Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis Tuesday

The Pope has been visiting Cuba over the weekend. That visit called to mind this song by Kate Campbell that references an earlier papal visit to the island.

Rosa's Coronas 11/30/2014

Joshua McElwee reports on Pope Francis' major speech in La Habana at the Plaza de la Revolución in Under image of Che Guevara, Francis says Christian service 'never ideological' National Catholic Reporter 09/20/2015

This combination of images of two of the most famous Argentines is surely more jarring for an American audience than for Argentines. When I visited the Presidential Palace Casa Rosada) in Buenos Aires in 2012, the entry hall had two portraits prominently displayed together: Che Guevara and the Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, murdered by a death squad while presiding over Mass in a hospital. Pope Francis formally declared Romero a martyr this year and he's on the road to sainthood. I doubt any Pope will canonize Ernesto Guevara. Although there was and maybe still is a folk shrine to "St. Che" near the place in Bolivia where he was assassinated in 1967. I think a few miraculous cures have been reported there. Go figure.

The staunchly anti-Communist and theologically conservative Pope Juan Paul II also celebrated mass in Plaza de la Revolución on his visit to Cuba in 1998.

This was also an interesting part of the Pope's message: "At the end of the Mass, the pope appealed to Colombia's government and Marxist FARC guerrillas to ensure that nearly three years of peace talks in Cuba are successful in order to end their 'long night' of war." (Pope meets Fidel Castro, warns against ideology on Cuba trip Buenos Aires Herald 09/20/2015) Cuba has hosted peace talks to end that long-running conflict.

Darío Pignotti notes in Página/12 (Cuba se viste de blanco y amarillo por el Papa 19.09.2015) that the chatter in Cuba he heard before Francis' arrival included many mentions of the "Argentine Pope." (Pignotti goes a bit Tommy Friedman in this piece and reports on an interview with a taxi driver.)

How much of the Pontiff's worldview is actually consistent with that of a government like Cuba's?

Eric Bugyis in a post which,so far as I can tell, is supportive of Pope Francis, argues that there is a great deal of philosophical/ideological agreement It Is Marxism! Commonweal 09/22/2015:

In Bolivia, Francis called for "the just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor" saying that this is "about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right." Linking the fruits of labor to rights in this way suggests the "labor theory of value" that one finds in Thomas Aquinas and in the social encyclicals beginning with Rerum Novarum, but it is also the theory of value that one finds in Marx. It is the theory that says that those who work to produce goods and services, through agriculture or manufacture, ought to have a share in the ownership of those goods. It is a rejection of the wage slavery whereby workers are shackled by policies that seek to interrupt the worker's relationship with the fruits of his or her labor by turning this labor into a commodity itself. The price of this commodity, then, must be weighed against the expected profits to be gained through the sale of commodities owed by stockholders. On this account, it should be made clear, the stockholder owns both the workers (now often more honestly referred to as "human resources") and the commodities that these workers produce and profit to the extent that the stockholder (and the market) values the former less than the latter. Thus, when Francis talks about a "formal market" in which people are "exploited like slaves," what else could he be talking about but the alienation of workers from the means of production? And when he calls for governments to promote "the strengthening, improvement, coordination and expansion of forms of popular economy and communitarian production," what could he be referring to other than supporting the formation of unions (another thing endorsed by the social encyclicals) and empowering local commerce by limiting the monopolistic practices of transnational corporations? All of which, I assume, Mr. Langone would rightly identify as "Marxism." [my emphasis]
Now, I'm hardly allergic to Marxist perspectives, as any of my numerous posts about the Frankfurt School thinkers can illustrate. And I'm definitely in sympathy with the perspectives of the Pope described here.

But this just gets some history wrong. No St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/25-1274) did not invent the "labor theory of value." Marx' version built on those of the distinctly modern philosophers and political economists Adam Smith (1723-1790) and David Ricardo (1772-1823). Marx also made a clear distinction between chattel slavery, where the workers actually are owned, and wage labor, which Marxists also call wage slavery, in which it is not the case that "the stockholder owns ... the workers," as Bugyis puts it.

A great undergraduate professor of mine, the late Howard Bavender, was my adviser on this now long-ago paper ("Just War Concept and American Churches in the American Antiwar Movement" 1974). As I was trying to sort through the relationship of Catholic theology to dissenting movements, he stressed that while the Church took strong positions on issues of social justice and the just war that at times were in accord with left political positions, the Church had never abandoned its criticism of Marxism on matters where it contradicted the Church's view of the nature of humanity.

In fact, what I wrote where I took his advice on that wasn't bad:

The Roman Catholic Church, in the United States and around the world, had been staunchly opposed to "atheistic Communism" before and after World War II. The American hierarchy continued to speak strongly against Communism even during the wartime alliance with Soviet Russia. Many Roman Catholic churchmen really believed that the United States was threatened by Communism, but they were also interested in acquiring American aid in their world-wide battle with Communist governments, particularly in Eastern Europe where the Soviet Urion attempted to break the political power of the church. ...

However, around the time of Pope John XXIII's ascendancy, Catholic attitudes toward international relations began to change. Pope John issued his encyclical Pacem in Terris, which many Catholics took to be "a clear call for total pacifism in a nuclear age." [1970 quote from Francine du Plessix Gray] Pope John stated in that famous document, as quoted above, that war was unacceptable in the nuclear era. The support of the Catholic Church for such projects as the Cold War against Communism was clearly decreasing, although the Church has never abandoned its opposition to those elements of Communism which challenge the Christian conception of man. This notable decrease in support nevertheless was to be an element in the future Catholic opposition to Vietnam policies in the United States.
It's also important to remember that when the Church has criticized capitalism or aspects of it, that also comes from centuries of theoretical development that has some of its roots in pre-capitalist concepts and economic arrangements, i.e., European feudalism. "Corporate state" arrangements like those in Mussolini's Italy or the Austrian Standestaat of Engelbert Dollfuß and Kurt von Schuschnigg were forms of government with which the Catholic Church of that time were generally comfortable.

The Catholic Church is a worldwide institution that has congregations within the entire spectrum of contemporary forms of government: secular ones and ones with established religions (Christian and otherwise); military and civilian; democracies and dictatorships, and varying degrees of both. The Catholic Church doesn't take the position of American neocons that they shouldn't even have formal conversations with governments they finding displeasing. On the contrary, they are interested in negotiating the best possible arrangements for the Church and its members even in countries hostile to the Catholic Church.

Eduardo Valdés, the Argentine Ambassador to the Vatican, notes that Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of La Habana, has played a key role in the current process of rapprochement between the US and Cuba which the Holy See has helped to mediate. (Premonición Página/12 19.09.2015)

The Catholic News Service provides this description of Fidel Castro's view of Christianity as expressed in a 1985 book of interviews with Fidel in which he positioned himself as supportive of the views of liberation theology: Cathy Lynn Grossman, Christ, Marx and Che: Fidel Castro offers pope his religious views National Catholic Reporter 09/21/2015. Pope Francis has views more friendly to liberation theology than his two immediate predecessors. John Paul II was a bitter opponent of it. Benedict XVI was known before and during his Papacy as generally reactionary on theological and political issues. However, both of them also took positions based on Catholic social teaching (feudal roots and all) that challenged politically conservative positions. They also took pacifist positions at odds with the normal power politics on which the world runs far too much.

Vatican Radio reports on the meeting between Francis and Fidel in Pope Francis meets former Cuban president Fidel Castro 09/20/2015:

Pope Francis gave Castro several books, including one by Italian priest Alessandro Pronzato and another by Spanish Jesuit Segundo Llorentea. The Holy Father also gave him a book and two CDs of his homilies, as well as his two encyclical letters, Lumen Fidei and Laudato si'.

In return, Castro gave Pope Francis an interview book entitled, "Fidel and Religion," written in 1985 by Brazilian priest Frei Betto. The dedication reads: "For Pope Francis, on occasion of his visit to Cuba, with the admiration and respect of the Cuban people."

The head of the Vatican Press Office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said the meeting was "familiar and informal," and the two men spoke about "protecting the environment and the great problems of the contemporary world."

Father Lombardi compared the private encounter to that which took place with Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, saying Fidel Castro asked Pope Benedict many questions, while Sunday's meeting with Pope Francis was "more of a conversation."
Emphasizing some of the differences between the Church and the Cuban regime, Martín Granovsky reports (Ortega, el cardenal de las negociaciones secretas Página/12 19.09.2015):

¿Piensa el cardenal Ortega que el proceso de normalización ya es irreversible? Está en camino a serlo, pero según él “Obama y Raúl tienen enemigos y hay que protegerlos a ambos porque los dos saben que antes de irse todavía tienen mucho que hacer”. Cuando habla de los retos a Raúl, Ortega describe el peso de lo que él llama “ideología”, o sea el resabio del modelo soviético y de la rigidez. Para el cardenal el efecto se nota aún en sectores del Partido Comunista Cubano, en los medios controlados por él, en la TV, la radio y la prensa escrita.

Contó un ejemplo. El periodista Amaury Pérez lo entrevistó para la tele cubana y en vez de la media hora habitual le dio una hora. Era el primer reportaje televisivo en 60 años. El director de TV se opuso. Quería revisar y cortar partes. “La entrevista se pasa sin tocar una coma”, le dijeron a Ortega que fue la frase de Castro. El diálogo se puede ver haciendo click en http://bit.ly/1JCqhe7.

[Does Cardinal think that the process of normalization is now irreversible? It's on the way to being so, according to him: "Obama and Raúl {Castro} have enemies, and we have to protect both of them because the two know that before they leave {the political scene}, there is still a lot to do." When he speaks of Raúl's challenges, Ortega describes the weight of what he calls "ideology," that is, the bad taste of the Soviet model and the rigidity. For the cardinal, the effect can be observed even in sectors of the Cuban Communist Party, in the media controlled by them, in TV, radio and the written press.

He gave an example. The journalist Amaury Pérez interviewed him for Cuban television and gave him an hour instead of the usual half hour. It was the first television report {featuring Ortega?} in 60 years. The TV director opposed it. He wanted to edit it and cut parts. "The interview will air with touching a comma," Ortega was told was the phrase {Raúl} Castro used.]
It's reasonable to assume that when Francis spoke about the problem of "ideology" in Cuba, his meaning was the same or similar to that in which Cardinal Ortega is using it.

In the TV interview referenced, Ortega recounts a conversation he had with Pope Benedict XVI, in which Benedict said that the Church is not in the world to change governments. It's in the world to spread the Gospel. Ortega says it in a context that makes it clear he agrees with that perspective. And he also says that is the perspective of Pope Francis.

Granovsky continues to report on Church-related consequence of the long-standing embargo:

El desafío para la Iglesia es ganar feligreses, sobre todo entre la juventud, y conseguir fondos propios para ayuda humanitaria. Por el bloqueo la Iglesia no puede recibir dólares porque los aportes de afuera son interferidos en algún punto de su curso por Estados Unidos. Ocurrió con fondos regalados por Los Caballeros de Colón, por la Isla de Malta y por grupos irlandeses. Llegaron a Cuba tras operaciones clandestinas e incluso algún obispo debió recorrer el mundo con 200 mil dólares ocultos en una valija. En La Habana no hubo problemas.

[The challenge for the Church is to win parishioners, above all among youth, and obtain its own funds for humanitarian support. Because of the {US} blockade, the Church is not able to receive dollars because donations from outside are intercepted at some point in their course from the United States. That has occurred with funds donated by the Knights of Columbus, from the island of Malta and from Irish groups. They arrived in Cuba after {via} clandestine operations, including one bishop who has said to have traversed the world with $200,000 hidden in a valise. In Havana, he had no problems.]
Meanwhile, columnist George Will prior to the Pope's arrival in the US is griping about the Jesuit Francis defending science on the topic of climate change. (Anthony Annett, On Fact-Free Flamboyance: George Will vs. Pope Francis Commonweal 09/21/2015) Awesome.

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