new reformation

Stephen Bannon’s Uber-Right Religion Parked in the Bosom of the White House

He has been called the “real president,” and “the person really pulling the strings,” the “mind of Donald Trump,” “his ideological guru,” “the power behind the throne,” “Trump’s Karl Rove,” “the second most powerful man in the world,” “the world’s most dangerous man,” a “white supremacist Svengali,” a “stone cold racist and a white supremacist sympathizer” and much more. 

His name is Stephen Bannon and he is Trump’s number one man and, by his own chicanery, now a member of the National Security Council.  Having overseen the far right and race-baiting, women-hating, anti-semitic, white-supremacist-attracting Breitbart News for years, he brings a special bite to American politics and to the White House itself.  Among the headlines in Bannon’s tenure as Breitbart captain were the following:

  • “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”
  • “Sympathy for the Devil: The Plot Against Roger Ailes--and America”
  • “There’s no Bias against Women in Tech, they just suck at interviews”
  • “Planned Parenthood’s Body Count under Cecile Richards Is up to Half a Holocaust”
  • “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”
  • “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ is Simple: Women Should Log Off”
  • “Trump 100% Vindicated: CBS Reports ‘Swarm’ on Rooftops Celebrating 9/11”
  • “Racist, Pro-Nazi Roots of Planned Parenthood Revealed”

This reads like a National Inquirer litany of headlines and that is what Breitbart is—a National Inquirer devoted to politics and so-called news (anyone looking for “fake news” would be wise to begin here.  It is discomforting of course to see a president hiring a captain of false news to place in the White House but why is anyone or any news agency surprised by the rise of fake news under this administration?).  The loud noises about “fake news” emanating from the White House appear to be 98% projection, which comes of course from a soul that has not examined itself.

By anyone’s definition of the term, Bannon is also a religious zealot.  He has a special relationship with the single most unrepentant uber-right cardinal in the Catholic Church: the former archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was demoted by Pope Francis in 2014 from his job as head of the Vatican Judiciary (like the Vatican Supreme Court).

To put Burke out to pasture for his wildly backwards ideas, the Pope made him a chaplain to the Knights of Malta.  But even there the erstwhile archbishop poisoned the well so completely that the Pope had to intervene two months ago, firing Matthew Festing, the grandmaster of the 1,000-year-old Order, who had summarily dismissed a member for daring to propose condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS for Muslim women in Myanmer who were often subject to rape by the military.

Festing was pushed relentlessly by Burke to fight back against the Pope for this dismissal.  This did not go over too well in the Vatican and the result was that the grandmaster was fired and the Pope appointed a new interim grandmaster to oversee things until the Order elected a new leader.  The Pope also reinstated the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who had been dismissed byFesting in cahoots with Cardinal Burke.  One influential knight said that Burke’s influence on the former grandmaster was buttressed by his increased power linked to his friend in the White House.[1]

It seems that Trump’s right-hand man Bannon met with Raymond Burke at a Vatican meetings in 2014 and they hit it off and “bonded over their shared world view,” which includes an apocalyptic vision of Islam “threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values.’”[2] This parallels a screenplay Bannon produced a few years ago about a United States that has been turned into the “Islamic States of America.” 

In 2006, Damon Linker wrote a book titled The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege, which exposed the right wing religious pillars of George W. Bush’s administration, promoted the highly conservative teachings of Pope John Paul II, and sought to unify traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and far-right Jews. According to Linker, Bannon “enjoys much greater proximity to power than the original theocons ever attained” and his “ideology is far more radically illiberal than [radical right wing Catholic] Neuhaus and his allies espoused.”[3] Bannon treats religious affiliation “wholly as a function of ethno-national identity” and in so doing he mirrors Putin’s support of the Russian Orthodox, thereby sanctioning an official ethno-national church. Here is one more connection between the Trump administration and Putin’s Russia—a shared religious ideology.

Indeed, when Bannon was invited to speak at a recent Vatican Congress by Benjamin Harnwell, a mutual friend of Bannon and his co-conspirator Cardinal Burke, he used the term “church militant” in his first sentence to name his vision.

Bannon is seeking to overthrow the post-World War II world.  While proposing that Bannon’s philosophy might be called “theoconservatism 2.0,” Linker opts instead for the following: “Theofascism might be more accurate.”[4]

Bannon is nothing if not apocalyptic.  He seems to envision that the United States is headed for a battle with either Islam or China that will culminate in a third world war.  His ideology is full of gloom and doom resembling the dark vision outlined in Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention as well as in his inaugural speech – the demise of America and the West, the “American carnage.” 

How excited are Cardinal Burke and the anti-Pope-Francis elements in the Vatican about the Bannon/Trump team in the White House?  Jason Horowitz, writing for the New York Times, puts it this way: “While Mr. Trump, a twice-divorced president who has boasted of groping women, may seem an unlikely ally of traditionalists in the Vatican, many of them regard his election and the ascendance of Mr. Bannon as potentially game-changing breakthroughs.”[5] 

One should remember in this context that Cardinal Burke is the one who declared that a divorced Catholic who remarries and takes communion or a gay couple who make love are the same as a murderer who commits murder.  It seems, in the twisted patriarchal mind of Cardinal Burke, that a man who gropes women and brags about it is okay to support if his view of the world is anti-Muslim enough. 

So we have Trump’s right hand man (whom some call the acting president since Donald is too busy watching TV and throwing late-night Twitter tantrums to study or read anything philosophical) playing footsie with far-right parties throughout Europe, Putin included, as well as connecting to far-right elements of the Roman Catholic Church who oppose Pope Francis with vengeance.  One bishop writing from South America called such Catholics “neurotics for orthodoxy,” and Burke is currently their leader and savior and hero. One wonders what Bannon’s relationship is to Opus Dei, the supremely patriarchal and sexist fascist order that was mightily supported by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. They love to go where the power lies and have eagerly infiltrated Fox News and other media as well as the CIA, FBI and Supreme Court, as I have documented in my book The Pope’s War.[6]

The radical traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church see the Trump/Bannon team as saviors who will stand up for traditional Catholic values and against Islam, and fight tooth and nail to resist the social justice conscience that Pope Francis is advocating. 

It is interesting that the issue that got the Knights of Malta blow-up launched was that of birth control and condoms.  Pope Francis has complained that some Catholics put all their theology “into a condom.” Clearly, he is calling out the traditionalists, with Burke (who is not a theologian by any stretch of imagination but is trained in canon law) as their leader. 

The latest news on Bannon’s buddy Cardinal Burke is that Pope Francis sent him off to Guam to perform some canon law exercise there. Sounds like a demotion from being a chaplain to the Knights of Malta.  For an ambitious cleric like Burke, this must sting a bit.  Let us pray for the people of Guam.

When Obama was in the White House Pope Francis had an ally there, but now with Trump/Bannon, a much colder relationship will exist and it is clear that very few Roman Catholic prelates in the United States will stand up on behalf of Pope Francis.  Exceptions are his recent appointees, including the new Cardinals of Chicago and Newark.  But the old guard, installed by John Paul II and Benedict, are waiting in the wings biding their time to return to power: Cardinal Dolan of New York and the two young Opus Dei archbishops of California: Jose Gomez Valasco of Los Angeles (who was pointedly refused a cardinal hat by Pope Francis, though elected to be number two man in the bishops’ conference just recently) and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco; there are a number of others.  As one Canadian Archbishop told a friend of mine several years ago, before Pope Francis came to power, “There is not one bishop appointment of the last 30 years that I can admire or respect.”

Daniel Fluette, the head of production for Breitbart, described Bannon’s meeting with Cardinal Burke as “incredibly powerful” for Bannon: following their initial encounter, Bannon directed the documentary Torchbearer, in which the Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson mulls over “the apocalyptic consequences of an eroding Christendom.”[7] The two continue their connection by email on a range of topics, including who should be Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.[8]

Bannon has been known to call Pope Francis a “socialist/communist.” Meanwhile, back in Italy, Cardinal Burke has proposed that Pope Francis should offer a “formal act of correction” for his encyclical on the family, Amoris Laetitia, because it does not condemn divorced Catholics or gay Catholics.

Burke thus is a lightning rod and champion for the rightist movement in the Catholic Church at this time.  And he has friends in very high places—such as the White House.  “Under Bannon, Breitbart News urged its Rome correspondent to write sympathetically about” Cardinal Burke, reports the New York Times.[9]  

Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues to support an inclusive church which is polar opposite to the Bannon/Trump/Burke vision.  He castigates “Savage Capitalism” and trickle-down economics.  His spokesperson has called Trump’s ban on immigrants from Muslim countries the “opposite” of the pope’s vision for fostering unity and peace and the Pope is eager to avoid a clash of Muslim and Christian civilizations which the fundamentalists are heralding.

In his speech at the Vatican (arranged by Cardinal Burke), Bannon talked passionately about a “new barbarity that’s started, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2500 years.”[10]  He is preaching this call to arms and urging of a new “church militant” in the bowels of the Catholic Church.   Yes, this is the right-hand man and to many the puppeteer of the president of the United States. 

I agree with Bannon when he talks about the “underpinning of this populist revolt [being] the financial crisis of 2008” which fueled the anger in the Tea Party and I would add in many who voted for Trump.  But the solutions he strives for, so readily apparent now after a month into the Trump/Bannon presidency, are far from those promised: Wall Street, billionaires, climate change deniers and earth-destroyers, all populate the highest places in their cabinet.  It takes an impossible act of faith to see any crumbs coming down from those tables to feed the hunger of a wounded populist population and it would take a miracle to save the Earth from the destruction that is the sure goal of the cabinet climate deniers, such as the now head of EPA who has wanted for decades to dismantle the agency he now directs and has sued it on 14 occasions.

Bannon has been given credit for the waterfall of executive orders signed by Trump in his first weeks in office, including but not limited to the disastrous action to ban immigrants from seven Muslim countries, a fulfillment of Trump’s promise in the campaign to ban Muslims.  Some see nothing but chaos in Trump’s first weeks in the White House but others, myself included, see a strategy devised by Bannon & Co. to so flood the media with words and actions and chaos that very little truly gets digested or criticized before a new barrage begins.  In other words, chaos is a strategy.  Much of it is distraction so that the real stories of what is happening will be sidelined by media’s penchant for entertainment over news.  Trump, a reality show star, knows how to entertain.  The media, slow as it is, cannot altogether grasp how it is being used. 

The rousing of the populace in defiance, as for example in the Women’s Marches, offers some hope, but runs the risk of falling prey to the wiles of Bannon & Co., as happened when a protest march was called at the University of California in Berkeley in response to a rabble-rousing writer at Breitbart news who prides himself on insulting women, gays, and progressives of any stripe.  While the school bent over backwards to allow this man his ‘free speech’ rights on campus, thousands of people expressed their rights to disagree.  But the protests were infiltrated by a small number of so-called “arsonists” who broke windows and threatened police and others.  One wonders if these extremists were hired by some outside forces to destroy the non-violent protest?

Trump’s response the next day was to threaten to stop money from coming to the University. Might the small group of so-called “anarchists” be serving the purposes of the Trump/Bannon strategy?  Might they be hired provocateurs?  If so, it would not be the first time in recent history when such things occurred.

John Feffer has authored an article with an incisive title entitled “Steven Bannon’s real vision isn’t America first.  It’s America alone.”[11] He backs it up with mounting evidence that under Trump/Bannon, in only three weeks, America has become a pariah nation to friend and foe alike.  He cites Germany’s Der Spiegel that claims Trump is “the world’s most dangerous man,” quoting the president of the European council as saying that Trump “put into question the last 70 years of America foreign policy” and comparing the threat of the United States to Europe to be on the scale of that of Russia and the Islamic State:  “Because Brussels can no longer depend on Washington, Tusk’s letter amounts to an EU declaration of independence.”[12]

Says Feffer: “Some presidents pride themselves on visiting as many nations in the world as possible.  Donald Trump, the Don Rickles of American presidents, prides himself on insulting as many nations as he can—late at night and with fewer than 140 characters.”  He poses the following question: “What does it mean for international relations when the most powerful country in the world becomes a pariah state?  Trump’s got it wrong.  It’s not America First.  It’s America Alone.  So sad!”[13] 

It could well be that Bannon & Co. are pleased with the kind of negative press that Trump is getting—isn’t this one way to get a reactionary revolution going?  And to gin favor with other crackpot regimes, Putin’s Russia included?  And to whip up all the fervent right wing factions to boiling point, including more white separatists (a favorite readership for Bannon’s Breitbart news) and others seeking to become the “church militant” with guns and all?  Might making enemies of the “establishment” everywhere, the Vatican included, be exactly what Bannon has in mind?  

Here is how Feffer sees it:

Bannon is comfortable having the United States raked over the coals by international leaders, the Trump administration ‘crucified’ in the press, and his own name vilified by protestors in the street.  To effect a thorough, bottom-to-top revolution in domestic and international affairs the United States must risk pariah status.  Such is the way new orders are born.  Nor is Bannon alone in his efforts.  He is joined by both religious zealots (like Mike Pence) and geopolitical zealots (like Mike Flynn). [14]

All of whom Trump has enthusiastically invited on his team.  Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party says nothing.  “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” seems to be the slogan of the Republicans in Congress. “What, me worry?” is apparently the new brand for the once-proud Republican Party.

Feffer concludes his essay with a very sobering but it seems to me accurate assessment, that the role of Donald Trump in all these apocalyptic goings on – a  self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one –is quite modest:

“He is not particularly religious, not particularly ideological, or particularly interested in the world beyond what his stubby fingers can grasp…. He’s old and greedy, interested only in the short con.  He wants to be admired, not reviled as a pariah. But he’s also capable of monumental self-deception, which extends to his mistaken belief that the ‘real people’ have all rallied behind him.”

…Bannon and his fellow extremists, by contrast, are in it for the long haul. As zealots, they’re willing to put up with pariah status for as long as it takes.  Make no mistake: It will get ugly.  The liberal internationalists that they excoriate as ‘globalists’ are putting up a fight.  So is the not-so-silent majority.[15] 

Meanwhile a great cleavage looms within the Republican Party when large corporations resist the anti-Muslim orders being issued by the President and Bannon.  And consumers and newly found political activists are rebelling also.  As other countries are filling the void of America’s “new pariah status,”  says Feffer, “Germany finds itself the default ‘leader of the free world.’”  Russia, China, even the Islamic State can rise over the dead ashes of an isolated America: “The Trump administration is not interested in drawing other nations to itself.  It seems reconciled to inspiring hatred.  The new crew is comfortable with the solitude of its power—and the zealotry of its vision.”[16]  

In a sobering and scary article entitled “Steve Bannon Wants to Start World War III,” Micah L. Sifry, author of The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Transformed Politics (Yet),” cites historian David Kaiser who met with Bannon when he was filming Generation Zero.  Bannon had asked to interview Kaiser for the film and Kaiser refused—but he did sit down with him and has since offered the following assessment of Bannon’s worldview which he gleaned from that exchange.  Bannon’s philosophy is based on the writings of “pop historians” Strauss and Howe, who posit that about every 80 years a big crisis changes things in America, says Kaiser:

More than once during our interview, he [Bannon] pointed out that each of the three preceding crises had involved a great war, and those conflicts had increased in scope from the American Revolution through the Civil war to the Second World War.  He expected a new and even bigger war as part of the current crisis, and he did not seem at all fazed by the prospect.  I did not agree, and said so.  But, knowing that the history of international conflicts was my own specialty, he repeatedly pressed me to say we could expect a conflict at least as big as the Second World War in the near or medium term.  I refused.[17]

Sifry concludes his article this way:

Bannon doesn’t just believe that we are in an existential conflict with Islam or with China.  It seems he wants to exacerbate those conflicts into a new world war.  As a believer in Strauss and Howe’s theory of history, Bannon fantasizes that he can use that cataclysm to forge a completely new order.  He is now in a position to make that a reality.[18]

In attempting to evaluate Bannon, the person behind the throne of Donald Trump, perhaps the best perspective comes from psychiatrist Erich Fromm, who wrote in response to the tragedies and perfidies of the Second World War and the holocaust. In his classic book on evil, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he distinguishes between the love of life (biophilia) and the love of death (necrophilia).  Evil for Fromm is the choice of necrophilia over biophilia.  He offers the following observation:

Severely necrophilous persons are very dangerous.  They are the haters, the racists, those in favor of war, bloodshed, and destruction.  They are dangerous not only if they are political leaders, but also as the potential cohorts for a dictatorial leader.  They become the executioners, terrorists, torturers; without them no terror system could be set up.[19] 

It is not a compliment to American evangelicals that 80% of them voted for Trump. Did they also know they were voting for Bannon and the religious dross he carries with him?  Now they do.  How will they respond?

When I was writing about Cardinal Ratzinger I examined the psychological studies of bullies.  One can see similar characteristics in Trump.  One thing that characterizes bullies is their being cowards on the inside in spite of the bluster and threat they project to the outside world.  Thus, they also yearn and indeed need a “wolf pack” to support them especially as they march against more popular forces.  From everything I have seen Mr. Bannon is head of that wolf pack for Mr. Trump, the power behind the throne, the one to be reckoned with.  He is there because Trump very much wants and needs him there.  Bannon does not depend on democratic institutions to support him, but only on the wishes of his boss.  In fact, he is on record as wanting to destroy such institutions beginning with the press.  But Bannon is depending on people like Cardinal Burke to bless his ideologies of over-the-top apocalyptic visions. 

One hopes that the evil of which Fromm warns us is checkmated faster and earlier this time around than it was when the Germans last traveled this path in the 1930s.  One hopes the resistance—of the citizens, of the media and of politics in general (when will Republicans come on board to say No?) –will be louder and broader and deeper this time around. 

Theofascism marches on—from within the very bowels of the White House, the National Security Council, and the American government.  Will prophetic and democratic resistance stand up?  Time will tell.


[1] Jason Horowitz, “Steve Bannon Carries Battles to another Influential Hub: The Vatican,” New York Times, The New York Times Company. 7 February 2017 <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/world/europe/vatican-steve-bannon-pope-francis.html>

[2] Damon Linker, “Trump’s theofascist,” The Week, The Week Publications. 10 February 2017 <http://theweek.com/articles/679058/trumps-theofascist>

[3] Ibid., p. 2

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

[5] Jason Horowitz, loc., cit, p. 1.

[6] Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved (NY: Sterling Ethos, 2011), 106-124.

[7]. Horowitz, loc cit., p. 3.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

[10] Ben Norton, “President Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon called for Christian holy war: Now he’s on the National Security Council,” Alternet.org. 29 January 2017 <http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/steve-bannon-christian-holy-war-islam-donald-trump-capitalism-secularism-atheism >

[11] John Feffer, “Steven Bannon’s Real Vision Isn’t America First. It’s America Alone,” Foreign Policy in Focus, The Institute for Policy Studies. 8 February 2017 <http://fpif.org/steven-bannons-real-vision-isnt-america-first-america-alone/>

[12] Ibid., p. 2.

[13] Ibid., p. 3.

[14] Ibid., p. 6.

[15] Ibid., p. 6.

[16] Ibid., pp. 4f.

[17] Micah L. Sifry, “Steve Bannon Wants to Start World War III”, The Nation. 8 February 2017 <https://www.thenation.com/article/steve-bannon-wants-to-start-world-war-iii>

[18] Ibid.

[19] Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973) 368

A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan

Dear Speaker Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul. 

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing.  But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul.  It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy. 

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are.  Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”  These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever.  Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.”  Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Now I want to ask from a spiritual and theological perceptive how you can possibly reconcile these basic teachings of the Gospels with your continued efforts to create budgets for our entire nation that do the following:

1.    Threaten to privatize and thereby destroy Social Security for elders and disabled people.

2.    Destroy critical health support systems for the sick, handicapped, mentally disabled, and homeless by effectively scuttling Medicare and Medicaid.

3.    Dismantle the EPA so that the rest of God’s sacred creation is imperiled by human narcissism (Pope Francis’ words).  Have you not read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si that teaches everyone—believer and non-believer alike—that we humans are not here to destroy but to support creation for the good of all beings on earth now and in the future?  If you have studied this great document—as you must as a thinking believer—where is it to be found in your legislative agenda?

Another Biblical teaching is the warning that we are not to worship idols.  But Wall Street is a purveyor of the idolatry of money.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in that system.  Pope Francis has spoken to that truth also when he speaks of the “savage capitalism” and the “god of money” that dominates so much of decision-making in western culture.

Your naked efforts to give more and more tax breaks to billionaires like your supporters the Koch brothers is proof that you have up to now chosen to be on the side of the savage capitalists and the gods of money.  Have you no shame?  Have you no conscience?  Do your faith and Jesus’ teachings mean nothing to you because you are mesmerized by power and the powerful?  Do you not know—or do you simply not care—that when the uber-rich do not pay their fair share, the struggling poor and middle class must pay from their meager resources to subsidize the rich? And when the uber-rich get still more tax breaks, the poor and middle class are forced to make up the difference?

I am worried about your soul.  It is not too late to repent and start over.  It is time to examine your commitment to the values that drive your heroes the Koch brothers, who want to worship the idols of Wall Street instead of caring for God’s sacred creation, and who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to contribute to the common good.  And who buy the loyalty of politicians like you to commit sins against the poor and creation itself to make their fat wallets even fatter.  Shame on you!

Yours are not the values I learned growing up in Wisconsin (indeed, my godmother lived in your hometown of Janesville) and growing up in the Catholic Church.  How have you wandered so far off track?  Was it the ridiculous narcissistic writings of atheist Ayn Rand that enticed you to surrender Gospel morality for Mammon?  (Let me add that I admire many atheists for their ethics and morality but Ayn Rand is not one of them.  Not by a long shot.  She has rendered selfishness a virtue.)

I wish through this letter to awaken your soul.  Your sweet Wisconsin smile and gym-toned body notwithstanding, through your choices you are dancing with Evil.

The gospels teach such truths.  So too does Pope Francis who, as a Roman Catholic, you supposedly respect and listen to.  Have you listened to his warnings and his teachings lately?  Allow me to remind you of some of them.

The Pope minces no words when speaking of the divergence of wealth and poverty today.  He speaks to globalization this way: “The globalization that makes everything uniform is essentially imperialist...it is not human.  In the end it is a way to enslave the nations.”[i]  Is globalization enslaving the nations?  It seems to me that much of Trump’s success as a candidate was built around this very idea—only his solutions seem to me to be dark indeed.  What is your agenda, Mr. Speaker, about this “inhuman” globalization that is hurting so many citizens of our country and beyond?

Pope Francis says: “Christianity condemns both Communism and wild capitalism with the same vigor”[ii] and one needs to reject the “wild economic liberalism we see today” and “seek equal opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest, and freedom of unions.” [iii]   Are you on board with this set of values?  Or are you in the camp of “savage capitalism?”  Why do you want to destroy the dignified retirement of American people by diminishing Social Security instead of building it up?  And to destroy social benefits for the very poor and working classes while giving tax gifts to the super rich and corporations?  And to eliminate a current health insurance program that provides assistance for many millions of people instead of improving it?

The Pope praises St. Francis because “he contributed an entire concept of poverty to Christianity against the wealth, pride, and vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time” and for this reason “he changed history.”[iv]  Are you putting obstacles in the way of the wealth and vanity of the powerful in our day?  Given your responsible position as Speaker of the House, why don’t you try to change history for the poor and neglected instead of for the 1% who are already over their heads in favoritism and success and (too much) power?

The Pope takes on the neocon preoccupation with “world terrorism” and the fear such language arouses when he declares that “human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[v]  How important is that?  He equates economic structures with terrorism.  Yes, he is telling us that Wall Street terrorizes.  Ask any Main Street citizen: we all feel the effects of this terror and that is why many in Main Street voted for Trump, out of fear of this terror from Wall Street.  But your buddies the Koch brothers are those very terrorists the Pope is speaking of.  Yes, how does it feel to be in bed with terrorists?  And of course, Trump has turned his back on his promises to the working people and has appointed an unprecedented number of billionaires (terrorists) to head his cabinet positions.

The Pope also denounces the “flight of money to foreign countries” as a sin because it dishonors “the people that worked to generate” that wealth. [vi]  He also condemns those who hide their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid paying taxes that are so important for the common good.  What are you doing to challenge those hiding their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid taxes?  Aren’t you in a powerful position to do something about that?

Pope Francis has said: “The option for the poor comes from the first centuries of Christianity.  It is the Gospel itself.”  And he has remarked that were he to preach sermons from the first fathers of the Church on the needs of the poor, he would be called a “Maoist or Trotskyite.”[vii] Are you leading legislation that puts an option for the poor in the forefront?

He says: “Human rights are violated by...unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.”[viii] Are you on the side of human rights and against economic structures that create huge inequalities?  Or are you on board to actually increase those inequalities by passing legislation that gives tax breaks to the 1% who in fact need them the least?  Pope Francis warns that “The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any human goal.”[ix]  Where do you and your fat-cat donors stand on the subject of the “cult of money”?

We need, Pope Francis says, a “balanced social order that is more humane”[x] and that resists consumerism.  Pope Francis says further that “Money has to serve and not rule.”[xi]  It is a “savage capitalism” that teaches “the logic of profit at any cost” and exploitation of people.[xii]  Where do you stand on the topic of “savage capitalism” and the cult of money?  In your very responsible position as Speaker of the House what are you doing to address these important issues—issues that touch all the people in America, especially the downtrodden and left out?  If you had addressed them before the 2016 election, maybe the strongman Trump would not have been able to tap into the frustration of as many blue-collar Americans as he did.

Finally, as a Catholic, where do you stand on the notion that corporations are people (see Citizens United and Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decisions)?  Are you in bed with the neo-fascist Catholic members of the Supreme Court who, contrary to Catholic teachings, are telling us to believe that a corporation is a person?  How could you possibly reconcile that with the teachings of the Church on the immortality of the individual soul and more?  While we are on the subject of neo-fascist Catholics, where do you stand on Opus Dei?

Unfettered capitalism is, according to Pope Francis, a “new tyranny.” [xiii] Where do you stand on this new tyranny?  What limits are you setting on unfettered capitalism by your legislative leadership?  Are you keeping Dodd/Frank laws on the books?  Says the Pope: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which 'King Money' is at the center.”  This “throwaway culture discards young people as well as its older people.....A whole generation of young people does not have the dignity that is brought by work.”  A “diminishing of the joy of life” is the result of such idolatry. [xiv]

In his document entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis speaks bluntly as all the prophets do.  He says No—as all the prophets do.  He denounces “trickle-down” economics as “never having been confirmed by the facts” and being built on a “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power....Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”[xv]  Where do you stand on trickle-down economics?  Have you learned from its blatant failures?  Are you aware how many Main Street citizens are “still waiting” for good wages and jobs to reach them?

Following are some of Pope Francis’ No's presented in his own words:

1.  No to an economy of exclusion....An economy of exclusion and inequality kills....Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.[xvi]

 2.  No to the new idolatry of money....While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.....Self-serving tax evasion has taken on worldwide dimensions.  The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits....Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a defied market, which becomes the only rule.[xvii]

 3.  No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.  Ethics is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative.  It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person....Money must serve, not rule!  The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.  I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.[xviii]

 4.  No to the inequality which spawns violence.  [Violence happens not] simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.  Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.....Evil crystallized in unjust social structures...cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.[xix]

And “NO” to the despoiling of Mother Earth about whose peril Pope Francis has written an entire encyclical.  Clearly you have turned your back on the sacredness of the Earth as well: since you support for the head of EPA a man who has shouted that he wants to destroy it, while you make ridiculous mumbles about climate change that you are not a scientist.  Well, sir, isn’t that all the more reason to listen to scientists who do tell us that humans are bringing about climate change and the destruction of many, many species as well as the rising of the oceans?  How can one be a Christian and not recognize the sacredness of creation?

Where do you stand, Speaker Ryan, on these issues that the Pope raises?  How are you using your position of power and responsibility to alleviate the ills he addresses?  Isn’t what the Pope says true, that the violence the current system provokes is one reason why many victims of this system voted for Trump—and even admire his violence?  Pope Francis speaks out against an “education that would tranquilize the poor, making them tame and harmless.” [xx] And he defines injustice as “evil.” 

I pray that you may be converted and return to the teachings of Christ and the Church striving to teach in his name very soon.  Time is running out for our species and you are in a position of trust and responsibility and leadership in our country at this time.  Earn it!

Meanwhile, until you and your party pay attention at last to these basic issues, I as a Christian priest and theologian can only conclude that you are not at all a Catholic or a Christian but just one more hypocrite flaunting your bogus religion on your sleeve to garner more votes and stay in a cushy job while you sell your soul to the Koch brothers and other Wall Street misers.  People who don’t have a clue about the “weightier matters of the Law—justice, compassion, good faith!” (Mt. 23:23) that Jesus preached, and who could not care less. 

Jesus had something to say about that too, remember?  It was strong stuff.  He was speaking to you, Paul Ryan, and your fellow politicians when he said: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.”  (Mt 23.27-28, 31).

I hope and pray that you and your fellow politicians, Mr. Ryan, so beholden to the rich and uber-rich, might heed Jesus’ words.  And if not, at least do him the courtesy of not invoking his name to justify your lawlessness.

Sincerely in Christ’s name,

Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox


[i] Jorge Maria Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century (Image Books, 2010), 158

[ii] Jason Berry, “Pope decrying 'anesthesia of the heart' heads to Brazil,” PRI, Public Radio International. 19 July 2013 <https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-07-19/pope-decrying-anesthesia-heart-heads-brazil>

[iii] Bergoglio 172

[iv] Bergoglio 231

[v] Mark Rice-Oxley, “Pope Francis: the humble pontiff with practical approach to poverty” The Guardian, Guardian News & Media Limited. 13 March 2013 <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/13/jorge-mario-bergoglio-pope-poverty>

[vi] Bergoglio 160

[vii] Michael Warren, Jenny Barchfield, Marcos Aleman, John Rice, “Pope Francis: Liberation Theology Priest Sees New Hope for Catholic Church,” Huffington Post, The Huffington Post. 28 April 2013 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/28/pope-francis-liberation-theology_n_3173986.html>

[viii] Oxley, “Pope Francis.”

[ix] Pope Francis. "To new Ambassadors of Kyrgyzstan, Antigua and Barbuda, Luxembourg and Botswana accredited to the Holy See (16 May 2013) | Francis." Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 16 May 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2017 <http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/may/documents/papa-francesco_20130516_nuovi-ambasciatori.html>

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.                                                                                                                           

[xii] Naomi O'Leary, reporter, and Michael Roddy, editor, “Pope criticizes ‘Savage Capitalism’ on visit to food kitchen,” Reuters. 21 May 2013 <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pope-capitalism-idUSBRE94K12K20130521>

[xiii] Eamon Javers, “Pope Francis: Capitalism “New Tyranny,” CNBC. 26 November 2013 <http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000221701>

[xiv]  Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, "Pope Francis: ‘King Money’ system has failed unemployed youth, older people." NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 28 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/pope-francis-king-money-system-has-failed-unemployed-youth-older-f2D11670341>.

[xv] Aaron Blake, “Pope Francis denounces 'trickle-down' economics, The Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2013. 

[xvi] Pope Francis. The joy of the gospel (Evangelii gaudium): apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the bishops, clergy, consecrated persons and the lay faithful on the proclamation of the Gospel in today's world. New York: Image-Crown Publishing, 2014, Kindle edition, 43

[xvii] Ibid., 44

[xviii] Ibid.,45                                                                                                                   

[xix] Ibid., 46

[xx] Ibid., 47

The Emerging Truth about Junipero Serra and the California Missions

Matthew Fox Reviews A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions, by Elias Castillo The saga of unholy injustice detailed in A Cross of Thorns left me feeling kicked in the gut, with my sense of moral outrage boiling over. Yet it is presented in subdued and sober terms, with fact after fact and story after story, building a sure case against the canonizing of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. The author, Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, tells the truth of the fabled and now postcard-like missions of California, a truth that has often been hidden away in libraries containing correspondence and comments from the days of the mission founding while a myth of benign relationships with the Native Peoples has been promulgated instead.

In this book Father Junipero Sera, called by some the “Father of California,” is exposed in damning detail as the father of a system, the mission system, that systematically destroyed the culture of the indigenous peoples of California that had lived at peace with the earth and more or less at peace with themselves over millennia until the Spanish arrived. With Castillo’s new research in hand, it makes all the more scandalous the current effort, supported by two Opus Dei archbishops and the Knights of Columbus, to canonize this sadistic person who is a poster boy for colonization and for racism. Why, Why, Why is Pope Francis going ahead with this canonization? Who profits from it?

There are those who say, “Don’t judge an eighteenth-century person by twenty-first century standards.” Well, when that person is being proposed by the Pope himself as a saint and therefore a model for twenty-first century people to emulate, why wouldn’t we have the right to judge? For example, should we be imitating Serra’s penchant for beating and scourging himself both in private and in the pulpit as a glorious spiritual exercise? In his own day in fact, one member of his congregation in Mexico was so turned on by Serra’s self-flagellations that when Serra bared his chest and beat himself in the pulpit the parishioner stormed the lectern and seized the chains out of the zealous friar’s hands and thrashed himself so hard declaring “I am a sinner” that he died on the spot! Now there is a saint to be imitated, right?

Furthermore, as is clear from the author’s impeccable research, Serra was out of the loop even in his own time. For example, he preaches that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun moves around the earth—150 years after Copernicus proved otherwise! In addition, Europeans who visited his missions complained in his time that they were shocked by the treatment of the Indians.   Even fellow Franciscans of his time were embarrassed and ashamed of what he was doing. Also, the governor generals contemporary with his time complained of his death camps otherwise known as “missions” and often overrode his decisions. Decades after the governor forbade beating Indians Serra was still insisting on it in his missions.

The whitewash on Serra has been going on long enough. The facts are now out there including interviews with descendants of those who were colonized by him. Where are the Franciscans who are standing up to be heard today about this monstrous effort to canonize a Colonizer and a man who himself whipped, and ordered whipped, thousands of Indians, and whose entire theology was about getting people to heaven no matter what the cost? Surely these sons of Saint Francis have a stake in seeking an apology from the Native Peoples and letting Serra lie in his grave, don’t they? Surely they don’t want to support a lie about Serra’s holiness – do they?

Thanks be to God, our age is waking up to the evils of racism. The confederate flag is at last being removed from Southern statehouses and government buildings, after the massacre of nine people in a black church by a 21-year-old assassin whose web pages and costumes celebrated that flag. America is agreeing that the confederate flag is a symbol of all that is evil in our national history of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism in its many incarnations right up to 2015.

But the missions are the same to Native Americans of California. They are symbols of slavery and of racism just as is the confederate flag. Castillo establishes this without a doubt:

  • The thousands of Indians who were herded into the missions did not come voluntarily but were treated as slaves insofar as they were paid nothing;
  • They were free labor for decades in the building up of the missions and their lands and vineyards and cattle raising;
  • They were not allowed to return to their villages (if they tried to they were whipped and often tortured, some locked into braces in the hot sun and left without water for days);
  • They were cut off from their religion and culture and families;
  • They were forced to attend daily mass even though it was in Latin of which they understood not a word and were to kneel for up to four hours during the Mass;
  • The men were separated from the women;
  • They were often starved and close to starving, etc., etc.

Far from the mythology still reigning, the Indians and Catholics did not get along well. Why else would over 1000 neophytes try to escape from fifteen missions between 1769 and 1817—especially knowing that if caught severe penalties ensued? The author lists the numbers from each mission in compiling these statistics. In 1832 the Mexican assembly called for an end to what it called back then “the detestable system of the missions” and so many Indians fled from the missions that the “neophytes” or baptized Christians plunged in number from 30,000 to 5,000 between 1834 and 1843. This does not sound like happy campers wanting to stick around. The fact that the missions were labeled “detestable” in 1832 silences those today who say piously, “but we can’t judge the missions by twenty-first century standards.”

Castillo devotes one chapter to “Rebellion” since many Native people rose up and resisted their own enslavement. After one such rebellion at the San Diego mission the military commander asked the conquered rebel Indians why they rose up. The answer was recorded thus: “They wanted to kill the fathers and soldiers in order to live as they did before.” On receiving news of the uprising and the number of persons killed Serra responded: “Thank God that that ground has now been watered (with blood): Now, certainly we will achieve the conversion of the Dieguenos.” Strange talk indeed for a saint! (173)

The coastal Indian numbers were estimated at 300,000 when the Spanish arrived in 1769; they were 16,624 in 120 years later. (p. 200) Is that not genocide? While some of that happened after the gold rush in 1849, it began with the mission system that Serra founded. The missions, like the monasteries of the late middle ages (which St Francis had reacted against in starting his order), became vast properties where tens of thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and goats made the friars rich beyond measure. Yet, “there is no full accounting of the wealth amassed by the missions during their peak period, from the end of the eighteenth century through the early 1800s.” (194)

In August, 1833 the Mexican government secularized the missions and all their lands, making them the property of the Mexican government and stripping the Franciscans of their authority over them, though allowing the chapels to continue as places for Mass. At San Gabriel the leading friar “flew into a rage” and ordered the destruction of all the buildings and livestock with the result that tens of thousands of carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats littered the field. While he tried to destroy the vineyards as well, the Indians assigned to do it refused.

So decimated was the population of the Indians in the missions that the head Friar from 1815-1819, Mariano Payeras, wrote that history will record that the priests “baptized them, administered the sacraments to them, and buried them” and he worried about how to shelter the friars “from slander and sarcasm…for all time.” (154)   The diet forced on the mission Indians resulted in stunted and much smaller bodies as is indicted by comparing human bones at mission Indian burial sites to those not so enslaved. (155) It seems that most of the concern of the Franciscan superiors was not about the plight of the Indians but about the depletion in free labor for the missions and what history would say about the Franciscans. Well, with this book, history has indeed spoken. And it is not pretty.

For any Franciscan today to stand by idly while the pope canonizes Serra is at least as immoral an act as was the work of their sadistic forefathers. Survivors of the missions were interviewed in the late nineteenth century and “all agreed that the friars and mission life was cruel and oppressive.” (151) On July 21, 1797, a group of Indians who escaped were interviewed by the military commander who captured them on why they escaped. Here are some of their testimonies as recorded by the commander:

  • After his wife and daughter died, on five separate occasions Father Danti ordered him whipped because he was crying. For these reasons he fled.
  • He fled because his wife and one child had died, no other reason that that.
  • His motive for fleeing was that his brother had died on the other shore, and when he cried for him at the mission they whipped him.
  • He left because his mother, two brothers and three nephews died all of hunger. So that he would not also die of hunger, he fled. (152f)

This does not strike me as twenty-first century values foisted onto eighteenth-century reality. In fact, visitors to the missions in their own time were shocked by what they saw—even Friar Antonio de la Conception Horra who was assigned to head Mission Sanguel in 1798 was shocked and complained that the missions failed to teach the Indians the Spanish language. He wrote the Viceroy of Mexico: “The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days on end without receiving even a drop of water.” (141) Another friar in 1797 reported why Indians were fleeing the Mission San Francisco. “It is due to the terrible suffering they experienced from punishments and work,” he wrote the governor. An investigating presidio commander wrote: “Generally the treatment given the Indians is very harsh. At San Francisco, it even reached the point of cruelty.” (142)

Diseases, starvation, filthy and crowded living conditions, cruelty and torture--but also depression killed the mission Indians. “Some may have simply willed themselves to die, unable to stand the terrible stress….Nearly half of the missions populations died each year” and to make up for such losses the friars hunted further and further to find tribes from which they could seek a new and free labor force for their plantations. (139) As Castillo puts it: “Much of California including land that was far from the coast, would be turned into a huge and profitable farming area—the legacy of the missions, albeit at a tragic cost to California’s Indians….Newly-arrived settlers were faced with twenty-one missions that were in actuality giant agribusinesses that controlled the best lands with a large pool of free manpower.” (131)

French Naval Captain Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de Laperouse, sailed into Monterey Bay on September 14, 1786. He was the first outsider to visit the missions, arriving seventeen years after the first founding. He was “appalled at the treatment of the Indians by the Franciscan friars.” And he makes explicit the slave-like conditions of the Indians “whose state at present scarcely differs from that of the Negro inhabitants of our colonies.” (110) In addition “The color of these Indians, which is that of the negroes; the house of the Missionaries…the cattle, the horses—everything in short—brought to our recollection a plantation at Santo Domingo or any other West Indian island”-- in addition to “the noise of the whip.” (109f) The alcaldes or neophytes the friars choose to carry out the priests' commands, he notes, “are like the overseers of a slave plantation: passive beings, blind performers of the will of their superiors (friars)” whose main job is to “maintain order and the appearance of attention” during church services. (112) They also beat any Indian, no matter what age or sex, who violated mission rules. The floggings ranged from ten lashes up to fifty which could prove fatal. Women were not whipped in public but were taken away to be whipped so their cries would not arouse the men to rebellion. (113) When Indians killed a priest who was especially cruel in his whipping they were caught and sentenced to fifty daily lashes each for nine days and to life sentences of hard labor. (114)

Serra established nine missions before he died and the Indians “were little more than forced labor. This permitted the missions to thrive economically, and allowed the friars to profit personally for the sale of tallow, hides, horns, wine and brandy” which they sold to foreign merchant ships. “For the Indians it signified the beginning of brutal suffering and cultural genocide. Most died within two years, with their faith, customs, and way of life torn from them.” (98)

The Spanish Visitor General wrote to Serra’s close friend Friar Palou that they should “not teach the Indians how to write; for I have enough experiences that such major instruction perverts and hastens their ruination.” (129) This too followed the methods of the slavery plantations where reading and writing were forbidden. Castillo comments that this policy endorsed by Serra “proved catastrophic for the Indians when they began abandoning the missions in the 1830s.” (129)   One Scottish visitor, Hugo Reid, was so appalled at the widespread ignorance of Spanish among the mission Indians that he remarked: “Not one word of Spanish did they understand. They had no more idea that they were worshiping God than an unborn child has of astronomy.” (128)

We thus see that “Saint” Serra set up a sado-masochistic series of death camps, perhaps echoing his own masochistic spirituality. He was anti-intellectual, anti-science, ignorant of Indian culture and history and languages, paternalistic, racist, a white supremacist. In addition, Serra was an inquisitor before he ever came to the California area having been employed as an inquisitor in the mountain villages of Mexico on his own urging.

Nothing explains Pope Francis’ willingness to canonize Serra. In his recent encyclical the Pope laments how “the disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal….It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions…When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best,” (145, 146) He calls for a “preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” (158) Then why, pray tell, is he so hell-bent on canonizing Junipero Serra and crucifying the Natives of California still another time? Why doesn’t he sit down with the Indians whom he calls one’s “principal dialogue partners” and learn the real history of the California missions and the price the Native Americans are paying this day in terms of soul wounds and depression, alcoholism and addictions for what the sins of the fathers foisted upon them 200 years ago by Serra and his brother friars?

And why doesn’t he apologize in full for the “Discovery Doctrine” papal bulls of the fifteenth century popes who laid the legal groundwork for the slavery and mission attacks on the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas? In the “Requerimiento” document of 1513, derived from those papal bulls and read to indigenous people under the Spanish Empire (but in Spanish which they did not understand), all are instructed that the Pope is appointed by God to “govern the world” and that Saint Peter was acknowledged in his time as “Lord and King, and the superior of the universe” who was appointed to be “in charge of the human race” and that such recognition “will continue until the end of the world.” (215)

Elias Castillo offers us a different reading of history and Spanish imperialism and the religious sins that accompanied it. Sins that haunt the souls of Native Peoples to this day—and sins that ought to cry out to us all for healing. How can the healing happen without the truth? How can anyone even think of canonizing Serra after these revelations?

 

Why the Missions of Friar Serra are equivalent to the Confederate flag among Native Americans in California

The nation is embarked on a review of its soul vis-à-vis racism and white supremacy since the horrible attack on nine members of a black church in Charleston.  As well it should be.  But there is another act of white supremacy that needs the attention of all and especially Catholics. It was with very sad hearts that we who respect the Native American peoples learned of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall, 2015.

Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California.  The news of his prospective canonization is sad for what it says about Church ignorance—after all these hundreds of years—of Native American accomplishments; it is also sad for what it reminds us about the history of Christian missionizing. A Native American from California recently wrote me that “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”

As America is waking up to the pain that the Confederate Flag represents especially to Black Southerners, it must also wake up to the fact that the missions are not pretty postcard places nicely painted in white.  They were places of enforced labor and whippings where white supremacy ruled against indigenous peoples in the name of church and empire.  What the Confederate Flag means to the South is what the California missions mean to the indigenous peoples there.  Ask their descendants!  Read three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author Elias Castillo’s, A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions to get the true story.

Serra is Colonizer-in-Chief; he is a racist; he is a white supremacist.  Why canonize him in 2015?  Native peoples are furious and for very good reason.  Among the California tribes alone who have objected are the following: the Xolon Salinan Tribe; the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel;  Cupeno; Miwok; Cahuilla; Kizh Gabrieleno; Pomo; Ohlone; Kumeyeaa; Chumash.  I am told that many casino tribes object also but do not want to be named lest their pious Catholic gamblers would no longer frequent their casinos.  It is appalling that in 2015 so-called theologians on the East coast, all white, do not bother to bring in Native Americans from California to tell the truth of what Serra & Co. did to their ancestors and the price they have paid for centuries for this abuse in the name of Empire and Church.

It is particularly sad that the first American pope ever, one who has caught the attention of millions for his efforts to cleanse the church of its sins and society of its “narcissism” and social and economic inequities, and who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful, would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike.  And it is sad that as many nations and peoples applaud the pope’s encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change that still another stake would be driven into the indigenous legacy of respect for nature that is so central to their spiritual tradition and to the survival of the planet as we know it today.

This is a severe blow to the hopes of people looking to a reformed papacy and a reforming pope.  Granted, Pope Francis is only human like the rest of us and humans err—as he says, he himself is a sinner.  And this decision is a grave sin indeed.

Serra’s theology was retrograde even in his own day and by standards even of his own time—saying nothing of today.  How remarkable it is that Pope Francis is on the cusp of canonizing Archbishop Romero of El Salvador who stood up to the extreme right-wing militias of his country to stand on the behalf of the poor, and is thereby choosing to rehabilitate liberation theology -- but the same Pope is tone deaf to the colonial and “enslavement” theology that motivated Serra.

What was Serra’s theology?  When Serra left Spain for the Americas while in his mid-thirties, he mused about his parents “preparing themselves for that happy death which of all the things of life is our principal concern.”  Unfortunately that was his driving ideology as a missionary to the Indians as well.  In January, 1780, thirty-two years after arriving in the Americas, Serra writes about how to treat two Indian leaders who had rebelled against the missions, and displays his already familiar theology:

“I would not feel sorry no matter what punishment they gave them, if they would commute it to prison for life, or in the stocks every day, since then it would be easier for them to die well.  Do you think it possible that if they kept them prisoners for a time, and by means of interpreters explained to them about the life to come and its eternal duration, and if we prayed to God for them—might we not persuade them to repent and win them over to a better life?  You could impress on them that the only reason they were still alive is because of our affection for them, and the trouble we took to save their lives.”

This is language of the oppressor writ large.  Serra urged his friars to baptize the Indians in prison and give them crucifixes and rosaries and dress them in tunics of white cotton cloth “in which they would die and be buried,” thus preparing them it seems for “eternal life.”  Actually, their lives were saved not by Serra but by the military governor who commuted their death sentence to hard labor.

According to Spanish law, every mission was to be temporary and within ten years of its founding each was to be handed over to Christian Indians who were also to take over as  governors of the land and mission.  But Serra (who never really learned the native peoples’ languages) objected that the Indians were incompetent to govern themselves and needed to be supervised and punished by the friars…even though the Indians had dwelt on the land for thousands of years and knew far more about raising crops indigenous to the land than did the Spaniards, and also had developed a culture based on sharing and co-operation, not power-over.

Serra also objected to being denied his practice of whipping the Indians.  Wanting to continue this practice, he wrote to the military governor Felipe de Neve that there “may have been some inequalities and excesses on the part of some fathers and that we are all exposed to err in that regard.”

Nevertheless the end apparently justifies the means because, as he puts it “when we came there, we did not find even a single Christian, that we have engendered them all in Christ, that we, every one of us, came here for the single purpose of doing them good and for their eternal salvation, and I feel sure that everyone knows that we love them.”

Really? Whipping people; taking their land; forbidding their rituals; ending their languages; locking them up in colonial church properties from which they were forbidden to leave and visit relatives and friends; destroying their culture and subsistence by hunting and gathering; introducing diseases; and bringing in soldiers who frequently raped the native women; all in the name of the Spanish “king and lord” and for the sake of the Empire—this is loving them?   This is “engendering them all in Christ?”  This is not love.  Nor is it justice.  It is colonialism writ large.  And with God and Jesus and Imperial Christianity legitimizing it.

Also, Serra himself was big on beating his body with whips and piercings.  Maybe his masochism rendered his sadism less of an issue:  “Love others as you love yourself” as someone said.  But why endorse such a person’s theology and spirituality at this time? Why, Why, Why canonize someone in 2015 who stands for such bad theology and bad intercultural values, utterly lacking the respect and humility that lie at the foundation of  interfaith?

This canonization is a scandal.  People should be flooding the Vatican with letters of objection.  It is not Pope Francis at his best.  It is not Christianity at its best; it conjures up the worst shadows (of which there are so many) in the history of the Imperial Church, a church many hoped we had left behind. With the teachings of Vatican II and the powerful teachings and witness of Archbishop Romero in the 1980s, surely we have come farther than this!

This disastrous decision puts wind in the sails of those who have learned nothing from the dark days of colonialism in the name of God and Empire, at a time when indigenous peoples around the world are facing the destruction of their lands and cultures at the hands of corporate and government militia.  The system Serra set up was paternalism at its worst: it treated native peoples as helpless children, and reinforced an other-worldly religion.

One Franciscan historian comments on Serra and the epidemics that the Europeans introduced to the indigenous peoples: “Death might wreak havoc among his hard-won neophytes, but he found consolation in his sorrow, for he had prepared them for a future life which, his religious convictions assured him, was worth infinitely more than the life they were leaving and the pain of parting.”  At a mission in Santa Clara there was a great epidemic in May 1777 but Serra’s companion friar Palou writes of how “the fathers were able to perform a great many baptisms by simply going through the villages.  In this way they succeeded in sending a great many children (who died almost as soon as they were baptized) to heaven.”

It seems that Serra and his companion friars never wavered in their compulsion to reduce Christianity to a promise of life-after-death.  Too bad that they missed their Master’s teaching of love and life fully lived here and now, the promise of the kingdom/queendom of God on earth, a place where justice flowed like a river and the prophet pictured it.   One critical commentator summarizes Serra’s mission this way:  “Clearly, if sainthood means self sacrificing devotion to harvesting pagan souls for the kingdom of god in heaven, then Junipero Serra deserves to become a saint.”

If not, one asks anew: WHY is the pope making so profound a mistake?  Why create a patron saint for colonizers and racists in the year 2015?  Why not instead take the occasion of his visit to the United States to do an about-face and canonize those thousands of native peoples who died at the hands of misguided, badly theologically trained, servants of the Empire?

Indeed, why not get on one’s knees in humble confession and ask the Native Peoples for forgiveness?

The Pope’s New Encyclical vs. the Canonization of Serra

The pope's new encyclical, wise as it is about climate change, completely contradicts the misguided effort to canonize Serra a saint.  Here are his words with my response in brackets:

number 145:  "The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal.  The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.  [Was not Serra's mission system a device to replace one ancient culture with another imperial one?  Didn't it contribute to the disappearance of a culture?  Why canonize him then?]

  1. “In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.  They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”  [Where then is the dialog with these communities and “principal dialogue partners” regarding the canonization of Serra happening?]

“For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest here, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.  When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best”. [Then why canonize someone who made it a policy to take them from their land and had no respect for how they lived on the land and cared for it for centuries before the Europeans invaded?]

“Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”  [Before the mining companies pressured them to abandon their homelands and degrade their culture the church did the same--why canonize the man, Serra, who symbolizes this very act of degrading a culture in the name of a foreign ideology?  He who is a “colonizer-in-chief”?]

  1. “The principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.....It demands before all else an appreciation of immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers.”  [Then why ignore the agonizing and loud cries of the indigenous poor AGAINST the canonization of Serra?]

If you share these feelings of grief and outrage at the upcoming canonization of Junipero Serra, let your voice be heard! Please sign this petition…and spread the word so others can do so also. Thank you.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/urge-pope-francis-to?mailing_id=29425&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=492022

____________________________________________________________

[1] Junipero Serra, letter to Francesch Serra, Cadiz, 20 August 1749, Antonine Tibesar, O.F.M., ed, Writings of Junipero Serra (Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1955) vol. 1, p. 5.

[2] Serra, letter to Fermin de Lasuen, Monterey, 12 January 1780, Ibid., vol 3, p. 424f.

[3] Francis Florian Guest, O.F.M., “Cultural Perspectives on California Mission Life, “ Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, Spring 1983, p. 31.

[4] Serra, letter to governor Neve, Monterey, 7 January 1780, Writings of Junipero Serra, vol. 3, pp. 413-15.

[5] Finbar Kenneally, O.F.M. and Mathias Kiemen, O.F.M., Introduction to Writings of Junipero Serra, op. cit., vol. 4, p. xvi.

[6] Francisco Palou, Life of Junipero Serra, C. S. Williams, transl. (Pasadena: G. W. James, 1913), p. 213.

[7] Daniel Fogel, Junipero Serra, the Vatican, and Enslavement Theology (San Francisco: ISM Press, 1988), p. 81. The author does an excellent job of presenting the facts and realities of the Serra story from primary sources and I am indebted to him for the citations presented in this article.

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Matthew Fox is a theologian and Episcopal priest who was a Dominican friar for 34 years. He was expelled from the order by Cardinal Ratzinger for, among other things, "working too closely with Native Americans" and supporting women’s, gay, and indigenous rights.  His 32 books have been translated into 58 languages and include Letters to Pope Francis, Original Blessing, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Reinvention of Work, The Pope's War and most recently Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time. Connect with him at his website (http://9f3.fb6.myftpupload.com), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Rev.Dr.MatthewFox) and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).

 

Pope Francis: A Breath of Fresh Air?

The following article was written by Matthew Fox for TIKKUN Magazine and published there, December 8, 2013. I recently wrote a book on Pope Francis, or better a book to him, entitled Letters to Pope Francis. The book was released in Italian on Thanksgiving Day. In it I challenge him to live up to his purposefully chosen namesake and warned that people would hold his feet to the fire because no other pope had ever taken up that name, icon that it is, and that most people do know what St Francis of Assisi stood for: Ecology and non-chauvinistic relationships to the plant and animal worlds; a preferential option for the poor; and (this may be slightly less acknowledged) an admirable and almost startling balance of gender justice and consciousness. In his celebrated poem, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” he moves back and forth, back and forth, between masculine and feminine names for the sacred.

People who care about such matters recognize fresh consciousness in the pope's refusal to move into the palatial headquarters known as the papal apartments; in his refusal to drive in limousines and his call for bishops and cardinals to follow suit; his trips to embrace embattled refugees on islands off southern Italy; his visits to favelas or slums in Rio de Janeiro as well as his work in the same in Argentina over the years.

These actions, plus his strong words denouncing the “idols” and “gods” of the marketplace together seem to be framing a story of a different kind of pope and papacy from anything we have had since Pope John Paul I, who was (most probably) murdered after thirty-one days in the office some thirty-four years ago. It raises hopes in the minds and hearts of activists and progressive Catholics, many of whom have left the church behind but still recognize its potential power as a source for good in many parts of the world.

Theologically, Pope Francis is speaking the radical language of Vatican II abandoned by his two predecessors: that the church is NOT the hierarchy but “the people” whose “sensus fidelium” actually matters. The effort to poll parishioners about such subjects as birth control, abortion, women's rights and homosexual unions is a first, though quite lame effort, as the survey was unprofessionally done, asking for essay answers and not direct answers. In many cases it has been ignored by the bishops, who are simply filling in the blanks according to their own theological whims.

One sign that Pope Francis is being heard is the steam emerging from people who do not want to hear about justice, economic equality or church as people of God. (Rush Limbaugh, for example, had lots to complain about and did so loudly regarding the pope's recent take on Wall Street, calling the pope's words “pure Marxism.”)

But right-wing Catholic nay-sayers are caught in something of a trap. It will be interesting to see how they emerge and this includes stalwart power brokers like the four right wing Catholics on the Supreme Court, all of whom voted for “Citizens United”--Scalia, Thomas, Alioto and John Roberts. Throw in Kennedy, another Catholic though not so extreme right (for his scandalous vote in favor of Citizens United). Then there is Newt Gingrich, a new convert to Catholicism (under pope Ratzinger); aspiring presidential candidate Paul Ryan (whose philosophy owes much more to atheist Ayn Rand than to the Gospels or papal pronouncements but who still claims to be a stalwart Catholic); Rick Santorum; John Boehmer.

How these politicians dance around this pope's pronouncements on economic justice will be a spectacle that deserves watching. Recall how the Catholic bishops under Pope John Paul II were instructed not to give communion to Catholic politicians who advocate for the right to abortion and how this cost Kerry the election in 2004. Will the same threats obtain for Catholic politicians who deny rights of the poor? And who are shills for the interests of the “deified market” (the pope's words) and “a “new tyranny” (the pope's words) of current day capitalism? Stay tuned.

The pope has essentially told the shrill right wing Catholics who received such support under the previous two popes, to chill out and to cease reducing theology to “a condom” or a set of rules, and to get moving on social and economic justice. There are currently Catholic writers who have made a living denouncing social justice such as George Weigel and it will be interesting to watch them squirm also with this new pope. Weigel is famous for complaining about Catholics who take some of the teachings of the church and leave others out. He did the same with: 1) the war in Iraq --he was and is a committed neocon who has never apologized for getting us into Iraq, despite both of the popes he so admires being against it; and 2) economic alternatives to Wall Street rape of Main Street, i.e, consumer capitalism.

Yet he constantly trumps his version of Catholicism, which is really papalism, as the only way. “The truth of what is taught by the pope and the college of bishops is not a matter for debate” he tells us in his most recent (and scariest) book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church (page 61). Will he continue to invoke papalism after reading what this pope is preaching?

How is it then that Weigel supported the invasion of Iraq when two popes opposed it? Why did he run from papal teachings on distributive justice? And from their teachings on the death penalty? When it comes to seminary training, Weigel says it should begin with the Catechism and only then move into Biblical studies which “should build upon this solid foundation so that each candidate has a deep understanding of what the Church teaches—and why.” He says this is the way one learns to think “with the Church” as if the Church is the maker of catechisms—not the people of the world or the carrier of Sacred Scripture. (By the way, the great idea for a catechism came from none other than the pedophile champion, Cardinal Law, as I make clear in my book, The Pope's War.) Yes, we will soon learn what really constitutes the theology of our hard right Catholic propagandists, and I suspect that for many if not all of them Wall Street will trump the Vatican.

But beyond the Catholics squirming in and out of political office, there are the larger issues that the pope is addressing to the capitalistic system itself at this time of history.

Being the first pope from what we call “the third world,” Pope Francis can be expected to understand the tides of history and of economic oppression differently from being the recipient of years of abuse than from being the source of it. I end my letters to the pope suggesting that he and the Dalai Lama make a world tour together, hitting most continents to speak to the “Revolution in Values” that our times call for. This is not because change comes primarily from the top down, but because a few at the top (whom the media will be almost required to report about) can, by speaking out together, put wind in the sails of those millions and indeed billions who pray for and/or work for a saner world. Together they could speak to the obvious and real moral issues of our day:

  • economic inequality based on a system of avarice not only at the top but in the consumer bottom and middle;
  • gender injustice (something the Catholic Church has to address internally as well);
  • ecological destruction;
  • unemployment, especially among the young;
  • the pressing need for religious and spiritual interfaith or deep ecumenism;
  • the necessary and desired marriage of science and spirituality (as opposed to silly fundamentalism either by religion or by science).

The young could be deeply inspired by such a road show and I have no doubt that the two principals would themselves learn from one another. This pope has displayed a refreshing humility and eagerness to learn from other religious leaders as in his book of dialogs with Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina (who is also a PhD in science). It is a fine book and they got together over a two year period to produce it.

Teachings of Pope Francis that stand out include some of the following.

1. A walking of his talk of simpler lifestyle. Pope Francis was well known in Argentina for taking public transportation to work and refusing any limousine-like service, which so many prelates take for granted. He has done the same in his new position as pope, where he chooses not to live in the papal apartments but in a far more modest guest house or hotel in the Vatican (might he give over the apartments to Rome's homeless?). He drives a Ford Focus in Vatican city. He has also drawn some press recently for sneaking out at night from the Vatican in the simple priestly garb of black suit and color and hanging out with homeless in the streets of Rome. One senses he is trying to walk the talk and follow his own preaching about simplification. And he is putting pressure on other prelates to do the same.

2. As for his talk, he tends to mince no words when speaking of the divergence of wealth and poverty today. He speaks to globalization this way: “The globalization that makes everything uniform is essentially imperialist...it is not human. In the end it is a way to enslave the nations.” (Fox, Letters to Pope Francis, 24; subsequent citations are from the same) Is globalization enslaving the nations? Serious words worthy of a serious discussion.

3. He says: “Christianity condemns both Communism and wild capitalism with the same vigor” and one needs to reject the “wild economic liberalism we see today” and “seek equal opportunities and rights and strive for social benefits, dignified retirement, vacation time, rest, and freedom of unions.”

4. He praises St Francis because “he brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time” and for this reason “he changed history.”

5. He takes on the neocon preoccupation with “world terrorism” and the fear such language arouses when he declares that “human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.” How important is that? To equate economic structures with terrorism? Yes, Wall Street terrorizes. Ask any Main Street citizen.

6. He denounces the “flight of money to foreign countries” as a sin because it dishonors “the people that worked to generate” that wealth. He also condemns those who hide their wealth in off-shore accounts to avoid paying taxes that are so important for the common good.

7. Pope Francis has said: “The option for the poor comes from the first centuries of Christianity. It is the Gospel itself.” And he remarked that were he to preach sermons from the first fathers of the church on the needs of the poor, he would be called a “Maoist or Trotskyte.” (119)

8. He critiques clericalism as a “distortion of religion” and says priests should not declare “I am the boss here” but listen to the community. “The Catholic Church is the entire people of God,” he declares, a la Vatican II—not words the previous two popes were at all home with. (85)

9. “Human rights are violated by...unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.” (71)

10. On Holy Thursday Pope Francis washed the feet of young people in jail, including the feet of some women, one of them being Muslim. It is a custom to do this ritual after the memory of Jesus who also did it—but the Catholic right wing is up in arms about his daring to wash women's feet, and those of a Muslim woman!

11. He endorses the concept of small communities over what he calls “hierarchical mega-institutions” because these better “nurture their own spirituality” and after all the “origin of Christianity was 'parochial and later organized into small communities.” (94)

12. “Repair my church in ruins” he said on taking over the office of the papacy. He seems to get it. The schismatic church of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) has left a Catholicism which the young have abandoned en masse. They left a church in ruins run by fascist leaning Opus Dei cardinals and bishops all over the world. One Catholic paper in India declared “there is a civil war in the church.” I for one do not believe this pope or any pope could return Catholicism to its previous state—or should. As I concluded in my book, The Pope's War, I see in the destruction of the Catholic Church as we know it the work of the Holy Spirit. It is time to simplify the message and the presence of those who follow a Christ path. It is time to travel with backpacks on our backs, not basilicas. The pope's work will not bring Catholics “back to the church” but hopefully it will inspire Christians and non-Christians alike to consider the basic teachings of Jesus around compassion and justice and start acting accordingly.

13. Says Pope Francis: “The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any human goal.” We need, he says, a “balanced social order that is more humane” and that resists consumerism. “Money has to serve and not rule.” It is a “savage capitalism” that teaches “the logic of profit at any cost” and exploitation of people.

14. Says the pope: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Structures can “give us a false sense of security” and “rules makes us harsh judges...while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “give them something to eat.'” He wants to decentralize the church for “excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the church’s life and her missionary outreach.”

15. Unfettered capitalism is a “new tyranny” “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which 'King Money' is at the center.” This “throwaway culture discards young people as well as its older people.....A whole generation of young people does not have the dignity that is brought by work.” A “diminishing of the joy of life” is the result of such idolatry (125f) and interestingly he chose a parallel phrase, the “Joy of the Gospel” for the title of his most recent pronouncement.

In his recent document entitled “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis speaks bluntly as all the prophet do. He says No—as all the prophets do. He denounces “trickle-down” economics as “never having been confirmed by the facts” and being built on a “crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power....Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” Following are some of his No's presented in his own words:

1. “No to an economy of exclusion....An economy of exclusion and inequality kills....Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

2. “No to the new idolatry of money....While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.....Self-serving tax evasion has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits....Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a defied market, which becomes the only rule.”

3. “No to a financial system which rules rather than serves. Ethics is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person....Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.”

4. “No to the inequality which spawns violence. [Violence happens not]simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded form the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.....Evil crystallized in unjust social structures...cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.”

Pope Francis speaks out against an “education that would tranquilize the poor, making them tame and harmless.” And he defines injustice as “evil.” He has invited liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican and the word is out that he will canonize Archbishop Romero.

A different kind of papacy? Surely from the past two popes; much more like Pope John XXIII. Does that mean we go back to papalolatry? Absolutely not. But it does mean that it is good that a person in the public eye is keeping his sights on values that matter and speaking up for the kind of people of conscience who read and act on the values that Tikkun represents.

When it comes to issues of women, Pope Francis has much to learn (including how women were leaders in the early church). But I think he is capable of learning. On homosexuality, he has uttered a telling line, “Who am I to judge?” that certainly distances him from the previous two popes. On issues of abortion, at least he has spoken to the need to care about the women involved. Pope Francis is not perfect—none of us is—but he is an ally to all those seeking a world of justice and therefore peace.

What Would Hildegard Do?

Some Thoughts on the Latest Attack from the Vatican, This on American Sisters My first response on being invited to write an article on the Silencing of Sisters in the Roman Catholic Church was: “Why? They are fully capable of defending themselves.” Yet I also know, from my own personal experience in my years of being silenced and then expelled by then Cardinal Ratzinger from my religious order in which I was “in good standing” for 34 years (and then lied about), that solidarity matters. It matters not just to an individual in the midst of an ordeal but also to others who stand under the gun and wonder if their taking stands of conscience will isolate them or bring on support and solidarity. (Interestingly, feminist theologian Dorothy Soelle says solidarity is the opposite of servile obedience.) So I have squelched my inhibitions about letting the sisters go it alone to jump into the fray and offer whatever support I can to my sisters.[br] The same weekend that I was invited to write this article I met a woman in her sixties who told me she had been a Catholic sister for a number of years in the Order of Saint Joseph and her response to the attacks on Catholic sisters was this: “Now they will be called to stand up and be counted like so many of us over the years who had to make decisions of conscience on our own. Just like you and many theologians also had to do. No more denial.” It is not only sister orders who can no longer deny the darkness that has taken over the Catholic Church at this time in history. Lay people too who support and rely on the sisters whether in fields of education or pastoral ministry or as examplars of Christians trying to live out the values of Vatican II about justice and solidarity with the poor — all have to move beyond denial and stand up and be counted with the sisters now under siege from the Vatican. Meister Eckhart tells us: “God is the denial of denial.”[br] I have laid out the stakes of this struggle in the Catholic Church in my recent book,The Pope's War: How Ratzinger's Crusade has Imperiled the Church and What Can Be Saved. There I try to present the last forty years of Catholic Church history and make the case that the Vatican and its bureaucrats are in fact in schism since they have abandoned the values and principles of Vatican II across the board (from national bishops' conferences, to lay leadership, to freedom of conscience, to openness with theologians, to deep ecumenism and more). This is schism, since in the church's tradition a Council trumps popes and not the other way around. What this means practically is that all the cardinals, bishops and priests anointed in the past forty years are invalid and not to be believed or followed. The door is open for a LOT of creativity and work of the Holy Spirit to flow anew into Christian history. [br] The case for schism is not just about the abandonment of Vatican II and its saintly movements and individuals such as Oscar Romero, Bishop Casigalida, Bishop Arns, thousands of church workers tortured and killed in Brazil, Peru and more but also the 101 theologians silenced and often expelled from their teaching vocations. It is also about the perverse persons and ideologies embraced by the past two papacies include Fr Maciel, so close to Pope John Paul II that he accompanied him on plane rides to Latin America, who raised more money than anyone in church history but who also sexually abused over twenty of his seminarians and had two common law wives on the side by whom he fathered four children whom he also sexually abused (3 boys and a girl). This man and his order, eagerly supportive of the dictator Pinochet and other far-right movements, was protected and highlighted by the past two papacies (only under pressure did Pope Benedict XVI, having neglected to investigate him when it was his job to do so at the Congregation of Fatih, finally order a full investigation and call for an examination of his order). There is also the scary Opus Dei movement, given full support and ecclesial carte blanche under these two schismatic papacies who rushed the founder, fascist priest and admirer of Hitler, Fr. Escriva, into canonization on a fast track never before equalled. The greatest spy in American history who now sits in jail for getting more American spies murdered than any one before him, was a devout Opus Dei member who went undetected in his post at the FBI for over twenty years. How many members of today's Supreme Court are Opus Dei? It is hard to know since they are nothing if not secretive but the general guess is 3 or 4. Citizens United decision correctly names their philosophy of marriage of government and corporations (Mussolini's very definition of fascism).[br] This is all to lay out the context of the sisters' condemnation. One must realize that we are suffering through the most corrupt papacies since the Borgias. To the sisters now under fire, I say “Congratulations! You are in good company. Welcome to the club of thinking and caring Catholics trying to apply the principles and values of our faith who have also been attacked for doing so by so-called leaders of the church.” When I was expelled by the Dominicans I received a letter from poet Bill Everson (former Dominican Brother Antoninus) that said: “Congratulations for this culmination of your vocation.” He was right to put the ordeal in the context of vocation. Vocation is our original calling, that which invited us to take a path less traveled. To have followed that path in spite of history's detours is a noble act. To all the sisters affected by this Vatican attack, I say: “Congratulations! Your vocation is calling you still.”[br]

Some questions I put to the sisters are these:[br]

  1. What kind of support do you expect or can you expect from male religious orders? Will they have the courage to stand by you in solidarity? Or will they slink away in a fit of self-preservation to hide and not be heard from? Will they continue in their denial? Or will they finally stand up and be counted and stand by you?[br][br]
  2. What options are you considering? Are you going to “let the dead bury the dead” and move on, continuing your works of service outside any technical connection with Rome? Will you join the Ecumenical Catholic Church? Have you hired good lawyers to help you with property issues?[br][br]
  3. Do you think it is worth the trouble and bother and time and energy drain to fight to stay in the Roman Catholic Church as it is now constittued at the top and to try to get “permission” to continue your vocation from the sick and schismatic hierarchy of today?[br][br]
  4. Do you think Hildegard of Bingen (scheduled to be declared a saint and doctor of the church in October) speaks for you when she writes to the pope of her day: “O man, the eye of your discernment weakens. You are becoming weary, too tired to restrain the arrogant boastfulness of people to whom you have entrusted your heart. Why do you not call these shipwrecked people back? You are neglecting Justice, the King’s daughter, the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you. Her crown and jeweled raiments are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night. They are hypocrites. With their words they make a show of illusory peace, but within, in their hearts, they grind their teeth like a dog who wags its tail at a recognized friend but bites with its sharp teeth an experienced warrior who fights for the King’s house. Why do you tolerate the evil ways of people who, in the darkness of foolishness, draw everything harmful to themselves? They are like hens who make noise during the night and terrify themselves.... People who act like this aren’t rooted in goodness.” What a marvelous picture of the curia in the 21st century![br] She goes on: “You should be doing battle with evil, but that is precisely what you aren’t doing, when you don’t dig out by the root that evil which suffocates the good. And why not? Because of your fear of the evil men who lay snares in nocturnal ambush and love the gold of death more than the beautiful King’s daughter, Justice.”[br] "O man, you who sit on the papal throne, you despise God when you don’t hurl from yourself the evil, but even worse, embrace it and kiss it by silently tolerating corrupt men. The whole earth is in confusion on account of the ever-recurring false teaching whereby human beings love what God has brought, to nothing. And you, O Rome, are like one in the throes of death.”[br] “You will be so shaken that the strength of your feet, the feet on which you now stand, will disappear. For you don’t love the King’s daughter, Justice....but as in delirium of sleep, so that you push her away from you. That is why she will flee from you, unless you call her back. And you, O man, who have been placed as a visible shepherd, rise up and hasten quickly to Justice, so that you will not be criticized by the great Doctor for not having cleansed your flock from dirt, for not having anointed them with oil.”[br] In a letter to Abbot Hellinger she writes: “Now listen and learn, so that you blush with shame when you taste in your soul what I now say. Sometimes you have the style of a bear, who often grumbles to itself in secret. Sometimes you have the style of an ass, for you aren’t solicitous in your duties but are glum and in many ways bungling as well.” He’s glum and bungling! “To such behavior the heavenly Father gives an answer: ‘Your heart grumbles over my Justice. You don’t seek the right answer in her, but you harbor in yourself a certain grumbling like that of the bear.’” [These citations are from her letters and found in Matthew Fox, ed., Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs, Bear & Co., 1987.][br][br]
  5. How is all this internal struggle strengthening your true vocation?[br][br]
  6. How are you feeling about the Vatican at this time in history?[br][br]
  7. Two proposals do come to my mind. Since it is not you who have been accused of pedophilia or of covering up pedophilia, are you considering undertaking your own investgation of hierarchy both in Rome and in the United States who have stood by while countencing priestly pedophilia? And who now are publicly attacking SNAP which exists to defend the victims of such childhood horrors and which is directed by former victims of priestly pedophilia?[br][br]
  8. And while you are at it, why not demand that the Vatican define “radical feminism” since Cardinal Ratzinger has been getting away with such scurilous and sloppy language for decades (in fact, he accused me of the identical offense without defining his terms when he expelled me).[br]

I would be happy to invite any Catholic sister who wishes to write me their answers to these questions—I promise COMPLETE anonymity—and I will try to publish them in a follow-up to this article.[br]

Finally, I have just one sentence of advice: Wear this badge of honor, this joining the 101 theologians and church activists who have also been denounced by radical right wing groups who hide in the Vatican canonizing one another, with humility. I am sure you will. I offer you as a gift the following poem:[br] It is not enough that Opus Dei occupies three to four seats in the US Supreme Court,

It is not enough that one (or two) of its admirers ran for president on the Republican ticket,

It is not enough that one (Bishop Finn) engaged in sexual cover up of a priest after pledging not to,

It is not enough that one occupies the largest diocese in North America (Los Angeles),

It is not enough that denial of contraception and other proof of wars against women and their bodies is countenced by schismatic popes,

It is not enough that pedophile priests and bishops are covered up for by hierarchy,

It is not enough that GBLT persons are bullied by schismatic popes and their sycophant bishops,

It is not enough that ecumenism is dead in the water,

It is not enough that yoga is condemned and that Thich Naht Hahn has been declared an “anti-Christ” by the Vatican,

It is not enough that women are excluded from priesthood and from leadership in the church,

It is not enough that 101 theologians have been silenced, abused, expelled for doing their job in service of the People,

It is not enough that theology is dead in the water and the only teacher left is the “magisterium,” i.e. the bureaucrats in the Vatican,

It is not enough that fear grips all theologians and priests,

It is not enough that the Vatican is in bed with dictators and with CIA, FBI, Pentegon and more,

Now cometh the latest trumpet call from the guardians of stale orthodoxy and sinful papalolotry: An attack on American religious sisters, those who have lived and led with the values of Vatican II.[br]

May you all be blessed and thanked for your work, your generosity and your faithfulness to Gospel values. May your consciences take the lead in the creative responses you are sure to be invoking.[br}

Gratefully and in the Spirit of Hildegard,

Your brother,

Matthew Fox, oops (Once of the Order of Preachers)