A Progressive Pope or Greenwashing the Vatican?

Yves here. I’ve been steering away from devoting much space on the Pope’s visit to the US, since the media are covering it intensively. And I’m also a bit bothered by the fact that the Pope spoke before Congress. As one reader who was particularly up in arms about it said, “Last I checked, we do not have a state religion in the US.” And if the argument is that the Pope was given an audience via being head of a state, the Vatican City has a population of all of 451. The City of London has at least as good a claim for Congressional attention, but I have yet to anyone rolling out the red carpet for the Lord Mayor of the City of London.

But having said all that, the Pope’s visit is being treated as a political event, and it would be remiss to ignore that. I’m featuring a Real News Network interview of Chris Hedges to afford readers an opportunity to discuss his US tour.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network, and welcome to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay.

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently they reject the right of states charged with vigilance for the common good to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies, and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power.

To all of this, add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possession knows no limits. And in the system which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market which becomes the only rule.

Well, that could have been written by our next guest. But actually it was written by Pope Francis in 2013. Now joining us is our next guest in the studio, Chris Hedges. Thanks for joining us, Chris.

CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you.

JAY: So those are powerful words. A French reporter recently asked the pope whether he was really a European social democrat, and the pope kind of laughed, saying, well, don’t put me in a box. But in fact, this is in the tradition of actually some of the more, you could say more militant European social democrat language. But most of today’s European social democrats wouldn’t even go as far as the pope did. On the other hand, the Vatican is a very important institution of modern global capitalism. We haven’t seen the Vatican divesting from its investments in green-opposing industries, I guess in carbon-emitting industries and so on.

But is the rhetoric, just the fact it’s coming from the pope, something that helps progressive forces in the world?

HEDGES: Yes, because it acknowledges reality. And unfortunately the Catholic church, going back to the long tenure of John Paul II, pushed out thousands of vocations, of priests, sisters, brothers, layworkers, who acknowledged the truth about global income disparity and the rapacious nature of capitalism, especially in the developing world. And by doing so they empowered an extremely right-wing elite centered around groups like Opus Dei, which saw even the acknowledgement of that reality as a kind of heresy. So what the pope is doing is he is shifting the church back onto a ground where at least it speaks about the reality that most–and remember, the largest growing segment of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic–that the largest constituency or certainly a very large constituency of the Catholic church faces every day. And that is an important step.

However, he has not stood up and offered an alternative. He has named the excesses and distortions of unfettered capitalism and the cruelty of unfettered capitalism, but neither he nor the church has said what should take its place.

JAY: Now he’s speaking, first of all, to his own flock, which is rather big still. Apparently about 1.2 billion people, half of all Christians on the planet. But is he playing a role in the sense that it’s good for the Catholic church to sound this way. The institution itself needs to be revived, particularly in Latin America, which has a real leftward turn. There’s been a lot of talk how he went to Cuba and how it validates the Castros and so on. But I think you could actually argue it the other way. In terms of the church’s need to validate itself in Latin America, it’s good for him to get validated by the Castros.

And that, in a sense it’s a kind of greenwashing. Like, you know, he made a very strong statement on the environment when he came to the White House. With President Obama was talking about the need for real environmental policy. But if you don’t go that next step that you’re talking about, what’s the alternative, if you actually don’t talk about who owns stuff and who has power, then you wind up–do you wind up with what is essentially classical European social democracy, and you can ask the Greeks how that’s working for them?

HEDGES: Yes. I mean, you know, I think in many ways as pope and as an institution they’re acknowledging this reality rather late, given what neoliberal economics have done in terms of reconfiguring the global economy into virtually a form of neofeudalism. So we’re very, very far down the road. And somehow not to acknowledge this reality would be, I think–you know, continue to keep the hierarchy of the church in what is in essence a non-reality-based worldview.

So it is a good thing, yes, without question that the pope is acknowledging the effects of climate change, is acknowledging the effects of neoliberal economics and globalization. But as I said before, acknowledging it at this point is simply acquiescing to a reality that most of the members of the Catholic church already know.

JAY: I’m somewhat playing devil’s advocate here, because I’m still a little bit on the fence about how to assess, in the end is this kind of language, rhetoric positive or not. But he sits next to President Obama. President Obama, in a recent article you wrote, should actually be charged with crimes after–.

HEDGES: Preemptive–that’s not even, I mean, preemptive war under post-Nuremberg laws is a criminal act of aggression.

JAY: And also is not actually going and charging President Bush and Vice President Cheney is actually a violation of international law.

HEDGES: [Yes.]

JAY: But the pope lauds President Obama’s environmental policy, which is–.

HEDGES: Well, which is horrible. I mean, he has a horrible–he just opened up the Arctic for summer drilling. He had the whole Atlantic coast, you know, public lands. He drills like Sarah Palin. He’s proved utterly ineffectual to address climate change. And has, you know, kind of held off on the Keystone XL pipeline, but his environmental record is appalling.

JAY: And so he doesn’t–I understand the diplomacy of all this and the strategy of it, but I guess in some ways it goes back to this issue, you know, maybe we have to assess this. There’s two different kinds of politics going on. There’s sort of intra-elite politics where you have a force within the elite is at least not as fascistic and sociopathic as another force. And if the pope’s words somehow weaken the far, the more sociopathic group, that’s a good thing.

On the other hand if it creates illusions that there’s such a thing as this system without the things the pope is critiquing, that’s kind of an illusion. That that–you know, if capitalism was ever capable of reforms that would get to what the pope is talking about without this kind of tyranny and speculation and exaggerations, if that was ever possible and I don’t know that it was, it’s certainly not possible now.

HEDGES: Well, he comes out of that traditional Franciscan ethos, which is the closer you are to the poor the closer you are to God. And that is a particular theological–he is a Jesuit, but that is a particular theological strain within the Catholic church, and I think that very much describes where he’s coming from.

So he’s reading between the lines, he’s asking for a kinder, gentler system for people to take into account the suffering that global capitalism has inflicted, lifting up the voices of the poor. But in the end as far as I can tell, it’s about charity. It’s not about justice. And that’s how he can stand next to Obama. He’s not–he’s, you know, even in the passage you read he’s critiquing the excesses of the system, and nowhere does he critique the system itself. And you’re exactly right, there is–there are no impediments, internal or external, now within global capitalism for it to reform itself. In fact, of course, things are getting worse. We are moving into this kind of oligarchic domain where two-thirds of the country, including in the United States, are hanging on by their fingertips.

So that’s on the one hand, he has moved the church back into the realm of reality, which I think is a good thing. But I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination he can be called a radical.

JAY: The–I’m not, I agree with you. I don’t think–maybe in terms of Catholic politics it could be called sort of radical.

HEDGES: Well, not really, because you have all sorts of–you do have strong–.

JAY: So Vatican politics, then.

HEDGES: Yeah. Well, not–but I mean, you have the whole liberation theology movement that was very explicit about–.

JAY: Yeah. But it was always at odds with the Vatican.

HEDGES: Well, once John Paul–I mean, you had Vatican II and reforms. And I mean, up until John Paul, who had this kind of phobia about communism. And then Ratzinger, who eventually became Pope Benedict, was John Paul’s kind of hatchet man. And I was in Latin America at the time that the church was carrying out these horrific internal purges. So any Catholic layperson or sister or priest or brother who was working in a marginal community was immediately suspect and often pushed out of the church.

And that did tremendous damage to the church, because it really thrust the church hierarchy into the very tight embrace of the elites themselves, which did great damage to the credibility of the church. And what he’s really doing is countering that distortion. Nevertheless, you know, vocations are a fraction–I mean, you have whole seminaries that my have one student, an aging priest population, four or five parishes–parishes are closing right and left. Four or five parishes that are sharing one 80-year-old priest. The Catholic church is in tremendous crisis on many levels. And I think this pope is aware of that crisis and recognizes that if the church doesn’t begin to speak in another language it will continue to become more and more anemic.

JAY: And marginalized. Now, it has to be of some positive value the numbers of people in the United States that still think climate change doesn’t even exist, or man-made climate change. The fact that he comes down so strongly on this, that has to have a positive effect in terms of the understanding of people on this issue.

HEDGES: Well, I’m not sure that you can have rational discussions with climate change deniers any more than you can have rational discussions with creationists.

JAY: I’m talking more ordinary people who are kind of influenced by various things, which I think a lot of people are. And hearing the pope come down so strongly, certainly on at least Catholics and maybe even other religious people, it might give them some pause to think about this.

HEDGES: Well, and it also highlights the importance of the issue, which I think is good.

JAY: It raises a question, as well. This language, as I said earlier, is kind of in the realm of kind of social democracy, which means can we get rid of the excesses of capitalism but you don’t have to actually challenge who owns stuff and change who owns stuff, and not really change who has power. And you’re saying this has a positive effect even though you can see all the negatives of this. Does that same analysis apply to, say, a Bernie Sanders, who essentially has social democratic rhetoric. He–same thing. I mean, Sanders doesn’t really question how things are owned in the United States. He’s not making proposals. Like, even on his proposals for infrastructure and investment it’s still mostly as far as we can tell about private-public partnerships. It’s not building out a public sector, which one would think is a more socialistic way to do it.

On the other hand, the rhetoric against the billionaire class, does it not have a positive effect in terms of public opinion in the same way the pope does?

HEDGES: No. Because–two reasons. One, of course, he’s working within the confines of the Democratic party and is himself–sits with the Democratic caucus, has seniority within the caucus, is in essence an unofficial member of the Democratic party. As Howard Dean has pointed out he votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time. He has been the main obstacle to creating a third party within Vermont. So that’s the first problem. He’s a member of the Democratic establishment. He campaigned for Clinton in ’92, again in ’96. He campaigned for Obama. So if he was serious about taking on the billionaire class, he would take on the Democratic party. He’s not. That’s the first thing.

But the second thing, and here he would diverge from the pope, is that he is–he refuses to critique or attack empire, or the military-industrial complex, which is hollowing the country out, destroying our country from the inside out. He has voted for every military appropriations bill. He has voted slavishly for every pro-Israel bill and resolution that’s ever been passed through the Senate. And if we don’t confront the disease of empire and an arms industry that is now swallowing–I mean, the best estimates are about $1.6 or $1.7 trillion a year. I mean, officially it’s about 54 percent of the budget, about $600 million. But then they hide all sorts of military expenditures, the Veterans’ Affairs administration, the nuclear weapons industry and research. As well as all sorts of black budgets that go into military activities that we as citizens are not allowed to see.

And the pope is no friend of empire. I mean, even John Paul II was no friend of empire in terms–and Bernie Sanders in that sense, I think, has one more strike against him than the pope.

JAY: Well, but you could do a whole list of things about the pope if you want to go into his negative positions. I mean, certainly on social issues–. And go on and on.

HEDGES: On misogyny and–of course. But in terms of critiquing power he [said]–.

JAY: But he sits next to President Obama and he doesn’t say anything about President Obama’s participation in various wars and drone strikes.

HEDGES: No, but he’s–no, he doesn’t. But he’s not an active enabler of empire. Bernie Sanders is.

JAY: Because Bernie Sanders voted for–he voted against the Iraq war, you could give him that.

HEDGES: Well he had, you know, that’s about it. Because after that there wasn’t a military appropriations bill he didn’t sign on for.

JAY: The–but the Vatican, and I can’t say this pope has been out, he hasn’t perhaps had a war where he’s had to take that kind of position on. Although on the previous Iraq war I think the Vatican was against the invasion of Iraq and has taken some decent positions on some of these things. But then, so did Sanders. But if you don’t really come out and critique empire, I have not heard this pope critique empire. He critiques inequality.

HEDGES: He hasn’t. But–.

JAY: I’m not–I’m saying that you wind up with the pope of having a certain propaganda value, say, on climate change. Well, why doesn’t Sanders–Sanders is not going to win. We know that. So it winds up being is the words, is the rhetoric, is the arguments that people are hearing, does it have some positive effect on public opinion? Given everything you’ve said about him.

HEDGES: [Inaud.] because he’s appealing to widespread sentiments in the same way that Obama did in 2008. But he has promised that he will campaign on behalf of whoever the nominee is, and the system’s rigged, fixed. And if it’s not Hillary Clinton will be another anointed member of the Democratic establishment. And Sanders will play the role that Van Jones played in the last election which is, you know, we can’t have whoever the Republican nominee is. She may not be perfect, don’t be a purist, and he will funnel this energy back into a dead political system and we’re right back where we are. You cannot call yourself a socialist unless you’re an anti-militarist and an anti-imperialist, and he’s neither.

JAY: And you think the pope is?

HEDGES: I think–we don’t know, because he hasn’t issued any statements. But traditionally the Vatican hierarchy has certainly not in any way been enthusiastic about American imperialism and at times has…

JAY: [Inaud.] the American church, certainly not.

HEDGES: Oh, without question.

JAY: With the support of the Vietnam war, and so on.

HEDGES: Yeah. But for instance, at the inception of the Iraq war, the Vatican was against the invasion. And I was speaking around the country about, you know, why we shouldn’t invade Iraq. And probably 25 percent of my speaking invitations came from Catholic colleges that had peace and justice studies. And the thing about a Catholic, unlike a Protestant, I myself come out of the Presbyterian tradition, is that there is a sense of a community beyond your borders. There is a kind of–Catholicism doesn’t lend itself as well to the kind of nationalism that is often endemic to Protestantism. And so yes, the Catholic hierarchy certainly was waving the flag, without question. And the pope comes out of Argentina, when the Catholic hierarchy was defending the dirty war, the disappearance of 30,000 Argentines by their own military and security forces. That’s common. But because–.

JAY: This particular pope has had some accusations against his participation.

HEDGES: Yes. Well he didn’t, he was very passive at a moment of horror for his country. But Catholics do have a sense that there are fellow co-believers who do not carry their passport. And I think that’s a kind of sign of health within the church and gives the church at least wider scope for a range of views

JAY: Do you think that some of the left, and I would include in this the Cuban government to some extent, are going a little too far in this praising of the pope? I can understand the positive elements of the things you’re saying. The thing I read off the top was quite powerful. And you know, he doesn’t say capitalist system. But at least as a critique it certainly is strongly anti-capitalist. I take your point, the alternative is not presented. But that’s a big deal, as we discussed earlier, that the alternative is not presented.

But some people are–the extent to which the pope is being embraced here without keeping in mind that there’s a side to the pope’s message which is just fight against greed, just the immoralism of capitalism. And in some ways it ideologically disarms people in terms of what needs to be done to actually do something about these ills.

HEDGES: Right. And you know, and it allows you to kind of read things into the pope that probably aren’t there. I mean, what he’s really presenting is very basic Christian theology against idolatry. I mean, that’s where it comes from. It’s against idols. And that’s been part of Christian theology since before Augustine.

JAY: And pretty good for rebuilding Vatican, Inc. Because if you want to keep the 1.2 billion members you’ve got and add to it you’re going to have to take a fairly progressive position these days.

HEDGES: Right. Well, it’s not even progressive. And I go back to he’s describing a reality that most Catholic believers endure and can articulate. And he’s simply articulating that reality. And that reconnects him to the church, which is important. But it doesn’t, you know, it also I think as you pointed out and as we saw in Cuba, it allows a lot of people to read things into this pope that I think are probably not there.

JAY: All right, thanks for joining us, Chris.

HEDGES: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on the Real News Network.

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  1. vidimi

    i’m not sure how much of the criticism is justified and what is just making the perfect the enemy of the good. one repeated criticism, that the pope doesn’t criticise the system focusing instead on distribution instead is simply untrue: the pope has repeatedly called out capitalism as unworkable. another, that the vatican is not divesting of destructive assets is misleading, as francis has called for their divestment. the US catholic bishops have refused to comply, even doubling down, and if the vatican’s own fund doesn’t divest then it’s probably more a reflection of how limited the pope’s power is over it rather than francis pulling a fast one. regarding sitting next to obama and thus conferring upon him legitimacy, i suppose that one is fair. on the other hand, francis must have judged the alternative to be unproductive. maybe he’s right?

    i think he’s actually doing about the best he can. i certainly don’t think i would do any better in his shoes. he’s a human being with weaknesses just like any of us using imperfect information to try to do the best he can. the cardinals likely elected him to deal with the church’s demographic crisis by appealing to populism, but i bet he truly believes what he preaches.

    1. wbgonne

      I agree with you. And some the criticisms are bizarre. For instance, above the RNN interviewer says:

      But the pope lauds President Obama’s environmental policy

      Which allows Hedges to remind us how horrible Obama’s environmental record is (quite true). But what did the Pope actually say about Obama’s environmental record? Before launching into a climate broadside, the Pope said:

      Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.


      That sounds a lot more like damning with faint praise that actual praise.

      The man is a religious figure, not a politician and the fact that some are demanding policy solutions from the Catholic pope says more about how horrid our political representation has become than it does about the pope’s shortcomings. And as a long lapsed Catholic I will say that Catholics are some of the most retrograde political actors in the U.S. This Pope is saying things they are unaccumstomed to hearing from anyone they might actually listen to. I fail to see how this is bad.

      1. steve

        The man is a religious figure, not a politician

        This strikes me as an incredibly naive remark. The pope is every bit as much a politician as Obama or any world leader, and the papacy is no different from any high political office–and never has been. Whether or not you’re a believer is irrelevant–it doesn’t change the fact that the Church is ultimately a human institution, and human institutions are ruled by politics.

        Like any politician, he ultimately sees his job as advancing the interests of the powerful institutional backers that gave him his position. That institution and its backers have seen tough times recently–the Church is seen as anti-modern and out of step with the times, its membership is dwindling under the weight of scandals, and Francis’s job is to rehab its image and make it sexier and more attractive to younger people. Apparently, it takes very little for him to do this–just a few nice speeches suggesting he doesn’t totally disagree with 21st-century ideas, and everyone swoons.

        And if you think Obama and Bush showed disdain for their constituencies, they’re nothing compared to the papacy. At least they were marginally constrained by electoral considerations, since the US is still a nominal democracy. The pope is an absolute monarch with complete power over the Catholic church; its governing structure is a top-down hierarchy. Only 0.0000001% of the faithful can exert any real influence over how the Church is run. The rest are expected to pay their tithe and render dutiful service, and as long as they do so, the people at the top are happy.

        1. ian

          Well yes, but he his political arena is different. It isn’t the United States Congress (nor should it be the United Nations). Part of his moral authority – his ability to influence – comes from being outside of the usual right-left politics. If he stays out,then people on both sides of the aisle with hardened positions might listen to him.
          As soon as he is seen favoring one side over the other, that’s over.
          My take: he blew it big time by addressing the House of Representatives. I like him, but am disappointed.

  2. Jim McKay

    With all due respect, I find this “discussion” parses “analysis” into so many sub categories…
    – politics of the Vatican
    – Bernie Sanders’ congressional voting record
    – The Pope’s “passivity” during Argentinian crises decades ago
    – hypothetical prosecution of Obama for war crimes
    (etc. etc.)

    … that the subject being addressed as suggested by article’s title, gets lost. Hedges talks about the Pope NOT proposing solutions, but I don’t see any solutions in this interview either.

    My view, simply on value of this Pope speaking out as he has: collectively, for people across the globe, climate change is the seminal moral issue. Regardless of % of budget going to “military industrial complex” on WS “banksters”, if economies across the planet do not respond to climate change all the world’s pundits with piles of papers of “analysis” will be nothing more then anecdotal post mortem records after climate disasters.

    I was brought up Catholic, even spent 2 years in seminary (high school)… left the church completely when some of their “theology” teaching was just too contrary to my basic common sense. In 40 years since, I’ve never thought twice about that and have seen little from Rome contributing to worthwhile, momentum changing needed transformations.

    But… I’ve also never seen a Pope or high level Vatican individual speak bluntly and openly as this guy has, on such a game breaking issue… an issue that, to so many “believers” who look to Rome for guidance, has been nothing more then a peripheral political “hot potato” item, unsettled and pushed off to the future for others to figure out.

    I very much welcome this Pope’s stand, actions, and his forthrightness in putting climate change front and center anywhere he can. I would hope more people claiming to be “behind” meaningful changes in human behavior to alter our course, would put more energy into accomplishing this and acknowledging the Pope, rather then diatribes why his stands just don’t matter.

    Cut the guy some slack, get behind change to alter our course in AGREEMENT with him so we all can move to action!

      1. William C

        For those troubled about the Pope ‘legitimising’ Obama, it is worth remembering that Christ quite explicitly consorted with ‘sinners’. So no Christian can really criticise someone for the company they keep, just how they behave (and even then it is better if you are yourself above criticism before criticising others).

        My favourite spiritual/religious guru said you have to start with where people are before you can try to persuade them to go where you want them to go, which I think is realistic and possibly germane.

    1. Norb

      Cut the guy some slack? How does one compromise on principles? Progressive ideas have failed in this country because the antidemocratic elite faction promoting inequality does NOT compromise on their principles. They have learned to double down at every crisis and so far they have prevailed.

      Before we get lost in the whirlwind of propaganda and obfuscation, can we identify the principle on which our society is based. I suggest it is the principle of war. The principle drive to dominate, control , and conquer.

      The Pope walking into the lions den and toning down his roethric seems to me more of the same at best or another example of how the war faction co-opts all dissent.

      We are at our eras turning point. We all must choose between perpetual war or peace. Its that simple.

      For those of us who choose peace over war, the struggle ahead will be difficult. The war faction kills dissenters who prove effective in their resistance.

    2. Gio Bruno

      Excellent commentary.

      It seems to me the best outcome of this pope’s US visit would be to INSPIRE people to act (actions; do something, get off your butt.) Do what you can to make things better.

    1. Scylla

      Not a bad take. I hope people read it through to the end.

      Let us consider the current dynamic. People in this country run on identity politics. People (mostly young ones) are turning away from organized religion in droves. They are sick of the homophobia, sick of victim blaming, sick of climate change denial, and sick of the greed.
      Along comes Francis: Inequality is bad, mmkay? Gays are not quite so bad, who am I to judge? (still not gonna marry the suckers though). Maybe we can make it easier for women who have had abortions to “confess” their “sins” (damn evil Liliths anyway). We need to do something about climate change and pollution (just don’t ask us Catholics to sacrifice any of our power). Come on over here and hang out with us Catholics, we are different!
      Everyone that spends time on this website is very much aware that identity politics are very powerful. It appears to me that the pope is very much working to change the identity of the church, but not the substance of it.

    2. Jen

      Just on the third-world cheap labor… the Catholic Church does not promote mindless reproduction. What it is against are abortifacients and killing of human beings.

      Flora, you are so right with this: Watching American media and politicians turn the Pope’s visit into a political football is hilarious and a sad comment on US politics.

  3. NotTimothyGeithner

    The rhetoric helps move the Overton Window, but as far as being progressive, given the control John Paul and Ratzinger had over choosing the Bishops and cardinals world wide for 40 years with little need for political concerns. They picked like minded trolls. Francis is as good as it gets.

  4. Scylla

    I for one am not at all impressed with this pope. He, as they say, is simply jumping in front of a protest and calling it a parade when he discusses inequality and the problems of capitalism. He is attempting to cast himself as some sort of leader of a movement that already exists and is quite capable of speaking for itself. It appears to me that he is simply trying to capture existing anger and direct it toward his own purposes. It does create some additional conversation on the subject in a more expedient manner, so that is a positive, but let us be honest here, what does a pope have actually the power to do?

    A pope has the power to influence church doctrine. If this pope truly cared about inequality and climate change, he actually has the power to have an effect on population growth. Population growth, population reduction, or even a static population all have tremendous ramifications for the reality of inequality and climate change/pollution. If his words were anything other than lip service, he would be working to alter church policy regarding birth control and family planning. He is making no attempt whatsoever, so all of this is just more paternalistic “Do as I say, and not as I do”. BS. He wants everyone else to make sacrifices, rather than his own institution. Francis has his own brand of greed and lust for power, just as the owners of capital do.

    There is also the little problem that the entire Catholic church is built upon misogyny. Kinda hard to bring equality out of that, but I stuck to the talking points that his holiness prefers.

    1. vidimi

      He, as they say, is simply jumping in front of a protest and calling it a parade when he discusses inequality and the problems of capitalism. He is attempting to cast himself as some sort of leader of a movement that already exists and is quite capable of speaking for itself.

      i don’t think he’s doing that at all. if you think so, please tell us how. what he’s doing is using his position of authority to support those movements, not claiming to lead them.

      He is making no attempt whatsoever, so all of this is just more paternalistic “Do as I say, and not as I do”.

      huh? is he having swarms of children we don’t know about? he has actually put a halt on the church’s stubborn fight against contraception in the third world setting his priorities on more important issues, so it’s definitely a positive move.

      1. Scylla

        He is trying to recast the identity of the church, not it’s substance. Religion has been hemorrhaging followers due to its denial of reality. As pointed out in the OP, he is acknowledging reality, but there appears to be no substance behind his words. People that read this blog are all aware that words and lack of substance will in fact generate followers. We all bemoan it when the subject of the Democratic party comes up. Is this situation really that different? All I see is better acting.
        He may not be banging the drum against contraception, but he sure hasn’t taken a stand for it either. Consider how Hillary Clinton is not talking about the TPP, that does not mean she is taking a stand against it. Avoiding a subject does not make it go away or indicate that a person (or institution) has changed their position. By the way, population growth in places like the US is a much bigger problem than in the third world due to our use of resources, and have you ever noticed that devout Catholic families tend to be large around here? He has the power to affect real policy change. Action, not words.

        1. jrs

          yea it’s a lot different than the Democratic party. Because the Dems in theory have the ability to make laws (unless you are a CT type who believes they are all puppets), whereas ideology is ALL the pope has. The Dems power is actual lawmaking power, the Pope’s power is influence. When Dems pretend their only power is to preach ideology (to give good speeches), they invalidate themselves, not so the Pope.

          On birth control I agree the Catholic church has it wrong.

          1. Scylla

            He certainly does actually have the power to make and steer church law that the devout and church apparatus will follow. All that aside, the point is that he is simply trying to create an image, and that image is not supported by policy, which is my point.

            If you want to believe in this guy, go right ahead. I will wait and see if he translates his words into actual policy actions within the church. (Not going to hold my breath though).

            1. ckimball

              “It appears to me that the pope is very much working to change the identity of the church, but not the substance of it.”
              I am neither Catholic nor Protestant. However I see a distinction between working to change perceptions regarding the identity of his church, if that is his intention, and substance. Substance in my mind is the bedrock that we stand upon when we have formulated belief. Usually it is not subject to the political wind. Can’t we have a discussion, all of us, about our world crisis without being required to change the substance of our perception to contribute. It seems common in the political arena to adjust substance to circumstance seemly leaving little or no substance at all (I’m thinking of the reinterpretations foisted on our population through our supreme court) which has brought great grief. It seems to me this man represents himself and his church forthrightly.

            2. Jen

              The Pope does not have the power to change the laws of the Church. All of it is through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and inherently based on the laws of God. What he has been pointing out all this time is still based on the basic doctrines of the Church. Nothing new, but he is indeed vocal and he enjoins even those outside of the Catholic Church to listen.

      2. Vatch

        “he has actually put a halt on the church’s stubborn fight against contraception in the third world…”

        Could you please provide a link or other source for that assertion? I hope it’s true, but I am very skeptical about this. Thanks.

  5. DJG

    When Yves writes about the U.S.A. not having an established church, I’ll counter with Chris Hedges’s description of his own denomination: “But for instance, at the inception of the Iraq war, the Vatican was against the invasion. And I was speaking around the country about, you know, why we shouldn’t invade Iraq. And probably 25 percent of my speaking invitations came from Catholic colleges that had peace and justice studies. And the thing about a Catholic, unlike a Protestant, I myself come out of the Presbyterian tradition, is that there is a sense of a community beyond your borders. There is a kind of–Catholicism doesn’t lend itself as well to the kind of nationalism that is often endemic to Protestantism.”

    Even to this lapsed lapsed Catholic, the caterwaulings of U.S. Protestants about being the last, lost remnant of the righteous sure sound like an establishment of religion to me.

    The important point about Francis and symbolism and his dilemmas is that choice of name, Francis, and his evocation of Franciscan ideal, such as the Earth as our Sister, have always caused turmoil, revolution, and renewal in the Roman Catholicism. And I don’t see a glimmer of that in American religion.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Um, there is no such thing as “Protestant” church. Episcopalians would curl up their toes and die if they were mistaken for southern Baptists, or worse, the many stripes of Evangelicals.

      The howling comes mainly from the Evangelicals, who have become a force in the Republican party. Their views do not represent those of a large swather of more moderate Protestants, many of whom are deeply uncomfortable with the fundamentalist effort to increase religious influence in government.

      And a big reason they’ve become screechier is to beat back advances in women’s and gay rights.

      1. participant-observer-observed

        “Um, there is no such thing as “Protestant” church.”

        This point is also true of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. We would all be better off to go beyond the temptation to simplify the complex diversities via broad categories.

        Even Catholic theologians like Rosemary Radford Reuther will point out that the RC “church” is the franchise of the people, and not a fancy room of self-appointed doctrinal gate-keepers in the Vatican.

      2. anon de plume

        By overemphasizing sexual sins, the Evangelicals continue to ignore, contrary to Scripture, social injustice, eg. a fundamentally unjust money and banking system.

        The Pharisees attempted a similar stunt in the time of Jesus. They too were lovers of money.

      3. flora

        Spot on. And this line made me laugh out loud.
        ” Episcopalians would curl up their toes and die if they were mistaken for southern Baptists, or worse, the many stripes of Evangelicals. “

  6. Mario Panziero

    As usual, let me compliment Yves and her helpers for being almost always on the ball and for providing us with both relevant and interesting commentary, even if the matter is not financial. That is remarkable.

    Chris Edges is not among my favourites thinkers ( I so much miss Christopher Hitchens), but he surely is an outspoken and astute commentator. I would readily excuse him or anybody else for not being able to express entirely the complexity and the scope of a system of scams so large as we are witnessing in politics+religion+finance .

    I am likening those three because 1. they all promise something for the future 2. they all bank on the immediate outcomes of the promises 3. the actors that plays on the stages, many of them never really make it, but they all contribute to keeping the theatre alive and going and, when lucky, conveniently retire, until the next batch of scammers comes.

    Some do good for many while playing what essentialy is a struggle for power. Francis is indeed condemning some of the ills of the century, but he is simultaneously 1. appealing to those who are not stupified or scared enough to follow the bible thumping scammers exploiting superstition (his competition also in Medjugorie) 2. and sending a royal middle finger to those who dared mess with the Vatican’s own banking system: you mess with my game, I mess with yours,so let me state the blinding obvious, capitalism is sick. Let me say that in the middle of your Congress, so next time you will think twice about messing with my sovereign financial system and 3. saying that actually appeals to the exploited masses without being overtly populist. Bingo!

    But before answering the invitations to check in into a mental facility for suggesting the existence of a big global conspiracy of the Illuminati sort, let me remind you: how many of you in the NC’s commentariat would have imagined the scale and utter reckleness of the US mortgage scam? Would you have imagined a “reputable” bank using the services of mortgage-validators-mills? My jaw is still on the floor, it has been since I read about it on NC.

    1. flora

      “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. ” -Ursula K. LeGuin

      The whole ‘divine right’ thing has always been at odds with Enlightenment philosophy and democracy. I suggest the answer to capitalism’s excesses is more democracy.

  7. susan the other

    The Pope’s criticism of capitalism is all about the destructive excesses of capitalism. So it was interesting to see his reception in NYC. There was a big brass band to greet him on his arrival and it played “New York, New York” defiantly. The Pope was unruffled by it, and the comments were, well NYC is a very brash place, etc. Then he held Vespers in St Patricks. He was greeted there with the full red carpet. And the choir from the gates of hell. NY overwhelmed the Pope. At the end of the spectacle, Cardinal Dolan gave a quick speech of gratitude to the Pope and then said “Thanks for dropping by.” And then he walked across the stage and gave him a big hug. It was bizarre. The NYC diocese (right term?) is probably richer than the Vatican.

  8. optimader

    I haven’t really followed the media on the Popes visit or his address to Congress, but as a person with rabidly secular sensibilities, I feel if he didn’t proselytize I really have no problem w/ him addressing Congress.

    Frankly, IMO Netanyahu sets the bar to less than zero relative to who is an appropriate guest speaker to Congress.
    Thinking about it as I type, I can warmup to the concept of a intelligent person addressing Congress
    once a week w/ mandatory attendance. Might raise the intellectual caliber of the room.

    Put Lhamo Dondrub at the head of my list.

  9. susan the other

    But what I really wanted to comment on was the point made by this clip that nobody is offering any alternatives to capitalism even tho’ there is a consensus that capitalism is incompatible with the environment. The Vatican can see big expenses in the near future if global warming washes out all the favelas, and poor coastal communities and etc. But I don’t think it is Vatican greenwashing – I do think an alternative is hard to agree on. Even Sanders can’t come up with an alternative to the MIC which is the current driver of capitalism. I kinda think the whole thing that is unfolding is a capitulation of capitalism. Yes, it doesn’t work, but what will? So it is the first step. And politically this ambiguous approach leaves all politicians as well as the biggest, baddest Cardinal, Dolan, to swagger both ways. It is a very interesting maneuver going on. Capitalism can be very useful if it goes non-profit and does other creative stuff.

    1. MikeNY

      This is an excellent comment.

      It’s not necessary to have THE solution to point out the failings of the current system, and the general direction we must move. Simone Weil said something like it’s always “a question of tilting the balance in the favor of the oppressed”. I think that’s absolutely right.

      Yes, let’s talk about options and alternatives and possible solutions, etc etc etc. But we must first signal where things are WRONG.

      1. say_what?

        Suppose all assets were equally owned and controlled by the entire world population?

        Then, at least, it would take 51% of the world’s population to agree on environmental destruction, no?

        More importantly(?), ala Maslow’s Hierarchy, the entire world population would tend to value the environment more, given their greatly increased economic security.

        1. optimader

          Suppose all assets were equally owned and controlled by the entire world population?
          Ok., I supposed that, I’ll admit it was fun but time to feed my free pony gumdrops from the rainbow candy factory.

          Hey, I like those shoes, give them to me, I know someone who needs them..

          1. Carlos

            Never ceases to amaze me how people can brazenly trot out these tired old tropes.

            I suppose it’s a substitute for actually thinking.

    2. jrs

      If they wanted to encourage alternatives to capitalism … well … they wouldn’t be trying to capitalize a basically functional society like Cuba or overthrow left wing regimes in south America (Venezuela most recently?). The would help to subsidize everyone wanting to start worker co-ops or other alternative economic schemes etc.. But some 50 years of crushing any alternative to capitalism, we now have “noone can think of an alternative to capitalism”. Yes, talk about abortion, every single alternative to capitalism was aborted. They = U.S. and western powers.

    3. skippy

      Firstly the monolithic use of the term capitalism is cognitively wrong footed, you have –

      By ideology

      Anarchist Capitalist Communist Corporatist Democratic Dirigist Fascist Georgist Islamic Laissez-faire Market socialist Mercantilist Neo-mercantilist Participatory Protectionist Socialist State capitalist Syndicalist

      By coordination

      Closed (autarky) Decentralized Digital Dual Gift Informal Market Mixed Natural Open Planned Robinson Crusoe Subsistence Underground


      Collectivization Communization Corporatization Demutualization Deregulation Expropriation Financialization Liberalization Marketization Municipalization Mutualization Nationalization Privatization Socialization


      Barter Cybernetics Democratic Free market In kind Indicative planning Market Material balancing Planned Peer-to-peer Price Regulated market Self-managed Shared

      Other types

      Corporate capitalism Expeditionary Hunter-gatherer Information Islamic economics Manorialism Newly industrialized Palace Plantation Plutonomy Post-capitalist Post-industrial Post-scarcity Resource-based Social market Socialist market State monopoly capitalist Token Traditional Transition World

      From a sociological / anthropological view point – all – systems are hybrid and in constant flux – transition – multifaceted e.g. its problematic to use such terms such as “A” Capitalism from a T or F perspective.

      Skippy…. methinks the problem is more obvious and hiding in plain sight, tho through cultural indoctrination and eviromental factors deemed uncouth to go there….

  10. redleg

    I think the Pope is a centrist. I think the political “center” in the US has shifted so far right that it distorted perception of what the left should be.
    While some of the Pope’s encyclicals about economics and environment are certainly on the left, the rest is staunchly conservative even if it is slightly less so than previous Popes. Both sides = middle.

  11. armchair

    It is sweet to see rightwingers, who all want us to kowtow to authority figures, telling us we need to ignore the original infallible authority figure. It is cognitive dissonance at its best. This is the moment where the conditioned response may actually get broken. In places like Philadelphia where conservative Catholicism runs strong, the Pope’s message may actually change minds. At least a few of those Philly Catholics will watch Fox and see the pontiff getting bitched out by the think-tanker pundits, and be forced to THINK about which authority figure to follow.

    I found that Hedges was persuasive and very knowledgeable.

  12. Too early

    yes, so the Pope is not The second coming?
    Every time I read Hedges I feel more dispirited than ever. Perhaps that is his intention?

  13. Deloss Brown

    Um . . . why would we criticize Pope Francis when we have Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina at hand? (And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio and Ben Carson and Jeb! and the rest of the pack–too many to list.)

    Are Francis’ views more to my liking than Benedict’s? Yes, just as Bernie Sanders’ views are more to my liking than Scott Walker’s. None, not one single one, of the Republican candidates is willing to acknowledge the disaster that is global warming, and they all want to defund Planned Parenthood. Francis, at least, praised women, which in our Topsy-turvy times seems necessary–even revolutionary!–and he warns us regularly about global warming. This all makes our opponents very unhappy and uncomfortable, and it calls attention to some of our worst problems.

    Our imbecile opponents rejoiced at the fall of John Boehner because, har-har, he wasn’t Conservative enough. Leave us not emulate fools and knaves. They seem determined to rush off a Gadarene cliff. Step back. Give them room. And let us support whoever aids us.

  14. different clue

    Didn’t the Dalai Lama once address a joint session of Congress? If he did, then the precedent for a religious figure addressing Congress was already set.

    1. spooz

      The Dalai Lama was interviewed by the BBC last week. When asked by journalist Clive Myrie if his successor could be female, he said “why not? The female biologically has more potential to show affection… and compassion”, adding that “her face should be very attractive”. Myrie chuckled, then asked, “so, you can only have a female Dalai Lama if they’re attractive, is that what you’re saying? ” The Dalai Lama responded that “if female Dalai Lama come, that female must be [attractive], otherwise not much use”. Myrie then tried to give him an out, saying, “your joking, I’m assuming…or you’re not joking?”. DL responded, “True!”, after which Myrie quickly moved on to another topic.

      the question came at about 5 minutes into this video:

      w t f?

      1. participant-observer-observed

        I’ve written about this issue in the past on the State of Formation forum .

        The amount of pc offense is directly proportional to the amount of Shangrila infatuation fantasies projected onto Buddhism in general and Tibetans in particular + profound ignorance of Asian culture and history.

    2. flora

      Yes. The Dalai Lama addressed the US Congress last March, 2014. That angered Chinese leaders who accused Washington of “conniving” with a separatist under the cloak of religion.
      Now that I’m reminded of this, it is very interesting that the pope addressed Congress on Thursday and on Friday Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in Washington on his first state visit.
      Not that US politicians would invite the pope to address Congress in an attempt to smooth over China’s irritation about the Dalai Lama’s address. (see, we ask all kinds of religious leaders to address Congress. ) Politicians would not be that cynical.

      1. jo6pac

        Thanks, and that crazy person from israel does this when ever he feels like.

        As one reader who was particularly up in arms about it said, “Last I checked, we do not have a state religion in the US.”

        Tell that to the crazies in the repug party and those in the demodogs that support israel no matter of the death they cause.

  15. Gaylord

    I am convinced that only the devastating impacts of climate change will have any effect on the people and power structures that perpetuate capitalism and its destruction of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, that will be too late and in fact it already is too late to make any significant changes in economic and political policy that might stave off accelerating global heating that is destabilizing the earth’s moderating climate systems, and so the sixth extinction will consume most if not all life on earth. Therefore, the Pope should be preparing his flock for the conflagration that lies ahead within this century.

  16. different clue

    The Overclass count on the coming 6th Extinction to kill off the non-Overclass. The Overclass then plans to re-emerge from defensive hiding after the situation is stabilized at some lower level and have a post-extinction world all to themselves.

    The useful idiot climate deniers will mostly be among the dead.

  17. ekstase

    I agree with the comments above that this pope is a good person. And I don’t think he has the personality of a typical politician, which makes him really striking as a leader. I suspect that he draws out the best in people by focusing on it.

    A feature of many Americans who are raised Catholic is a sort of low-key, don’t raise your head too high, social behavior. This pope has just given them permission to kind of blow that off. If he tells people that our planet is in dire straits and that this is immoral, that is huge.

    There is a big change taking place in history, and some of it is happening on a deep psychological level. It may be impossible to really view this correctly while we are in it.

  18. 3.17e-9

    He has voted slavishly for every pro-Israel bill and resolution that’s ever been passed through the Senate.

    No, Chris, he hasn’t.

    I’m tired of reading this from Hedges and others. For one thing, the Senate doesn’t vote on simple resolutions. They are passed without a vote according to Senate rules. This is an important point, because when Hedges and others insist that Sanders supported Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014, they are referring to a resolution that essentially gave Israel a free pass. It had 79 signatures. Sanders was NOT one of them, but writers such as Hedges assume that he supported it because it passed by “unanimous consent.” I left a long comment on the 9/23 2:00PM Water Cooler with the details about what this actually means:


    In any case, what has Sanders’s voting record got to do with the pope?

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