The leader of the world’s largest economy, President Obama, and the leader of the world’s largest religion, Pope Francis, both strong advocates for the poor, are set for an historic first meeting on March 27 to discuss their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality. One is a son of a Muslim raised African, born in the USA and educated at an Indonesian Catholic school and at Harvard Law, and the other a son of European Italians, born in Latin America and a Jesuit. They bring diverse and complimentary backgrounds and broad experience.
Both leaders earlier worked closely with “poor sheep” in Catholic parishes–one on Chicago’s South Side; the other in Buenos Aires’ barrios. One’s positions on some economic and military policies and the other’s positions on some sexual morality and gender equality matters have both burdened the poor needlessly, especially many children and women. The President will not be running again and the Pope has a lifetime position. The potential for breakthroughs at the meeting that could help the poor is nearly unlimited.
President Obama and Pope Francis, of course, must first establish mutual trust, which has apparently been adversely impacted, among other reasons, by Vatican political support for US conservatives’ policies and by US bishops’ continuing unaccountablity for mismanaging predatory priests, as well as Obama’s disagreements with US bishops on contraception, gay marriage and other matters.
As suggested by the implications of the important recent analysis by Betty Clermont, author of ”The Neo-Catholics”, Francis’ omissions and/or inaction on holding Catholic bishops accountable will be a major obstacle for Obama to address. Of course, as President, he has almost unlimited resources legally to address this in the USA, which should get Francis’ attention. For Betty Clermont’s thorough analysis, see:
The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, as recently reported by the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. That means the world’s poorest 3.55 billion people must live on what the richest 85 possess. Within the United States, just 400 families have wealth and assets approximately equivalent to 50 percent of the citizens in the United States.
That would be shocking enough, except that the gap is growing, not declining. Due to record setting stock market prices and corporations sitting on profits earned, often, from forcing down the cost of labor, the world’s top 1% are becoming steadily richer. These are stunning statistics that too often get lost in the mainstream media, perhaps not surprisingly given that many owners of the mega-news conglomerates benefit from the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
Given (1) President Obama’s and Pope Francis’ complimentary advocacy for the poor, (2) the key role of family planning in alleviating poverty, and (3) their differences on basic issues like contraception morality matters, President Obama and Pope Francis have much to discuss that is of worldwide importance. This is especially the case since they both seemingly have ties to, and influence over, some of the 85 wealthiest billionaire plutocrats who at times seem to dominate internationally, through their targeted contributions, both political and religious organizations.
Pope Francis recently said, in a message read to world economic leaders at the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that business leaders have the power and the duty to reduce widespread inequality and “social exclusion,” ensuring that “humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it”.
Business, the Pope observed, has played a “fundamental role” in recent improvements in “health care, education and communications” and reducing poverty for a “great number of people …” Pope Francis added that these same advances “often have led to a widespread social exclusion.”
“The majority of the men and women of our time still continue to experience daily insecurity, often with dramatic consequences,” the pope wrote. Insufficient concern for the “most frail, weak and vulnerable” has worsened the plight of refugees and the world’s hungry.Pope Francis also reiterated earlier calls for a “better distribution of wealth,” job creation and an “integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality”.
The reality, however, is that Pope Francis’ ability to influence President Obama may turn on Francis’ ability to regain the moral high ground, which requires as a pre-requisite holding bishops accountable. Significantly, since over 100,000 US children, including some from Chicago where in the late ’80′s Obama worked among the “sheep” at eight poorer Catholic parishes, are estimated so far to have been sexually abused by Catholic priests, the subject of curtailing priest abuse will likely be on the agenda. Also included among the 100,000 US abuse survivors are some from the Minneapolis Archdiocese, where Fr. Kevin McDonough had been Vicar General for some years. His brother, Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, in 2012 specifically referred to Kevin publicly before a group of US bishops as follows: “… I’m thankful for the counsel and wisdom of my older brothers—Bill, who was a priest, and Kevin, who is a priest.”
For some recent revelations about Fr. Kevin McDonough’s role as Vicar General, see:
Many of the priest abuse survivors face lives of poverty and reliance on government assistance directly as a result on the adverse effects of their priest abuse experience, with little or no financial or spiritual help from the Catholic Church. This then is both a political matter of justice and economics, as well as a religious matter. Many people have already asked the President to act on priest child abuse by signing the active online petition available here, see:
The US Catholic Church’s failures to date to curtail abuse adequately over the last three decades have recently been succinctly summarized by the National Catholic Reporter’s publisher, Tom Fox, who has followed the scandal closely, even tenaciously, at times, see:
After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Vatican counterpart, Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, recently, he told reporters, “I know that the Holy Father is anticipating the visit of President Obama here, and the president is looking forward to coming here to meet with him.” Fr. Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that Parolin and Kerry had discussed “themes that have been the object of concern and discussion by the U.S. bishops,” particularly “the health care reform and its relationship to guarantees of religious freedom” — an apparent reference to the Obamacare contraception insurance mandate that has proven a major point of tension between the Obama administration and US bishops. Of course, opposition to Obamacare is also the foundation to US conservatives’ drive to get control of the US Senate in November.
As a young Ivy League graduate, Obama had worked from 1985 to 1988 as director of the Developing Communities Project , a church-based community organization originally comprising eight poorer Catholic parishes in Chicago’s South Side. The first Chicago predatory priest had been convicted in 1985 of molesting a teenage boy, which Obama likely had at least heard about as a young advocate for the poor.
Priest abuse of children has been a significant national issue in the USA for several decades. President Obama, seemingly intentionally, has to date avoided addressing overtly US Federal involvement in the US Catholic Church priest child abuse scandals. During his 2012 re-election campaign, he strongly criticized several times Penn State University’s failures to protect children from football coach Sandusky. Obama also recently acted quickly and comprehensively to investigate alleged child sexual abuse on US military bases. His prior Chief of Staff also spoke out against alleged child sexual abuse at a prominent Jewish school in New York City.
During the 2012 US presidential campaign, Obama reportedly met privately and also appeared prominently with New York’s Cardinal Dolan, then head of the US bishops group. There are apparently no indications Obama discussed the national priest abuse scandal with Dolan, who led the US bishops’ papally supported and abortive political efforts to unseat Obama in 2012, nor are there any indications Kerry discussed them with Parolin recently.
The US bishops have apparently recently resurrected their anti- marriage equality and anti-contraception insurance “crusades” to try to help conservatives win control in nine months of the US Senate with six (net) more US Senate seats. Control of the US Senate would likely secure control of US Supreme Court majority appointments for many years to come, a likely objective of both the US bishops and of the conservatives’ billionaire backers. More bishops can reasonably expect increasingly to be spending time in Federal bankruptcy and criminal courts in future years.
President Obama’s likely has his own understandable objective of leaving his own mark on the US Supreme Court majority. Hence, the priest abuse scandal, especially as it plays out in courts in Minneapolis, could become part of a national political battle, especially given President Obama’s Chief of Staff’s brother’s publicized and questionable role as Vicar General in the Minneapolis Archdiocese.
Pope Francis could also weigh in against gay marriage in a big way after the upcoming October Bishops’ Synod on the Family and just before the November US Senate elections. If he does, especially with the Pope’s appeal to Latino American voters, many of whom oppose gay marriage, Pope Francis could be the conservatives’ last chance. Pope Francis just met and reportedly discussed Latino American immigration and related issues with Los Angeles’ Cardinal Mahony, a key “political force” with Latino American voters, as well as a key and discredited actor in the US priest abuse scandal cover-up.
Given this possible scenario, President Obama might try to pre-empt this hierachical political move by following Australia’s example and setting up a national investigation commission into institutional child sexual abuse, which would likely weaken the US bishops and even the Pope’s political positions. President Obama could not effectively do this after the Synod since there would not be enough time and it would seem too politically motivated. Given these conflicting issues, the discussions between Francis and Obama are critical and may prove contentious. They also present a great opportunity for two exceptional advocates of the poor.
Recent events make clear Catholics cannot realistically expect Pope Francis to curtail sufficiently any time soon, if ever, priest sexual abuse of children. Catholics must therefore press their democratically accountable governments to compel an unaccountable and out of control Vatican to protect their children better. Given, among other matters, (1) recent UN hearings on Vatican child abuse cover-ups, (2)a disturbing AP report indicating the Vatican is quietly discharging some predator priests into an unsuspecting society, (3) continuing confusion over the Vatican’s attitude towards gay persons , and (4) bickering between a key cardinal and a “cardinal to be” over treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics, it is clear Pope Francis has no mystical or instant solutions to the Vatican’s many pressing challenges. He encouraged in Bazil world Catholics to “create a mess” and they are creating several ‘messes”.
For the recent public bickering over divorced Catholics among hierarchs, who reportedly never discussed the issue directly between themselves, see:
These discouraging disclosures make it clear that the Vatican will most likely continue under Pope Francis to try to operate as a law unto itself and above the law that applies to everyone else, unless compelled by outside governments to act according to international legal rules that protect children.The UN hearings make increasingly clear Francis is continuing the stonewalling cover-up and won’t stop unless pressed by government leaders, including by President Obama.
Many in the media appear content to report crowd pleasing stories about the sale of Francis’ Harley motorcycle, his permitting mothers to breast feed in the Sistine Chapel and his kosher Vatican kitchen. Thankfully, some journalists are still awake professionally. The rants of a new Cardinal from Spain and reports on the Swiss Guards’ take on the Vatican “gay lobby” are still being noted. These, and other reports discussed below, indicate the Vatican has a long way to go to fix itself and even to provide a consistent message from week to week.
For the Cardinal’s troubling remarks on gay persons, see:
For the Swiss Guards’ reports on the gay lobby, see:
Several hundred defrocked priests reported on by AP represent only a portion of the credibly accused Catholic priests worldwide over the long period covered. Where are the rest? Where in fact are the defrocked priests now?
Moreover, the defrocked ones were clearly ongoing liabilities to the Vatican and to the hierarchy’s insurers, which Cardinal Levada and Cardinal-designate Mueller apparently dumped on an unsuspecting society putting some predators in a position to abuse some more. For this Levada and Mueller both were seemingly just rewarded by Pope Francis. This dangerous practice was brought out well on the international cable news network, MSNBC, by abuse survivor advocate, Joelle Casteix, who very effectively pierced Jesuit commentator Thomas Reese’s attempt to put a positive spin on it. Please see: http://www.msnbc.com/craig-melvin/watch/priests-defrocked-over-molestation-cases-120834627518
Moreover, a disturbing example of one of these defrocked priests is presently on trial for unspeakable alleged crimes against children in Canada. Apparently, the ex-priest is still functioning in some capacity in his religious order, see:
The recent UN hearings make increasingly clear the Vatican is continuing the priest abuse cover-up and won’t stop unless pressed by government leaders. And of course, no bishops are being held accountable by the Vatican for the cover-ups.
The UN, the International Criminal Court, Ireland and other European governments to date have been thwarted in protecting children adequately from predatory priests by a really ruthless, fully funded and well connected Vatican hierarchy of childless men. Even the highly regarded and well funded Australian Royal Commission now investigating institutional child sexual abuse is apparently facing new bishop-friendly political and media pressure
“The Holy See gets it,” Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex-crimes prosecutor, recently told the UN child protection committee in Geneva. Under an intense grilling, he hesitatingly added ”Let’s not say ‘too late’ or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently.”
But will things be done differently by the Vatican? There is little evidence of positive changes underway. The Vatican continues to deny responsiblity for many of the abuse cases and to try to handle many of the remaining cases secretly in Vatican courts that impose minor penalties. Less than two years ago, Scicluna at a large public symposium criticized the Vatican’s approach to priest child sexual abuse as being characterized by “omerta”, the Italian word for the Mafia’s code of silence. For that surprising candor, Scicluna apparently was “promoted out” to become a bishop in Malta. Omerta seems alive and well at the Vatican.
At the same Vatican symposium that Scicluna referred to the operative “omerta” policy, Vatican selected experts, as mentioned above, estimated that over 100,000 children to date had been sexually abused in the USA by Catholic Church personnel. No US bishops have yet been imprisoned for covering-up for priest predators, despite considerable evidence of widespread cover-ups, a sad commentary on both the US Catholic hierarchy’s evasions and on the highly politicized US criminal legal process.
US Catholic bishops exert great influence over local political leaders and prosecutors, which has evidentally helped deter criminal investigations. The bishops have even become adjusted to civil law suits by abuse survivors as an almost routine cost of doing the bishops’ business, which Catholics amazingly and complicitly continue to fund with donations.
Some of the current uncertainties about the direction of President Obama and the Australian Royal Commission are also indicated at: ”Pope Francis, Kids, Obama, Abbott and Murdoch” at: http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-Vk
Pope Francis showed much of his hand recently, which indicated mainly that he will likely continue the Vatican’s stonewalling approach unless compelled to change it. Pope Francis has mostly indicated by his actions and inactions that his first priority is protecting the cardinals who elected him, even before children.
It has been almost a year since the ex-pope shocked, if not also frightened, many cardinals by suddenly resigning amidst escalating scandals. This led to the unexpected selection of Pope Francis to save the cardinals, at least by changing the subject from the scandals and gaining time for the Vatican to try to find a survivable path through the scandals that eluded the ex-pope.
The cardinals had been picked by the ex-pope and Pope John Paul II as men who apparently would mostly follow orders unquestionably. In exchange, the popes provided these men with the generally unaccountable power and considerable wealth inherent in most cardinals’ permanent positions.
It appears evident that the trigger for the ex-pope’s abrupt resignation was the esclating priest child sexual abuse scandal that he mismanaged so badly. The financial scandals could likely have been fixed eventually by spending more money, which popes have plenty of access to and which appears to be happening now, as noted here at: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350699? ; but the abuse scandal raises possibilities of the imprisonment of some cardinals and bishops, money notwithstanding. This was quite clear at the recent disturbing UN hearings in Geneva as shown here at:
For a video of the actual hearings, click here and scroll down to the seventh screen:
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/16/video-from-u-n-panel-grilling-vatican-officials-on-abuse-of-children/ , and further reported here at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/un-rights-committee-grills-vatican-over-its-handling-of-child-sex-abuse/article16370203/
It also became clearer recently that Francis, and his Secretary of State Parolin, a former longtime top aide to Cardinal Sodano, are following a geopolitical survival strategy very similar to the one that Sodano and Parolin followed a decade ago to help secure President Bush’s relection as discussed further below. The Vatican’s UN response was also led by another longtime subordinate of Cardinal Sodano, Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.
Relevantly, John Allen, a well informed Vatican reporter and CNN commentator perceptively noted recently as follows: ” … the sex abuse crisis is where two powerful narratives about Catholicism collide. One is that the church is a secretive institution devoted above all to protecting its own interests, so that claims of turning over a new leaf are viewed through a lens of suspicion; the other is that Francis is a reforming pope genuinely committed to the poor and the vulnerable, and people seem hungry to believe that he’ll do the right thing” .
Allen interestingly added: “The tenor of the questions I fielded on CNN about the hearing in Geneva clearly reflected this collision, since most of these segments ended with the host asking when Francis was going to clean things up.” Correct, John Allen, if not now, almost a year after the ex-pope’s resignation, then when?
In evaluating how Francis might “clean things up”, Allen observed: “In terms of what would count for most people as proof that Francis is committed to doing that, one step would be to publicly discipline a bishop who’s failed to make a “zero-tolerance” policy stick.”.
In assessing the prospects for holding any bishop accountable, Allen reported: “On background, Vatican officials say figuring out how to process these ‘negligent supervision’ cases is high on their to-do list and is potentially something the new papal commission on the protection of minors announced by Cardinal Sean O’Malley in December could examine.”
On background? High on a “to do list” ? Could examine? Who is trying to fool whom? Cardinal Law, O’Malley’s Boston predecessor, was uncovered over a decade ago and several other cardinals and bishops since then! What is Pope Francis waiting for?
John Allen has regular access to key cardinals, including O’Malley. If Allen hasn’t gotten clear answers, it strongly indicates, to me at least, that Francis has no clear answers he is willing to provide. He seems then merely to be playing for time, by most indications. The nebulous papal abuse commission, if it ever happens, at present appears likely to be just another abuse smokescreen and stall tactic.
As the recent UN hearings were underway, Francis was, as alluded to above, meeting in Rome with Los Angeles’ Cardinal Mahony, the USA’s most unaccountable hierarch for priest abuse cover-ups. According to Mahony’s own blog, Francis’ principal concern in their meeting was not the abuse scandal, which apparently was not discussed. Rather, Francis’ main focus apparently was on US Latinos, a group that had long viewed Mahony politically as “the Man” and is a key voting block in November’s US Senate elections critical for maintaining US conservatives’ long term influence over the US Supreme Court majority.
Meanwhile, Mahony’s former Diocese of Stockton recently filed for bankruptcy, after paying $3.75 million less than a year ago to a single abuse survivor, seemingly to avoid Mahony’s having to testify. That is in addition to the $660 million Mahony expended for over 500 clerical abuse survivors to settle Los Angeles priest child sexual abuse claims, and the almost $200 million Mahony spent on a new Cathedral, the so-called “Raj Mahal”, instead of repairing his earthquake damaged cathedral for a small percentage of the elaborate replacement’s cost. Mahony makes the German Bishop of Bling appear thrifty by comparison, but Francis has been publicly silent about both Mahony’s cover-up misdeeds and financial extravagance. Cardinals and US elections apparently come first.
The Vatican vainly and unsuccessfully last week sought, seemingly inconsistently in Geneva and Rome, to preserve Pope Francis’ fragile credibility on curtailing priest child abuse. As a de facto religious emperor primarily, and not some mere “pastoral parish priest creation” of his public relations handlers, Francis’ credibility here is critical. It is an essential prerequisite for Francis’ establishing credibility on all other key Vatican challenges.
John Allen is correct about the collision between Francis’ concern for the cardinals and concern for the poor. Last week’s collision between the UN hearing and the Mahony meeting showed Francis’ priority is for the cardinals who picked him. This, perhaps, should not really be very surprising, despite Francis’ media campaign that sought to convince wishful thinking Catholics and a gullible media otherwise.
To date, a surprisingly docile media have often been slow to realize that Pope Francis’ tunes on critical issues like child abuse, women’s equality, contraception, divorced Catholics and gay marriage remain quite similar to his failed predecessors’, even if the new pope’s public relations’ tone differs.
As the Francis’ honeymoon period winds down, the fundamental question for Catholics arises ever sharply— how “good” can the new pope really be, if he would shelter child predators and their complicit bishops much like his shameful predecessors did? How Good is a Shepherd who does not effectively protect the youngest lambs among the sheep, especially when Jesus clearly mandated the need to protect children?
Francis’ subordinates in Geneva last week often desperately evaded UN representatives’ questions, even trying to divert some blame to the Irish government and to downplay the current Vatican protection being afforded to an alleged child abusing Polish Archbishop who, under Pope Francis, fled prosecutors’ clutches in the Dominican Republic last August.
The focus in the Mahony meeting on US Latinos and pro-immigration policies is also hardly surprising. The US Latino vote is likely the key to Francis’ and his US bishops’ seeming strategy aimed at helping conservatives win November’s US Senate elections. With that control, conservatives likely would continue for several decades their dominant influence over the US Supreme Court majority. A friendly US Supreme Court is, of course, also important to US bishops who increasingly may be spending time in Federal criminal and bankruptcy courtrooms.
President Obama, however, is unlikely without a struggle to let Pope Francis help deny him his constitutional power to select US Supreme Court nominees, subject to the US Senate’s customary consent.
The Vatican’s current geopolitical strategy is becoming more evident and reflective of the Vatican’s 1,700 year old tradition of power politics. Given that Francis is relying for geopolitical advice on proteges of Cardinal Sodano, if not directly on the Cardinal himself, this is not surprising. Sodano has been the dominant figure in setting Vatican geopolitical policy for over a quarter century. That policy apparently subordinates curtailing priest child abuse, and holding bishops accountable for mismanaging predatory priests, to the perceived Vatican political objective of protecting the hierarchy’s, especially cardinals’, power and wealth ahead, and at the expense, of protecting children.
The Vatican’s legal strategy appears to be to try to establish that the Vatican has no real effective control over most of the world’s bishops and priests. As to those they control, like the Polish Archbishop diplomat, the Vatican wants sole control over prosecutions like it had in the Middle Ages. As a lawyer, it appears to me that the Vatican may succeed in avoiding direct legal responsibility for some priests, but it will fail almost certainly in avoiding responsibility for most bishops’ misdeeds. The Vatican selects, controls and removes bishops under very tight procedures. Moreover, the Bishop of Bling’s and other bishops’ recent abrupt removals over policy matters just confirmed the Vatican’s clear control.
Geopolitically, the Vatican seems to be trying to undercut, as best it can, its main national child abuse challengers, both internationally and domestically. For example, the Vatican’s worst nightmare would appear to be to have President Obama follow, as some have already requested, Australia’s lead by establishing a US national investigation commission into institutional child sexual abuse.
Not surprisingly, Pope Francis recently met with US rival, Russia’s President Putin, but had not to date with President Obama , while the Vatican appeared to oppose the US position on conditions to Iran’s participation in a Syrian peace conference.
And Francis’ US bishops have been working hard for over five years often to try to undercut President Obama domestically, while simultaneously trying to strengthen his conservative, bishop friendlier, US opposition. This is reminiscent of the Vatican’s centuries’ old geopolitical strategy of playing off European monarchs against each other, while simultaneously supporting friendlier domestic political forces where monarchs were less friendly to Vatican interests.
The Vatican is, of course, entitled to pursue its own foreign policy; however, it would be naive to fail to see how the policy advances the Vatican hierarchy’s own self-interest. And it is important to keep in mind that for his first 75 years, Pope Francis had no significant international relations experience beyond Latin America.
For an incisive critique of some of the Vatican’s UN hearings’ evasions, see:
For the overall context of the Catholic Church abuse scandal , see the BBC’s current summary at:
For Mahony’s own self serving report on his blog about his meeting with Francis, see:
For Mahony’s shameful record on the abuse scandal, see:
For Mahony’s role in the Stockton financial woes, see:
For Pope Francis’ geopolitical challenge to US policy on Syria, see:
As indicated above, the Vatican last week came under sharp criticism from a United Nations committee in Geneva for its handling of the global priest sex-abuse scandal that has severely damaged the reputation of the Catholic Church and has generated accusations that it purposefully hid the rapes of thousands of children by protecting pedophile priests.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi even reportedly told the UN committee the Vatican’s view was that the Irish state had taken full responsbility for the abuse scandal at the Magdalene Laundries. Of course, now that the well publicized new movie, “Philomena”, starring Dame Judi Dench as a Magdalene survivor, has been nominated for several Oscars, including for Best Picture, it is hardly surprising the Vatican now wants to pass the buck fully to the Irish government and Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Kenny had boldly and severely criticized the Vatican over child abuse at Catholic Church controlled institutions in Ireland. Dench’s mother had been born and raised in Dublin. For more on Tomasi’s evasions, see:
For more on “Philomena”, see:
The Vatican, facing its most intense public grilling over the allegations, acknowledged at the Geneva hearing that it had been slow to act, but insisted (again!) that it was now committed to facing the crisis. Such understatement !
As noted above, Bishop Scicluna earlier described the Vatican approach to priest abuse of children aa “omerta”. Rarely, if ever, had a Vatican official used the word “omerta” – a serious accusation in Italian — to compare the reluctance of some in the Church to come clean on the abuse scandal with the Mafia’s code of silence.
Scicluna also noted at the same symposium about the Church’s failures, “Other enemies of the truth are the deliberate denial of known facts and the misplaced concern that the good name of the institution should somehow enjoy absolute priority to the detriment of disclosure,” and added further, “No strategy for the prevention of child abuse will ever work without commitment and accountability, …” .
Of course, neither such committment nor accountability has occurred since the symposium almost two years ago. Moreover, from present indications, Francis’ purported abuse commission is unlikely to implement such needed accountability for bishops, as Francis’ public welcome this week of Cardinal Mahony further indicates and John Allen’s analysis tends to confirm.
Meanwhile, a few days ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a practicing Catholic, met for almost two hours recently with Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, traditionally the top Vatican position under the pope. Ironically, Parolin had been then powerful Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano’s top deputy in 2004 when the Vatican reportedly helped undermine Kerry among US Catholic voters leading to Kerry’s loss to President Bush.
The two reportedly discussed issues related to international religious freedom, including Middle East hot spots and even US healthcare reform. US bishops appear to be contending in the current election campaign for control of the US Senate and likely the continuing US Supreme Court majority that Obamacare’s contraception insurance mandate violates their religious freedom.
Lurking in the background appears to be the Vatican’s goal of preventing outside governments’ involvement in the Vatican’s control of its bishops, especially in bishops’ lobbying efforts to regulate women’s reproductive options, as well as bishops’ management, or mismanagement, of priest child abuse allegations worldwide.
Looming clashes between national governments and the Vatican on these issues seem inevitable. It is unclear whether the recent Secretaries of State meeting will lead to direct discussions between Pope Francis and President Obama on religious freedom, contraception insurance and/or unaccountable bishops. The two have never met.
In a 2005 meeting on related Middle East and religious freedom matters, Vatican Secretary of State Sodano, Parolin’s boss then, reportedly sought US Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice’s help in dealing with a US court case involving the Vatican’s oversight of alleged bishop mismanagement of a possible US priest child abuser, see:
It is unknown whether either Parolin or Kerry raised the priest child abuse scandal subject recently, although the scandal is even more pressing today than it was in 2005.
The international religious freedom issue has been accelerating for some time. Indeed, as alluded to above, Denis McDonough, currently President Obama’s Chief of Staff, discussed it at length with US bishops just before the last US presidential election, even mentioning his priest brother, Fr. Kevin McDonough. Now Fr. McDonough, a former Vicar General in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese, is a key management official in expanding priest abuse investigations involving alleged Federal and state crimes, creating sensitive legal and related political issues for President Obama.
For Denis’ remarks on religious freedom, see:
Kerry has some relevant history here. In 2004 U.S. bishops reportedly received instructions from the ex-Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, second in power to Sodano, that there was to be no communion at Mass for Kerry. Presumably, Kerry is well versed in the Vatican’s use of religious freedom covers for political advantage.
The U.S. bishops began a campaign in 2004 against Kerry unprecedented in scope, vitriol and direct interference by clergy in politics. They approved a statement that politicians who support legal abortion were “cooperating in evil.” The message went out to all Catholics in multi-media format and in technically non-partisan words that voting Democratic would jeopardize one’s immortal soul.
President Bush’s strategist, Karl Rove, reportedly identified the Catholic vote as central to his long-term plan to convert swathes of traditional Democratic voters, thereby transforming the Republicans into the majority party.
Throughout the 2004 campaign, Rove maintained that, if Bush won the Catholic vote, he would be reelected. Rove was right. Rove sought to turn out several million additional Catholic voters. Catholic turnout was 63 percent, up from 57 percent four years earlier, and constituted more than one-in-four voters nationwide, voters disproportionately distributed in key battleground states such as Ohio and Florida. Bush, a Methodist, impressively won 52 percent of the Catholic vote versus 47 percent for John Kerry.
As a result of the 2004 election, it was unquestionably clear that this wedge issue tactic worked. It appears in full bloom currently in the Catholic hierarchy’s renewed anti-Obamacare contraception insurance and anti-gay marriage election year crusades. John Kerry has seen this drill before. In these circumstances, Pope Francis’ current interest in US Latino issues is especially understandable.
Informed Vatican journalists seem to be signaling that Francis’ media honeymoon may be ending. The focus has been until now often on engineered photo ops and slick sound bites orchestrated by the papal media handlers. More frequent substantive reporting may be returning, it appears.
A major current challenge for the Vatican appears to be to advance favorably the April canonization of the Polish Pope, John Paul II, while containing two significant controversies relevant to the Polish Pope. One involves the unresolved scandals of John Paul’s protected contributor, Fr. Maciel, and Maciel’s yet unreformed, and perhaps unreformable, money machine, the Legion of Christ; and the other involves two Polish clerics accused of child abuse in the Dominican Republic .
Francis’ approach to these scandals is quite important because they cannot be handled merely by spin tactics and pious platitudes. They require Francis to show his hand, especially on clerical child abuse, which he has seemingly endeavored mostly to sidestep so far. Francis’ subordinates’ poor performance at the Geneva UN hearings suggests that Francis, like the ex-Pope, is still holding a bad hand.
The papal spin machine is, of course, still trying to focus more on diversionary and ”children friendly” stories like Francis’ recent endorsement of breast feeding in the Sistine Chapel. .
The generally more substantive AP reporters have instead honed in more recently on the apparent efforts of the Vatican to try to avoid stories that may cast a shadow over the soon to be canonized John Paul II, namely, the Maciel scandal and the alleged Polish clerical child abusers.
One of the two accused Polish clerics had been ordained as a priest and bishop by John Paul. As mentioned above, he is Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic removed suddenly by the Vatican in August in the wake of child sex abuse allegations. He is apparently being kept out of sight in Rome . Weslowski has served as a Vatican diplomat for over a decade, initially under then Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano, another apparent protector of Fr. Maciel.
The AP’s recent update on the Maciel scandal is at:
The Polish Archbishop’s apparent fleeing to the protection of Rome from the Dominican Republic was earlier reported at:
The AP’s recent update on the alleged Polish clerical child abusers is at:
Recent news reports, as indicated above, suggested that the Vatican had refused a Polish request to extradite the Polish Archbishop. A Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, recently noted that there has been no extradition request and that the Vatican is ready to “collaborate” with investigations both in Poland and in the Dominican Republic. Almost six months after Wesolowski fled to Rome, collaboration appears to have been thin so far, if any has even occurred.
Lombardi added that Wesolowski is facing a canonical investigation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which could lead to his laicization as a priest and bishop, and possibly to a criminal investigation by the Vatican’s own criminal court. Back in July, perhaps with Wesolowski in view, Francis issued a ruling that extended the jurisdiction of the Vatican’s limited criminal court in sex abuses cases to papal diplomats.
John Allen favorably and surprisingly also observed recently about this seeming Vatican evasionary cover-up, “While it’s too early to say how this process may play out, should it end in Francis putting an archbishop behind bars, it would be seen by most observers as a clear signal that this pope means business on the sex abuse front”. Given Francis prior record in Argentina, there appears to be little or no prospect the Polish Archbishop will end up behind bars. Francis’ welcome of Cardinal Mahony further confirms this likelihood.
John Allen, of course, is not a lawyer. His seeming acceptance of purported Vatican efforts to self-police accused bishops borders at best on the implausible, especially given the Vatican’s failures to date. The Vatican has neither the resources nor the expertise to investigate multiple child abuse allegations in a foreign country. It is also clearly conflicted, if not patently biased. It is investigating itself, with Pope Francis as judge, jury and lawmaker. Laicization is an inadequate penalty for child abuse.
Francis fails to appreciate, it appears, that the rest of the world’s judicial systems have long since mostly rejected as woefully inadequate such an absolute monarchy approach to law enforcement.
Indeed, the Vatican’s relevant record on fugitive clerics over recent decades has been quite poor. Numerous foreign Catholic priests have fled possible US criminal proceedings, with few returning and apparently little help from the Vatican in getting them to return; see, “Fugitives from justice: Roman Catholic priests”, as reported at: http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/fugitives/priests.html
The subtle influence of Cardinal Sodano may be operative in the current setting. Investigative reporter, Jason Berry, following his thorough and reliable reporting on Fr. Maciel’s ties to Vatican officials, especially Sodano, had argued strongly when the ex-Pope resigned last year, that Sodano be replaced. Obviously, Sodano was retained and oversaw the election of Francis. For Berry’s statement. please see:
Jason Berry’s more recent remarks continue to exhibit major concerns, see: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/italy/131231/how-pope-francis-took-2013-storm
For Berry’s update on the Maciel/Legion of Christ scandal and its relevance to Pope Francis, see:
Moreover, Francis’s curial cardinal appointments suggest Cardinal Sodano’s and the ex-Pope’s continuing strong influence. Three long time Sodano proteges ( Archbishops Parolin, Baldisseri and Stella) and the ex-Pope’s long time protege, Archbishop Muller, head of the fundamentally flawed child protection department, the CDF. Add this to Francis’ decision to protect the Polish Archbishop, another Sodano protege, from answering for alleged crimes against children as Papal Nuncio in the Dominican Republic. The continuation of Cardinal Levada, another protege of the ex-Pope and Muller’s predecessor as purported “child protector”, on the key Commission on Bishops is just more of the same.
It is becoming clearer that Sodano’s 2010 “petty gossip” approach to minimizing the sexual abuse of children, even by Vatican officials like a Nuncio, is guiding Francis. This is even worse than the two prior popes’ protection of Cardinal Law was, since Law had not been accused of abusing children personally.
Please see, “A New Year’s Wish For Catholic Democracy”, at: http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-W7
This stonewalling strategy cannot and will not work. It suggests Francis may be just an interim ”subject changer” who will not fundamentally reform the Vatican. Meanwhile, Francis slips past key challenges like women’s equality, divorced Catholics’ treatment and contraception by carefully scripted metaphors, photo ops and sound bites with the help of his ex-FOX TV News’ chief spinner.
Pope Francis appears to be following the failed path of the ex-Pope who had been warned in 2010 not to follow the “petty gossip” approach. See the still relevant and unheeded 2010 Washington Post advice to the ex-Pope based on a suggestion of another experienced Jesuit, “Pope Should Endorse Independent Investigation”, at:
Catholics have watched too many papal evasions over the last half century. Now Catholics must consider using their democratic power to get their governments to compel the Vatican to obey child protection laws, as these governments are already compelling the Vatican to obey financial transparency laws. Australia has already begun and the USA may not be far behind.
Since the Fourth Century, external political pressure was usually the main force behind Vatican reform. That will soon happen again.
Child protection is the top priority for Catholics. If Catholics cannot trust their hierarchy to protect children from some in the hierarchy and their agents, how can they trust them on any other matter? And why should they?
The legal investigations into priest child abuse and bishops’ cover-ups are gathering steam worldwide, e.g., in the UK/Northern Ireland, Australia, Minnesota, St. Louis, Chicago, et al. Moreover, Minneapolis’ Archbishop Nienstedt and former vicar general, Fr. Kevin McDonough, are scheduled to be deposed under oath later this month by the key abuse survivors’ lawyer, Jeff Anderson.
As a lawyer myself, it is very puzzling that Francis appears still to think he can try to curtail this abuse scandal by attempting to bring prosecutions in house. If anything, such efforts are likely to just fuel the suspicions of many that the Vatican’s long standing cover-up is continuing.
As the People of God, it is the world’s Catholics’ Church as well. It is not merely the private property of a a group of aged celibate men focused too often on protecting their power and wealth, without accountability to any independent oversight, even for unspeakable violations of defenseless children.