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Republicans and Democrats alike have love-hate relationship with Pope Francis

The visit of Pope Francis to Capitol Hill this week promises to be good theater. It also will lay bare some of the polarities of the political system in the United States.

In the context of American politics, which views everything and everyone in relentlessly dualistic terms – conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat – Francis gives both sides something to cheer. Conservatives applaud his condemnation of abortion. Liberals embrace his warnings about climate change, his attention to economic inequality and his advocacy for the poor, including immigrants.

Francis also gives both sides something to dislike. When the pontiff described free-market capitalism as “savage capitalism,” Rush Limbaugh characterized his views as “pure Marxism.” Congressional Democrats are uncomfortable with the pontiff’s denunciation of abortion.

As a professor of American religious history, I’m interested in the novelty of the pope’s first address to the US Congress, but I’m also aware this is not the first time that the Roman Catholic Church has intermingled with American politics.

Electing from the pulpit

Only three times in American history has a Roman Catholic been a major party nominee for president. Only one, John F Kennedy in 1960, was elected to the White House.

Alfred E Smith, the Catholic governor of New York, lost in 1928 amid a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

In 2004, when John Kerry was running for president, several Catholic bishops threatened to withhold communion from the candidate because of his pro-choice views. The bishop of Colorado Springs took the matter even further, arguing that American Catholics who voted for candidates who supported same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia or stem-cell research should also be denied communion hop over to this site.

“Anyone who professes the Catholic faith with his lips while at the same time publicly supporting legislation or candidates that defy God’s law makes a mockery of that faith and belies his identity as a Catholic,” the bishop wrote.

Curiously, although capital punishment is also condemned by the church, no bishop to my knowledge has advocated withholding of Holy Communion from politicians who support capital punishment. Similarly, although the Vatican roundly condemned the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, no bishop to my knowledge has denied the sacraments to politicians who supported the war.

An altered calculus

The elevation of Francis to the papacy has altered the political calculus somewhat. His advocacy for the poor, his attention to climate change and his criticism of predatory capitalism has shifted the rhetoric in a slightly more liberal direction. Sister Simone Campbell and her Nuns on the Bus drew the ire of conservative bishops for their campaign in support of the Affordable Care Act, but drew no reprimand from the current pontiff.

In his appearance before Congress, Francis is likely to hit on several of these hot-button issues: abortion, climate change, immigration, income inequality. But since the pontiff is appearing in a political context – and, more than likely, addressing issues generally viewed as political – it’s fair for American politicians to demand something in return. That’s the nature of the political process.

My suggestion would be that members of Congress demand that the Vatican stop shielding those complicit in the priestly pedophilia scandals. Although Francis has now established a Vatican tribunal to deal with sexual abuse, the Roman Catholic Church continues to insist that it should deal with the matter internally, rather than turn miscreants over to secular authorities. That tactic, however, has proven unsuccessful – witness the scandal surrounding Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, and Robert Finn, bishop of Kansas City-St Joseph, who was convicted of shielding a pedophile from the authorities in 2012 yet retained his rank as bishop until his resignation earlier this year. Finn is still a bishop, and Law lives in comfortable retirement inside the Vatican.

The pope polls well

One thing about Francis that politicians on Capitol Hill – or anywhere else, for that matter – can appreciate is his popularity. According to a recent survey, Francis enjoys a 63% approval rating, a figure that would be the envy of most politicians. The question is, how will Francis expend that capital this week? Will he press issues that some see as political, or will he frame them as moral issues?

If he does the former, he can expect to meet with resistance. Although six Republican aspirants for the White House are Catholics – Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, George Pataki and Rick Santorum – none has warmed to the pontiff’s statements on immigration, economics or climate change. As Bush said, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” If, on the other hand, Francis frames his arguments in moral terms, his sentiments cannot be dismissed so blithely.

As Barack Obama noted in an ABC News interview about the reopening of American relations with Cuba, “The pope does not wield armies. He can’t impose sanctions. But he can speak with great moral authority, and it makes a difference. And it certainly made a difference in this case.”

Randall Balmer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com


What will happen when the Pope meets the Patriarch?

out site click here The latest diplomatic coup for Pope Francis I – whose papacy has been marked by an ever-more expansive foreign policy – is the announcement of an interesting development in relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox churches, relations that have been more-or-less non-existent for more than 1000 years.

On February 12, Pope Francis – who will be on his way to visit Mexico – will meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Havana Airport in Cuba. Kirill is not the formal head of the world’s estimated 200m Orthodox Christians – that is his All-Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, whose seat is in Istanbul, not Moscow.

But the Orthodox churches are effectively independent, national units with Bartholomew enjoying only a sort of “primacy of honour” over them – rather like the archbishop of Canterbury over the world-wide Anglican Communion. The Russian Church is easily the largest of the Orthodox churches with more than 80-100m members. Consequently, the Russian Church and its Patriarch have enormous influence in the Orthodox world, arguably even more than Bartholomew himself.

readme buy it The Vatican’s relations with Russian Orthodoxy have historically been poor. The papacy was at loggerheads with the Tsars over their treatment of Polish Catholics when Poland was ruled by them. And during World War I, the Vatican feared a possible Russian victory over the Ottoman Empire, leading to a reinvigorated Orthodoxy and the creation of a sort of “Vatican on the Bosphorus”.

In 1917 it thought Catholicism could profit from the collapse of Tsardom and the subsequent disestablishment of the Orthodox Church but those hopes were quickly dashed by the Soviets’ “Godless campaigns” which were aimed at all religious groups, not just the Orthodox. The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not improve relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches – on the contrary, the Russian Orthodox Church has consistently accused the Vatican of proselytism, of trying to poach its own faithful, a not entirely unjustified accusation.

Bones of contention

out site So what will Francis and Kirill talk about? They will seek détente, a general improvement in their relations, but this will be difficult given the highly nationalistic mood of Russian Orthodoxy at the moment. As in previous centuries, many Russian Orthodox prelates are deeply suspicious of Western Europe – Catholic, Protestant and secular – which they see as an area of religious and moral decadence.

canada goose The schism between eastern and western Christianity, which originated in the 7th and 8th centuries and centres around the dispute over the nature of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but also in the Orthodox rejection of the Bishop of Rome’s claims to universal primacy over Christians, is still unresolved despite ecumenical gestures on the part of Rome.

celine handbags Another issue between Rome and Moscow is the question of Ukraine. Rome is unhappy about Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and his assistance for the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine which sections of the Orthodox Church have supported with jingoistic fervour. In the western Ukraine, the Greek Catholic Church, which – like the Orthodox – has a married clergy and shares similar liturgical practices, is nevertheless in communion with Rome. No love is lost between the Greek Catholics and the Ukrainian Orthodox.

Will Francis and Kirill talk about this thorny problem? One issue which they will certainly discuss and on which they may reach a measure of agreement is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, though even here the situation is complicated by Putin’s foreign policy objectives in Syria.

“Old man in a hurry”

Pope Francis is 80 this December and has only one lung. He was elected on a reform ticket and so far has succeeded in sorting out the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank – and Vatican finances in general. He has started the process of reforming the Roman curia (the central government of the Catholic Church in the Vatican) and devolving power to local bishops.

He has other objectives, including re-establishing diplomatic relations with China and thereby achieving some sort of re-unification of the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and those Chinese Catholics who lie outside the CPA and are therefore subject to occasional governmental repression. Vatican diplomacy also played an important role in bringing about the restoration of diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba last year.

out site He probably also nurtures hopes of an historic compromise between the Catholic and the Orthodox churches – and his meeting with Kirill may prove to be a step in that direction. It is, however, unlikely to lead to any radical change in the relationship in Francis’ lifetime. This schism runs deep.

John Pollard receives funding from the British Academy and the Scouloudi Foundation.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com


‘Vatileaks 2’ scandal hinders attempts by Pope Francis to reform Catholic HQ

canada goose out site For the second time in four years, the Vatican has been plunged into crisis by the publication of books exposing not only the battles for power within its hallowed walls, but also the misbehaviour of staff members of the Roman curia, the governing bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church.

In his latest book, Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican, investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi lays bare the resistance which the Argentinian pope has encountered in his efforts to clean up not only the Vatican Bank (Istituto per le Opere di Religione) but also the wider financial mismanagement that has been endemic in the Vatican for years.

click here buy it The first claims about financial mismanagement, this time in the Vatican City of which the pope is head of state, came from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó who was head of its administration. After his claims were made public, Viganó was packed off to Washington as papal envoy to the US. But the “Vatileaks” scandal really broke in January 2012 with programmes on Italian television that revealed the goings-on behind the scenes in the Vatican of Benedict XVI.

In May of the same year, Nuzzi published His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI, which further revealed the in-fighting around the ailing and ageing pope, including the existence of an alleged “gay lobby”. Eventually, the investigation by the Papal Gendarmerie, the Vatican police, identified the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, as the person who had removed the papers from Benedict’s private apartment. After being tried and spending a few months in the Vatican jail, Gabriele was eventually pardoned by the pope.

But the scandalous stories swirling around the Vatican in 2012 and early 2013 undoubtedly contributed to Benedict’s decision in February 2013 to resign, the first pope to do so since Celestine V in 1294 (in his case, after only a few months in office). Though in his resignation speech Benedict attributed his decision to age and infirmity, by then he felt that the Vatican was out of control and he clearly had little confidence in his “chief minister”, cardinal secretary Tarcisio Bertone against whom allegations of cronyism and incompetence have been made.

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The subsequent election of cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, less than a month after Benedict’s resignation, as the first non-European pope in hundreds of years, was the clearest indication that the cardinals of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church wanted change, a cleansing of the Augean Stables and a substantial reform of the Roman curia.

This is indeed the programme on which Francis I has embarked. So far, he has had notable success in making the Vatican Bank more accountable to both the Vatican and European financial authorities and ridding it of dubious accounts whose holders used them for the purposes of money-laundering and even, allegedly, sanctions busting.

But the latest Vatileaks episode only confirms what has long been known, that resistance inside the Vatican to Francis’ reforms is strong and tenacious and that the bad habits long-established there die hard. Among his revelations are that a canonisation (the investigatory process leading to the declaration that someone is a saint) can cost over half a million pounds (US$755,000) and that costs remain out of control in some dicasteries (departments) of the Roman curia.

There has been unhappiness in Italy for years over the financial privileges and tax exemptions of the Roman curia and related organisations, not to mention the thousands of religious houses – some of which operate extremely profitable businesses throughout the peninsula. But these latest revelations once again cast the Vatican and its financial management in a bad light which, in the long term, will certainly affect the willingness of the Catholic faithful throughout the world to contribute to funding the headquarters of their church through the annual “Peter’s Pence” collections.

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readme The Vatican of Francis I is no happier with the second Vatileaks episode, than Benedict’s Vatican was with the first and so investigations have been carried out and arrests made. This time they involve a Spanish monsignor, Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, and an Italian PR expert, Francesca Chaouqui, both recent appointments to Francis’ reform commissions. The Nuzzi revelations are regarded as being hostile to Francis, but it could equally well be argued that they support his cause inasmuch as they demonstrate the strength of opposition to his reforms in the curia and potentially isolate his chief opponents there.

celine bags out site It can also be argued that all this is simply a case of chickens coming home to roost. The fact that the curial bureaucracy is located in a sovereign state, the Vatican City, or in “extra-territorial” buildings scattered through Rome, that it is the servant of an infallible religious leader – the pope – and that the Vatican Bank, in particular, has been virtually immune from effective oversight has inevitably led to mismanagement, cronyism and corruption.

It must also remain a matter of scandal to many Catholics that the curia is largely staffed by priests (and a few nuns) whereas there are many Catholic dioceses throughout the world desperately short of priests to say mass and administer the other sacraments, ironically enough, especially in Latin America.

click here John Pollard receives funding from the British Academy and the Scouloudi Foundation.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com