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Habemus Papam: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone

category international | religion | opinion / analysis author Tuesday March 19, 2013 18:46author by Facundo Guillén - CELauthor email das.belge at gmail dot com Report this post to the editors

Regarding the election of Bergoglio as the new pope, Luis D'Elía said: "Francis I is for Latin America what John Paul II was for the Soviet Union. The new aim of the empire to destroy South American unity".
Without actually embracing this point of view, this comparison manages to capture an essential element: cracks are becoming apparent in the former bastion of Catholicism. With the advance of the evangelical churches, Latin American Catholicism has lost the monopoly on religion. [Castellano]
Bergoglio, the Pope who supports San Lorenzo
Bergoglio, the Pope who supports San Lorenzo

Habemus Papam: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone

"Yes, I 'fell out' with the Pope. I 'fell out' because I went to the Vatican and saw that the ceilings were made of gold. And I heard the Pope saying that the Church takes care of poor children. But if so, sell the ceiling, dammit, do something! You have everything going against you, you were only the goalkeeper. What is the Banco Ambrosiano for? For selling drugs and smuggling weapons as they say in the book "In God's Name"?
Maradona on John Paul II

Benedict's resignation or The search for new hand of God

In 2009 Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was named Secretary-General of the Governatorate of Vatican City State. During the time he held office he helped turn a deficit of $10.5 million for the city-state into a surplus of $44 million in the space of a year. In the first month of 2012, the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi released a series of letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict XVI. In one letter, written in late March 2011 (1), Viganò begged the pope not to transfer him for having discovered a number of cases of corruption in relation to overpriced construction contracts and services paid for by the Holy See: "Blessed Father, my transfer in this moment would provoke confusion and discouragement for those who thought it was possible to clean up so many situations of corruption and abuse of office". In August 2011, five months after sending the letter to Benedict XVI, he was transferred to the USA as a Vatican diplomat.

When Viganò's letter was made ??public, Benedict XVI set up an investigative committee that included Cardinal Julián Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi in order to find out who was responsible for the leaking of information (2). Weeks later, the journalist Nuzzi wrote a book in which he revealed about 100 documents that came directly from the pope's desk. This committee eventually discovered that Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, had disclosed the documents. The butler was soon imprisoned.

The most interesting thing about all this happened just before Christmas last year. On 17 December, Benedict XVI received more than he wanted to hear from the investigation by Cardinals Julián Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi. According to Italy's leading newspaper, "La Repubblica", the report was devastating (3). 300 pages of investigations, dozens and dozens of interviews signed by the interviewees, checks and counter-checks. The investigation to identify who had leaked the documents published by Nuzzi endedf up opening a Pandora's box. The results exceeded works of fiction, books and movies based on conspiracy theories such as "The Da Vinci Code". Senior officials, victims of blackmail for issues of a "worldly nature", homosexual relations between bishops (obviously this does not seem like a crime to us, but to the Church yes), a pimp in the Vatican choir offering sexual services of the young seminarians, and finally what seems to have triggered the resignation of Benedict: a complex web of power, embezzlement and money laundering in the Vatican Bank (the IOR), far removed from international standards.

To summarize the plot, Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness, president of the National Council of Public Works of the Silvio Berlusconi government, had his phone tapped in a suspected cause of corruption. At the judicial enquiry, it was found that this man often spoke with a member (Chinedu Thomas Ehiem) of the Choir of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, who offered him the sexual services of youngsters, seminarians, including: "Let me tell you, he's six feet tall, weighs 97 kilos, he's 33 and is fully 'active'". The meetings were held in a village outside Rome, in a sauna, a beauty centre, in the Vatican itself and in a dormitory belonging to Marco Simeon, who was director of RAI Vaticano and is a protégé of the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Tarcisio Bertone. Simeon and Bertone spearheaded the block to remove Viganò from Rome, who as we said at the beginning of the article was transferred to the United States as a diplomat for denouncing acts of corruption and trying to introduce greater financial transparency (4).

The story does not end there. Bertone was one of those responsible for getting rid of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi - the former president of the Vatican Bank, a confidant of Pope Benedict XVI - in May 2011 after he had spent over two and a half years unsuccessfully trying to clean up the accounts of the Church (5). According to the public prosecutor's office in Trapani (Sicily), Matteo Messina Denaro, the new head of the Cosa Nostra, keeps ??his fortune in the IOR (6).

Benedict XVI, 85, with less than eight years as pope, failed to hold the reins of the complex reins of the church firmly. The paedophilia cases that have come to light involving important bishops, the money laundering and corruption at the bank of the Institute for Religious Works, home to the money of the Italian mafia just like in The Godfather III, the prostitution network with close links to the most important headquarters of the Church, discovered by the Italian justice system, the internal power struggles where there has even been talk of a possible assassination attempt on the Pope in the headlines of the bigger newspapers, and the butler's treason all take away credibility from the Pope and Holy See.

The same institution has given signs that the resignation was very closely linked to the need to turn the internal problems into a success in order to rebuild the lost legitimacy and hegemony. The Church needs someone who can cover up the decomposition of the Vatican that is coming to the surface.

A pope seasoned in Argentine politics

Of the 264 popes (7), more than 200 have been Italian and if the year 754, when the figure of the Pope began to govern both the Catholic Church and the Papal States, is taken as a starting point, there has not been a Supreme Pontiff who was not European until a few days ago. The choice of a Latin American pope is not mere chance (8). A Latin American pope is another example of the same process of strengthening the legitimacy of the system by the alleged inclusion of those excluded by the ruling class. Just as in the United States where the election of the African-American Barack Obama reinforced the regime internally, and within the IMF where reform of its internal constitution progresses in order to increase the representation of emerging countries at the expense of the Europeans, the delivery of the highest Vatican office into the hands of a Latin American is part of the overall cosmetic change which changes nothing. Although Bergoglio is not a representative of the medieval wing of the church, this does not mean that he will stop prioritizing involving himself in the sexual practices of his faithful followers over the growing poverty and inequality in the vast majority of the world's catholics.

Nationally, Bergoglio's elevation to the papacy is an unexpected and powerful reinforcement of the most rankest sectors of the Argentine right. Unlike other Latin American countries, Argentine catholicism has not managed to build a mass party through which to influence policy. In the absence of its own political army with a strong impact on society, it has made temporary alliances with various political forces but always with unsatisfactory results. An example of this was the first Perón government which the curia supported even to the point of approving legislation in 1954 for divorce and the legalization of prostitutionin. Some years later the church supported the cancellation of democracy during the de facto Fusiladora government, embodied in the figure of Frondizi, in exchange for the legalization of private education at all levels. From that moment on the Church was able to resort to one of the mainsprings of its earthly domain - education. The private catholic universities became the crucible of the Argentine bourgeoisie. But Frondizista flirtations with Peronism and the left were unforgivable in the eyes of the Argentine right, which put a stop to them by means of a military coup. Political intervention on the part of the Argentine Church were marked by similar characteristics - support in exchange for perks, frontal attacks whenever a government intended to apply any policy opposed to its interests.

Today the Church in Argentina is the most consistent and pragmatic of the right-wing opponents of the national government. The traditional "Te Deum" on the anniversary of the May Revolution of 1810 (the beginning of Argentina's independence) has become one of the most important events in the calendar of the country's right-wing opponents (9). The former deputy head of the local government of Macri - a point of reference for the right - in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Gabriela Michetti, is loyal to Bergoglio. In the interior of the country, the former cardinal has favoured various characters in the political spectrum (radicals, federal Peronists, Kirchnerists) in the hopes of being able to move, when the time was right, towards the creation of a network powerful enough to influence national policy direction (10). This is reflected in the unexpectedly close vote for equal marriage rights, where Kirchner had to use all her ingenuity to secure votes, as the party discipline that existed in other cases disappeared almost completely for the occasion.

Although Bergoglio sounds progressive when talking about poverty, saying that the "social debt is immoral, unjust and illegitimate" or the "poorest, do not have enough" (11), when it comes down to it, he takes the side of the haves. In 2008, in the dark night of Argentine officialism during the political crisis over the increase in tax on agricultural produce, cardinal Bergoglio initially sided with the national government; but with increasing resistance to Resolution 125 (12) he switched to the opposite side and asked the president for "a gesture of greatness" (13). Cristina Fernández de Kirchner proved deaf to this "humble request" from the man who became the spokesman for agricultural interests, but it was heard by many legislators from the Front for Victory [Kirchner's party - tr.] who voted against the president's policy, which led the then President of the Senate, Vice-President Julio Cobos, to break the tie with a "not positive" vote against his own government. Francis, as he is today, rewarded this "greatness" by meeting with him, marking the beginning of a none-too-fertile career as leading opposition candidate, which did not get very far as a result of the negative attitude to him by opposition party structures in recognizing him as such.

Cobos was not the only political card that the old Cardinal had in his hand. Bergoglio's ace of spades is Lilita Carrió (14), who he manoeuvered into place in an expected winning formula for the city government of Buenos Aires together with Jorge Telerman in 2007. But as the two covered only an apparently wide sector, they were only able to win a small vote, finishing third. Bergoglio's merit lay in the fact that he did not play with one party (15) - he also was instrumental in the political agreement which placed Gabriela Michetti (the christian democratic candidate) next to the winner, Mauricio Macri. These shadow games with multiple candidates from different spectra of the centre-right and the pure right have been effective at provincial level, but have been fruitless in competing with Kirchner nationwide. The challenge of the conservative bloc, which defends the interests of both agricultural employers and the large bourgeoisie, is to be able to build a political machine that can encapsulate all its expressions which are currently against each other and aim it at their immediate superior enemy: the national government. In his years of high-level political operations, Bergoglio has been unable to do this.

But now, from the throne of St. Peter in Rome, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires is invested with total power over the structure of the worldwide Catholic Church. The papal investiture is one of the few remnants of the institution of absolute monarch of centuries past. Although the political framework of the Catholic Church is complicated and the chains of favours are winding and almost endless, he who sits at the centre has the resources to strengthen his position. This means that Bergoglio will impose his profile on the Church, and one of the best places for this will be the backyard he knows so well - Argentina (16). The resistance within the Church to his rightist project both from the centre and from the far right will have to be disciplined or minimalized. What this means is that the right will see a fortified church in its ranks. And that fractions that could have laid the foundations of a Catholic party will increase in volume. Having an Argentine pope is the perfect tool that could allow the formation of a non-existent national catholic democracy.

Onward christian soldier...

Bergoglio's purely reactionary disposition was exposed during the campaign against the Equal Marriage Act. This law, passed in 2010, gave gay couples the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples. The then Cardinal personally took over the leadership of the opposition movement and adopted a language that was striking by its obscurantism, claiming that the law was "a move of the Father of Lies that sought to confuse and deceive the children of God" (17). The pope - as he is now - then called on Argentines to pray to the saints for "them to succour us, defend us and accompany us in this war of Gods".

Similarly, opposition to non-punishable abortion has become dogma for the most recalcitrant sector of catholicism. In Argentina non-punishable abortion is defined as those resulting from pregnancies which endanger the woman's life, those from pregnancies resulting from rape, and pregnancies of abused women who do not have all their mental faculties. In this country there are innumerable cases of abused girls who want abortions and cannot because fundamentalist catholic groups have ample resources to challenge cases in court, where judges are always willing to order the suspension of non-punishable abortions, claiming that they are defending the life of the foetuses. Bergoglio is a staunch opponent of any kind of regulation of non-punishable abortion (18) which could avoid judicial intervention, so that cases are resolved directly in hospitals. In this way, the pope counts on legal procrastination, which prolongs the time of approval of non-punishable abortion, preventing ten-year-old girls or girls with mental handicaps can terminate their pregnancies.

In citing these facts we do not want to provoke the easy indignation of the well-thinking sectors; expecting a prominent catholic leader to come out in favour of equal marriage and abortion would be expecting the impossible. However, the relevant fact is that the Vatican, in electing a new pope, has chosen a defender of the articles of faith from the conservative wing of catholicism, though one with much more ability to reach out to people around the world than Benedict XVI.

Apart from the battles related to defending the tenets of conservative catholicism, Bergoglio has also stood out as a political operator in the more earthly power struggle. He was directly responsible for the first electoral defeat of Kirchnerism when in 2006 Carlos Rovira, governor of the Misiones province, was ordered by Néstor Kirchner to reform the provincial constitution in order to be reelected. Bergoglio was commissioned to arm the opposition front which ended up winning, headed by the Bergoglio-nominated Joaquín Piña. Later, as we said above, he engaged in his role as mediator between Jorge Telerman and Elisa Carrió in the elections in Buenos Aires in 2007, and brought his political patronage to Gabriela Michetti. Bergoglio ultimately always sought to shore up the Argentine right, giving it guidance, inspiration and cohesion. A colossal task, that as cardinal he could not crown with success. It may be a challenge worthy for a pope.

Concerning the election of Bergoglio as the new pope, Luis D'Elía said: "Francis I is for Latin America what John Paul II was for the Soviet Union. The new aim of the empire to destroy South American unity". Without actually embracing this point of view, this comparison manages to capture an essential element: cracks are becoming apparent in the former bastion of Catholicism. With the advance of the evangelical churches, Latin American Catholicism has lost the monopoly on religion. A case in point is the country with the largest Catholic population in the world, Brazil, where evangelicals now represent 22.2% of the population (19). Moreover, the divergence between the priorities of the catholic hierarchy - intransigent opponents of abortion and of the rights of non-heterosexuals - and those of the population is getting wider. Boredom is growing with the mind-numbingly frequent sermons on control over the body and sexuality, and the contrasting lack of attention to the great evils that class society brings.

The Church sees itself as a boat imperturbably crossing the stormy oceans of earthly life. Its mission is to make the world fit its precepts, while at the same time managing to remain as little polluted as possible by the world. The election of Pope Francis only confirms this idea: a small cosmetic change in order to change nothing structural. The boat runs its course, the captain gives solemn orders, the Church is a vehicle of salvation created by God.

Meanwhile we, the young people, the elderly, the women and men of Argentina, of our beloved Latin America and of the world, we live in historical times, times of the class struggle and the struggle for power, cultural and sexual standards that are evolving in line with the material changes. The building erected by St. Peter is creaking, overwhelmed by the weight of these contradictions. However, unlike Ratzinger, Bergoglio is used to moving within these contradictions. He is a man of the century, a true politician, hardened in the class struggle in this country, accustomed to weaving the sacred with the profane.

Tomás Taupe, Facundo Guillén and Martín Verrückt
Centro de Estudios Libertarios "Rojo y Negro"

Translation by FdCA - International Relations Office.

Notes and sources:

1. The Seattle Times, 26 June 2012 - Vatican official warns pope of corruption

2. Rome Reports, 6 August 2012 - A Timeline of the Vatileaks Scandal

3. La Repubblica, 21 February 2013 - Sesso e carriera, i ricatti in Vaticano dietro la rinuncia di Benedetto XVI

4. Miradas al Sur, 24 February 2013 - Los mandamientos del Vatileaks

5. El Correo, 9 June 2012 - Gotti Tedeschi temía por su vida por husmear en cuentas de la Mafia en el Vaticano
El País, 9 June 2012 - El dinero sucio salpica al Vaticano

6. Página 12, 16 February 2013 - Corrupción, lavado de dinero y las internas más feroces

7. Although Francis is Pope number 266 on the throne of St. Peter, the total number was 264. This is explained by the complex history of Benedict IX, who was once deposed, but returned and even sold his office.

8. ECwiki - Nacionalidad de los Papas

ABC, 13 March 2013 - Jorge Bergoglio, primer Papa no europeo

9. La Nación, 14 Mach de 2013 - Jorge Bergoglio y los Kirchner: años de una relación tensa

10. The most notorious example was that of Misiones, where the bishop of Iguazú, Joaquín Piña, won election for Carlos Rovira as governor.

11. La Nación, 14 March 2013 - Los discursos más polémicos de Bergoglio

12. Resolution 125: a resolution which sought to create sliding tax on income from agricultural production, which in the short term was in effect an increase.

13. Cobos se reunió con Bergoglio, en medio del malestar del Gobierno

14. Carta de menor valor en el Truco, un juego de cartas popular de argentina

15. Ámbito Financiero, 15 March 2013 - El día en que Bergoglio le ganó a Kirchner

16. Página 12, 14 March 2013 - Un ersatz

17. Infobae, 8 July - Para Bergoglio, la ley de matrimonio gay es 'una movida del Diablo'

18. La Gaceta, 11 September 2012 - Aborto: Bergoglio cuestionó a Macri

19. Protestante Digital, 30 June 2012 - Brasil: evangélicos crecen el 61% en 10 años

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