social justice

A Letter to the People of New Zealand

Dear Friends,

Like others I am horrified and deeply saddened by the murders at two mosques in your nation.  Know that many are grieving with you, praying with you, and thinking of you. 

I saw this story of Omar Nabi in the paper just now and offer a response in the final paragraph.


"Omar Nabi, whose father was gunned down while protecting a friend at the mosque, said simply: 'There's no words.  People were praying, people were praying at their mosque. They got shot in the back.  This is not...this is not what humans do.'" 

Yes, our humanity is on trial.  There are no words.  Evil, like awe, renders us speechless.  The awful and the awesome reduce us to silence. This is not what humans (ought) to do (if we are to be human).   The hatred, white nationalism, racism, bigotry and conjuring up of enemies that is created by politicians, media posts, and more leads to actions that are "not what humans do."  We are losing our humanity.  Much has to change.

Hopefully this event-beyond-words will wake many up.
In solidarity,

Matthew Fox

A Thank You to the Young for their March of Hope and Resurrection

The student-led March for Life event that was so wonderfully attended by so many eager citizens in Washington D.C. and in so many other cities around the country and the world was a wonderful moment of Hope.  So fitting for this Passover and Easter season. 

Emma Gonzalez stands in silent tears as she observes 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence while addressing the March for Our Lives rally, March 24, 2018 in Washington, D.C. - photo by Chip Somodevilla, ABC News/Getty Images

Emma Gonzalez stands in silent tears as she observes 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence while addressing the March for Our Lives rally, March 24, 2018 in Washington, D.C. - photo by Chip Somodevilla, ABC News/Getty Images

Kudos to the young people who designed and led and spoke at this powerful gathering.  Thank you for speaking from your heart to the hearts of so many of us, elders included.  Thank you for clearing the stage of anyone over 18 years old so that we could all listen to the passion of your generation.  Thank you for challenging politicians to put conscience ahead of money and common sense gun laws ahead of ideological rancor and ranting, for going, as one speaker said, beyond “red” and “blue” posturing to looking at the country as a whole. 

Thank you for calling Senator Marco Rubio out for his selling off the lives of Floridian teenagers (whom he is supposed to represent but clearly puts second place to his love of NRA) for $1.06 each based on the $3 million plus he has taken from NRA.  Behind these smart figures is of course the larger picture: It is thanks to Citizens United that we have this obscene dependence of politicians on the whim of corporations like NRA (and countless others).  Every Supreme Court judge who voted for Citizens United also has blood on his hands as much as the politicians who take the money from NRA to do their bidding.  We need an election system that is free of money dependencies whether from the right or left.  We need a system that is paid for by the peoples’ government and excludes all other money. 

Thank you for calling lazy-minded adults to move beyond hypocritical talk of “thoughts and prayers” to actions and for spelling out what the actions are that can move us beyond military weapons in the hands of everyday citizens and beyond squelching background checks on all gun owners and beyond the recently passed bill that allows mentally disturbed to buy weapons and that invests in assisting the mentally disturbed.

Thank you for bringing morality back into the conversation—as one 11 year old black girl wisely said, “we know what is right and wrong.”  (Many politicians seem to conveniently forget that.)  And Thank You to the speaker who declared, “this is a moral issue, not a red vs blue issue.”  Would that the kept congress people could utter such a sentence and mean it and prove it by his/her actions and votes.  Thank you to the 11 year old boy who reminded us that “I deserve to grow up” and that there is such a thing as “the things that matter.”  Might our politicians meditate on those two sentences for a while--What things DO matter?  What things matter MORE than being re-elected?  And thank you for the youth who said “this is not OK” when speaking of the dangers our children face in schools and on the street due to lack of smart gun restrictions.

Thank you to Emma Gonzalez for daring to lead people in a 6+minute silence to taste and feel the time it took the shooter in Parkland to murder 17 persons and injure many more.  In doing this extended silence she courageously rendered many people in the audience ill at ease—but that is the point, isn’t it?  To get out of our ease at hearing and re-hearing the unacceptable news of still another school (or church or movie theater or Las Vegas parking lot) mass shooting..  In daring to go into extended silence this young woman was leading a grief experience with us all.  We all need to grieve and from that grieving (as in the Passover event and the Good Friday/Holy Saturday events) comes new life, courage, imagination, movements.  In other words, Resurrection.

Thank you to Jennifer Hudson and those who invited her to sing for her stirring rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times they are A-changin.”  Speaking as an elder who was affected deeply by that same song and powerful words at a time of protest against the Viet Nam War in the 1960’s, I can say I found it a well-chosen piece to connect the oldest and the youngest generations today.  The times are always a-changin and in need of changing. This kind of intergenerational inspiration and wisdom is so needed. 

The young need to lead.  The old far too often and easily fall into cynicism—we see it in the media, in our politics, in our pulpits, in our schools.  Let the young lead for we all felt it yesterday—there is energy and clarity and courage there.  And they are leading from their sorrow and grief and that is an authentic place to lead from. They are dealing admirably with that first level of grief—anger—and instead of sitting on it or denying it or pouring it exclusively into outrage they are employing it as an energy to organize and speak out and register voters and educate the older ones about the stakes at hand.  Bravo!

In my autobiography some time ago I wrote about the need for a “preferential option for the young.”  These young people yesterday demonstrated the truth of that proposition—the young are less entangled in the corruption and cynicism of our tired institutions and the tired shibboleths we mutter to defend them; they are less invested in the past.  Therefore, as so often happens, the Spirit finds a more ready home in which to dwell and stir things up among the young.  Of course they cannot nor do they want to do it all alone.  They want and deserve the participation of the older ones, mentors and elders alike.  We need intergenerational wisdom where wisdom flows from young to old and back again.  We need the moral awakening of the young.  Hopefully this will come to bear on all our elections in the future.  This too is Resurrection.

One final point: While the young spoke out clearly and forcefully from their hearts and heads about the travesty that passes for law making in our time, they chose a specific topic to address: Gun safety.  This because they were deeply affected directly and indirectly for at least the past 17 years ever since Columbine.  And that is right and appropriate that they addressed that urgent and personal issue.  They showed how to mobilize and how to instruct and how to awaken all ages, classes, ethnicities around that pressing cause. 

But one hopes—and this will be for the future—that that same energy and outrage, anger and passion, will rise also from the young to wake up the older ones and our dying institutions around equally and even more perilous goings on such as climate change for example.  While teen agers are not huddling in a mass sending good bye messages to their parents about climate change like they had to do for an extended time while the shooter roamed the hallways in the Parkland High School, in many ways they ought to be.  The attack is less visible and less dramatic than a 6+minutes of weapons firing, but it is not less deadly.  In fact, climate change will affect far more numbers than can fit into a school in its devastation and capacity to kill off agriculture and plant life and waters and cities near the waters and numerous species that will be rendered extinct and more and more extreme weather systems of hurricanes and tornados that will affect us all. 

So the teen-led March for Life is, as they instructed us, just a “beginning.”  This is a beginning of a Moral Awakening one can hope, one that awakens all adults along with the youth, one that turns the narcissistic plunge our species has engaged in for so long into a different direction: A search for the Common Good, for community, for Justice, for Compassion which of course begins with passion.  Which the youth have exhibited in abundance.  This too is another Resurrection.  A marvel to behold.  A Waking Up that results in wise action. 

There is much to come.  Our politics need never be the same again.  Something may have died this weekend.  Call it indifference.  Call it cynicism.  Call it not caring.  Call it adultism and the tired old goats that supposedly serve us in a supposed democratic system but in fact serve idols and false gods of mammon and greed and power that are so dead they are rotting right before our eyes.

Youth leaders: You have turned your grief and anger into right action and leadership.  Despair into hope.  Good Friday into Easter morning.  Exodus into Passover liberation.  We adults are grateful and awakened.

If this isn’t Resurrection, what is?

The ONE Sure Way to Stop Future School Killing Atrocities...

...And Not with Sissy Promises of "Thoughts and Prayers"


As a spiritual theologian who has written at length on prayer and spirituality and on the mystics and prophets who know something about prayer, I am sick and tired of the insult that is hurled at prayer every time a politician stands up to shed tears over gun violence in schools (or night clubs or concerts or churches, etc. etc) while behind the scenes he is in bed with the NRA.  

Yes, I mean you, Governor Scott; Yes, you, Marco Rubio; Yes, Paul Ryan; Yes, President Trump.  Yes, Yes to all you sissies who as are as deceitful and full of lies (such as “I love my children and grandchildren and fear for them in school”) as you are of sentimental piety feigning as religion.  

You are sissies because you are afraid of losing your job and your status, i.e. your next election, should you dare to have the courage (yes, the balls) to stand up to the NRA.  

Photo: Michael Bedell-Grefe    Huffington Post

Photo: Michael Bedell-Grefe  
Huffington Post

(By the way, is it true that Putin & Co. illegally funneled money through the NRA to help the Trump campaign[1] in the last election?  We citizens would like Congress to research that fact ASAP to help save what is left of our democracy.)  

You NRA puppet politicians, thanks to the investigative work of Bess Kalb[2] and watchdog journalists and commentators at the L.A. Times[3], New York Times[4], Fortune[5], among others, the facts are out about where your first love lies.  It is not with children of America, nor with their parents and grandparents, siblings and relatives, who are in mourning and will grieve the rest of their lives for their young ones gunned down by American citizens armed with military weapons altogether legally (thanks to you and your political priorities).

Let us review the facts that Bess Kalb and these others have gathered--as opposed to the sick, sentimental, religious pieties--around gun control in America among our so-called political leaders who, being moral midgets and religious hypocrites, think we citizens are so stupid that we are impressed by your crocodile tears and pseudo-religious mutterings about “thoughts and prayers.”  

Hypocritical prayers are not prayers.  They are lies.

Fact # 1: Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, voted against banning assault weapons and has received $3,303,355 from the NRA and holds a A+ rating in backing NRA over the years.

Fact #2: President Trump received $21,000,000 from NRA for his presidential campaign.

Fact # 3: Senator Rob Portman of Ohio received $3,061,941 from NRA.

Fact # 4: The Republican Party headquarters received $17,385,437 from NRA in the 2015-1016 election cycle alone.

Fact # 5: Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa received $3,124,273 from NRA.

Fact # 6: Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina received $4,418,012 from NRA.

Etc, etc, etc.  

These people and the many like them have blood of children on their hands.  But they do not stand alone by any means.  

Each Supreme Court judge who voted for Citizens United has the blood of these children massacred in Florida (and the eight other school shootings[6] since Jan 1, 2018 and those before) on their hands too for buttressing a system that reduces a so-called democracy to pay and play and gives corporations like the NRA the right of personhood and along with it so much more power over the choice of voting citizens.

The ONE WAY to stop the killings is not just to blow the whistle on the hypocrisy of these politicians and judges and their calling for “thoughts and prayers,” insulting as that is to people who actually pray and think.  The cause of this pathological culture is obviously the gluttony for money and the power it can buy in a so-called democracy that is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy of the rich (and those who are desperate to serve the power holders to save their political skins).  

The one solution to gun violence is a constitutional amendment that disavows money in elections.  We need public funding of our elections to send the NRA and all other corporations slinking back to doing what they consider their jobs. It’s time they quit making whores (not to insult sex workers, I apologize to them) of our politicians.  This means that Citizens United must be repealed—and Yes, we must call out the Supreme Court judges led by Chief Justice John Roberts for passing that abysmal legislation and see to it that the NRA does not choose our judges in the future by buying off the politicians who give them their positions.  

Common sense gun laws that render military weapons unavailable to non-military persons and that are favored by an overwhelming number of Americans cannot happen until the entire sick money-driven political system in America is dismantled in favor of public funding that thereby eliminates the capital that is swamping voting.  

According to the brilliant study by historian Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of the radical right (read NRA and Koch brothers, et al) is “to save capitalism from democracy—permanently.”   Theirs is “a quest to ensure the supremacy of capital[7] and this comes about not just by changing our politicians or who rules and makes decisions but by changing the rules.  Which is of course where lawyers and courts and judges come in, abetted by legislators.  The sum total of this political movement and its “shrewd long game” -- which has been in progress for decades and is reaching a climax in today’s version of the Republican Party -- is “a return to oligarchy”[8] where power is concentrated in the hands of the few.  Not government of the people, by the people and for the people, but government of the few, by the few, for the few.  

But the few who are most financially powerful are not the only ones who can change the rules.  That is what a movement to add a constitutional amendment to get money out of elections can also do.  A movement of the many, those many who still believe in or yearn for a government of, by and for the people.  

One hopeful sign emerging from the carnage in Florida school shooting is the wisdom of the teenagers of the school who are calling on Congress to do something and quit insulting their intelligence with appeals to so-called “thoughts and prayers.”[9]Let the young lead this crusade to dismantle money on our politics!  Let them lead the march to congressional offices and to the social media—let the moral outrage of the young awaken the tired cynicism of our fat politicians and cynical Supreme Court judges who are willing to sell not only the young but whatever is left of our democracy down the drain for a pat on the head from NRA and Koch brothers and their ilk.  

The young were leaders in that moral revolution called the Civil Rights movement.  They filled the jails; they manifested both courage and generosity for a value that mattered.  Let them lead this new moral revolution as well.

The late monk Thomas Merton wrote over fifty years ago the following observation about guns in America.

    Man begins in zoology

    He is the saddest animal

    He drives a big red car

    Called anxiety….

    Whenever he goes to the phone

    To call joy

    He gets the wrong number

    Therefore he likes weapons

    He knows all guns

    By their right names

    He drives a big black Cadillac

    Called death….[10]

It is the lack of joy, the dominance of cynicism, the omnipresence of anxiety, the scarcity of love and of meaning that ultimately leads us to love affairs with guns and with death.  This too is work that needs doing.  Are there politicians and would-be politicians out there who want to put love first?  Like the hero teachers did at the Florida high school in taking bullets for their students?  

Who are willing to put biophilia before necrophilia?  Life before death?  Love before hate?  Joy before cynicism?  

We are waiting for you—not to lead but to follow the grass roots revolution that is coming.








[7] Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (NY: Viking, 2917), xxxi.

[8] Ibid., xxviii, xxxii.


[10] 4 Thomas Merton, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (NY: New Directions, 1977), 624-626.  Cited in Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2016), 178.


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 <>

[2] Damon Linker, “Trump’s theofascist,” The Week, The Week Publications. 10 February 2017 <>

[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,” 29 January 2017 < >

[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 <>

[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 <>

[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 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 <>

[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 <>

[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 <>

[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 <>

[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 <>

[xiii] Eamon Javers, “Pope Francis: Capitalism “New Tyranny,” CNBC. 26 November 2013 <>

[xiv]  Hugh Bronstein, Reuters, "Pope Francis: ‘King Money’ system has failed unemployed youth, older people." NBCUniversal News Group, 28 Nov. 2013. <>.

[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


This memorial essay was written by David Stang, brother to martyred activist Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDN. Reprinted with the author's permission.

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall:  Used with permission from FutureChurch  No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch.&nbsp;   

Dorothy Stang, by Marcy Hall:
Used with permission from FutureChurch
No further use of this image is permitted without the express consent of FutureChurch. 


OnFebruary 11, 2005 Dorothy Stang called Colorado to talk and she said, “I cannot leave my family in Esperanza. I know that Luis and his family have just had their house burnt down, their crops destroyed and his wife and children are out in the Amazon forest with no food, blankets, or protection of any kind and there are others who are very afraid nearby. Can a Mother leave her children in such need,” she said?  I wanted to tell my sister over the phone, please don’t go to Esperanza.

“David,  she continued to talk, I am on my way to Esperanza, now,  with food, clothing, hammers, nail, saws.  For one minute though David I can smell the cool air of Palmer Lake Colorado where you live, and say hello to you. It is very hot here, humid and it is raining. I stopped at the police post to ask for assistance as there are killers where I am going but the Police  refused to help me. Thugs  have just burnt down Luis’s home and they are terrorizing the people who merely want to survive and maybe even enter into the economy of their country. The Government has approved this Project of Sustainable Development where Luis just had his house burnt down by the local Ranchers, Plantation Owners, and their armed thugs who believe they are the government. I am going to Esperanza, to show support, maybe protection and help them, though this terrible  time,  however this time I am a little nervous.” Again, I wanted to say please don’t go. Now, I am trying to pull myself together with this disconcerting  phone call as it is 4AM here in Colorado.  I could still hear the people outside Dorothy’s house laughing and joking. “ The next day Dorothy was murdered. Six shots were fired at her, at close range and all of them hit her, a 73 unarmed woman who was a known protector of the poor.

 A week after Dorothy’s murder I flew to Anapu and visited Esperanza, sat and cried at the spot where she was murdered, sat and cried at the spot where she wasburied , deep in the Amazon, surrounded by nature, beautiful trees,  falling rain, humidity, singing birds, the dirt, mud  and the people. I was surrounded most especially by the poor who hugged me, touched my t-shirt with Dorothy’s picture on the front of the shirt. They all cried, but most of all, I saw unbelief in their eyes that this person who for years fought for them, ate with them, slept with them, how  could she be murdered, they thought. She had often escaped death, prison, hunger,  and stood with them, a warrior, fearless, undaunted. She would often show up with legal documents from Belem or Brazilia, documents  to protect their homes and land. She was known to all of them, to not only fight for them personally, but also for their schools. Schools which  from the beginning she personally helped build,  over thirty schools. She would often see that their teachers were paid and even developed teacher training centers. However,  I cannot forget the local Brazilian priest, who slept at Dorothy’s grave for a week, to protect her grave from being desecrated by the local ranchers who hated her. He left her grave only after the Federal Government sent troops to protect the people and Dorothy’s grave. His hug was a greatly appreciated.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

People walk 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) accompanying the truck carrying Dorothy Stang's body to its final resting place.

 As I sat in the Bishops pick up truck with soldiers in the back for protection, driving from Anapu to Esperanza, I was stunned to watch the driver handle the muddy road, slide down the hill and just stop right before the wet log bridge and wonder how we would cross over. The driver was  telling everyone to get out and walk over. As we slipped on the wet logs, looking at the raging river down below, we wondered how he was going to cross over with the Bishops pick up. Staring intently we watched the driver make the sign ofthe cross, put the metal to the petal and sped over the narrow wet bridge, the tail end weaving back and forth. Truly this was a marvel of driving. I thought to myself how did Dorothy a week earlier make it to Esperanza   in a tiny car during the rainy season, for we had four harrowing bridges to cross over, deep mud, and hills and valleys to climb and slide down, hoping not to slide into the river itself.  The 20 miles from Anapu to Esperanza took four hours.  I kept repeating to myself during this drive, Dots powerful  message, “I cannot leave my family.” A message so powerful it overcame the enormous struggles that I was seeing before my very eyes. Tears came to my eyes, thinking, like the people, how could they kill her, however, still  remembering Dot telling me that there were hundreds of leaders, farmers, who have been killed in the area just in the last couple of years.  As I slept in Dot’s bed that night, on the walls were pictures of those who have been murdered. On the night stand was a little shrine that she made and on the wall, next to the door, was a piece of bamboo, slit in the middle, and carved out of this bamboo was the Christmas crib set that she would touch every morning when she left her room.  Can we wonder if we would have staid true under such horrific circumstances, and knowing that many people already had been murdered? Can we not ask what strength it took for Dorothy to stay with the poor.

I mention all this to set the stage for the important question, “what happens now” in this great forest that the world needs, for   such corruption and violence does not just disappear. Over the next ten years, after 9 trials and only four people being indicted by the State of Para, the killers are after less than ten years  now free. Even one of them has been indicted again for another killing. The big rancher Regivaldo appealed his verdict of 30 years in jail, to the High Court of Brazil, and he won his appeal. For years now , he is free on appeal, even though the judge of theCourt of the State of Para clearly stated, “ Regivaldo even if you appeal, you must stay in jail during the appeal.” W e all remember  In a packed courtroom, at the trial of Regivaldo,  with one of the now free killers sitting right in the courtroom with us and with his thug friends. We all heard the verdict to Regivaldo from the Judge saying, “You will stay in jail, if you appeal.”  The Judge during the trial brought in extra policemen to protect us, as the courtroom were full of Regivaldos powerful friends. I am sure the last thing the Judge wanted wasto have  murders in his courtroom. As we left the courtroom, we sawone of the TV broadcasters  surrounded by security, for she had just been threatened by a motorcycle gang, supporters of Regivaldo, who we were told were  going to escort Regivaldo  home free. They were angry that he had been indicted.  Obviously, the trials were merely a small part of what was and is happening in and to the Amazon. We must remember that there were many others involved in Dorothy’s murder and many of the other murders of the farmers in the Amazon, all free.

As we move on to today, one does ask, who controls the Amazon today? . For example, there is a new law allowing  cutting down illegally the trees in the Amazon,  and that all who cut down trees illegally in the Amazon in the past  have been legally forgiven. Sucha horrendous law helps me to  remember one of the people who worked for years in the Amazon saying to me during the trials, David, “these trials of Dorothy’s killers are merely a distraction from worse things that will happen. ” One wonders if any good behaviors remain of all the work that Dorothy and the people did. We do hear that, the two Projects of Sustainable Development, that Dorothy and the people worked so hard to create are thriving, and others farmers are uniting to demand, their rights to own their land, seeing that the projects were able to persevere why can’t they fight for their rights. The schools are still open. The special school to educate future farmers, is still open. The seed of Human Rights planted by all those who have been murdered are growing and the memory of Dorothy and all those warriors for the people in the Amazon are still remembered even, in the midst of enormous oppression such as  pisteleiros are still haunting the forest,  and hundreds of years of  tradition that supports these  Injustices continue, so one wonders how things can possibly go forward?  Is it not the blood of those who gave their lives that keeps hope alive? Is it not those who still continue to fight for their rights that give us hope?

Changing long term habits of oppression can be so difficult. Dorothy knew very clearly the long history of oppression that she was up against and that she did as much as she did is clearly a miracle in itself.  There is a saying that, “ We must know History or we will certainly repeat it”. This we must know in order to understand why there are so many murders in the Amazon, among Indigenous People, among the poor. Historians tell us,  “When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani Island, he performed a ceremony to take “possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of WesternChristendom. Although the story of Columbus’ “discovery” has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western World, few people are aware that his act of “possession” was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the “ Doctrine of Discovery”. Even fewer people realize that today five centuries later, the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo Christian, Doctrine of Discovery” to deny the rights of Native American Indians, to their lands. This Doctrine pervades the thinking of the rich and powerful in Brazil.

Why do I bring this document before us? The Plantations Owners, Ranchers, in Brazil still feel they have the same right of discovery, even if people live on the land they are claiming. Governments are vital to overcoming this long habit of Discovery. Dorothy was very involved with the Government of Brazil on so many levels, Education, Land, Freedom, to change this horrendous memory of the, “Law of Discovery.”  As the Federal Prosecutor of Land in the Amazon said in the Courtroom, “She did what we were afraid to do, she encouraged us to do our job.” The stories of Dorothy going to Brazilia or to Belem to help people get legal documents to protect their ownership of land  is well known. In 2005, when I went to see the Minister of Justice, I was stopped at securityat the Justice Building entrance. The security person who stopped me looked at meand said, “ I recognize you she said, you look like your sister Dorothy. I am the one who would give her permission to sleep in the hallway all night so she would be at the officer’s door when he arrived the next morning to do his job and Dorothy would get legal documents to help her people.” I saw a look of pride in her eyes as she spoke. Hopefully, this pride  is the future of Brazil, of the Amazon.

David Stang

Feb. 15, 2017



On the 14th Anniversary of Sister Dorothy Stang's Martyrdom: A Memory

Dorothy Stang: Anapu: The Amazon

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(A letter from her brother, David Stang, two months before her martyrdom in the Amazon; shared with permission.)

December 6, 2004,  Marguerite Hohm and I traveled to Belem Brazil to visit our amazing Amazonian sister who will be receiving a Human Right’s Award. Winding our way through airports in Miami, Sao Paulo and landing in Belem challenged Marguerite who is in her seventies and I in my late sixties. Wethen landed in a very hot and humid city of Belem over twenty four hours later which was also a shock to our bodies as we left the States in the middle of winter. However, to our joy we saw Dot jumping up and down in the back of a great crowd with hergreat smiling face.

Sitting with Dot we quickly realized our sister  is at the center of a human right’s  storm of protecting farmers and their land and the great Amazon forest which is one of the great lungs of the world and filled with herbs, animals, people (over 22 million) and future pharmaceutical, healing products. For thirty years Dorothy has been living and working in this amazing forest. She has been working with the homeless, who are coming to this area in the millions, often standing at the bus station in Anapu to help the impoverished immigrants and their families, coming from the Brazilian cities, with food and a place to stay.

 Dorothy who was trained by her father an organic father, was now and has  been training for over twenty years,  the homeless how to live in this forest and survive and sustain the forest. Dorothy also an educator for years before coming to Anapu,  now used her talents to read the Brazilian laws available in protecting the Forest, the rights of people and the way to own land. Against this intelligent, very spiritual Warrior has been the wealthy illegal landowners and illegal loggers and many corrupt powerful people who have made billions off this very valuable forest, e.g. one tree could bring in a $100.000. These powerful people just come with their guns and their goons and forcibly remove people who legally own the land or they just kill them. The State of Para where Dorothy lives is known in Brazil as lawless and dangerous. There are also many good people, Sisters, government people, parts of the Hierarchy, who want Dorothy to be not so politically involved. The issue has become so volatile for Dorothy because the forest is being rapidly destroyed that now her life is being threatened with a known price on herhead which is a sign to the people that she will be killed. Almost a thousand people who have tried to help the farmers maintain their land in Brazil have been killed in the last ten years.

We went to see Dorothy because she was to receive a Human Right’s Award from the National Organization of Brazilian Lawyers. Human Rights Associations, Educational Organizations, Senators and Legislators who all are realizing the vital importance and necessity of the Amazon Forest were going to be present for this important Awards ceremony..

Being present  opened Marguerite’s and my eyes to what an important issue land and life is in Para and how now  Dorothy is at the center of this issue. We saw her being interviewd on several T.V. stations and by several major newspapers in this city of over two million people. Being present was one enormous education for the two of us. Important people, senators, legislators, judges, lawyers, newspaper reporters and most important the poor were greeting and looking at this 73 year old white haired, soft spoken, sister who has been awarded Brazilian citizenship, with hope, respect and love. One cannot judge the true worth of someone without traveling and seeing with your own eyes. Marguerite and I were honored to be with Dorothy who is now so recognized by Brazil and the Brazilian people. We now realized that  she is a vital person to the life of these people and to the life of the amazon forest.  We now were being told by Dorothy that millions of homeless Brazilians are looking at this huge forest for life. We were being told that Dorothy has the respect and plans to help the homeless live and sustain this forest; that the Brazilian government sees Dorothy as honest, wise, with a plan that is proven for over twenty years; that Dorothy is in the front line of this fight.

There was a large candlelight procession outside in the courtyard which then moved into the Lawyers large auditorium. Many of the people were very simple uneducated farmers, dressed very simply with their worn out sandals on their feet. As we entered, there were Lawyers with their mouths wide open as they had never seen such people in this beautiful building. We quickly realized that Brazil has deep European Elitism and these people coming with us into the auditorium were not from the upper class.

The packed auditorium with people standing in the aisles and out the door quickly overcame their shyness of being in such a sumptuous place and began to cheer and shout for joy and support of Dorothy. Dorothy brought Marguerite and I up to the podium saying “you now can see that I too have blood family, like you”. When the ceremony was over many people came up to touch Dorothy with great tenderness.

We were being told by people in the audience that they know that Dorothy will be killed. Some government people and others came up and whispered in Dorothy’s ear, “be careful for we have had our loved ones murdered.” The price on Dorothy’s head was to them very real.

 Dorothy could use your love and support. In return you will truly know you have a very famous sister/cousin/relative. When you see these movies about the Amazon, news reports, global warning reports, you can say Dorothy Stang is making a difference and we love her. 

Merry Christmas,

LaHoma and David Stang

P.S. Dorothy was murdered two months later.






A Thanksgiving Post with Prayers for Standing Rock

Reposting with gratitude from my friend, Mexican prophet and poet Rafael Jesús González:

Even as we prepare Thanksgiving dinner and sit and say grace, the indigenous people who, as myth would have it, were present at the start of the tradition, are embattled at Standing Rock defending their land, protecting the water, the Earth itself.

Standing Rock

 Por el camino rojo y el amarillo,
 el camino negro y el blanco
venimos, nos reunimos
porque el agua es la vida y sagrada
tal como es la tierra que nos da nacer
y guarda los huesos de nuestros ancestros.
Nos reunimos con rezos y resolución,
con flores y cantos;
los que las tenemos llevamos plumas,
nuestros aretes de oro, collares de jade
para enfrentar los perros, los garrotes,
el gas lacrimógeno, prisión.
Aquí estamos para defender a la Tierra.

© Rafael Jesús González 2016

Standing Rock

By the red road & the yellow,
the black road & the white
we come, we gather
because water is life & sacred
as is the land that births us
& holds the bones of our forebears.
We gather with prayers & resolve,
with flowers & songs;
we who have them wear feathers,
our gold earrings, our collars of jade
to face the dogs & the clubs,
the tear gas & bullets, prison.
We are here to defend the Earth.

 © Rafael Jesús González 2016

Let us be mindful that in our giving thanks we must also dedicate ourselves to restorative justice and healing knowing that gratitude for what we enjoy at the expense and suffering of our brothers and sisters is blasphemous and unacceptable.

The times are urgent and our brothers and sisters on the front-lines defending the water, the very Earth, standing in peace and prayer are being mercilessly attacked. It is a battle ground amid clouds of tear gas, showered by water cannons in temperatures below zero,

A young woman's arm was destroyed by a concussion grenade

and hundreds are being injured and hospitalized, some have been killed.

The URGENCY is great. Please call the following and protest:

Be thankful for life and the gifts of the Earth who bears it, be committed to its defense and work for restorative justice without which there can be no peace.

        bless - Rafael


Tom Hayden: A Warrior for Justice, RIP

I considered Tom Hayden a friend and a colleague. We did not get together often but we collaborated on a number of occasions, I teaching with him in a class he offered on deep ecology years ago at a community college in Santa Monica; he lecturing at my university.

When I was stepping down as president of my University of Creation Spirituality, I invited him to take over as president. He took the invitation very seriously and came up to Oakland for us to interview him and he to interview us. Unfortunately he turned the invitation down after serious deliberation, citing his need to remain free from institutional demands in order to maintain his true vocation as an activist and researcher.

We shared books we and others wrote. He was both an activist and a true intellectual because he was a relentless asker of questions. His scholarship was always directed, as is the Irish way, toward behavior and action.

When he joined the civil rights movement in the south as a young man he was beaten in Mississippi and arrested in Georgia and in jail began writing his famous "Port Huron Statement" which urged a more progressive political agenda and activism.

Tom once told me how he first got involved in the civil rights movement. As a young man growing up near Detroit, he fell in love with a woman who lived in the south. He followed her south and lo and behold! There was this thing going on, the civil rights movement. He joined in. He got arrested. His girl friend moved on. But he stayed to fight for racial justice. That is how his political career was born. And his vocation as an activist for justice remained true for the rest of his life.

He was a man of integrity who managed to swing between action and research. One long time friend and ally, Larry Bensky, commenting on Hayden's diverse career within politics and outside it, said: "He always wanted to be where the action was. He was such an unusual person, who basically lived his politics....He knew that in order to effectuate any social change it is essential to engage the system. [But] he never forgot his principles and was always true to his instincts to help those that needed help in society."[1]

To me Tom was an incarnation of the "preferential option for the poor" principles that were birthed following the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church. I think he saw it that way too as he took his church seriously and especially its call to justice that birthed the liberation theology movement following on the Council.

I remember once visiting his home in Santa Monica and on his kitchen table were spread out several books by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff (he and I were both silenced by the Vatican and in the same year which I chose to visit him in Brazil) and some of my own along with copious pages of notes taken from said books.

Tom was not just an activist but a student, even a scholar, of pressing topics of our day including issues of the environment, economics, media, religion, and their common gathering place, politics. He was a lover of liberation theology and he was proud of the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church.

Regarding the church, he remained loyal to it if not always a practitioner thereof (three divorces did not exactly fit the bill for Catholic purity). I recall when I chose to join the Episcopal Church after being expelled from the Dominican Order after 34 years and with the intention of working with young people to reinvent forms of worship, he disagreed with my decision...but this did not diminish our respect for one another's callings.

In fact I often wondered afterwards if the revelations of the truly dark side of the church structure, including the cover up of the pedophile clergy abuse by the hierarchy, did not affect him later. We had talked about my research on the sinister relationship between Pope John Paul II and the CIA machinations to destroy liberation theology in Latin America and he pushed me for footnotes and back up. I included such documentation in my book The Pope's War which I tried to get to him, but I do not know if I was ever successful in that as he was hard to get hold of in more recent years.

Though he was a champion of clear thinking and hard pushing to change our political and economic structures, I think he may have underestimated the radical need for religion to reinvent itself. He did not seem so interested in that particular struggle as he was in the many others that he championed. Deep down his Irish Catholicism stayed with him a long time.

Our most recent correspondence was in 2015 around the pope's encyclical on the Environment and he wrote me these words:

Praise be back to you matt...i thought how much you contributed to the final encyclical over so many years of struggle as the herald of the message, and all i learned from you. For me it goes all the way back to the National Partnership on Religion and Environment -- remember that in the 90s? I met those same people in sacramento at a bishops meeting i attended on the encyclical. Takes a lifetime to get the work done, step by step. The most important thing for me about the pope is the content of the encyclical itself including the structure of its thought. I've urged people to actually read it and not "pontificate" about it. I wrote the Calif legis resolution endorsing it and urging all public agencies to study and discuss it. Definitely has had an impact in the run up to paris! We'll see. On Serra, i figured that was a trade off to get oscar romero canonized over the insane and hateful opposition of the salvadoran right. I am not sure i have all your prolific stuff, but definitely want to read. Here are some of mine which you might not have -- much love. Pope Francis Calls for Climate Justice - Tom Hayden

Hayden's mind was voracious and though a family man and an activist and a state senator and a husband to Jane Fonda and then to his current wife, actress Barbara Williams, he always found time to study and to gather his own thoughts and to write. He wrote twenty books, which is pretty amazing for an activist. And they were books of substance which also named his broad interests and concerns. Among them were the following: The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit and Politics; Irish Hunger: Personal Reflections on the Legacy of the Famine; Inside the Irish: In Search of the Soul of Irish America; Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence; Ending the War in Iraq; The Whole World Was Watching: The Streets of Chicago: 1968; The Zapatista Reader.

One can see in this partial list his broad interests in social justice and healing--his book on gangs was especially striking to me because in writing it he befriended gang and ex-gang members in the Los Angeles area especially, a work of courage as well as deep insight and importance.

Fellow anti-war activist David Harris said that Hayden had the "best analytical mind of anyone....He could assess a situation clearly, completely and right on the mark." Black activist Bobby Seale, who went to trial along with Hayden and six others for inciting the riots in the Chicago Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, said of Hayden: He was "really a great guy, a great organizer, a great writer"... Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin "had their antics, but Tom was more serious....He understood the problem of exploitation, he understood the plight of African Americans. He understood, the way I did, that the framework of government needed to be more progressive. He was someone we could count on."[2]

We will miss Tom Hayden. I often read his newsletter, to which he was contributing even during the last year of his sickness; it was striking for its common sense and clarity about complicated moral and political issues (and Tom always saw political issues as moral ones). One could always disagree with Tom on specifics but one always had to take his arguments seriously for they were well thought out, reasonably argued, consistent to his basic philosophy, and appealing to the heart as well as head.

Tom was a warrior--warrior for justice of all stripes, a warrior for the deep values that are to be found in the core of both the Jewish and Christian Bibles. Justice mattered to him.

The great fourteenth-century Dominican mystic and activist Meister Eckhart said the following: "For the just person as such to act justly is to live; indeed, justice is his life, his being alive, his being, insofar as he is just." Justice was Tom's life. And work. And passion. His being and his being alive. It was his spirituality. We are all better for it. Yes, he will be missed, this voice of reason and of caring and of action and passion on behalf of justice.

Truly, here was a man who "fought the good fight" his entire life long with all of his gifts of intellect and caring. Thank you, Tom. May you rest in peace and may your work and person continue to inspire us and future generations.


[1] Cited in Evan Sernoffsky and Steve Rubenstein, "Tom Hayden: Student activist became longtime state legislator," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 25, 2016, A-8.

[2] Ibid.

A Renewed Plea Against Serra Canonization as Pope Francis Visit Nears

As the Pope's visit to the U.S. approaches, Native American activists in California and beyond are working harder than ever to raise awareness and stop the canonization‬ of Junipero Serra. I am sharing the latest letter from Toypurina Carac, originator of the MoveOn petition against the canonization; see the excellent article that she shares below, and if you haven't signed the petition yet, please do. ____________________________________________

Dear Supporters,

As our delivery date draws near, I am sharing a brief article written by a Professor friend in Southern California and Descendant of Mission Natives.

The Great Vatican Fraud by J. Cordero, PhD

The Vatican’s justification for canonizing Junipero Serra rests in great part upon Serra’s accomplishments. In the absence of a second miracle required for sainthood, Pope Francis counted Serra’s life’s work as a sufficient substitute. According to Pope Francis, Serra’s primary achievement was in founding the California missions where he served as a missionary and as Father President. In fact, Pope Francis praised Serra for being the “great evangelizer of the West in the United States.” From the Vatican’s perspective, then, the canonization of Junipero Serra relies heavily upon the assumption that the missionaries in California were, as Zephryn Engelhardt declared, “eminently successful,” especially in achieving their primary objective—the conversion of the California Indians.

In reality, however, Serra and the Spanish missionaries failed to achieve that goal. Based on the Spanish records kept by the missionaries themselves, less than five percent of all baptized California Indians voluntarily converted (i.e., genuinely converted as opposed to simply having been baptized) to Christianity, and the vast majority of converts held a syncretistic faith comprised of both native and Catholic beliefs. On the other hand, nearly eighty percent of all baptized natives died prematurely. In other words, five of every one hundred baptized Indians was genuinely converted, while eighty of every one hundred died an untimely death. The high death rates for Indians did not result primarily from epidemic diseases as is commonly reported. Instead, the austere living and working conditions at the missions contributed to rates of death that grossly exceeded birth rates and that consequently led to the near destruction of native populations in a manner more severe than in Baja California.

Thus, in their evangelistic efforts the Spanish missionaries fared poorly, which means that Pope Francis has merely substituted one failure for another and that the primary basis for Serra’s canonization is fraudulent.

Jonathan Cordero (Ohlone/Chumash) Assistant Professor of Sociology, California Lutheran University Chairperson of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone

Dr. Cordero will be joining a group of us next month at U.C. Berkeley to discuss the campaign to stop the canonization of Serra. It would be great if we could celebrate victory!

I need to issue an apology and correction from last week: Vinnie Rotondaro writes for the National Catholic Reporter, not the Register. I have linked his amazing article below. Our NPR interview with George Lavender is scheduled to air on Friday, 9/18/15. Our German Radio interview with Kerstin Zilm will also air sometime soon!

Our final delivery date will be this week and we are finalizing our media release. You will be the first to know when and where we are delivering the petition! Please stay connected to and our Kizh Nation Facebook page for updates. As of now, we are short 120 names on the petition to have reached our goal of 10,000.

We wish to extend a warm "Mahalo" and Aloha to supporters in Hawaii who oppose the canonization of Serra, as it is an insult to Father Damien of Molokai.

We thank you all, for your help in signing and sharing our petition to Pope Francis. This canonization is in direct conflict with his rhetoric, so we hope he will abandon it, before it is too late for this to tarnish his legacy of mercy, compassion and progress.

In solidarity, Toypurina Carac

Some Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis in Europe and the Middle East

The news is full every day of the disturbing pictures and harrowing stories of the hundreds of thousands of refugees bent on fleeing the awful wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, children and others drowning in make-shift boats, families hiking for hundreds and thousands of miles, fences erected and much more.  Much of the crisis was generated by the invasion of Iraq thirteen years ago by an American government claiming its justification as a response to 9/11, even though Iraq was not involved with 9/11. Germany seems to be stepping up mightily in offering asylum for at least 800,000 persons and a number of other countries are also reaching out to assist the dispossessed.  Others, not so much.  Within countries there is considerable debate concerning the loss of one’s culture, the dilution of one’s cultural identity, etc.  It is not an easy time for responsible citizens and governments to make sound decisions.  But it is such a crisis that tests the moral fiber of a people.  I have heard from my brother, now living in Iceland with his Icelandic wife, that there is much discussion and debate in the streets and cafes, etc. about the best course of action.

But in the United States I hear practically no debate and no discussion from our politicians or government employees or media.  The silence is deafening. It is as if this is “something happening over there” and not something that affects us all.  Yet because we are all humans it does affect us all and because our government did actually play a fundamental role in making the crisis happen, having created the vacuum in Iraq from our ill-fated invasion there, it is our concern.  America made ISIS possible.  

What can America do?  How many openings can we create for refugees from the middle eastern wars?  These are questions far more pertinent than How many times Donald Trump can make wild headlines for example.  Why are we not asking these questions?

The bigger question I see unfolding is that of reptilian brain (war) vs. mammal brain (compassion and kinship).  There is no question that humankind is in a profound struggle with itself about exactly this issue: Will we continue to choose the domination of the reptilian brain (example: as a species we are spending $58 per second on war and weapons)?  Or will we opt for a more dominant role for our mammal brains—which are the brain of kinship, community and compassion?   We see Europe facing that very choice at this time. One prays they do not flunk the test. Is America ready for the same challenge?  If not, why not?  

If humanity is to survive our very evolution must be marked by a choice on behalf of our mammal brains at the expense of our reptilian brains.  If we don’t evolve, we will not survive.  The present crisis is, as they say, a profound opportunity.  An occasion for growing up, for growing more fully human.  Let us not flunk this opportunity.

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.


[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.


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 (, Facebook page ( and Twitter feed (@FCSCreationSpir).


Heads on Fire Reactions to Gay Marriage SCOTUS Decision

The Supreme Court has spoken—and quite eloquently—about the right of all Americans to marry whom they love.  Implications abound well beyond the American border.  Remember that last month the Irish citizenry, so long captured by a Catholic theocracy, voted overwhelmingly for the right of all Irish to marry whom they love.  Over 80% of young adults in the US favor gay marriage so that might tell us something of the future.  It seems something is afoot—and it is setting the hair of some very vocal Christians on fire. Self-proclaimed Christians living in the past, people now with their heads on fire, are providing perpetual fodder for late night humorists.  Here are a few raging firestorms: Presidential candidate Rick Santorum promises he “will not honor any decision which will force us to violate our clear, biblical understanding.”  (What is so clear a Biblical understanding since the same book that condemns homosexuality also condemns eating shrimp and proposes stoning adulterers?)  Bobby Jindal, another self-appointed theologian and presidential candidate shares his wisdom: “The Supreme Court can’t overrule God.  This ruling paves the way for an all-out assault on religious freedom of Christians.”  Comments Bill Maher: “they’re’ such drama queens, aren’t they?”  He addresses these concerned ones and says: “You do realize that this is not mandatory.  You don’t have to have sex with another man—it’s just an option now.”

Of course the spokespeople for religiously institutionalized homophobia are also incensed.  Bishop Thomas J. Tabi of Providence, Rhode Island assures us that homosexual marriage derives “from the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the church of God.”  The US Catholic bishops rushed to the podium also.  They tell us that for the government to declare that two people of the same sex “constitute a marriage” is “profoundly immoral and unjust” and that the decision constitutes a “tragic error” that endangers the “common good” and “especially that of children.”  This comes from a group that has a bit of a moral monkey on its back when it comes to endangering children seeing as it could not protect them from pedophile priests and hierarchical cover up of the same over decades.

Does it really think that anyone is listening any more to its hypocritical rants about sexual morality aimed at a sexual minority that is, in fact, well represented (though fully closeted) among its ranks?  Has it learned nothing from the Irish vote on homosexual marriage?

Of course presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, also a clergyman representing his brand of Christianity, has taken up the microphone.  It is “like repealing the law of gravity” he assures us.  The Supreme Court is “an imperial court” like the British crown of old and “we must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”  To the barricades!  Where is Paul Revere when we need him?

But isn’t that the task of the Supreme Court?  To “resist the tyranny of the majority” against the minority?  Where was Huckabee when Citizens United  and the Hobby Lobby decisions told us that corporations are persons and that corporations have a conscience?

Speaking of Citizens United, Supreme Court justice Antonio Scalia chimes in of course. After this decision, the Supreme Court itself, he tells us, is “a threat to American democracy.”  (Maybe, if he has a conscience, he should quit then.)  And Citizens United, which he enthusiastically supported and that defined “money is speech” and that opened the gates to billionaires dictating our legislators and judges is NOT a threat to American democracy?  Scalia has a large family, lots of very Catholic kids.  I have often wondered: What if one of them was gay?  What would it be like being a gay son or daughter of Justice Scalia?  Send prayers his or her way, please.  And fast.  And furious.  Maybe there should be a fund-raising app to support the gay or lesbian daughter of Justice Scalia.

Supreme Court chief Justice John Roberts embarrasses himself by saying that the decision had nothing to do with the constitution.  Last time I looked the constitution 1) established the Supreme Court and its rules and 2) talks somewhat unambiguously about how “all men (and presumably women) are created equal” and this means protecting the rights of the minorities and isn’t that what this decision was about?

Of course presidential candidate Ted Cruz deserves his day in the sun also.  He calls the Supreme Court “lawless” and calls out its “naked and shameless judicial activism.”  Again, no mention of the judicial activism of removing voter abuse laws from the southern states of the confederacy or naming Citizens United the law of the land.  Cruz’ fellow Texan politician (now out of a job) Tom Delay warned that if the Supreme Court ruled as it has “all hell is going to break loose.”

Well, I suppose a lot depends on how and who defines hell.  For our cultural comics, this hair-on-fire reaction is pure heaven, solid gold, endless nights of good humor.  For people stuck in tired dogmas and ancient doctrines based on no-science, this moment may indeed feel like hell.

What do I say?  I say:  “Let the Homophones huff and puff.  Love is the law of the land.  Now there is a smart judicial decision that assures love can happen for all the country’s citizens, even those who constitute a sexual minority.”

Science has spoken on the utter naturalness of homosexual love for a minority of human beings and of at least 464 other species.  This is why psychological science has for decades thrown out the silly talk of gays as “sick” or “disordered” (papal talk much favored by the opus-dei loving Pope Benedict XVI).  Let those with their heads in the sands—archbishops and politicians and presidential candidates and Supreme Court judges and all—repeat the religious exercise that was the Galileo affair of 500 years ago.  It is their right to choose to live in the past.  Let the religiously sick wrap themselves in chains of doctrine based on nothing Jesus ever preached or taught if they want to.

In the Fall Pope Francis is coming to America.  He has recently released an encyclical on global warming and the moral imperative for caring for the Earth and he has addressed it to all people of good will since, dah!, climate and the Earth are all of our concerns.  He is calling a second gathering of a Synod on the Family this Fall as well.  At the first there was a mild effort to lift some of the opprobrium the church commits against homosexuals, supported by his happy statement, “Who am I to Judge?” when asked about gay priests which seemed to hint at a slight thawing of Catholic homophobic dogma.  But the backlash from Neanderthal hierarchy was fierce.  Will he roll over and play dead, repeating ad nauseam the silly arguments against homosexuality that derive from bad interpretations of scripture and of course from the ridiculous teachings of sex (better no sex) from St Augustine in the fourth century?  Will he be able to move beyond the chains of tired and mistaken dogma?

I doubt it frankly.  I think the institutional church is crashing on the rocks of sexual issues just as an Irish poet early in the twentieth century predicted it would.  We shall see.  I wish Pope Francis well and pray for him to move on from condemnations of birth control and homosexuality and women’s rights that are so embedded in the rigid Catholic codex.  But I am not holding my breath.

The handwriting is on the wall, however.  With ever growing numbers of young adults rejecting homophobia, there are going to be fewer and fewer practicing Christians in churches that endorse it.  Was it 95 parishes that the diocese of New York shut down this past year?  Better start looking for more after this overcharged response to a court decision based on justice, common sense and today’s science.

Let everyone not wrapped in tired and disproven doctrines about sex rid themselves of anti-scientific dogmas and be free.  The law of grace, not of fear, can now blow freely.  Let us all celebrate—including those who care deeply about heterosexual marriage.  Now you have a whole new community trying to do what you so dearly say you desire: Keep marriage an alive institution.  Why not choose to help homosexuals be the best lovers and best married couples they can be—that would be a religious—or at least spiritual--commitment worth pursuing.


The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long,  But It Bends Toward Justice

I was among the many people profoundly moved by President Barack Obama's quoting the prophetic words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., amidst jubilant celebrations that marriage equality is now the law of the land. My Bible says "God is love"--not that God is exclusively heterosexual love.  SCOTUS, lo and behold!, has got it right this time and many thinking people the world over will celebrate this expansion of love that is being acknowledged around the planet.

The love that is celebrated in gay marriage is society’s love, not just that of man to man or woman to woman. We all profit from faithful love whether such joy be lived out in heterosexual or homosexual contexts. Indeed, rather than “threatening” heterosexual marriage, I would predict that gay marriage will help resuscitate a dying institution because it is bringing joy back and gratitude for love from a segment of the population that has been denied it for so long. All marriage will prosper from gay marriage.

So let us all rejoice that notions of God is Love; and Justice Matters; and Nature is God’s Doing are happening in a fresh way in the United States. And let us move on to other topics of pressing and genuine moral concern such as the fate of the Earth.

Dialoguing on Human Values with Leonardo Boff

This past weekend, I was honored to be co-keynote with the esteemed liberation theologian from Brazil, Leonardo Boff, at the Sixth Worldwide Meeting on Human Values in Monterrey, Mexico. A total of 6,000 people in attendance, with 90,000 people from 90 countries watching online (including prisoners in jails).wpid-att00002.jpeg Dr. Boff and I were the first speakers of the three-day event: he spoke first, addressing the question of the poor and in particular the poor Earth and the way it is being treated and underrepresented in the UN and capitalism in general.

I followed, speaking on "Reinventing Education and the YELLAWE project" (they translated my book "The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human" into Spanish for the occasion). I spoke about values and education: how Einstein warned that values come from intuition and not intellect, and that our society and its education, which he "abhors," leaves intuition out.

For me, I said, intuition is the right brain; it is mysticism and the basis of creativity. Thus the role of art as meditation in our model of education in the Master's and Doctoral programs I developed and led for thirty years. To illustrate the impact of this approach, I shared the story of two of our adult students: Sister Dorothy Stang who was martryed in the Amazon for defending the peasants and the rain forest; and Bernard Amadei who started "Engineers Without Borders" due to having "gotten his soul back" from taking our classes.

Extending that impact, I told how these programs were the basis for the YELLAWE program that I boiled down for our inner city teenagers. I stressed the "ten C's" of the YELLAWE program and spoke to them all, including Cosmology, Contemplation, Creativity, Chaos, Compassion, Community, Courage, Critical Thinking, Ceremony and Character Development. I showed slides of the YELLAWE program in Oaxxa, Mexico, and stressed how indigenous peoples, who are powerfully present in the Mexican peoples still, taught their young not by forcing them to sit in desks seven hours a day, but mostly by way of ceremony, which of course includes the body and all the chakras.

I was delighted by the reception we received! After Dr. Boff and I spoke, there was an hour in which he and I sat together and took a series of excellent questions chosen from a fish bowl, with three minutes for each of us to respond to each question.

While I don't recall all of the questions we were asked, one of more provocative was: Is the Catholic Church losing ground in Latin America? Dr. Boff agreed that yes, it was. I added that institutionalized religion in general was losing ground but that spirituality was the future more than religion.

Watch the live-streamed recordings of Dr. Boff's and my talks (and more) on the conference archive site.

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 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.

Memorial Day 2011

Yesterday I watched a film on PBS called “Most Honorable Son” which told the story of a Japanese American’s life as an airman in the American army in the Second World War.  It was a moving film for its reminding us of the many sacrifices so many made at home and abroad to defeat fascism.  400,000 Americans lost their lives in the wars in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific islands while defeating Germany, Italy and Japan.  Sixteen million Americans served in combat.  Many hundreds of thousands lost limbs or retained physical or mental scars from their combat days.  And the subject of the documentary, airman Ben Kuroki, endured much else as a decorated hero who had to fight racism in his own country and projections of betrayal from his Japanese people who were in concentration camps in the West while he served in air combat over France and Germany. Meditating on this sacrifice of so many on the morning after that television program (and I am only counting the American sacrifices since today is America’s day to honor its dead soldiers), something  comes to mind.  The defeat of fascism, this great movement of bluster and control, of genocide and racial hatred, of bullying and advanced weaponry, of “institutionalized violence” and of the marriage of corporate and government powers—how complete was it?  We are told that the German surrender was “unconditional” and that the Italians switched to our side before the war’s end, but there is something deeply disturbing about news we pick up these days.

I am thinking of the return of fascism in the Roman Catholic Church today.  The honoring of Jose Escriva, founder of Opus Dei and card-carrying fascist priest by naming him a “saint.”  Escriva was, among other things, an admirer of Hitler and his Opus Dei tribe was happy to serve on fascist dictator Franco’s Cabinet for many years.  The support in the highest places in the Vatican for Fr. Maciel (yes, Pope John Paul II was so enamored of this man that he invited him along on plane rides and canonized his uncle and set a canonization of his mother into motion).  Maciel abused over 20 youths whom he attracted to his many seminaries and abused four of his own children (3 boys and a girl) born in two clandestine liasons.  He also very publicly supported the fascist dictator of Chile, Pinochet and Maciel’s papally-blessed organization, Legion of Christ, demanded vows that no one question the dictator, the “good Father,” who everyone knew was all about Jesus work on earth.  Then Communion and Liberation, called “the Opus Dei of Italy,” equally extreme in its put-down of women and freedom of conscience and Protestants and anything that smacks of democracy.  All these movements fully endorsed and abetted and sanctified by the higher-ups in the Vatican (including the secretary of state under John Paul II and the present secretary of state and Pope John Paul II himself whom the present pope is rushing into canonization).

Americans sacrificed much to bring fascism to an end.  Given today’s ecclesiastic history, the effort was only partially successful.  It is time to rise up against the well-healed efforts to render fascism fashionable once more and to wrap it in Biblical and Papal covers.  This would be, it seems to me, a rightful response to Memorial Day: Remember the fallen by carrying on their struggle—not by playing ecclesiastical couchpotato while the symbols of Christianity are seized once again by fascist sympathizers.  Resistance once called forth the courage and generosity of a generation of Americans.  It is still needed.  Now more than ever.

Fascism is on the return not only in fundamentalist church circles both Vatican and Protestant, it is also alive and steaming in the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” declaration (recall that several members of the supreme court so eager to render this decision are also Opus Dei members).   This notorious decision has declared that any corporation has the same rights as an individual citizen especially when it comes to financing political campaigns.  Not since Mussolini himself defined fascism as “the marriage of government and corporations” has there been so egregious an endorsement of fascism from so high a place in American society.

I had two uncles who served in World War II and, luckily, came home.  One served in France and Germany and was among those who liberated Dachau.  The other was a marine who served in the Pacific theater including bloody battles of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  Both are now deceased.  I wonder if either would be pleased with the return of fascism in our time.  I believe both would be shocked that such sacrifices as their generation made were so easily forgotten.

Thus, Memorial Day.  Let us Remember.  Not just by planting flags but by sustaining worthwhile resistance.  Amen.