HOW HUMBLE AND HOW LOVING A PAPACY?

By Paul

Much has been made of late regarding the loving humility and the Christian charity of the new pope.  He has been compared to John Paul II in terms of both warmth and personal charisma, and that comparison may be accurate.

Each of these prelates seems to have, or to have had, a special place in his heart for the poor of the world.  And the poor, let it be said, are surely in need of a strong advocate, inasmuch as they represent the very definition of powerlessness in society.  By contrast, those with money are those with influence, and can for the most part do and get what they want.  The poor get what is left over, if indeed anything at all is left.  So, I applaud the pope in this regard.  It is surely a very good thing for the poor to have friends in high places, and it is difficult to think of a higher position in society than that of Pontifex Maximus, at least in religious circles.  To note just how high an office this is let us just remember for a moment that the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, was the first hereditary Pontifex Maximus (of the old religion).  It is often said that this title, Pontifex, comes from a combination of the Latin words “pons” and “facere,” and that they translate to mean “builder of bridges.” More probably, however, it relates to an old Etruscan term, and refers instead to a preparer of the roads.  It was the job of the Pontifex Maximus to keep the “pax deorum,” or peace with the gods.  This meant being a sort of highly valued go-between, mediating the way and conjoining gods and men, and helping people stay on the path that took them to the gods.

Given this regal background, to say nothing of the later trappings of the Imperial Papacy accrued over the centuries, the question suggests itself whether a person today can for long remain humble and lowly while occupying such a lofty place in life.  Let us hope that it is possible.  Let us give our best wishes to Francis I, who apparently took his name from that of Francis of Assisi, a saint made famous by his humility.

So far, at least, it would seem that the new pope is determined to maintain this simple demeanor, that same ability and willingness to reach out to ordinary people, and not to hide behind the truly formidable trappings of the Roman Pontiff.  His immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, was by contrast less successful at this, if it was a goal of his at all.  And so Catholics are rejoicing, and feeling relieved that they may have a more human leader at the helm these days.  In his recent installation ceremony, the new pope even spoke of the need to protect the environment, which must be something of a first for the head of a major religion.

Still, not everyone rejoices in quite the same way, and that is where we will have to wait and see just how inclusive the new pope’s love and humility turns out to be.  That’s because the truth of the matter is that not everyone is impartially and uniformly equal within the Catholic Church.  Let us take as an example first of all the role of women in the Church.  It goes without saying that we saw not a single representative of exactly half of all humanity within the conclave that elected the humble Francis I.  Nor were there any women in red occupying any of the balconies flanking the loggia from which Francis I gave his first “urbi et orbi” blessing (to the city and to the world), at which he asked for all to pray for him.   Nor will any Catholic see a woman on the altar celebrating mass on any Sunday, or any other day of the week, anywhere in the world, because women are shockingly banned from the priesthood, even though the reasons for this are entirely historically based and not at all rooted in any of the Christian scriptures.

But let us simply take for granted that it is unlikely, if not unthinkable, that Francis I, or any future pope in our lifetime, will ever change this policy, even though it is essentially merely a habit (and a bad one at that), a tradition, a custom, an historical norm.  We are told, let us not reach too high, let us not attempt to overreach, lest the men in charge of the church be made to feel uncomfortable to the point of becoming apoplectic.  All right, who wants to be responsible for giving an old man a heart attack?

Are there, however, other ways in which the new pope could reach out to and make women feel more valued, more included, more truly part of the church many of them love?  In my view there is.  In what could be both a simple and a highly dramatic gesture, why not consider allowing women to become deacons?  Yes, it is true that the diaconate has long been considered a step in becoming a priest, and when I was a young man and still considering myself Catholic, deacons were by definition priests-in-training only.  However, much has changed since that time, and today there are deacons aplenty in many Catholic churches.  They are so-called lay people, who never have any intention of going on to become priests.  Nor are such lay-deacons required to remain celibate.  It seems to me, therefore, not such a stretch, not so much an unthinkable step for the pope to cast the mantle of inclusion over women in this regard and to allow them to take on this important role.  It would be a wonderfully welcomed step, one that would help many Catholic women feel a deep sense of hope, of joy, and of empowerment within the church that has for too long regarded them as second-class citizens.

There is in addition another whole swath of humanity, which also appears to exist outside of the humility and love preached by Francis I, namely, gay people.  Then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is on record as having said that gay marriage is “destructive of God’s plan,” and he claimed that the adoption of orphans on the part of loving same-sex parents is tantamount to child endangerment.  Are these the words of a loving and humble man, it has to be asked?  In fact, it could well be said that it is especially incumbent on the Catholic Church these days to tread carefully when it comes to matters of sex and love, as its own history is a clouded one in this regard.  Even in Argentina, the new pontiff’s home country, only some 25% of Catholics actually attend church on Sunday, and virtually no one follows the church’s teaching on contraception and birth control.  The sordid and depressing details of child abuse on the part of Catholic clergy in virtually every country where there are Catholics is so well known that it hardly bears repetition here.  And divorce, too, is as common among Catholics as it is in the general population.

Love is a great goal toward which we all ought to constantly strive.  It is what makes this sometimes cold and lonely world a place where all of us can find solace and a degree of happiness.  Is it, therefore, a good thing for the head of an organization that professes to live by the love of God and by the teachings of Jesus Christ, that great Avatar of Love, to preach exclusion and separation?

When I was still a monk, I well remember one of the great hymns of the church, sung in the beautiful simplicity of Gregorian chant.  It began: “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.”  In translation, this means: “Where (there is) charity and love, there God is (too).”  There are several words in Latin depicting the idea of love, and although some authors have used them interchangeably, it is generally believed that “caritas” refers to the greater love of all humankind, beyond the purely personal, while “amor” applies to the love we feel toward those who are closest to us.  Note that the hymn, whose author is unknown but which has been in existence for close to a thousand years, speaks of both.

So, let us hope – and those who pray, let them pray – that Francis I will open his heart to all people.  We all ought to rejoice that he is so keenly attuned to the needs of the poor, and that is a good thing.  May he continue this crucial mission throughout his papacy.  But again, is it truly commensurate with Christian love (and charity), is it part of God’s plan to willingly shut out whole other segments of humanity in the process?  If the Catholic Church has a role to play in the world of the 21st century, its leader must embrace all people, no matter what their race, color, creed, social or economic standing, sex, or sexual orientation might be.  Otherwise, he may be an affable and avuncular old man, but he is also one who lives by the code of a creed no longer relevant in today’s world.

 

G.O.P. Panic!

REPUBLICANS PANIC OVER THE 2012 GENERAL ELECTION

Backed into deep, dangerous right wing waters by the Tea Party coup, and weighed down with four unelectable candidates left swimming in their presidential primaries, the G.O.P. is descending into an ever more intense state of panic over the 2012 general elections.

The Deep, Dangerous Waters of Extreme Right Wing Positions and Policies:

  1. Foreign Policies and Wars – The G.O.P. exhibits a strange bipolar split between isolationism / withdrawal from the world, and constant threats of military build-up, escalation of hostilities and threats of war. They make fun of their own candidates who are so recklessly international in their interests to learn and speak French (Romney) or Mandarin Chinese (Huntsman.) They threaten to bomb Iran and the current G.O.P. presidential crop makes G. W. Bush look like a global darling.
  2. Birth Control and Women’s Rights – Today’s G.O.P. appears to stand to the extreme right of mainstream Americans with its position against birth control and a woman’s right to choice and control over her own body, health, and reproductive processes. There are even strong indications of Republican opposition to other basic human rights for women in their homes and in society at large. Women vote… right?
  3. Taxing the Poor and Giving the Rich a Big Break – Tea Party manipulated Republicans have clearly demonstrated that they really want to deny tax cuts and a minimum wage to the 99% of us who live in the middle and lower classes and pay 25% to 35% income tax. But they stridently demand tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans who make over $1 million per year and now pay only 13% to 16% tax. Is this a good strategy for winning votes from financially struggling Americans?
  4. Subsidies for Rich Corporations – Republicans monolithically support subsidies for hedge fund managers and for the richest corporations in human history – oil companies that exacerbate climate change, rape the environment, and gouge consumers and our economy. Meanwhile our infrastructure is disintegrating.
  5. Working against Economic Recovery – Doesn’t it seem crystal clear that Republicans do not want the economy to recover, because they’d rather have a failed economy to use as a bludgeon against President Obama? They have worked against all of his efforts and expressed unified condemnation of all the successful policies started under G. W. Bush and continued in the present administration, to save the U.S. and the world from deep global depression. They demand a return to ruinous deregulatory policies that produce smoke-and-mirrors financial products like the credit default swaps and poisoned derivatives that very nearly brought this nation down and the rest of the world with us. Their four remaining presidential candidates are even unanimous in condemning the completely successful auto industry recovery strategy that saved Michigan and the U.S. economy.
  6. Anti-Labor Efforts – Since their midterm election success (and long before that, of course) the G.O.P. has waged an all-out war on labor unions, collective bargaining rights, fair wages, and pensions, for salt-of-the-earth public servants, like firefighters, police, teachers and other public service workers who are the core of the middle class work force, many of them Republicans. Is this any way to win friends, influence people and get votes? Watch what happens to Gov. Walker in Wisconsin to gauge the wages of this sin. He will be recalled and the workers will win their rights.
  7. Head-in-the-Oil-Sands, All-Out, Suicidal Denial of Global Climate Change – Virtually 100% of the world’s climatologists and other scientists urgently warn us of extremely dire consequences if we do not immediately take major steps to stop and reverse Global Climate Change. But most Republicans spend their time denying that it exists at all, as if they had more data and expertise than climatologists. They instead support a suicidal policy of rapid development and consumption of fossil fuels, while working against investment in alternative clean energy sources and ridiculing hybrid and electric cars. They are unanimous in supporting the Keystone Oil Sands Pipeline – a powerfully destructive endgame plan for Earth’s environment.
  8. Racist Immigration Positions – Tea Party members, Republicans, and extreme right wing conservatives exhibit jingoistic, racist fears and reactionary responses to “the browning of America.” They want to stop and harass people of color, deport them, and prevent them from voting. They refuse to recognize the ways in which immigrants have built our country and serve as a pillar of labor in our economy.
  9. Making Education a Privilege Only the Rich Can Afford – Republicans have long advocated closing down the Department of Education. Now they want to remove all Federal and state money from public education, effectively ending the right of the masses to educate ourselves and climb the ladder to better conditions. Republicans prefer the idea of an America in which education is a privilege that only the rich can afford. They want to deny education to our increasingly brown populace, because they don’t want more people of color like President Obama aspiring to power. Accordingly, they are slashing and burning education budgets.
  10. Gay Civil Rights – The most conservative and right wing elements now in control of the Republican Party oppose gay marriage, GLBT civil rights in general, and the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But Rick Santorum, the current leader of the pack among their presidential contenders, has pushed the G.O.P. even farther to the right on gay issues, about which he seems to be unnaturally obsessed. Years ago he famously compared gay orientation to incest, bestiality and polygamy. His extreme homophobia is bringing out the worst in Republicans as he urges them toward questioning the goodness and morality of gay citizens who may represent about 10% of the American electorate. Will any GLBT people vote Republican in 2012?
  11. Religion, Dogma and Bigotry – Republicans no longer seem to believe in our Constitutional separation of church and state, as long as it is THEIR Church of Fundamentalist Christian Dogma and Bigotry that controls the state. They clearly believe that Islamic citizens and non-Christian Americans are actually un-American and should not be allowed to vote or hold office… In fact, they shouldn’t be here.
  12. Obstruction of Government – A large part of this problem is due to growing Tea Party and Republican belief that any government and all government activities are bad for America. They seem to be moving dangerously close to proposing anarchy, but it would be a kind of anarchy in which right wing ideologues would run society. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have achieved a nadir in popularity ratings by opposing anything and everything that the Democrats and the Obama Administration propose, even if the Republicans had originally proposed and supported it themselves… and even if it is supported by their own Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell. They have made government so dysfunctional that Congress would be more effective if it closed its doors and went home: anarchy.
  13. Extreme Right Wing Takeover – Ever since the ascendancy of the Tea Party and its ability to hold the Republican establishment hostage, the extreme right wing of the G.O.P. has hijacked their processes and positions and thwarted  the more mainstream agendas of Republican Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell. It has become almost impossible to find a moderate Republican anymore, as mainstream Republicans are forced to parrot Tea Party positions so outrageously and radically right wing that they cannot possibly prevail in the 2012 general election…. Or, if they do, it will be the end of America as we have known and loved it.The 13 deadly sins above are just the short list. There are a lot more. What do all of these positions and policies have in common? They represent a full-out attack on the people – the 99% of Americans – the vast majority of voters. Is it any wonder that the G.O.P. is in a panic about the 2012 election when they can’t stop themselves from alienating a big majority of the electorate? And people are catching on. Many conservatives are worried about guilt by association with the Tea Party extremists.

The Four Remaining G.O.P. Candidates for the Presidential Nomination

Republicans are in a panic about the 2012 general election partly because they have been painted into an extreme right wing corner by the Tea Party. But their panic is even more compellingly fueled by their disenchantment with the four remaining G.O.P. candidates left standing in their presidential primary process, because all of them look like sure losers against the mighty Obama re-election effort:

  • Rick Santorum is now a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination – a fact that seems so unlikely as to be downright surreal. But he is riding a strong wave of momentum because the G.O.P. is so disenchanted with their other three candidates and they have nowhere else to go. (Tim Pawlenty, you dropped out way too soon. You could have been the frontrunner now.) Senator Santorum may have trouble in Pennsylvania, though, where the voters eventually realized how radically right wing and out of bounds his views are. They voted him out by an 18% margin. However, Nixon proved long ago that anyone can come back from a devastating loss and win the presidency. Nobody thinks Santorum can take the White House, but everyone should be very concerned if he wins the nomination, because such a right wing radical extremist should never be allowed to get that close to the presidency.
  • Mitt Romney seems to have been running for the presidency all his life. He and his family look like they were designed for the White House by central casting in  Hollywood. But the Republican electorate does not like him. “The sins of the father are visited upon the son,” and George Romney was a liberal to moderate Republican – a political animal that does not exist anymore. Mitt’s genuine impulses are a lot like his father’s, and Republicans can smell that. They do not believe his conversion to “severe conservatism.” They don’t like the fact that he is a moderate, but worse than that, he is a super rich Massachusetts elitist intellectual who speaks French!
  • Newt Gingrich is universally hated by the Republican establishment. He rose to the top of the polls briefly and had a second surge a bit later, but recently he has fallen like a stone to the bottom of the pile. To know him is to reject him as a mean, scary little man with megalomaniac aspirations. Republicans do not trust him because he is the ultimate Washington insider. And yet, almost nobody who worked with him will support him. The story of his three marriages does not help him. Moreover his intelligence and sharp, articulate, witty attacks do not serve him well in the long run. Again, American voters do not like intellectuals. Ask Adlai Stevenson and John Kerry.
  • Ron Paul himself publicly admitted that he had no chance of winning the Republican nomination or the presidency. He has a relatively small but ardent cadre of supporters and contributors, but the Republican Party has never taken him seriously. This year they snub him at their peril, because if he were to run as a third party candidate for the presidency, he would surely split off enough conservative votes to insure President Obama’s re-election, just as Ross Perot managed to make the first Bush a one-term president and put Bill Clinton in the White House.

So… What’s going to happen?

There are a number of interesting potential scenarios both emanating from and exacerbating the Republican panic over the 2012 general election:

  • Open, brokered convention – An increasing number of Republicans and political commentators are talking about the possibility of an open, brokered convention. It is hard to see how a return to the proverbial smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear could happen under the Republican Rules, but then, when it comes to elections, Republicans have never been very big on following the rules anyway. Maybe they’ll just change them and say, “Sorry, all you candidates who invested years of your life running for this nomination, and sorry, all of you billionaires and smaller donors who gave lots of money to them, but we are going to throw open this nomination process and draft Jeb Bush as our winning presidential candidate.”
  • Last-minute, Fifth Candidate – Is there any chance of a Johnny-come-lately, last minute candidate entering the race before the Super Tuesday Primaries? Could Tim Pawlenty somehow be resurrected? Mitch Daniels seems to be issuing “non-denial denials” regarding his interest in becoming a late entry, according to Chuck Todd.
  • Dreaded Third Party Candidacy – “Americans Elect” is already mounting a third party challenge for the presidency. They claim that three million people have expressed interest in their website, and they will narrow their list of candidates in May and choose one to run in June. They promise to put that candidate on all 50 ballots. This year anything could happen. We could see a fourth and fifth party, too. Donald Trump could decide that it would be good for his celebrity status and TV show to run on an independent ticket. So could Sarah Palin. Ron Paul might feel badly enough treated at the Republican Convention to spoil their soup and run as an independent. Many of these scenarios would spell re-election for President Obama.
  • Or… Maybe the G.O.P. Will Just Lose – If they continue on their current path, articulating extreme right wing positions and putting forward losing candidates, they may lose more than the presidency in the general election. They might just lose SO BIG that the Democrats would retake control of the House, bolster their position in the Senate, and replace a lot of Republican governors in the states.

 What’s going to happen?… A lot of rough and roiling water will have to pass under the November Election Bridge, along with a floundering G.O.P. elephant before we will know the answer to that question. But it is clear that the elephant is indeed floundering and in danger of drowning in those deep, dangerous extreme right wing waters. And the poor old pachyderm has fallen prey to a profound state of panic. No swimmer was ever saved from peril by giving in to panic. If the Republicans are going to survive this crisis, they are must analyze the needs of the electorate with a clear head and decide how to serve the vast majority of voters and stop alienating and insulting them. Then they need to nominate a mainstream moderate conservative candidate who can articulate a solid case for genuine service to the nation – in fact, service to the planet, and all its people.

— Kevin