinal Ratzinger points out the obvious error in this rationalization by the following "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it. But whether the judgment of conscience or what one takes to be such, is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity." Cardinal Ratzinger describes the concept of the erroneous conscience as follows: "The erroneous conscience, by sheltering the person from the exacting demands of truth, saves him ... - thus went the argument. Conscience appeared here not as a window through which one can see outward to that common truth which founds and sustains us all, and so makes possible through the common recognition of truth, the community of needs and responsibilities. Conscience here does not mean man's openness to the ground of his being, the power of perception for what is highest and most essential. Rather, it appears as subjectivity's protective shell into which man can escape and there hide from reality. Liberalism's idea of conscience was in fact presupposed here. Conscience does not open the way to the redemptive road to truth which either does not exist or, if it does, is too demanding. It is the faculty which dispenses from truth. It thereby becomes the justification for subjectivity, which should not like to have itself called into question. Similarly, it becomes the justification for social conformity. As mediating value between the different subjectivities, social conformity is intended to make living together possible. The obligation to seek the truth ceases, as do any doubts about the general inclination of society and what it has become accustomed to. Being convinced of oneself, as well as conforming to others, are sufficient. Man is reduced to his superficial conviction and the less depth he has, the better for him." The erroneous conscience also would allow the false and utterly despicable conclusion, "Nazi SS would be justified and we should seek them in heaven since they carried out all their atrocities with fanatic conviction and complete certainty of conscience. There is no doubting the fact that Hitler and his accomplices who were deeply convinced of their cause, could not have acted otherwise. Therefore, the objective terribleness of their deeds notwithstanding, they acted morally, subjectively speaking. Since they followed their albeit mistaken consciences, one would have to recognize their conduct as moral and, as a result, should not doubt their eternal salvation." Cardinal Ratzinger concludes this section by writing "Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of justifying power of the subjective conscience, that, in other words, a concept of conscience which leads to such conclusions must be false. For, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples which follow therefrom do not justify man. Furthermore, "No one may act against his convictions, as Saint Paul had already said (Rom 14:23). But the fact that the conviction a person has come to certainly binds in the moment of acting, does not signify a canonization of subjectivity. It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at - in fact, one must do so. But it can very well be wrong to have come to such askew convictions in the first place, by having stifled the protest of the anamnesis(an inner repugnance to evil and an attraction to the good) of being." It seems that the American Catholic Church has lost is way, lost its humility and rejected guidance of the Holy Spirit by denying the Pope as Good Shepherd and Christ's representative on earth. Is this the fault of the Catholic laity or the leaders and teachers who are striving to remake the American Catholic Church in the Episcopalian model by questioning the Pope's authority?  It is time that all Catholics, especially students at Catholic Universities, read the collected works of Dom Columba Marmion to understand the relationship between God, His Church, the individual and humanity. "Christ the Life of the Soul" is an excellent starting point. " 

@Luce & Jenkins et al

It is high time that the Catholic Church became both democratic and scientific. It is an organization that plays an immense role in public physical and mental health and it if full of contradictions becasue it is inconsistent with reality. There is no evidence (except documents written within the Church) that God is a myterious other, owned totally by the Church.


There is no reason to think that God and the Universe are in any way distinct. If this is the case, theology can become an empirical science like all the others. All human experience becomes expereince of God. The scientific method has a general tendency to lead us to the truth, as can be seen in all the disciplines that have grown up since Galileo's day. One by one questions are raised and settled on the evidence.


The Church can become truly catholic (small c, Greek meaning) and the ecumenical project proceed globally ) if all the theolgians of all persuasions  started to look at the reality around them instead of cooking up ever more convoluted exegeses of ancient and (to the modern ear) irrelevant texts.


Given this approach to theology, there is no need for central dogmatic authorities. Our authority is the divine world that we all share. Of course a lot of vested interests will have to be shot down before this agenda has a snowball's chance in Hell. 

This editorial is rubbish. Read Benedict's books. Then you will know what it means to be Catholic

Amen Patricia McCarron!  I'm glad someone finally had the courage to say it.

If you want to Pope bash, at least have the decency not to call yourselves Catholic.  Your ignorance (at best it's ignorance) of the Catholic Faith is despicable.

Perhaps you all should give some thought to what each Cardinal says aloud as he walks up and casts his vote for the Vicar of Christ: 

 “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected."


It is true that an individual conscience can err and thre is no doubt that Western society has become more liberal, materialistic, indiviidualistic and relativistic. However, it is an exaggeration to poist that the Church does not have a responsibility for the non-reception of teachings, especially sexual ethics, and profound disappointment, even anger, over the lack of collegiality called for by Vatican II. We should only reflect on the coverup of child sex abuse by bishops and cardinals and the fact that JP II and Ratzinger/B16 had full knowledge of many of the most egregious crimes by clergy, but did nothing.

There is no majic bullet here for human failings. However, the truth cannot merely rain down from authority like a list of legalistic negative injunctions that are in profound tension with reason and human experience and disputed for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons. The Church has the responsibility to articulate a reasoned and convincing moral theory that rings true to the deepest levels of one's heart, mind and soul. To blame non-reception or empty pews on secular society and relativism is a cop out because it is only a small part of the problem. The answer is not faith without reason, for this is blind obedience, and it is not reason without faith, for this is to turn away from the transcendental dimension of our intellect. We need the benefits of faith and reason.

Disagreements about the lack of collegiality and the concentration of power of the Roman Curia and the pope, or with certain moral teachings does not mean that those who disagree are infected with some type of diabolical cancer that prevents them from recognizing and grasping the truth. The truth is not merely a list of do's and don'ts proclaimed as intrinsically evil actions. Read Vertitatis Spendor. Does anyone really think "deportation" is intrinsically evil (e.g., a moral absolute)? Does anyone really think the deportation of an illegal alien who committed a felony is immoral? 

What we need is for the Church to embrace Vatican II's call for true collegiality and open all the doors for the Spirit of God to blow freely and enlighten all of us. Let's pray that our next pope will help us all to become the men and women God wants us to be.


   The new pope will do well to realize that Vatican II did not cause the turmoil in society in the 1960's.  The upset was already brewing.  The council actually foresaw much of the reason for it and offered a way to spiritually elevate our society and culture, and where necessary spiritually correct them.  But in order for Vatican II to succeed, the church had to implement its teachings and form contemporary spiritual adults for a tumultuous time.  It failed to do so, so, e.g., we got a liturgy that all too often fell to the level of the secular culture.  The answer in the case of the liturgy, is not an anachronistic return to Latin but for the church to discern what is actually or potentially best in its local cultures and create a true, meaningful, localized sacred expression of worship that fits and elevates the local culture.  (At the first session of the council, an African Mass wonderfully exemplified what I'm referring to.  As the celebrant chanted and a group of drummers beat their drums and danced around the altar, the announcer said, "Behold the joy of Africa at having received the Good News of Jesus Christ.") The 2500 council fathers applauded and cheered!)

   No serious Catholic would say that we should follow our conscience without consulting with the one, living Catholic faith as it is being experienced in our time by the whole People of God.  The problem is that the bishops and the Vatican are not set up (or disposed) to discern the sense of faith (sensus fidei) of the laity.  So when Catholics become disaffected because they are not listened to or respected in very important aspects of their lives in today's society, the hierarchy all too often prefer to simply blame secularism for their disaffection.   

   A new pope who maintains an over-centralized, non-listening, non-respecting Vatican will see continuing disaffection from Catholics who are looking for guidance and formation in effective, world-elevating, adult spirituality in a church that follows ALL the teachings of the church.  

Show me where in Scriptures or the much-vaunted "Deposit of Faith" where it is not permitted to pope bash and still be Catholic?  The papacy is replete with a history of dastardly men doing dastardly things.  To forget or ignore that is to be guilty of, at best, ignorance and at worst willful deception.

On a Church Worth Keeping After Benedict


As a non-Catholic, Bret Stephens focuses where the light is -- on the fairly well publicized sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church., (The Wall Street Journal,"A Church, If You Can Keep It," Opinion, Mar. 5). He makes his point about the risky nature of required celibacy for Catholic priests without mentioning Alex Gibney's revelatory HBO documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa" that should be required viewing for the cardinals now gathering in the Vatican to elect a new pope to follow after Benedict..  But that's not all.


The reigns of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were set on aborting the church reborn at the Second Vatican Council -- re-anchoring the institution in its monarchical past while continuing to ignore the penetrating question asked by the late Leo Joseph Cardinal Suenens at the second session of Vatican II: "Why are we even discussing the reality of the church when half of the church is not represented here?"

When the cardinals go about selecting a new pope, not a single Catholic woman will be found among them – no matter how worthy they may be -- prompting a question: How can the Catholic laity, especially women, maintain respect and trust in an institutional church that operates as it does?

The silence of sheep-like laity works to the benefit of the church's all-male hierarchy that is still bent on maintaining slave-like control of America's women religious. These women are not only the hope for a pastoral Vatican II church worth keeping after Benedict, but also for a future college of cardinals with at least fifty percent women.

Changing the Story

When things aren't going well for a business client, a savvy Public Relations organization would undoubtedly offer the following advice: Change the story.


That certainly appears to be the strategy adopted by the American Church with the aim of moving beyond the costly law suits and bad image problem associated with widespread sex-abuse scandals and related cover ups reaching to the highest levels of the Vatican. See Alex Gibney's HBO documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa.” The documentary should, but won't be, required viewing for the cardinals now gathering in the Vatican to elect a new pope to follow after Benedict. There is a better story to tell -- a new paradigm


Clear evidence of the unfolding strategy can be seen via an effusive review of George Weigel's new book, "Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church," in today's Wall Street Journal. The review, titled "A To-Do List for the Conclave," was authored by Julieanne Dolan, a writer in the Office of Public Affairs at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. 


The book has been highly praised by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said: "“This sparkling read puts all the old Church-labels—liberal vs. conservative, progressive vs. traditionalist, pre- vs. post-Vatican II—in the shredder. Now there is only one valid adjective for all of us: evangelical! Simply put, this means we take our baptismal promises with the utmost seriousness. Like the Samaritan woman, we’ve met a man—Jesus—who has changed our lives.”


Therefore, it should come as no surprise that an Amazon Customer Review of the book by RCB "Catholic," stated: "George Weigel is covering the conclave for NBC. In addition, Weigel has noticed his book 'Evangelical Catholicism' in the hands of a few conclave Cardinals who are from outside of the USA."


Likely, each of the voting cardinals has been gifted with a signed copy of Weigel's story-changing book. We wll see what we will see.

Conclave Neoconservatives on the Rise

Further to my previous comment, The Wall Street Journal reports that  Angelo Cardinal Scola of Milan is not only one of the front runners for the papacy, but also a promoter of the right-wing Communion and Liberation (CL) evangelizing organization.* See "Candidate Raises Profile of a Grass-Roots Movement," [The Wall Street Journal, page A8, Mar. 12, 2013,

Scola is a neoconservative in the mold of Pope Benedict's company men in America, Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington and Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York. Add Julieanne Dolan's interpretation of George Weigel' s book, "Evangelical Catholicism," as a to-do-list-for-the-conclave, and it is easy to see the development of a formidable neoconservative alliance without comparable progressive opposition.

If the alliance forms and has its way, likely gone will be the church reborn at Vatican II --  replaced by pre-Vatican II church with a clear evangelizing mission.


* According to Peggy Lernoux, members of the Communion and Liberation organization like those of Opus Dei share a sense of crusading righteousness -- looking upon themselves as the chosen few who will cleanse society and restore a pre Vatican II Catholicism..For more, see Lernoux's 1989 book, "People of God: The struggle for World Catholicism," pages 324-337, and Wikipedia at

Will the Pilgrim Path of Pope Francis Lead to Real Aggiornamento?

This is to call your attention to the March 14, 2013, Wall Street Journal Op-ed by Daniel Johnson, "A New Pope on a Pilgrim's Path." Here's the storyline: In choosing Pope Francis as his new name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio conjures Francis of Assisi, emphasizing the church's humility, poverty and charity.  See the op-ed at ( As stated in my posted comment, "Liberation Theology Not Marxist," on Johnson's op-ed, when Johnson opines: "Pope Francis and the pope emeritus have much else in common, not least a steely orthodoxy that was honed in the battles with liberation theology and other Marxist heresies during the past century," -- he is echoing the rhetoric of the 1980's Vatican and Reagan administration.

Both institutions aligned with the wealthy Latin American ruling classes and government dictatorships to suppress the essential message of liberation theology, to wit: That God is on the side of the impoverished masses. The goal of liberation theology was economic and political liberation of the poor from internal structures of oppression and the colonial-like relationship with the United States and Europe.

This suppression -- done under the guise of fighting the spread of communism -- saw the Vatican's effective destruction of religious leaders, such as the defrocking of the saintly Franciscan Friar Leonardo Boff.  Boff argued that the fundamental issue facing Catholicism in the 1980s was human rights in the church and that the church needs to give witness by its practices within its own structures. Also persecuted were the men and women religious who were giving the poor -- held in bondage to the rich -- faith in themselves.

The Vatican protagonists were Pope John Paul II and his orthodoxy enforcer Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now pope emeritus, who were forcing the Catholic Church -- via a so-called Restoration -- back into a pre-Vatican II authoritarian institution that would demand unquestioned obedience to its commands .

The fact that Pope Francis was named a cardinal by John Paul II would indicate that he was seen as concurring with the Vatican's Latin American anti-liberation-theology policies at the time. This could be troubling as penetrating questions about his behavior during the "Dirty War" will continue to surface. For example, see the Huff Post story, "Pope Francis Kidnapping Controversy: Jorge Mario Bergoglio Accused Of Involvement In 1976 Abductions," at (, The subject has already been covered by Wikipedia at ( and was even discussed on a March 14, 2013, PBS Newshour segment on Pope Francis.

Pope Francis is widely praised for his warmth and common touch. However, his credibility as a Francis-of-Assisi-like champion of the poor  -- emphasizing the church's humility, poverty and charity -- depends on his ability to emerge unsullied from under the shadow cast not only by the anti-liberation-theology policies of his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but also by his ability to alter his predecessors harsh man-made policies re: women's ordination, birth control, married clergy, gay and lesbian Catholics, divorced and remarried Catholics, as well as abortion.  Only time will tell if Pope Francis will be able to overcome Vatican power politics, the resistance of ultra-conservative organizations such as Opus Dei and Communion and Liberation, and other vested interests, to supplant John Paul II's Restoration with John XXIII's Aggiornamento and so bring the Catholic Church into the modern world as set forth in the two outstanding documents of Vatican II, the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" and the "Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World."

Papal election stirs Argentina's 'dirty war' past


Further to my last comment, today (March 15) the Chicago Northwest Suburbs Daily Herald ran a brief AP story headlined "Argentina's 'dirty war' debate touches Francis." A Google search for the headline gave many more results than expected.  The AP story that turned up was by no means brief. It was dated March 14, 2013, and headlined "Papal election stirs Argentina's 'dirty war' past." The 4-page text can be found at (


The story centers on the claim of Pope Francis' critics that he has said little over the years about one of the harshest allegations against him; to wit: That he was among church leaders who actively supported Argentina's 1976-1983 military junta while it was kidnapping and killing thousands of people in a 'dirty war' to eliminate leftist opponents.


Although that was some 37 years ago when Fr. Bergoglio was most likely acting as an obedient servant in accord with Pope John Paul II's anti-liberation-theology policy, it is still a hot emotional issue that could make the walk on his Pilgrim Path more difficult than it really ought to be. However, consider this excerpt  from the Wall Street Journal's March 14, 2003, editorial:  "Notably, however, Pope Francis did not join those Jesuits who became enamored in the last century with "liberation theology," an attempt to do the impossible and blend Marxism with Christianity." That in a nutshell is why Fr. Bergoglio was able to remain a seminary rector and the provincial for Argentine Jesuits, and 16 years later  be named a bishop by John Paul II This put him on the first big step to his papacy with a painful but extraordinary learning experience behind him. 


To learn more about the human-rights-centered religious war between the Church and U.S. supported Latin American military dictatorships, see Penny Lernoux's book "Cry of the People: United States Involvement in the Rise of Fascism, Torture, and Murder and the Persecution of the Catholic Church in Latin America" (Doubleday, 1980) and Zoe Ryan's 2012  NCR review, "32 years later, book on Latin America still challenges us," (,


The appended excerpts from Lernoux's book provide context that should give the reader a good sense of what was going on at the time covered by the allegations against Pope Francis. A good sense of the times can also be obtained from “Romero,” a 1989 Paulist Picture about Archbishop Oscar Romero of

El Salvador who was murdered for his stand against social injustice and oppression in his country.


Excerpts from the first chapter of “Cry of the People” 


Beneath the surface of Buenos Aires' opulence, behind the steak houses, nightclubs, theaters, and opera houses, are the same malignant forces responsible for still-cruder forms of repression in Bolivia, Paraguay, and a dozen other, poorer Latin-American countries. Though Latin America looks to be the most industrialized- of the Third World areas, two thirds of its 320 million people still live in a Dark Ages, ruled by petty warlords ambitious only for power and money. The medieval torture chamber has been updated with sophisticated technology, though Uruguay and other countries still rely on such ancient methods as burning at the stake.  

As under Hitler, organizations that might have protested the brutality have been eliminated, one by one. The communists were the first to go; then the liberal and conservative political parties. Student federations and unions were banned, their leaders imprisoned or killed. Congress was abolished, civil courts were replaced the Church has a hemisphere-wide base and, in the Vatican, an international forum. More important, it still has the authority and organization to command the loyalty of a majority of Latin Americans. (Even today, 90 percent of the people are baptized Catholics.) Like the Spanish and Portuguese languages, Catholicism is so deeply embedded in the Latin-American cultures that a government can no more ignore or destroy it than an Arab ruler can outlaw Islam. Thus the Catholic Church was and is the only body in Latin America powerful enough both to criticize dictatorship and to sustain a formal dialogue with the military leaders in government. It is also the only organization able to encourage alternatives to totalitarianism in the ongoing atmosphere of terror. Unions, student groups, political parties, all seek the protection of the Church: it alone can withstand the repression.

[According to a report by Amnesty International, one of seventeen commonly used torture methods in Uruguay included burning the prisoner alive in a barbecue pit or grill. "When the smell of roasting meat is emitted, the victim is-taken away," reported Amnesty International. (Human Rights in Uruguay and Paraguay, Hearings before the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations, U. S. House of Representatives, June 17, July 27 and 28, and Aug. 4, 1976, p. 50.]

However, not everyone in the Catholic Church agrees that a commitment to social causes is necessary or desirable. There are serious divisions between traditionalists who want to preserve the old ways and progressives who envision a new Latin-American Church similar in spirit and organization to the primitive Christian communities. The split cuts right across the Church, from cardinal to layperson. But the trend dearly favors the progressives, at least in the concept of Vatican II.

One of the most important contributions of Vatican II was its image of the Church as a community of equals instead of a hierarchy of laity, clergy, and bishops. This concept of a "People of God" found quick acceptance in Latin America, where the mass of the people were starved for the Word of God. Although hitherto the Church had dealt with the poor as an afterthought, these Latin Americans cling to a deep sense of religiosity. Indeed, in many cultures it is the only means whereby the poor can express themselves. Unlike the secular societies of industrialized countries, community life in Latin America is still deeply colored by religion. Wherever bishops and clergy have reached out to these people, they have found an immediate response. But this is no longer the traditional Catholicism of pomp and circumstance, of rigid divisions separating the princes of the Church from the people. Bishops, priests, and nuns have come to look upon themselves as brothers and sisters of the people, at the service of the poor. And because almost everyone is poor in Latin America, this

Church will endure, even as the Church of the wealthy and middle classes is succumbing to the same materialism that has infected religious institutions in the United States and Europe.

By any historical measure the price of commitment to the poor has been enormous. Persecution of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and of the Protestants, too, is unparalleled m modern history, even in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Since 1968, when Latin America's Catholic Church began to question the miserable conditions in which two thirds of the people live, over 850 priests, nuns, and bishops have been arrested, tortured, murdered, or expelled, and thousands of the Catholic laity have been jailed and killed.


Go and Repair My House


Today's Wall Street Journal carried two more stories that covered much of the same material presented in  my previous two comments.


The first was Matt Moffett's page-6 story headlined  "Argentina Debates Pope's Political Past,"



Moffett's  page-6 print story was displayed front and center on the Journal's  online edition along with a link a second piece on the subject -- an essay by Carlos Gamerro titled "Pope Francis, the Disappeared, and the Questions That Won’t Vanish," ( 


In view of the above, it was good to see Peggy Noonan's uplifting opinion piece  "'Go and Repair My House,' Heard the Saint of Assisi." Noonan's piece can be found at (


Noonan's epigram, "There is a power in the new pope's humility," is thought provoking to say the least.


I believe Francis' profound humility is truly genuine -- rooted somewhere in Argentina's 1973-1983 dirty-war years. Painful lessons must have been learned during this time. Also, haunting memories must exist of his oppressed and murdered fellow religious who dedicated themselves to social justice and worked with the disenfranchised poor in defiance of Pope John Paul II's opposition to their liberation theology. Memories of the assassination of Archbishop Romero in 1980 at the hands of the Salvadoran junta must still be hurting.

The Smear Campaign, Father Bergoglio's choice, and the Papacy

According to Mary Anastasia O'Grady, what embitters those trying to turn Argentina into the next Venezuela."is that Father Bergoglio believed that Marxism (and the related "liberation theology") was antithetical to Christianity and refused to embrace it in the 1970s. That put him in the way of those inside the Jesuit order at the time who believed in revolution." See "Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope," at (

Father Bergoglio's decisions during Argentina's 1973-1983 dirty-war years were certainly life affecting. He surely must have learned painful lessons during this tragic time while agonizing between a choice between the 'for' and 'against' positions re: liberation theology -- the 'for' of the Gospels, the poor, and left-wing revolutionaries versus the 'against' of Pope John Paul II, the military dictatorship, and the rich.

It may never be known whether Father Bergoglio really believed that Marxism (and the related "liberation theology") was antithetical to Christianity or whether he simply acted out of obedience and loyalty to the anti-liberation theology policy of the virulently anti-communist and charismatic Pope John Paul II.

What does seem to be evident is that he helped  the poor and oppressed in his own way while avoiding entanglements with both the radical left-wing revolutionaries and the right-wing military dictatorship -- I believe a choice that eventually led him to the papacy.

The Smear Campaign, Father Bergoglio's choice, and the Papacy

According to Mary Anastasia O'Grady, what embitters those trying to turn Argentina into the next Venezuela."is that Father Bergoglio believed that Marxism (and the related "liberation theology") was antithetical to Christianity and refused to embrace it in the 1970s. That put him in the way of those inside the Jesuit order at the time who believed in revolution." See "Behind the Campaign to Smear the Pope," at (

Father Bergoglio's decisions during Argentina's 1973-1983 dirty-war years were certainly life affecting. He surely must have learned painful lessons during this tragic time while agonizing between a choice between the 'for' and 'against' positions re: liberation theology -- the 'for' of the Gospels, the poor, and left-wing revolutionaries versus the 'against' of Pope John Paul II, the military dictatorship, and the rich.

It may never be known whether Father Bergoglio really believed that Marxism (and the related "liberation theology") was antithetical to Christianity or whether he simply acted out of obedience and loyalty to the anti-liberation theology policy of the virulently anti-communist and charismatic Pope John Paul II.

What does seem to be evident is that he helped  the poor and oppressed in his own way while avoiding entanglements with both the radical left-wing revolutionaries and the right-wing military dictatorship -- I believe a choice that eventually led him to the papacy.

There is no better way to cap this series of comments than with the following words of Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, taken from his March  17, 2013,  online piece, "Francis, the Jesuits and the Dirty War," in the National Catholic Reporter, (  


"In the face of tyranny, there are those who take a prophetic stance and die martyrs. There are those who collaborate with the regime. And there are others who do what they can while keeping their heads low....Those who have not lived under a dictatorship should not be quick to judge those who have, whether the dictatorship was in ancient Rome, Latin America, Africa, Nazi Germany, Communist Eastern Europe, or today's China. We should revere martyrs, but not demand every Christian be one."

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