There are many different religions in the United States and also a large number of people who adhere to no religion.
The Catholic Church’s efforts to deny its members the right to birth control, divorce and abortion have caused many to leave its fold. The hierarchy’s insistence that women cannot be priests and their opposition to same-sex marriage have divided the church’s own ranks.
The persistent call for justice and reparations for the sufferings of those who were sexually abused by priests has further added to the church’s decline in numbers and revenue.
WASPs and Catholicism
In this country, Catholicism on the national level has been a minority religion. The ruling establishment earned the nickname “WASPs” — white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant — because those who first settled here, on land seized from the Native peoples, came mostly from northern European countries where the rising capitalist class was in revolt against the Catholic Church.
It was only after industrialization that more Catholics, largely working class and from southern and eastern Europe, migrated to the U.S. They often faced discrimination and outright hostility.
Yet this long history of a ruling class dominated by WASPs — it was considered a big breakthrough when John F. Kennedy became the first (and last) Catholic U.S. president — has not stopped the corporate media from treating the selection of the new Pope with admiration that borders on fawning.
Public reverence for the Catholic Church hierarchy, regardless of the private views of much of the ruling class, has especially saturated the U.S. media since John Paul II was elected in 1978. This “Polish Pope” was idolized, especially for his role in helping to tear down the East European socialist regimes allied to the Soviet Union.
The newly elected pope, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has adopted the name Pope Francis. He is being eulogized as “humble,” “simple,” “a man of the people.” Such labels are hard to reconcile with the silken, gilded and bejeweled trappings accorded to Catholic cardinals, officially known as “princes of the church.”
Like John Paul, Francis has a political role that fits into the strategy of U.S. transnational banks and corporations. He is termed a “conservative” in church matters, meaning he refuses to entertain even the slightest deviation from traditional church stands on marriage (none for priests, nuns or same-sex couples), reproduction and other social/personal issues. This is at loggerheads with the views of many in the church and, of course, even more outside the church.
But his even deeper conservatism concerns the role he played in Argentina, which is still coming to grips with the horrors committed in the 1970s under a fascist military dictatorship.
Bergoglio and the generals
Some 30,000 people, mostly young progressives trying to move their country to the left, were murdered during this undeclared “dirty war” of the generals. Argentina is a Catholic country, and the role of the church during that time has come under heavy criticism. Bergoglio was then an important figure in the hierarchy — the Jesuit Provincial superior for all Argentina.
Horacio Verbitsky is a leading Argentine journalist, human rights activist and head of the Center for Legal and Social Studies. He was interviewed on “Democracy Now” on March 14 about Bergoglio’s connection during that period to the abduction of two priests, who were held by the military for six months and tortured. According to Verbitsky, Bergoglio “was accused by two Jesuit priests of having surrendered them to the military.”
The generals had asked the Jesuits to stop their social work, and when they refused, Verbitsky related, Bergoglio “stopped protecting them, and he let the military know that they were no more inside the protection of the Jesuits’ company, and they were kidnapped.”
During that period, the Latin American Church was close to a split between reactionaries like Bergoglio and those who advocated “liberation theology,” which supported the struggles of the masses against the landowners and capitalists in repressive countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and Colombia.
Washington, Operation Condor and role of U.S. bishops
The U.S. government was solidly behind the ruling classes. In 1973, as part of Operation Condor, it colluded with Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile to destroy the progressive Popular Unity coalition government of President Salvador Allende and massacre the left.
Operation Condor was not confined to Chile. Right now, in Argentina, 25 former officials of the military dictatorship of Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, who is now serving a life sentence, are on trial for the crimes they committed while applying Operation Condor to that country. The courtrooms are packed every day by elderly survivors of that terrible period.
There has been no reporting yet in the corporate media about the role played by the U.S. bishops in the secret conclave that elected Bergoglio. Tainted by the sex abuse scandal, they have kept a low profile. But as leaders of the wealthiest part of the church after the Vatican and its bank, they had a great deal of clout in determining the outcome.
It should be remembered that on Aug. 28, 1978, at a time when financial scandal plagued the Vatican bank, Cardinal Albano Lucio, an Italian, was chosen as Pope John Paul I. He died very unexpectedly just 33 days later. A second conclave was held in which Cardinal Karol Wojtyla — Washington’s choice, no doubt about it — was elected Pope John Paul II. All the counterrevolutionaries in Eastern Europe were elated.
Thus, the election of an Argentine cardinal like Bergoglio sends shivers down the spines of many in Latin America who have been struggling for social justice. They have looked to courageous progressives like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez — a lay Catholic — to foil the counterrevolution planned by Washington and its accomplices among the elites. Some had hoped to have the church on their side — or at least neutral — but that looks ever more impossible.
In domestic U.S. politics as well, Bergoglio can be expected to exert pressure from the right, especially on the growing Latino/a population, which has been organized and strong in demanding the rights denied to millions of undocumented immigrants.
For women of all backgrounds, the appointment of this social conservative only deepens the need to fight the hold of the patriarchy as an inborn feature of capitalist society, whether those who exploit women do their dirty work in the plush boardrooms of corporations like Walmart or prowl the vestibules of echoing cathedrals.