Red Flags Round Pope Francis

Like everyone else on earth, I wish the new Pope well and I hope he truly emulates some of Francis of Assisi's priorities:

  • Defending Mother Earth who is in so much peril; living simply (how one does that in a palace like the Vatican, surrounded by an obsequious court, is another question);
  • Speaking out on behalf of the poor and impoverished, the sick and neglected;
  • Speaking out on those social and economic structures that institutionalize injustice.

I also hope he cleans up the rat's nest of corruption, pedophile cover-up, ego mania and power-addicted prelates who run the curia that in turn runs the Vatican. Good Luck and God's Blessing!

One looks at the new Pope's simple lifestyle while cardinal in Argentina, rejecting the bishop's palace, living in an apartment, rejecting a limousine and taking the bus to work, cooking his own meals, speaking off the cuff since being made Pope. Very nice. It gives one hope (again, not sure how it translates to a world of pope-mobiles and court hangers-on in the last monarchy of the Western world, the Vatican). But Good Luck there also.

But red flags do emerge as we learn more of this man who is heralded as the first non-European Pope in 1400 years, first South American, citizen of the "third world" and more. One has to be a bit careful here of the hagiographic hype that gushed upon us from CNN and elsewhere the day he was elected. These starry-eyed journalists wallowing in pious sentimentalism for a few days have not done their homework about the recent papacy (or past papacies). I have. That is why I wrote The Pope's War: How Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved.

Here are some areas to watch out for:

1. Opposition to Liberation Theology

This new Pope opposed liberation theology and base communities in Latin America: those being the grassroots Church that took seriously the teaching of Vatican II that the Church is "the people," not the hierarchy. Many heroes of that movement were killed and tortured throughout Latin America, Oscar Romero being the most visible. Bergoglio was nowhere to be seen standing with them. Quite the opposite; he fought liberation theology tooth and nail as head of the bishops' conference, and he was an effective instigator of papal attitudes in this regard (supported by the CIA under Reagan, which linked up with Pope John Paul II to kill liberation theology, as I prove in The Pope's War.)

Can he change as Pope? One prays. But don't bet the farm on it. One tends to "dance with the ones who brung ya"-- even to the top of the clerical elite.

2. Involvement in Communion and Liberation

This Pope's allegiance is not to the principles of justice enunciated by Vatican II (or those of freedom of conscience, or of empowerment of laity, or of the independence of national bishops' conferences, or of sensus fidelium. etc.), but to Communion and Liberation. (See Chapter 7 of The Pope's War.)

C&L is a neo-fascist movement supported strongly by the past two Popes (the women who will cook and wash clothes for Ratzinger as pope emeritus are C&L people). It is all about obedience, all about hierarchy, all about centralizing power in the Pope, and all about pronouncing on "sins of the flesh" (i.e. homosexuality, birth control, abortion) and repressing women's and LGBT rights. C&L is much like Opus Dei, though less secretive and Italian based rather than Spanish based. Very powerful and very rich, and in fact larger and more influential today than Opus Dei (though not as embedded in the American media or Supreme Court or CIA and FBI).

Ratzinger was a champion of C&L, as is Cardinal Law, as is Cardinal Cordes, a very influential German bishop who actually invokes Pope Gregory VII as an example for our times. That Pope said "the Pope may be judged by no one" and the Roman Catholic Church "has never erred, nor never shall err to all eternity." Yikes! 3. Response to Argentinian Dictatorship Serious questions persist about this new Pope's refusal to stand up to the military junta's torture programs during the years of dictatorship in Argentina. Photos exist of Bergoglio giving communion to the notorious dictator, General Jorge Videla, who was convicted in 1985 of murders, torture and "disappearances." Two of his fellow Jesuit priests were tortured, along with 30,000 other Argentinians who were murdered, and he was silent (some even say that he was complicit, but not enough facts have been uncovered to be sure).

An Argentine historian who was in the country during the "dirty war" writes that "while the upper echelons of the Church were supportive of the military Junta, the grassroots of the Church was firmly opposed to the imposition of military rule" (see

This reminds one of Nazi times in Germany, when some, but not many, bishops stood up to be heard. Bergoglio dismissed two Jesuit priests committed to liberation theology. The result? They were kidnapped and tortured for six months and six parishioners of theirs were "disappeared." One of the priests, Fr. Orlando Yorio, "accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over [including six other people] to the death squads." The second priest has spent his life since in seclusion in a German monastery.

Communion & Liberation is fiercely opposed to liberation theology.

Can this pope confess and move on? One hopes so. 4. Links to Church's Right-Wing German Faction

Bergoglio's connection to the right-wing faction of the German Church is very clear. When an Argentinian autobiographer says that "he is not a third-world priest," he is noting that he has resisted the call for the systemic justice of liberation theology. What is he then, since he lived in the third world most of his life? Very late in life, in his late sixties, Bergoglio traveled to Germany to get a doctorate in theology. I think one can conclude that he was also receiving a deep marination in the kind of right-wing German thinking that Ratzinger and his cronies represent. That, plus more link-ups with C&L and Cardinal Cordes, cheerleader of C&L. The German bishops are the most influential in the Church; Germany gives more money to the Vatican than any other group because lay people are taxed whether they go to church or not. Pope Francis represents them far more than he does the 'third world,' unfortunately.

Can he change? One does believe in and pray for miracles--in this case that he exits the cage of C&L in favor of a Catholic Church that is far larger and diverse than tribal sects.

5. Position on Gender/Gender Preference Justice

Bergoglio called the gay rights movement a work of "the Father of Lies" (though he says one should be nice to gay people). The president of his country called his opposition to gay marriage "medieval" and smacking of the Inquisition in its tone. I see no evidence that he even considers women's rights to be a valid issue. Do not expect any theological depth or breadth here beyond what we have been witnessing for 42 years, years of schism in my opinion, from two (now three?) popes who have scuttled the reforms of Vatican II.

In short, the new Pope is presented as a pastoral person. His visiting AIDS victims and his walking in the slums and riding buses to work attest to this. His charm and spontaneity with the press and people since becoming bishop of Rome attest to the same. But the papal job is much more than one on one pastoral actions. Love is not just about charity; it is also about justice. Is he up to that? Will he take on power structures of economic injustice and support those who do? We shall see.

A key to his job today is cleaning up the Church itself, which is mired in pedophile scandals and their cover-ups, financial scandals, and blatant hypocrisy around such issues as homosexuality, with rings of gay prostitutes blackmailing curia officials, and the Cardinal of Scotland having to recuse himself from the papal conclave because three priests accused him of sexual misconduct with them...and that cardinal was a ranting anti-gay voice in Scotland. How many others in the curia and elsewhere are preaching that "homosexuality is evil" while having gay sex on the side (by the way, do they use condoms? - they say that would be another sin). What hypocrisy!

Of course the on-going Inquisition which was brought back by the two previous Popes (I was only one of 105 of their victims, who are listed in my book) -- will the new Pope address that? As a Jesuit, one would hope he has some intellectual awareness that goes beyond C&L's theology of "Obey the Pope." As a Jesuit, one would hope that he would have been exposed to the vast depth and width of the Catholic intellectual tradition, no matter what the neo-fascist and anti-intellectual sects tell us (that the Pope is the only teacher, a heresy in itself). Maybe he was playing a game all along with the German wing to get elected, and now will let the Spirit open things up and dispense with his right wing handlers. One can hope. One would expect a Jesuit pope to have some respect for Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Anthony de Mello and other Jesuits whom the fierce right wing castigates.

Where does he stand on the New Inquisition fostered by then-Cardinal Ratzinger and his minions? We shall soon know. Is he able to throw off the narrow shackles of the C&L and Opus Dei sects and serve the whole Church? We shall soon know. Can he overcome the sin of sexism so rife in ecclesial boyz club circles? We shall soon know. Can he end the unconscionable cover up of priestly pedophiles by the hierarchy and fire all of the perpetrators and put "millstones around their necks" (figuratively at least) as Jesus proposed for all those who endanger children? We shall soon know.

The key to the work of this Pope is the person he appoints as secretary of state. That is the person who must clean up the curia. Will he appoint someone who can take on that heavy task? Or will he appoint someone who is content to keep the power games and cover-ups and hypocrisy going on there essentially as they have been for 42 years? Someone of the 115 who got him elected in order to keep things as they are? Stay tuned.

It is false thinking to look up to the papacy to represent Jesus' teaching at this time in history. Look to yourself and the base communities of many stripes that put justice and love ahead of power games and sentimental pomp and papalolotry. One program I am developing in collaboration with Andrew Harvey is the Christ Path Seminar ( which is an effort to resurrect the real story and teaching of Jesus and the Cosmic Christ tradition.

The Holy Spirit may be doing a very great thing in ending the papacy as we know it and starting Jesus' message over again through the people, not the ecclesial potentates. Surely we all pray that Pope Francis will join that work and be part of the rebirth of the Christ message.

Already some good things have resulted from Bergoglio's election as Pope. The press (usually the non-mainstream press, the new press created by the Internet that bypasses the ruling financial, political and religious elite) is finally taking a critical look at the history of the American government in Latin America (its role in the military coups of Argentina and Chile, to name a few). And the new press is finally taking a critical look at the dark and fascist side of recent Church history -- a side I lay out in detail in The Pope's War, which has been studiously ignored by the mainline press -- the far-right sects of Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation and other coddled children of the past two schismatic papacies. To shed light on these dark sects, as the non-mainline press is finally doing, is already a positive result of the papacy of Pope Francis. Will he and it be able to tolerate the light? Stay tuned.

In closing, let us call on the recently canonized saint and Doctor of the Church, the twelfth-century reformer Hildegard of Bingen. Her words to the Pope of her day follow:

"O man, the eye of your discernment weakens.....You are neglecting Justice, the King's daughter, the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you. Her crown and jeweled raiments are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night. They are hypocrites. With their words they make a show of illusory peace, but within, in their hearts, they grind their teeth like a dog who wags its tail at a recognized friend but bites with its sharp teeth an experienced warrior who fights for the King's house. Why do you tolerate the evil ways of people who in the darkness of foolishness draw everything harmful to themselves? They are like hens who make noise during the night and terrify themselves."

It is difficult to find a more apt naming of the curia today than these words of Hildegard, who also said:

"The Catholic chair of Peter will be shaken through erroneous teaching...The vineyard of the Lord smolders with sorrow...The injustice of the clergy will be recognized as thoroughly despicable. And yet no on will dare to raise a sharp and insistent call for repentance." (Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen, a Saint for Our Times, pp. 102ff, 129).

Hildegard raised such a call. One hopes that Pope Francis will do so also.