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« Reply #150 on: Dec 30, 2013, 07:59 AM »

From the epicenter of sadistic capitalism: America

Republicans Go Mad As Pope Francis and President Obama Deliver The Same Economic Message

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, December, 29th, 2013, 4:54 pm   

Charity, as found in Christian theology, was described by Thomas Aquinas as “that which unites us to god” and he considered it “the most excellent of the virtues” explaining “the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” The concept of charity including love of neighbor is anathema to evangelical Christians, and merely mentioning it has created enmity between conservative Christians and Christ’s representative on Earth Pope Francis. Over the past couple of months there is not much the new Pope has said that has not rankled conservatives, evangelical Christians, and even Republican politicians who are self-avowed Catholics. Maybe it is because Americanized Christians have drifted so far-afield from their religion’s namesake and his teachings, or maybe it is hatred for humanity endemic to evangelical Christians, but every utterance from the new Pontiff has elicited varying degrees of condemnation and indignation.

The Pope’s outreach to atheists predictably drove evangelicals mad, and Catholic clergy were shocked he stressed they should devote their time and energy to helping the poor instead of fixating on gays and torturing women for being women. However, what elicited the greatest response from Republicans was his criticism of their religious devotion to “trickle down” economics that, for thirty years, has sent the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth to the richest one-percent of income earners and left the rest of the population struggling to stay out of poverty or wondering where their families’ next meal will come from.

The Republicans’ spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, immediately labeled the Pope a Marxist and all but condemned him to Hell for having the audacity to question America’s economic system that is so tilted toward satisfying the greed of the rich and their corporations. Attention whore Sarah Palin expressed concern that the Pope’s remarks about America’s deification of wealth and greed “sounded kinda’ liberal,” but then again the likes of Palin would assail Jesus Christ for sounding liberal if he returned and preached to help the poor. However, after digesting the Pope’s remarks decrying an economic system that took from the poor to enrich the already wealthy, Republican legislators, especially Catholic Republicans, felt they had to weigh in and give their assessment of a Pope who dared utter an unkind word about their Holy Grail; trickle-down economics.

Catholic Republican lawmakers appear worried that the Pope’s condemnation of their economic agenda upsets their relationship with the church and its support for the party. What is interesting about Republicans’ comments on the Pope’s advocacy for the poor and condemning income inequality is their phony praise for the Pope while asserting he cannot comprehend trickle down’s blessings that helped the poor.  The consensus among conservatives is that the Pope’s criticism of unrestrained free market capitalism and “trickle-down” economics are borne of naïveté and unsupported by the facts that are in-and-of-themselves laughable.

The Republican Party’s face of compassion, advocate for selfishness and greed, and a Catholic, Paul Ryan, said the Pope just does not understand free market capitalism and trickle-down economics enough to “fully appreciate its benefits” for America’s poor. Ryan said, “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina, they have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.” Ryan also said he liked the Pope’s comments and welcomes the debate about the thirty year experiment of giving the nation’s riches to the wealthy and watching the poor and middle class wait for the “trickle-down” effect to begin. He said, “What I love about the pope is he is triggering the exact kind of dialogue we ought to be having.” However, Americans have been having this exact kind of dialogue for three decades and the results are the same today as they were thirty years ago. As the Pope said, trickle-down’s “promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

Fifty million Americans are living in dire poverty, the middle class is vanishing into near poverty, and income inequality destroying this nation has sent over 95% of economic recovery gains to the richest 1% of income earners. The debate is over, and so are conservatives’ contentions that the Pope’s comprehension of “unrestrained free market capitalism and trickle-down economics are borne of naïveté and unsupported by the facts.” Still, it did not stop Republicans from condemning the Pope’s criticism of unrestrained free market capitalism at the same time they welcomed his concern for the poor.

Senator John McCain said, “His economic perspective I’m not particularly enamored with, but his advocacy for the poor, his lifestyle example, his more modern outlook on social issues — I’ve been very impressed.” Republican Peter King, a Catholic said he found the Pope’s reference to trickle-down economics demeaning and off-putting. “I genuinely believe … supply-side economics does more to help people come out of poverty, move up in the world. The guidance I’d take from this is, when I support conservative economics, I should do it in a way that helps the most people.” Republican Senator Pat Toomey suggested the Pope’s new admirers drew the wrong conclusions from his remarks about Republicans’ economic agenda; “He’s entitled to his opinion, but I think we should look carefully at what he’s saying. It’s easy to draw I think what could be mistaken, superficial conclusions from some of the things that he said. I think he’s a wonderful leader for the church.”

What the Pope said cannot be misinterpreted. Any American who is not filthy rich, or a Republican promoting “trickle-down” economics, understands that Republicans tried their superficial economic scam and after thirty years they understand that regardless the wealth flowing up to the richest 1%, nothing has, or will, ever trickle down to the rest of the population. It does not take the Pope, or President Obama for that matter, to tell 98% of the population that Republicans’ economic agenda did not create a nation devastated by income inequality solely because trickle-down economics favors the richest Americans. The people have witnessed Republicans’ regard for the population in the past two months that cut food stamps, sent 1.3 million Americans into poverty by not extending unemployment benefits, and kept 99.6% of their precious sequester cuts in place for nine more years to save the richest Americans from tax loophole reforms to keep the wealth flowing to the top.

The only reason the entire Republican Party has refrained from openly criticizing the Pope as a Marxist, waging class war on the rich, or inciting the “politics of division” like they have President Obama is because his message rings true with the masses and his popularity is off the charts. Make no mistake, if the Pope’s message was not so popular, or did not resonate with the majority of Americans, Republicans would treat him with the same disdain and hatred they reserve for President Obama. What is really curious is that both men are preaching the same economic message and it leads one to wonder; if the Pope was Black would he be given the tepid deference Republicans have afforded him thus far?

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Right-wing biblical illiterates would be shocked by Jesus’ teachings …if they ever picked up a Bible

By CJ Werleman, Alternet
Sunday, December 29, 2013 13:02 EST

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly defended the Republican Party’s spending cuts for SNAP by effectively declaring Jesus would not support food stamps for the poor because most them are drug addicts. If his insensitive remark is inconsistent with Scripture, which it is, then the question becomes why do talking heads on the right get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support?

The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible.

The Right has successfully rebranded the brown-skinned liberal Jew, who gave away free healthcare and was pro-redistributing wealth, into a white-skinned, trickledown, union-busting conservative, for the very fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the most popular book to ever grace the American continent.

More than 95 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Bible. So how much do Americans know of the book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true? Apparently, very little, according to data from the Barna Research group. Surveys show that 60 percent can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.

So, if Americans get an F in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal healthcare, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is.

The truth, whether Republicans like it or not, is not only that Jesus a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors, but conservatives were the ones who had him killed. American conservatives, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular masculine warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did, as a means of combating what they see as the modernization of society.

Author Thom Hartmann writes, “A significant impetus behind the assault on women and modernity was the feeling that women had encroached upon traditional male spheres like the workplace and colleges. Furthermore, women’s leadership in the churches had harmed Christianity by creating an effeminate clergy and a weak sense of self. All of this was associated with liberalism, feminism, women, and modernity.”

It’s almost absurd to speculate what Jesus’ positions would be on any single issue, given we know so little about who Jesus was. Knowing the New Testament is not simply a matter of reading the Bible cover to cover, or memorizing a handful of verses. Knowing the Bible requires a scholarly contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation.

For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program, they quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not. This was taken from a letter written by Paul to his church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that if they didn’t help build the church in Thessalonica, they wouldn’t be paid. The letter also happens to be a fraud. Surprise! Biblical scholars agree it’s a forgery written by someone pretending to be Paul.

What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus’ ghost is said to have ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of Paul, five to the Gospels (whomever wrote Luke also wrote Acts), and the balance remain open for debate i.e. authorship unknown. Jesus himself wrote not a single word of the New Testament. Not a single poem, much less an op-ed article on why, upon reflection, killing your daughter for backchat is probably not sound parenting.

The best argument against a historical Jesus is the fact that none of his disciples left us with a single record or document regarding Jesus or his teachings. So, who were the gospel writers? The short answer is we don’t know. What we do know is that not only had none of them met Jesus, but also they never met the people who had allegedly met Jesus. All we have is a bunch of campfire stories from people who were born generations after Jesus’ supposed crucifixion. In other words, numerous unidentified authors, each with his own theological and ideological motives for writing what they wrote. Thus we have not a single independently verifiable eyewitness account of Jesus—but this doesn’t stop Republicans from speaking on his behalf.

What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount read like the mission statement of the ACLU: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Jesus also said, “Judge not he who shall not be judged,” and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor.”

So, when Republicans accuse Obama of being a brown-skinned socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth, they’re thinking of Jesus. Stephen Colbert joked, “Jesus was always flapping his gums about the poor but never once did he call for a tax cut for the wealthiest 2 percent of Romans.”

Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed the Republican Party to get away with shaping Jesus into their image. That’s why politicians on the right can get away with saying the Lord commands that our healthcare, prisons, schools, retirement, transport, and all the rest should be run by corporations for profit. Ironically, the Republican Jesus was actually a devout atheist—Ayn Rand—who called the Christian religion “monstrous.” Rand advocated selfishness over charity, and she divided the world into makers versus takers. She also stated that followers of her philosophy had to chose between Jesus and her teachings. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for healthcare, education and the poor, they’re actually channeling Ayn Rand. When Bill O’Reilly claims the poor are immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s Ayn Rand.

The price this country has paid for biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward Ayn Rand’s utopia. In the past three decades, we’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. Rand would be smiling down from the heaven she didn’t believe in.

With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party—the Christian Right—will continue to perpetuate the biblically incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all, Tea Party American version of Christianity.


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« Reply #151 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Home Depot founder worries Pope Francis neither loves nor understands rich Americans

By Scott Kaufman
RawStory
Monday, December 30, 2013 22:39 EST

In an interview on CNBC on Monday, Home Depot founder and devout Catholic Ken Langone said that the Pope’s statements about capitalism have left many potential “capitalist benefactors” wary of donating to the Church or its fundraising projects.

According to Langone, an anonymous, “potential seven-figure donor” for the Church’s restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is concerned that the Pope’s criticism of capitalism are “exclusionary,” especially his statements about the “culture of prosperity” leading to the wealthy being “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”

Langone said he’s raised this issue with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who yesterday praised Pope Francis for “shattering the caricature of the Church.”

“I’ve told the Cardinal,” Langone said, “‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.’”

Cardinal Dolan told CNBC that he had, in fact, spoken to Langone, and had told him that “that would be a misunderstanding of the Holy Father’s message. The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people.”

He then thanked Langone for bringing this anonymous donor’s concerns to him, and insisted that


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« Reply #152 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Archbishop of Canterbury backs Pope Francis as Time's Person of the Year

Justin Welby says the pope is 'an extraordinary man' who has changed the direction of the Catholic church

Press Association
theguardian.com, Tuesday 31 December 2013 12.01 GMT      

The archbishop of Canterbury has supported Time magazine's decision to name Pope Francis as its Person of the Year.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Justin Welby described the pope, who he met earlier this year, as "an extraordinary man".

"I think it is fair to say the Catholic church is 20 times bigger than the entire Anglican Communion and I wouldn't want to compare ourselves, or myself, to him in any way at all," he said.

"The pope has been hugely effective – he is an extraordinary man, quite brilliant in what he does. He has changed the sense of direction and purpose of the Catholic church with his personal example and his words."

Welby warned of a change in attitude towards the Christian faith but said he is extremely hopeful for the future of the Church of England.

The Church was falling in numbers but there were also signs of growth in many places throughout the country, the archbishop said.

He added that even non-believers were telling him that the C of E was acting as a glue holding communities together in many places.

"I am extremely hopeful about the future of the church for a number of reasons. The first is because we rely on God and not our own efforts, and secondly because there are signs of growth in many places and particularly at the local level," he told Today.

"There is a lot of change happening; there is a lot of new progress and a lot of momentum," he said.
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« Reply #153 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:13 AM »


Pope Francis is a whistleblower for the poor. Thank you Time for recognising it

Snowden showed us the educated and wealthy aren't entirely free. Francis reminds us the poor aren't even given a chance

Chris Arnade   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 December 2013 19.15 GMT   
       
Edward Snowden was not chosen as Time magazine's Person of the Year, and for this many in the media are outraged.

Instead Time chose Pope Francis, a man who in the last year has been transforming the Catholic church by focusing on the searing inequalities brought about by poverty. In one of his many poignant quotes recently, he asks:

    How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?

His stunning 224-page "Apostolic Exhortation" is a treatise on the corrosive effects of capitalism and a call for empathy. It is a must read, whether you are Catholic or not:

    Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

I keep going back to the line "those wielding economic power". They are the ones who have come to dominate our society, a society that over the last 40 years has slowly ceded to the ideology of free markets.

When I worked on Wall Street in the 90s, I traveled for business to Pope Francis's home country of Argentina. I was one of many foreigners there to tell them how they needed to reform their country, open it up to the free markets. They did embrace the free markets. That worked well until it didn't, ending in a massive crash in 2001. Poverty rates climbed during that period.

We bankers would travel in taxis, past the slums that ringed the city center of Buenos Aires. No banker went in there. It was said to be too dangerous. Instead we moved around numbers on a spreadsheet, numbers that represented people. Pope Francis did go into the slums. Regularly. He saw what we didn't. As he wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation: "Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded."

The victory of the free markets has made empathy a bad word. It certainly is on Wall Street. You can't make money if you start asking how it is made, who is being hurt, and who is being left behind.

So rather than look at those left behind, those wielding economic power have slipped further into their world of technology and luxury. Surrounding themselves by technological walls to complement the physical walls.

Snowden has reminded us that those technological walls have cracks. That nobody is completely free. It is a big revelation, but it's something those living in poverty have viscerally known from birth. They know that many in this world are never even given a chance of freedom.

Pope Francis asks that all of us, especially those wielding economic power, start looking at the destructive effects of our current idolatry of money and rationality. Get out of the technology cocoon and see what – who – has been left behind:

    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.

Snowden is combating the creeping influence of state power into technology. The Pope is combating the complete takeover of society by free markets, the resulting death of empathy, and ultimately the soullessness of our current culture.

I have spent past three years with many people living in the poorest parts of the Bronx neighborhood in New York City. One night, soon after the Snowden story broke, I was in a crack house taking pictures of addicts by candlelight. I asked one of them if I could post her picture online. "Not if it's Facebook. The government owns that and are spying on you."

Her friend replied, "Of course they are, you idiot. They are also throwing me against the wall whenever they want. They are breaking down my house whenever they want. They are throwing all of our kids and men in jail whenever they want. And people are upset they looking at a Facebook page?"

Poverty has a way of searing into you, from birth, recognition of the injustices of our society.

Time magazine got it right. Maybe it really was the better business decision, a way to sell more magazines. If so, that says a lot. Pope Francis has made stories of injustice profitable.

That alone should make him the person of the year.
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« Reply #154 on: Jan 01, 2014, 09:19 AM »

Wealthy Americans Prove Pope Francis’ Point by Threatening Economic Blackmail

By: Hrafnkell
PoliticusUSA
Wednesday, January, 1st, 2014, 7:23 am   

It should – and the operative word here is should - come as no surprise that if Pope Francis is conveying Jesus’ message, it should contain scant regard for the concerns of the rich. After all, Jesus himself, the poor Jew from small-town Galilee, had nothing at all good to say about the rich. And, in point of fact, he said that in order to follow him, a rich person must give up everything they own (Mark 10:21; Matt. 19:21; Luke 18:22). This is hardly a message rich people at any time in history have wanted to hear.

So Home Depot founder Ken Langone, a Catholic, was on shaky theological ground when, on Monday, he complained to CNBC that the Pope is being mean to rich Americans because unlike rich people in other countries, American rich people are benefactors. Langone, who is worth an estimated $2.1 billion, says there is a “vast difference between the pope’s experience in Argentina and how we are in America.” CNBC even helpfully cites the right wing American Enterprise Institute to say that “In places like Argentina, what they call free enterprise is a combination of socialism and crony capitalism.”

I’m not sure which is worse: CNBC citing the AEI or failing to point out that the AEI is a conservative think tank and therefore disinclined to say anything negative about American capitalism.

Langone’s lament is born of this same denialism: that the Pope’s focus on economic inequality and the poor is off-putting to what he calls “capitalist benefactors,” and he cites the case of a “potential seven-figure donor” for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, who has been made hesitant by, as CNBC puts it, “statements from the pope criticizing market economies as ‘exclusionary,’ urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a ‘culture of prosperity’ that leads some to become ‘incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.’”

Langone took his concerns to Cardinal Timothy Dolan:

“I’ve told the Cardinal, “Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.’”

Dolan assured Langone that the pope loves rich people too.

Watch courtesy of CNBC:

One of us might look at this and say, “so Langone doesn’t want Pope Francis to tell the truth about capitalism.” Not only that, but how this comes across is as a sort of economic blackmail: you continue saying irresponsible things about the sincerity of rich people’s Christianity, then those rich people will show you exactly how they feel about turning the other cheek by withholding the funds to rebuild cathedrals. In other words, if you want our money, lie about capitalism, or, at the very least, stop telling the truth.

Oh wait…economic blackmail was not part of Jesus’ message, was it? No, and it is doubtful Jesus would have had anything positive to say about such tactics, which seem only to reinforce his criticisms of worldly wealth.

In fact, for some 2,000 years the biggest problem facing rich people has been how to “be” Christians without BEING Christians, if you know what I mean. The Republican Party has solved this problem in the simplest possible way: by restructuring Jesus’ gospel and turning his teachings about rich and poor on their head. Now rather than blessing the poor, Jesus is a capitalist’s capitalist who blesses the rich. Naturally, many capitalists are less than enthusiastic about the emergence of a Pope who seems to actually know what Jesus’ original message was, and not only takes it seriously, but is busily repeating it to all and sundry.

We should inquire here if American capitalism a net plus for people, say, in comparison to the Argentinean variety. Sure, as CNBC points out, “The United States ranks No. 1 in the Charities Aid Foundation’s most recent World Giving Index, with proportionally more Americans giving than the population of any other country.” But rich people donating to charities is not in itself a defense of American capitalism, especially when donations to charities are tax deductible.

It takes nothing away from Langone’s own well-attested philanthropy to point out that, for example, Robert Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot received an obscene $131.2 million in 2006, including a $20 million severance payment in what Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch observed in 2007 “has been called the poster child of excessive executive pay and has prompted legislative steps toward reining in compensation.” That such compensation is not a thing of the past is demonstrated (as reported here in 2011) by Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally’s pay package of $54.5 million. At the same time it was being reported that, “The owner of USA Today increased its CEO’s pay package by 80 percent to $7.9 million last year amid cutbacks in the struggling newspaper industry.”

Meanwhile, any increase AT ALL in minimum wage has been vigorously opposed. It should also be noted in this context that Home Depot was one of those corporations opposing, with Walmart, Washington D.C.’s Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would have required retailers to pay employees a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, hardly a princely sum or even, as it is often called, a “living wage,” particularly when stood alongside a its CEO’s hundred million plus.

As Barney Frank said this fall on Meet the Press,

    I do want to add one thing though to your question about those poor beleaguered bankers who have been forced to do so much to keep from not being able to pay their debts, that they can’t lend money. If they really are running businesses that are so stressed that they can’t do their basic work, why are they paying themselves so much money?

Or perhaps excessive CEO pay in the corporate world and on Wall Street is just another form of philanthropy that should be blessed by the pope, even as these same people advocate paying the average American worker starvation wages, not to mention their resistance to offering female executives equal pay?

These facts provide a clearer picture of American capitalism, a system in which crony capitalism plays no small part, whatever the AEI might pretend to the contrary (look at Wall Street). In America, as in Argentina, crony capitalism is how things get done.

I am not going too far out on a limb to say that if Langone wants us to believe that capitalism, as practiced in America, is benign, he is being hopelessly naive, or he thinks we are.

All these criticisms of Pope Francis and economics come back to Jesus. As Geza Vermes writes of Jesus’ message,

    The pious Jew wanted to find out how to inherit eternal life, or in other words, the Kingdom of God (see Mark 9:43-47; Matt. 18:8-9). Jesus’ succinct answer was a summary appeal to the Decalogue, the religious and moral kernal of the Jewish religion (Mark 10:18; Matt. 19:17; Luke 18:20). Its observance was to be followed by the surrender of worldly good and entry into the company of those who were working under the leadership of Jesus for the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:21; Matt. 19:21; Luke 18:22).[1]

The principle elucidated here, says Vermes, “is [the] absolute priority to be granted to the search for God, and the necessity to sever oneself from every attachment to wealth and all other secular values (Mark 10:23, 25; Matt. 19:23-24; Luke 18:24-25).” It is safe to say from observations of American capitalism in action, if not every rich person, that these principles are not being followed. Offshore bank accounts, tax dodging and the quest for tax loopholes – not to mention CEO compensation – do not demonstrate a detachment from wealth and secular values, but rather a pursuit of wealth and secular values.

Langone’s anonymous benefactor might be able to coerce the Catholic Church through his behavior but his withholding of funds does not improve the reputation of the rich or of capitalism, and more critically, economic blackmail is hardly an activity in which “benefactors” can be said to engage. If anything, Langone’s benefactor is proving the Pope’s point.

Notes:

[1] Geza Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus (Penguin Books, 2003), 287.


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« Reply #155 on: Jan 03, 2014, 10:48 AM »

Pope Francis condemns fundamentalism, urges setting an example over proselytizing

By Eric W. Dolan
RawStory
Friday, January 3, 2014 11:29 EST

Pope Francis recently urged the faithful to understand reality by looking at it “from the periphery” in order to avoid becoming fundamentalists.

Francis meet with 120 superiors general of men’s religious orders at the Vatican in November. His comments were published Friday by La Civiltà Cattolica, a Rome-based Jesuit weekly.

“I am convinced of one thing: the great changes in history were realized when reality was seen not from the center but rather from the periphery,” the pope said.

To look at something from the periphery, the pope explained, meant analyzing reality through a variety of viewpoints, rather than filtering all experience through a centralized ideology.

“It is not a good strategy to be at the center of a sphere,” he said. “To understand we ought to move around, to see reality from various viewpoints. We ought to get used to thinking.”

“I often refer to a letter of Father Pedro Arrupe, who had been General of the Society of Jesus,” the pope continued. “It was a letter directed to the Centros de Investigación y Acción Social (CIAS). In this letter Father Arrupe spoke of poverty and said that some time of real contact with the poor is necessary.”

“This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life – experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.”

La Civilità Cattolica noted that Francis expressed similar sentiments in his Evangelii guadium regarding globalization.

The world needs to move towards unity without embracing centralism and crushing individualism, he wrote in the document, which was published in November.

“Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness.”

Francis also encouraged the leaders of men’s religious orders to “wake up the world.” He said the Church should grow through “attraction” rather than proselytization.

“Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world,” he said.
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« Reply #156 on: Jan 04, 2014, 06:43 AM »

Thomas Cahill: Conservatives are afraid of pope’s ‘pure Christianity,’ not ‘pure Marxism’

By Travis Gettys
RawStory
Friday, January 3, 2014 15:18 EST

Conservatives are less concerned with the new pope’s politics than they are with his religious teachings, said scholar and author Thomas Cahill.

Republicans, including right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, have criticized comments made by Pope Francis about unfettered free market economies and the lack of concern in capitalist societies for the poor.

“They’re not really afraid of ‘pure Marxism,’” Cahill said, quoting one of Limbaugh’s complaints. “They might be more afraid of ‘pure Christianity,’ which it sounds to me like what he’s spouting.”

Cahill appeared Dec. 27 on “Moyers and Company.”

Pope Francis has spoken “about the absolute necessity” of caring for the poor, Cahill said, which he said was “a necessary part of the Christian message.”

“If you don’t have that, you’re talking about something else,” said Cahill, the author of Jesus’ Little Instruction Book and a biography of Pope John XXIII.

He said the U.S. was going through a crisis that was partially political and partially religious that resulted in Catholic conservatives such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) championing the market over morals.

“(Ryan is) in favor of capitalism without any room for people who are being left behind,” Cahill said.

The author disputed that Pope Francis opposed capitalism, but he said the pontiff was following the teachings of Jesus.

“That’s his model, obviously,” Cahill said. “It sure as hell isn’t Paul Ryan’s model or Rush Limbaugh’s model or any of these guys. They would like to muffle real Christianity as much as possible.”

He defined “real Christianity” by reciting the opening verses of Matthew 5 – “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (and) blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

“The words of Jesus have nothing to do with aggressive economics,” Cahill said.

Pope Francis was most concerned about Christians who were fixated on doctrine at the expense of people.

“It’s not just driving conservatives crazy; it’s driving crazy the people who can only see things one way,” Cahill said. “More than political conservatives, they’re psychological types, and they’re psychological types with religion. Anyone who grew up in any religion knows these people.”

These fixations on doctrine were rooted in an essential part of human nature, Cahill said, alluding to the books he’s written on the Bible and religious figures and his series on Western civilization.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only two movements in the world,” Cahill said. “One is kindness, and the other is cruelty. I don’t think there’s anything else, really.”

This cruelty manifested itself in religion as exclusion, he said.

“That’s not how Jesus spoke,” Cahill said. “Jesus is the one who lifted the weeping prostitute off the floor and said, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.’ He had no problem with sexual deviance of any kind. It’s we who have that problem.”
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« Reply #157 on: Jan 04, 2014, 06:45 AM »

Nuns in Spain surprised to find call from Pope Francis on their answering machine

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 3, 2014 15:46 EST

A group of nuns in Spain got a New Year surprise when they checked their answerphone machine to discover they had missed a call from the Pope, who left a message asking why they didn’t pick up.

“What can the nuns be doing that stops them answering the phone?” said Pope Francis, chuckling, in the message he left on New Year’s Eve for the Barefoot Carmelites of Lucena, aired on Spanish radio on Friday.

“This is Pope Francis,” he went on. “I wanted to give you New Year’s greetings. I’ll see if I can reach you later. God bless you.”

The prioress of the convent, Sister Adriana, told COPE radio station she and the four other nuns were not listening for the phone because they were busy at their midday prayers.

She said the Pope was an old friend of some of the nuns in their group, who, like him, come from Argentina.

They now run the convent in a working class suburb of Lucena, a town near Cordoba in southern Spain.

“When my duties allowed me to go to the phone, I literally wanted to die” on hearing the missed message, Adriana said.

“I took down the message and passed it on to the other nuns. We told ourselves we had just been fulfilling our duty of prayer. We never thought the Pope would remember us.”

She frantically called a bishop and other contacts to try and return the call to the Vatican, without success, but Francis called back and managed to talk to the nuns in the evening.

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« Reply #158 on: Jan 06, 2014, 06:23 AM »

Pope Francis calls for fresh Church approach to children of LGBT parents

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 5, 2014 11:56 EST

Pope Francis has called for a rethink in the way the Catholic Church deals with the children of gay couples and divorced parents, warning against “administering a vaccine against faith”.

“On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand,” Francis said in a speech to the Catholic Union of Superiors General in November, extracts of which were published on Italian media websites on Saturday.

“The number of children in schools whose parents have separated is very high,” he said, adding that family make-ups were also changing.

“I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: ‘my mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me’,” he was quoted as saying.

The pontiff said educational leaders should ask themselves “how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?”

“We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them,” the 77-year-old added.

Though the Church has often been in conflict with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community over its opposition to same-sex marriage and to homosexuality, Francis has drawn praise for attempts to be inclusive.

In July he reached out to gays, declaring that “if someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”

And in December, the Advocate magazine — dedicated to the gay and lesbian community — chose the head of the Catholic Church as the “single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people.”

The reform-minded pontiff has also called an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops next year to discuss the Church’s position with regard to the family, which is expected to address among other issues the problem of divorcees remarrying and children of divorced parents.

***************

Pope Francis to make first visit to Holy Land on May 24-26, 2014

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 5, 2014 11:19 EST

Pope Francis said Sunday he will make his first trip to the Holy Land, visiting Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem from May 24 to 26.

“In the climate of joy typical of this Christmas period, I would like to announce that from May 24 to 26, God willing, I will carry out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” Francis told crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square for the traditional Angelus prayer.

Francis said the date of the announcement — January 5 — was significant because it “commemorates the historic meeting between pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople”, 50 years ago.

Their meeting in 1964 in Jerusalem led to the rescinding of the excommunications of 1054 that caused the Great Schism between the churches of the East and West.

During the visit, the pontiff said he would hold an “ecumenical meeting with all the representatives of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem” at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem, venerated as the place where Jesus was buried.

Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who said he would “walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ”.

The 77-year-old pontiff has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East. During his meeting with Abbas, he called for “a just and lasting solution” to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The pontiff’s visit had been anticipated by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which said Francis would celebrate a high mass in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The daily said Israeli authorities were unhappy with the brevity of the visit and the fact that the prelate will not celebrate mass in Israel, but in the West Bank, in the Palestinian territories.

Francis made no mention of plans to hold a mass in Bethlehem in his Sunday announcement.

Unconfirmed information from Roman Catholic sources in the Holy Land had earlier indicated a possible papal visit to a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan.

The Argentine pontiff’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2009.

Israel and the Vatican first established full diplomatic relations in 1993, but have been engaged in years of thorny diplomatic negotiations over property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic Church, which have yet to be fully resolved.

The Vatican used the term “State of Palestine” for the first time in January 2013.

The news of the pope’s trip came as US Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Middle East to push a framework for peace talks and broker negotiations which resumed in July after a three-year hiatus.

The Palestinians want borders based on the 1967 lines that existed before the Six-Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank, including now annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

But Israel wants to retain existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory since then.


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« Reply #159 on: Jan 09, 2014, 05:24 AM »

Pope Francis preaches tolerance, yet gay teachers like Mark Zmuda get fired

By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Wednesday, January 8, 2014 12:02 EST

Have you heard the one about the gay teacher who was being fired for marrying his male partner, then was told he could possibly stay on if he got a divorce? This may sound like a joke – in theory the church is equally opposed to both divorce and gay marriage – but it was an actual suggestion made to Mark Zmuda, a vice principal at the Eastside Catholic School in Seattle, Washington, who was being forced to resign from his job a few weeks ago when school administrators learned that he is both married and gay.

Zmuda didn’t go for the divorce option and was terminated despite a barrage of protest led by the school’s mostly Catholic student body. It’s unlikely (since he has refused to stop being gay) that the teacher will be reinstated, but the incident has exposed, in a very public way, the church’s willingness to be flexible on some of its principles (divorce sort of OK), while remaining totally rigid on others (gay marriage definitely not OK). More importantly, the ongoing protests surrounding Zmuda’s dismissal should make it clear to the church that singling out gay people for special (mis)treatment is not something many Catholics are prepared to go on tolerating.

In fact, just yesterday Eastside Catholic School announced that freelance drama coach Stephanie Merrow, who is engaged to another woman, is “welcome” to continue working at the school. The school is now looking for ways to prevent the Zmuda controversy from happening again.

Zmuda married his long term partner last summer, just seven months after it became legal to do so in Washington state. He continued working without incident at the school until December, when some colleagues apparently alerted school administrators of his marriage. Almost immediately after this transgression was discovered (getting married to someone you love while gay counts as a pretty major transgression in Catholic land), Zmuda was out of a job. Legal experts say the school acted within their rights – as an administrator in the school, he was obliged to abide by Catholic teachings. But while his termination may satisfy doctrinal purists, it has caused distress and confusion to many Catholics (including Zmuda himself) who are unable to reconcile the so-called Christian ethos of the church with what they apparently see as a very un-Christian act.

Since the dismissal became public, students at the school – at least some of whom must be practicing Catholics – have been staging protest rallies, sit-ins and started an online campaign to have their teacher reinstated. Even many faculty members, including the school’s president, Sister Mary Tracy, were ambivalent about the need to let go a competent and popular teacher. In a video interview with a former student, Zmuda spoke of how his colleagues stood by him the day they were told he would be leaving his job, and spent over an hour trying to come up with options that would prevent his departure. It was Sister Mary Tracy who brought up the possibility of his getting a divorce, a suggestion she later regretted but “owned”. As she explained to Seattle King5 News:

I suggested to dissolve the marriage to save his job. I was trying to hang onto him.

Ultimately, it was the Archdiocese, not the school, who made the decision that Zmuda had to go, so her efforts were in vain.

Sister Mary Tracy, most of the faculty at the school, and most of the student body are not the only local Catholics who are uncomfortable with how Zmuda was treated for being gay. Seattle’s newly elected mayor, Ed Murray, who also happens to be Catholic, gay and married, has spoken out at the protest rallies. Two other Seattle-based Catholics, Barbara Guzzo and Kirby Brown penned an op-ed for the Seattle Times calling for the teacher’s immediate reinstatement. In it, they pointed out that if the church were to fire every employee who failed to abide by Catholic doctrine (the more than 90% of practicing Catholics who use contraceptives for starters), it would be a very short-staffed institution.

In the past two years, more than 12 gay employees of Catholic institutions have lost their jobs for getting married or supporting marriage equality. One of these employees, Carla Hale, a teacher for 19 years at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, was sacked shortly after her mother’s funeral, when parents of one of her students objected to seeing her female partner’s name listed in the obituary notice. The particularly unkind way in which Hale was subsequently dismissed sparked a literal “halestorm” of protest similar to the one currently brewing for Zmuda. But the church still refused to reinstate her (Hale has since announced a settlement with the diocese).

The church will continue to ignore the protests of many in its flock surrounding terminations of employees like Hale and Zmuda, but it will do so at its peril. One of Zmuda’s former students summed up the growing discomfort among some Catholics regarding the unequal treatment of gay people in a tweet to his holiness Pope Francis, or as he is better known on twitter, @Pontifex:

Hey big guy, we need you over here in Washington. A teacher is being fired for love.

So far, the pope, who was named Man of the Year by Advocate, a prominent gay news magazine, has not weighed in on this particular situation or on any of the firings. This is a bit disappointing in light of his comments to reporters last year that “if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge”? Francis also stated recently that the church had “locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules”, and needed to start treating gay people with compassion and respect.

But the pope ought to know that words are meaningless if not followed by meaningful action, and none has yet been taken. For now at least, it’s people like Zmuda who are burning while Rome continues to fiddle. As more Catholics turn up the heat in protest, someday soon, the churches unkind and outdated policies are bound to backfire.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
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« Reply #160 on: Jan 12, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Pope Names 19 New Cardinals, Focusing on the Poor

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JAN. 12, 2014, 6:48 A.M. E.S.T.   

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has named his first batch of cardinals, choosing 19 men from Asia, Africa, North and South America and elsewhere, including Haiti and Burkino Faso, to reflect his attention to the poor.

Francis made the announcement Sunday as he spoke from his studio window to a crowd in St. Peter's Square.

Sixteen of the appointees are younger than 80, meaning they are eligible to elect the next pope, which is a cardinal's most important task.

The ceremony to formally install them as cardinals will be held Feb. 22 at the Vatican.
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« Reply #161 on: Jan 13, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Pope's Choice of New Cardinals Puts Emphasis on Poor

January 12, 2014
World New

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis put his first stamp on the group at the top of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on Sunday, naming 19 new cardinals from around the world and emphasizing his concern for poor countries.
 
Sixteen of them are “cardinal electors” under 80 and thus eligible to enter a conclave to elect a pope. They come from Italy, Germany, Britain, Nicaragua, Canada, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Chile, Burkina Faso, the Philippines and Haiti.
 
Half of them are non-Europeans, indicating the importance Francis attaches to the developing world. Francis is the first Latin American pope and the first non-European pontiff in some 1,300 years.
 
Cardinals are the pope's closest advisers in the Vatican and around the world. Apart from being church leaders in their home countries, those who are not based in the Vatican are members of key committees in Rome that decide policies that can affect the lives of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
 
Vatican

    Pietro Parolin, Titular Archbishop of Acquapendente, Secretary of State
    Lorenzo Baldisseri, Titular Archbishop of Diocleziana, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops
    Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Archbishop-Bishop emeritus of Regensburg, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
    Beniamino Stella, Titular Archbishop of Midila, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy     

Europe

    Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, United Kingdom
    Loris Francesco Capovilla, Titular Archbishop of Mesembria (Bulgaria)
    Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, C.M.F., Archbishop emeritus of Pamplona (Spain)
    Gualtiero Bassetti, Archbishop of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, Italy

Latin America

    Leopoldo Jose Brenes Solorzano, Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua
    Orani Joao Tempesta, O.Cist., Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Mario Aurelio Poli, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, S.D.B., Archbishop of Santiago del Cile, Chile

North America & Caribbean

    Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec, Canada
    Chibly Langlois, Bishop of Les Cayes, Haiti
    Kelvin Edward Felix, Archbishop emeritus of Castries (Saint Lucia)

Africa

    Jean-Pierre Kutwa, Archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast
    Philippe Nakellentuba Ouedraogo, Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Asia

    Andrew Yeom Soo jung, Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea   
    Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines

The new cardinal electors are aged from 55 to 74. From Latin America are Archbishop Aurelio Poli, 66, Francis's successor in the Argentine capital, and the archbishops of Managua in Nicaragua, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Santiago in Chile.
 
Two are from Africa - the archbishops of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Abidjan in Ivory Coast. From Asia are the archbishops of Seoul in South Korea and Cotabato in the Philippines.
 
Archbishop Chibly Langlois, 55, is the first cardinal from Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where according to the World Bank some 80 percent of the rural population lives in abject poverty.
 
The Philippines, Nicaragua, Ivory Coast and Brazil also have high rates of poverty.
 
A poor church
 
“The winner here is the South of the world,” said Andrea Tornielli, who has written some 50 books on the Catholic Church and interviewed Pope Francis last month.
 
“The geography of the consistory helps the churches of the world, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia. What is also noteworthy is the pope's attention to the Church in Haiti, a country that is on its knees because of the (2010) earthquake and poverty,” Tornielli said.
 
The pope, who made the announcement to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday blessing, has often said since his election on March 13 he wants a church that “is poor and for the poor”.
 
“The disproportionate representation of wealthy nations in the College of Cardinals is something that Francis is trying to rectify,” said Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Notre Dame University in the United States.
 
“The movement of cardinals to the south was just as predictable as the migration of birds in the winter.”
 
Only four of the cardinal electors are Vatican officials, chief among them Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, Francis's new secretary of state, and Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, 66, the German head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation.
 
The most prominent European elector from outside Italy is Archbishop Vincent Nichols, 68, the Archbishop of Westminster in London and the main link between Catholicism and the Anglican Church.
 
The three who are 80 or over will assume the title cardinal emeritus as a sign of gratitude for their work for the Catholic Church and will not be able to enter a conclave. They come from Spain, Italy and the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia.


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« Reply #162 on: Jan 13, 2014, 06:57 AM »


Pope Francis encourages mothers to breastfeed - even in the Sistine Chapel

Pontiff tells families at special papal baptism that they should not stand on ceremony if their children are in need of food

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Sunday 12 January 2014 22.48 GMT   

He is 77, celibate, and occupies a role that tends to entail at least a modicum of prudishness. But Pope Francis is nonetheless emerging as an unlikely champion of public breastfeeding, encouraging mothers to tend to their babies – even in front of him and, possibly, in the Sistine Chapel.

Beneath Michelangelo's beloved ceiling on Sunday, the Argentinian pontiff told families who had brought their offspring to him for a special papal baptism that they should not stand on ceremony if the children were in need of food. "If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice," he said, smiling. "Because they are the most important people here."

On this occasion Francis did not use the verb "breastfeed". But he had already expressed an uncommonly down-to-earth approach to the practice in an interview with La Stampa last month. Recounting an encounter with a mother and her wailing newborn son at a general audience, he said he told her to feed him then and there. "She was modest," he recalled. "She didn't want to breastfeed in public as the pope was going past."


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« Reply #163 on: Jan 14, 2014, 06:20 AM »

Pope Francis: Hungry children and abortion both symptoms of a ‘throwaway culture’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 13, 2014 12:38 EST

Pope Francis on Monday issued his strongest condemnation yet of abortion, calling it a symptom of a “throwaway culture” that placed too little value on human life.

The pope, who has focused more on social issues such as poverty than on abortion since becoming pontiff in March, said it was “frightful” to think about the early termination of pregnancy.

Francis made the remarks in a wide-ranging speech to the Vatican diplomatic corps in which he condemned violence in Syria and other flashpoints around the world, saying peace was threatened by “every denial of human dignity”.

“We cannot be indifferent to those suffering from hunger, especially children, when we think of how much food is wasted every day in many parts of the world immersed in what I have often termed ‘the throwaway culture’,” the pope said.

“Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary’. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day.”

Pope Francis has spoken out on abortion far less than his predecessor Benedict XVI, and drew criticism from some conservative Catholics when he us.
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« Reply #164 on: Jan 14, 2014, 06:24 AM »

Pope With the Humble Touch Is Firm in Reshaping the Vatican

By JASON HOROWITZ and JIM YARDLEYJAN. 13, 2014
IHT

VATICAN CITY — Less than a year into his papacy, Pope Francis has raised expectations among the world’s one billion Roman Catholics that change is coming. He has already transformed the tone of the papacy, confessing himself a sinner, declaring “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays, and kneeling to wash the feet of inmates, including Muslims.

Less apparent, if equally significant for the future of the church, is how Francis has taken on a Vatican bureaucracy so plagued by intrigue and inertia that it contributed, numerous church officials now believe, to the historic resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, last February.

Francis’ reign may not ultimately affect centuries-old church doctrine, but it is already reshaping the way the church is run and who is running it. Francis is steadily subbing moderates for traditionalists as the church prepares for a debate about the role of far-flung bishops in Vatican decision-making and a broad discussion on the family that could touch on delicate issues such as homosexuality and divorce.

In St. Peter’s Basilica on New Year’s Eve, Francis, dressed in golden robes, hinted at the major changes he had already set in motion. “What happened this year?” he asked. “What is happening, and what will happen?”

To some of the scarlet-clad cardinals seated in rows of gilded armchairs at the New Year’s service, the answer was becoming clear. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, one of the highest-ranking Americans in the Vatican, found his influence diluted. Another conservative, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, was demoted. Among the bishops, Archbishop Guido Pozzo was sidelined.

To some degree, Francis, 77, is simply bringing in his own team and equipping it to carry out his stated mission of creating a more inclusive and relevant church that is more sensitive to the needs of local parishes and the poor. But he is also breaking up the rival blocs of Italians with entrenched influence in the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the church. He is increasing financial transparency in the murky Vatican Bank and upending the career ladder that many prelates have spent their lives climbing.

On Sunday, Francis made his first mark on the exclusive College of Cardinals that will elect his successor by naming prelates who in many cases hail from developing countries and the Southern Hemisphere. He pointedly instructed the new cardinals not to consider the job a promotion or to waste money with celebratory parties.

“It was an important year,” said Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s second-ranking official and one of only four Vatican officials Francis will make a cardinal in February. Asked in a New Year’s Eve interview about the personnel changes, he replied that it was only natural that the Argentine pope should prefer to have “certain people who are able to advance his policy.”

Interviews with cardinals, bishops, priests, Vatican officials, Italian politicians, diplomats and analysts indicate that the mood inside the Vatican ranges from adulation to uncertainty to deep anxiety, even a touch of paranoia. Several people say they fear Francis is going department by department looking for heads to roll. Others whisper about six mysterious Jesuit spies who act as the pope’s eyes and ears on the Vatican grounds. Mostly, once-powerful officials feel out of the loop.

“It’s awkward,” said one senior Vatican official, who, like many others, insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution from Francis. “Many are saying, what are we doing this for?” He said some officials had stopped showing up for meetings. “It’s like frustrated teenagers closing the door and putting their headphones on.”

Francis remains tricky to define, a doctrinal conservative whose humble style and symbolic gestures have thrilled many liberals. On Christmas, the destitute poured into an ancient church in Rome for a holiday lunch sponsored by a Catholic lay organization. The group’s founder, Andrea Riccardi, once a liaison to the church when he served as an Italian government minister, expressed hopes for change, but also wariness about Vatican officials ignoring the pope’s agenda.

“You hear people talk about it in the corridors of the church,” Mr. Riccardi said. “The real resistance is to continue business as usual.”

Four days earlier, Francis met with the Curia in the Sala Clementina, the 16th-century reception hall in the Apostolic Palace, to deliver one of the most important papal speeches of the year. Benedict used his last such Christmas address to denounce same-sex marriage. Francis used his first to castigate his own colleagues in the Curia.

He warned the men in red and purple skullcaps and black cassocks arrayed around him that the Curia risked drifting “downwards towards mediocrity” and becoming “a ponderous, bureaucratic customhouse.” He also called on the prelates to be “conscientious objectors” to gossip.

Not New to the Battle

It was a pointed rebuke of the poisonous atmosphere that had troubled Benedict’s papacy, and for which the former secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was often blamed. And it was a reminder that Francis, if a new pope, was not new to the machinations of the Curia, having tangled while in Argentina with a powerful conservative faction.

“He was not an ingénue coming out into the world,” said Elisabetta Piqué, an Argentine journalist who has known Francis for more than two decades and whose recent book, “Francis: Life and Revolution,” documented his past clashes with Rome. “He had had almost a war with this section of the Roman Curia.”

Now Francis talks disparagingly of “airport bishops” who are more interested in their careers than flocks, and warns that priests can become “little monsters” if they are not trained properly as seminarians.

He is dismantling the power circle of Cardinal Bertone, who led a ring of conservatives centered on the city of Genoa. In September, Francis demoted Cardinal Piacenza, a Bertone ally, from his post running the powerful Congregation for the Clergy.

To some it was an indication that the new pope could act with a measure of ruthlessness. Several Vatican officials said that Cardinal Piacenza’s greatest transgression had been undermining his predecessor, a Brazilian prelate close to Francis who appeared with him on the balcony of St. Peter’s after his election.

Francis also removed a top official of the Vatican City government, although arranging a soft landing pad. Others were less fortunate.

As a priest, Guido Pozzo led a Vatican commission tasked with bridging the schism between the church and traditionalists critical of the Second Vatican Council. In November 2012, Cardinal Bertone elevated him to the rank of archbishop and Benedict appointed him to run the church’s charity office. Francis, who is much less interested than Benedict was in appealing to the schismatic conservatives, has since sent Archbishop Pozzo back to his former post.

Another is Cardinal Burke. In 2008, Benedict installed his fellow traditionalist as president of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, and the next year appointed him to the Congregation for Bishops. The post gave Cardinal Burke tremendous sway in selecting new bishops in the United States.

In December, Francis replaced him with a more moderate cardinal. “He’s looking for places to put his people,” said one official critical of the pope.

Another Vatican conservative took offense at Francis’ disdain for elaborate dress. And speculation that Francis might convert the papal vacation home of Castel Gandolfo into a museum or a rehabilitation center has also raised alarms. “If he does that,” said an ally of the old guard, “the cardinals will rebel.”

For now, the resistance is not gaining traction. “The Holy Spirit succeeds also in melting the ice and overcoming any resistance,” Secretary of State Parolin said. “So there will be resistance. But I wouldn’t give too much importance to these things.”

Francis also has empowered a group of eight cardinals representing five continents to spearhead reform of the Curia. He has hired secular consultants and set up a special commission to oversee the Vatican Bank. And while he has spoken infrequently on clerical sexual abuse, he has formed another commission “for the protection of minors.”

He may also delegate some of the powers traditionally held by the office of secretary of state by creating a new papal enforcer, who would wrest power away from Curia bureaucrats.

“This is a very real possibility,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who replaced Cardinal Burke on the Congregation for Bishops.

Shunning Italian Politics

For years, Italian politicians have courted the Vatican, and vice versa, as both Pope John Paul II and Benedict encouraged Italy’s prelates to speak out on issues that concerned the church. Francis’ distaste for directly involving the church in politics has now threatened that old link between Italian prelates and Italy’s conservative politicians.

“Today, the Italian bishops are keeping silent,” said Pier Ferdinando Casini, a prominent politician who once met with cardinals and even popes but has yet to meet Francis.

The Vatican remains a disproportionately Italian institution, with Italy boasting the biggest bloc of cardinals even as it now accounts for only 4 percent of the world’s Catholics. Vatican employees are overwhelmingly Italian, with lifetime job security, sometimes extending for generations.

Perks abound. On a recent afternoon inside the Vatican’s department store, bargain hunters shopped for tax-free wine, cigarettes, Ferragamo clutches and North Face jackets beneath clocks reading the time in New York, Vatican City and Tokyo.

The Italian problem, as many non-Italian cardinals called it, loomed over the conclave that elected Francis in March. An undue Italian influence was blamed for suspicious accounts and mismanagement of the Vatican Bank and the gossip mongering that fueled an embarrassing scandal centered on leaks of Benedict’s private letters.

“What is necessary is that at this stage that the culture becomes less Italian,” one senior Vatican official said, “particularly as people work towards greater transparency and meritocracy.”

Off the Career Track

Francis, whose father was an Italian immigrant, and whose second language is Italian, does have key Italian allies, including Secretary of State Parolin and two other Curia department prefects he named as cardinals on Sunday. But analysts say his passing over of traditional Italian powerhouses, such as Venice, where the archbishop is close to Cardinal Bertone, shows that he is trying to break the established career track in the Italian church.

Francis is also tinkering with the once mighty conference of Italian bishops, which he sits atop in his role as bishop of Rome. Popes have traditionally appointed the president of the Italian conference, but Francis may introduce elections, as happens in other bishops’ conferences.

Under Benedict, the conference’s president, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, jousted for influence in Italian politics with Cardinal Bertone, whom Francis has largely sidelined. But the pope also recently removed Cardinal Bagnasco from the powerful Congregation for Bishops.

In a recent Saturday homily, Francis warned an audience that included Cardinal Bagnasco of the danger of becoming a “smarmy” priest. Succumbing to worldly temptations, he added, made for “priest-wheeler-dealers, priest-tycoons.”

The New Year’s Eve Mass at St. Peter’s ended with a procession of priests escorting Francis out of the basilica, followed by the thousands of the faithful. In the emptied church, the cardinals and bishops rose from their seats, shook hands with dignitaries and milled about around St. Peter’s tomb.

Cardinal Piacenza collected his umbrella from a prayer bench. Archbishop Pozzo made his way to the door. Asked about the changes underway in the Curia, he replied, “It’s been a surprising year!”

Not far away, Cardinal Burke blessed a few stragglers and declined to comment without permission from his “superiors.”

Weeks earlier, Cardinal Burke seemed poised to be the most prominent voice of resistance to Francis’ reign, telling a Catholic television network that he was not “exactly sure why” the pope “thinks we’re talking too much about abortion” and other culture war issues. When it came to changes in the Curia, he bemoaned “a kind of unpredictability about life in Rome in these days.”

At roughly the same time, Francis gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. The pope spoke again about “tenderness” and opening up the church. But he also added: “Prudence is a virtue of government. So is boldness.”

It was a telling point. On Dec. 15 Cardinal Burke returned to his boyhood parish in Stratford, Wis., to celebrate a special Mass. Dressed in the tall miter cap and traditional pink for the Christmas season, he spoke about his dairy farm roots but disappointed some of his parishioners by making no mention of Francis or the events happening in the Vatican.

“I was hoping he would,” said Marge Pospyhalla, who attended the Mass. “But, no, we did not get that.”

His silence said enough. The day after the Mass, Francis took Cardinal Burke off the Congregation for Bishops.


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