Richard Greeman's Blog

Pope Quits, So What? by Richard Greeman

Dear Friends,

Why should agnostics, atheists, secular humanists, and/or Leftists
give a shit about the latest crisis in the scandal-ridden Holy Roman
Apostalic Catholic Church? Good riddance to bad rubbish, n’est-ce pas?

Even good Catholics agree: ‘New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope’ headlines
Gary Wills in the N.Y. Times, while former altar boy John Patrick
Shenley writes: ‘POPE BENEDICT XVI quit. Good. He was utterly bereft
of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children.
He’d been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful
résumé, he had no use for women.’  In any case, don’t we believe that
religion is necessarily in conflict with progressive reform or
revolution? ‘Pie in the sky when you die’ in the words of the old
Wobbly song? Doesn’t belief in the Hereafter preclude fighting for the
Here and Now?

Christianity and Class

In theory, perhaps; but in historical practice Christianity has often
inspired revolutionary mass movements among the poor to demand Heaven
on Earth in the Here and Now. During 17th Century English revolution
the Levelers preached radical social equality (‘When Adam delved and
Eve span, Who was then the Gentleman?’) and the Diggers took over the
land, while the Anabaptists under Jan of Leiden established a utopiaan
commune. In the 19th Century, the radically egalitarian Taipings took
over half of China and held it against the Emperor for over a decade
in the name of a Christian Utopia. In 20th Century Latin-America,
Liberation Theology-inspired clergy and Christian base communities
among the poor courageously resisted wealthy oligarchies backed by
U.S. imperialism, in 1979 successfully overthrowing the Somoza
dictatorship in Nicaragua as part of the Sandinista coalition.

For too long the Left, instead of adopting a dialectical approach to
religion, has been identified with a sterile abstract atheism,
rejecting spirituality (‘superstition’) and with it the billions of
people of faith who make up the majority of the world’s working
classes. Faith provides these billions with community and hope to keep
going, just as faith in an improbable but necessary world revolution
gives the revolutionary the hope and courage to continue the struggle.
On the other hand, militant atheism,  contempt for religion and
worship of science characterize the sterile Voltarian ideology of the
radical petty-bourgeoisie, rather than that of working class

                                Religion and Socialism

From the 1840’s Karl Marx actively fought for religious freedom, and
although he famously wrote that religion is ‘the opiate of the
people,’ he went on to say ‘it is the heart of a heartless world.’
This is all the more true in our neo-liberal 21st Century world, where
the oppressed and unemployed turn more and more to the Church for
community and solidarity. Everywhere — from the abandoned rust-belt
heartlands of the U.S. to war-ravaged, plundered Africa – communities
of faith are called upon to replace the social safety-nets, public
services and civil-society communities destroyed by globalized
capitalism in the name of its secular gods: the Free Market and Fiscal

Although an atheist and anti-Zionist, Rosa Luxembourg saw religious
freedom as a fundamental principle. ‘The reasons for [her] position
were self-evident,’ writes Ronald Boer in the Winter 2013 New
Politics. ‘Opposition to the state’s efforts to control one’s
political aspirations, let alone religious affiliations (the tsarist
autocracy persecuted Roman Catholics, Jews, heretics and
freethinkers), and resistance to the church’s attempt to demand
allegiance, especially by using a judicial system saturated with
religious laws, means that one does not seek to impose the same type
of control as a socialist.’ Lenin, the firmest of atheists, went even
further: religious faith was not an obstacle to Membership in the
Party, which was open even to priests, as long as they didn’t
proselytize. For Lenin, quarrels over atheism were a distraction from
class struggle: ‘Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the
oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more
important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on paradise in

The Submerged Communist Content of Christianity

Social-democratic writers from G. B. Shaw to Barbara Eherenreich have
emphasized the equality of the sexes and communistic practices of the
early Christians. It was Paul of Tarsus, the Christian ‘Stalin,’ who
engineered the counter-revolution from within, chastising the women
and establishing the male-dominated, authoritarian, hierarchical
Church that has endured, via constant bloody purges of heretics,
since the Second Century. The political basis of the post-Pauline
ascendancy of the Church hierarchy was its alliance with its former
persecutor, the Roman Empire, which espoused the authoritarian Church
as support for its own state authority. Likewise, the Vatican made its
peace with both Emperor Napoleon and with Mussolini.

During the Middle Ages, the Church regained some of its fervor and
sense of community. However, the profligacy of Renaissance Popes like
the Borgias is legendary. From the 17th Century on, ‘The Alliance of
the Throne and the Alter’ was the motto of monarchical absolutism, and
at the time of the European democratic revolutions (1848) the Church
moved even further Right,  declaring the Pope ‘infallible’ for the
first time in history in 1870. (Previously matters of dogma could only
be decided at more democratic international Councils.)

In the 1960’s, under Pope John XXIII and in the wake of the historic
Second Vatican Council, the Church returned to its base among the
masses, particularly in Latin America. It re-affirmed the Gospel
‘preference for the poor’ and promoted a Liberation Theology that
affirmed the right to resist injustice. A vast movement of hope and
creativity swept through the lower ranks of the priesthood and spread
through the (mainly female) active laity, the popular mass base of the
Church, unleashing democratic energies that were threatening to the
land-owning and parasitic classes and to U.S. interests. As an active
participant in the Central America Solidarity movements in those
years, I worked closely with radical priests, nuns and lay people.
Often their attitudes and actions were more radical than their Leftist
allies, who often made political compromises with parts of the old
ruling classes (e.g. the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, where I visited in
1984, who refused to recognize the land claims of peasants occupying
farms abandoned by their counter-revolutionary owners.)

                        The Conservative Reaction

In 1978, on the eve of the Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberal
counter-revolution, the conservative hierarchy took back control of
the Vatican by electing John Paul II, a Polish professional
anti-Communist, followed by Benedict XVI, the arch-reactionary former
Hitler-youth and protector of pedophile priests, whose final act was
to launch a Medieval witch-hunt of liberal U.S. Church women before
resigning amid scandal. Recent news stories  about the financial and
moral crisis of today’s Catholic hierarchy reveal how a tiny mafia of
old men are clinging to control of the Church’s vast wealth and
holdings. We read about the Bishops cutting funds for schools and
parishes, closing parishes for lack of male priests, refusing to allow
women, the backbone of the Church, to substitute for men (even as
deacons or such) in their parishes.

One wonders if the hierarchy is deliberately dismantling the parishes
and schools, the Catholic base communities and liberal religious
orders, to diminish any possible challenge from below to their
authority, such as occurred in the 60s and 70s. Like the fat cat
corporate CEOs who screw their disempowered stockholders, these
shepherds couldn’t care less about the welfare of the sheep they are
sworn to keep safe. Only about continuing to sheer and eat them. John
Patrick Shanley writes ‘When I was a kid at St. Anthony’s in the Bronx
(one of the schools that the archdiocese of New York is now closing),
there were boxes for the poor. The people of the East Bronx worked
hard and made little. Everybody put money in those boxes. I put money
in those boxes. As far as I’m concerned, that money was stolen.’

                                Purple-Robed Gnomes

The Cardinals who will now flock to Rome to choose Benedict’s
successor are like wizened old gnomes sitting on a pot of gold equal
to the wealth of many nations. These purple-robed gnomes control vast
holdings and immense power through all kinds of ties, legal and
illegal, with banks, governments and reactionary parties not only in
Italy, but around the world. They include the likes of L.A.’s Cardinal
Mahoney, removed for shielding pedophile priests. They willingly spend
millions defending the child-molesting priests the hierarchy has long
protected, indeed encouraging them to continue their criminal
activities in unsuspecting new parishes. Why did the Vatican not take
a pro-active stance, quietly dismiss the abusers while apologizing and
compensating their victims? This would certainly have been cheaper,
and would have re-established the Church’s moral authority.

The answer is that the Catholic Hierarchy (like the world of finance
and the military) is a closed corporation, a state within a state,
impenetrable, opaque, a law unto itself, protected by its intimate
ties with other corrupt hierarchies in politics, the military,
banking, law enforcement and the Mafia. The gnomes that run it would
rather see the living Church wither on the vine than compromise, as
can be seen in their inaction in the pedophile priest scandal, their
adamant refusal to allow priests to marry or to give women a
sacerdotal role of some sort so as to keep the parishes alive, and
their unwillingness to fund Catholic education — once the Church’s
proud monopoly and major source of its ideological influence.

Meanwhile, sensational ongoing court trials in Ireland, Europe and the
U.S. keep the Church in the news in a terrible light. In Italy
derogatory rumors and speculation about the ‘real’ reasons for
Benedict’s resignation overshadowed the national election, and for
cause. Maybe something new will open up after all to let a little
light in.

                               Potential for Good

More than any institution, the Catholic (‘Universal’) Church is truly
international, a huge potential source for good. The vast wealth of
the Church could be used to promote Christian values through free
Catholic education and by distributing charity and comfort to the poor
and starving masses in every land. To some extent this is what is
happening in the so-called ‘failed states’ of Black Africa, where 16%
of today’s Catholics now live and thousands more flock to the Church
every day.  And if the U.S. Churchwomen and millions of hardworking
Catholic laity round the world had their way, that’s probably what the
way the Church would go.

Is there any hope for Catholic renewal? Any perspective of a revival
of the Liberation Theology movement of the Sixties and Seventies
(presumably, as part of an emergent 21st Century global movement of
the 99% against the 1%)? Is their any scenario that one could imagine,
wherein a rebellion of mainly female base Catholics and lower clergy
succeeds  in unseating the hierarchy ? In capturing the pot of gold so
jealously guarded by the Vatican gnomes? These are questions for us
Utopists who believe ‘another world is possible’ to ponder. My
favorite scenario would follow the Medieval legend, long believed by
many, of Pope Joan, the talented and learned girl who disguised
herself as a boy, become a priest and, due to her abilities, rose
through the church hierarchy, eventually being elected pope. Imagine
what a modern Pope Joan might accomplish today!

Meanwhile, 900 U.S. nuns gather in St. Louis last August to prepare
their reply to the Vatican’s crude attempt to stifle their
self-governing orders. ‘Catholics across the country are stunned and
outraged by the Vatican’s attempt to threaten the women who have been
the backbone of this church for centuries. Since the Vatican’s
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cracked down on the
Leadership Conference of Women Religious, thousands of faithful
Catholics have held more than 50 vigils across the country and more
than 57,000 people have signed a petition organized by the Nun Justice
Project in support of the nuns. With these actions, Catholics have
made it clear that they stand in solidarity with the sisters and their
good works among the poor and marginalized.  I wish them good Mazel.

Richard Greeman 

NYC, Feb. 24, 2013 

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