By Gerald T. Slevin
Note: This commentary was first cross-posted November 3, 2012 at Bilgrimge and The Open Tabernacle.
Of the many stories generated by the medieval wars, or Crusades, against Islamic rulers that were frequently supported actively by various popes, few are more fascinating than the ones about the so-called 13th Century "Children's Crusade." The stories, which relate to the exploits of a large numbers of itinerants, including many docile and idealistic youth, suggest a uniquely organized effort to rescue the Holy Land. As with most wars, including the Crusades, what seems fairly clear is that children were frequently disproportionately among the casualties, directly or indirectly, including these youthful Crusaders. Then as now, the welfare of children seemed to be a low priority for a generally celibate clerical caste, notwithstanding Jesus' clear Gospel mandate to protect children.
As the U.S. elections soon arrive, the pope is desperately leading another crusade that disproportionately negatively affects children. The pope is flexing his U.S. election year muscles to rally and bring out conservative Catholic voters in critical swing districts by opposing contraception health insurance, as well as the other "hot" wedge issue, gay marriage, that the pope claims, without real evidence and without addressing contrary evidence, hurts families, including children.
The pope's longstanding worldwide effort against government support of effective and voluntary birth control family planning for the poor, in particular, has contributed clearly and unnecessarily to hundreds of millions of "unplanned" children worldwide, including many in the U.S., who are often consigned to lives of miserable poverty.
What is the pope's goal with this heartless anti-contraception crusade? Firstly, the pope's power is apparently thought to be directly related to his efforts to maximize the size of the Catholic population worldwide, especially when compared to the higher birth rates in many non-Catholic countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as the increasing Islamic populations in Western countries. Reproducing more Catholics seems to be a clear papal objective, especially since in many countries, including in the West, the pope is also facing currently a growing Catholic exodus over major papal failures, including the pope's inability and/or unwillingness to adopt effective measures to curtail the worldwide epidemic of priest sexual abuse of innocent children.
After centuries of pursuing papal power politics by varying alliances with more powerful European absolute monarchs, the popes, following the loss in 1870 of the Papal States and a half century of self-imposed seclusion in the Vatican, emerged in the 1920's with a new power politics strategy aimed at the newly democratic and unstable European scene. The popes realized they could use their "mystical" influence over Catholic voters to cut deals, especially with budding dictators seeking a papal imprimatur for their less popular, fascist parties. In 1929 with Mussolini in Italy, in 1933 with Hitler in Germany and in the late 1930's with Franco in Spain, Pius XI, aided after 1929 by his Secretary of State and successor, Pius XII, concluded pacts that helped legitimize these fascist dictators in exchange, among other things, for financial subsidies and special privileges for the national Catholic Churches in those countries.
In the U.S., the popes did not significantly use their new-found electoral power to exchange papal influence over Catholic voters for governmental favors until the 1980's when Republican Ronald Reagan got electoral help from John Paul II in exchange for, among other things, extra U.S. support for Poland's Catholic dissident movement.
This pope and his U.S. bishops realized that an effective rallying cause for many conservative Catholic voters was the anti-abortion or so-called "right to life" movement, which already had considerable political momentum under its original lay founders and leaders. Since it cost the pope little to actively oppose abortion politically, especially since natural law arguments related to the right to life position coincided to a degree with a longstanding Catholic moral tradition, the pope and U.S. bishops made the anti-abortion issue their foremost election year wedge issue.
From the 1980's to the present, the pope and his U.S. bishops have used the anti-abortion issue as their principal "weapon" to induce conservative Catholic voters to vote Republican, although in the 2009 pact of the pope's U.S. hierarchy with Republican supporters available here, the anti-gay marriage "weapon" was also featured prominently.
The challenge apparently for the pope was to find a novel way to use these weapons against Obama, who had recently been showing signs of getting increasingly aggressive against the U.S. bishops for their ongoing cover-up of priest sexual predators. The new papal attack was launched against Obama's proposed rules requiring making available free contraceptive insurance for all employees of Church-controlled institutions, such as universities, but not for direct employees of the Church.
Since contraception generally negates the need for an abortion and, in that sense is "pro-life," the U.S. bishops and their Republican allies, including Paul Ryan, also pushed the definition of life back to begin at the moment of conception. By this extended approach, some issues could be raised, however disingenuously at times, by the anti-abortionists against Obama's health insurance rules.
Depending, it appears, on the day of the week and the particular audience he is addressing, Romney's "etch a sketch" position may or may not conform to the pope's position, but that does not appear to matter much to this politically pragmatic pope. What does clearly matter, however, is maintaining iron discipline among Catholics he controls for an unquestioned conformity to the pope's pure abortion wedge-issue position.
This was just made clear again by the disgraceful treatment of a U.K. theologian who was shabbily dumped at the last minute from a teaching position at the Catholic University of San Diego in California, as noted here.
The anti-gay marriage wedge issue appears to attract some additional conservative Catholic Republican voters, especially among some seniors, that adds to political clout the pope can offer the Republicans. In U.S. electoral politics, a shift in just a few votes in identified districts in a handful of so-called swing or battleground states can make critical difference in an election. This year with elaborate "computer data mining" of extensive voter information, the key locales can be identified with some precision. In some of these locales, the papal push against abortion and gay marriage, exploited by well-funded and non-stop campaign ads, could be the difference; hence, the potential value to Republicans of papal clout.
What is in it for the pope? In the almost half century since the pope condemned the birth control "pill" as a "mortal sin," the Catholic hierarchy, and especially parish priests, have said little effectively to American Catholics about birth control. Since American Catholics have overwhelmingly rejected the dogma, there was little to gain by hammering the issue. Nevertheless, there appear still to be "single-issue" conservative Catholic voters who are "pro-life", so the pope and U.S. bishops have resurrected this wedge issue with an anti-Obama twist, for what it may be worth the Republicans.
As with Pius XI's deals with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, in the first instance the pope has an opportunity for financial gains if the Republicans are elected. American papal donors appear to be overwhelmingly Republican and, especially the top 0.01%, stand to save billions in U.S. taxes if Republicans gain the White House. It is reasonable for the pope to assume some of these tax savings will fund larger tax-deductible contributions to the pope and U.S. bishops, who are increasingly strapped due to billions spent on the priest sex abuse cover-up.
The power of the top 0.01%, in the U.S. and worldwide, is hard to over-estimate. As just brilliantly and boldly described by Reuters' top editor, Chrystia Freeland, in her book, Plutocrats, described here, increasingly the world's billionaires are dominating governmental policies worldwide. As she also notes, the richest man in history is Mexico's Carlos Slim.
The Catholic Church's most successful fundraiser for decades was Fr. Marcial Maciel, the disgraced sex-abusing head of the cult-like religious order, the Legion of Christ. Under Maciel, the Legion operated as a well-oiled cash machine that preyed on wealthy donors. As indicated in the recent book by Jason Berry, America's award winning investigative reporter on the Catholic Church's financial and child sex abuse scandals, Maciel had cultivated Carlos Slim as a financial source. As recently as 2004, as many of Maciel's perverse misdeeds were becoming more widely known, Slim was televised with Maciel at a NY Waldorf Astoria fundraiser for the Legion that was co-hosted by another plutocrat, Citigroup's then CEO, Sanford (Sandy) Weill. Berry's recent book is Render Unto Caesar: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, described here.
Maciel reportedly funneled considerable funds to senior Vatican bureaucrats, including John Paul II's secretary. How much money plutocrats have already, or will soon be funnelling, to papal fronts or causes may never be known in this post-Citizens United world of anonymous donors.
A special feature in this election is the pope's clear efforts to protect his U.S. bishops from Federal prosecutors, especially given Obama's prosecutors' key role with respect to the recent first conviction, for a child endangerment crime related to one of his priest's sexual abuse, of a U.S. Catholic bishop, Finn, of Kansas City. Bishop Finn is an Opus Dei member and a protege of Philly's Cardinal Rigali. Rigali is a long time Vatican colleague of the current pope. Rigali just saw his former top Philly priest personnel aide, Monsignor Lynn, sentenced to up to six years in prison for child endangerment in connection with another priest's sexual assault of a young altar boy.
For an analysis of the importance of Romney to the pope's goal of protecting U.S. bishops from Federal criminal and bankruptcy courts, please read, "After Elections, Who Will Prosecute More Predatory Priests? Constitutional Lawyer Obama or the Three R's of Romney, Ryan & Ratzinger?", available here.
What the foregoing indicates clearly is that little has changed in some fundamental ways since the Middle Ages in papal efforts to use political power for the benefit principally of papal princes and their corrupt Vatican bureaucracy. This will end soon, as prosecutors from the International Criminal Court and elsewhere invade the Vatican armed with enforcible subpoenas directed initially at secret files on the worldwide abuse cover-up, as well likely on the Vatican financial scandals. Amen!