As revelations of child abuse by priests rock the Catholic Church to its highest levels, Horace Campbell asks if the scandals will prompt sufficient institutional self-examination for a hypocrisy-riddled church to embrace a theology that administers to ‘the needs of the poor’ and oppressed rather than serving as ‘a religion of state power’. The church has allowed itself to be overtaken by the fundamentalist forces of the past four decades, Campbell argues, helping to stoke ‘the fires of intolerance’ and hate rather than encouraging a ‘gospel of sharing and liberation’ to flourish.
‘What is hidden from the wise and prudent will be revealed to babes and sucklings’.
These words sum up the challenge of getting the truth out, especially as this moment of crisis reveals the multiple levels of lies, hypocrisy and child abuse that have been festering in the Catholic Church.
Over the past four decades, the Christian faith has been overtaken by fundamentalist elements, which have stoked the fires of intolerance, war and hate. These right-wing forces were supported by a cult-like axis consisting of bankers, fascists and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), which came into full force to reverse the trend of Liberation Theology that had been blossoming all over the world.
Right-wing Christian fundamentalism emerged out of opposition to the poor and the Vatican was the anchor of this right-wing Christianity. Between the conservative Catholics and the Evangelicals who were called fundamentalists, good Christians were squeezed and persecuted.
Protestant fundamentalism has taken such deep roots in the United States that many outside the United States wonder if US society is on the verge of becoming fascist. These fundamentalists have one thing in common – they are against the rights of women.
As the financial crisis exposes the opacity of the international financial system, all capitalist institutions are in crisis. This crisis is nowhere more evident than in the Vatican, where for generations an alliance between the CIA, a group known as P2 (Propaganda Due) and bankers was nurtured to the point where these elements covered up vast crimes against citizens.
During the Cold War, the Catholic Church, especially the front line conservative formations such as the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei were partners with western intelligence agencies in the so-called war against communism. Pope John Paul II was recruited as an activist to roll back the rise of theories of liberation in the Church and to support the most conservative dictators around the world. Now his successor is rocked by the legacies of forty years of cover-ups and abuse. The revelations of cases of child abuse by priests follows a wave of sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic Church around the world. Stories of abuse, cover-ups, lies and deception are coming from nearly every corner of the world, with abused persons coming forward in Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States.
It is the German cases that reach right up to the top of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI, who hailed from Germany, grew up in the conservative stronghold of Bavaria, and as a youth had served in the youth wing of the Nazi organisation, the Hitler Youth. Reports in the media recount the fact that as Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Alois Ratzinger turned a blind eye to the widespread abuses in his archdiocese. The German publication, Der Spiegel in reporting the earthquake in the church noted that:
‘…the church systematically protected the perpetrators and ignored the victims, and that it repressed and covered up sexual abuse in its own ranks for decades – and in doing so enabled paedophile priests to leave behind a trail of emotional devastation throughout Germany.’
Archbishop Ratzinger was elevated to becoming a cardinal when the conservative factions of the Catholic Church won out in the battles over the future of the Catholic Church. In the seventies, the growth of priests who supported a new gospel of sharing and liberation shocked the conservative forces.
Of the numerous orders of the Catholic Church, ranging from Augustinians, Capuchins, Carmelites, Dominicans, Jesuits, Franciscans, Marists, Maryknoll, White Fathers etc, there were many sections that were sympathetic to a new theology that administered to the needs of the poor.
It was in opposition to liberation theology that the forces of conservatism moved decisively. Their move was so barefaced that the Vatican was silent when Maryknoll sisters were killed in the Contra wars in Central America. Archbishop Romero of El Salvador was gunned down in this climate of hostility to the gospel of peace. Anti-communism, support for capitalism and racist ideas of white supremacy were the teachings that were favoured by the Church when Pope John Paul II emerged as the leader.
Ratzinger was one of the driving forces behind the crackdown on Liberation Theology and he was one of the chief architects of the Roman Church's alliance with the dictators of Latin America and the racists in Africa. Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the key insiders of this anti-communist crusade and Africans remember well the role of sections of the church in supporting apartheid and Portuguese colonialism. In every continent there were righteous religious leaders who opposed colonialism and oppression, but political power in the Vatican was vested in the ranks of those who adhered to the most right-wing ideas. Those who opposed the Conservatives running the Vatican were called dissenters. As one prominent journalist of the New York Times said of Ratzinger:
‘As the long-time Vatican enforcer, the archconservative Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – moved avidly to persecute dissenters. But with molesters, he was plodding and even merciful.’
In order to be an effective enforcer, the Vatican had to have available an equally organised force. Of these conservative Catholics, the one that is more and more coming to light is that of Opus Dei.
OPUS DEI AND FASCISM
If there was a society associated with the most brutal crimes of the Catholic Church, it is the Catholic Church of Spain. After the restoration of the power of the Catholic Church after the expulsion of the Moors during the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand (Los Reyes Catholicos), the Inquisition was a period of torture and terrorism inside Europe. Outside of Europe, the torture inspired the genocide of millions of citizens in the Americas. This mass genocide was possible because intellectual leaders in Spain such as Sepúlveda deemed that Africans and First Nation peoples were not full human beings. From the genocide and the inquisition, the Catholic Church became militant partners in the Transatlantic slave trade. The vigour of many priests in this mass slaughter is still to be documented from the rich archives in Seville and Rome.
In the 20th century after some Europeans started to retreat from this sordid history, a new order was stared in Spain to ‘save’ the Church. This was the order known as Opus Dei, started in 1928 but coming into prominence under General Franco’s fascist dictatorship. It was to this order that conservatives turned during the Cold War to save the church from those priests and nuns who supported Liberation Theology. Every major Catholic institution, especially universities and charities, was torn by the aggressive posture of the fascists and the intellectual milieu fostered by the Axis of bankers, intelligence agencies and conservative religious forces. Pope John Paul II surrounded himself with these conservatives and these forces worked very closely with William Casey who was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency under Ronald Reagan. After the death of John Paul II in 2005, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation noted that:
‘Through the 1980s, Pope John Paul II met regularly with the head of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, William Casey, and participated in what former US National Security Advisor Richard Allen calls “the greatest secret alliance in history” between the Vatican and the Reagan Administration.’
It was this same Pope who in 2002 canonised Saint Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei. This Pope had come to power after the sordid affair of the linkages between the Vatican bank and international gangsters that were involved in the Banco Ambrosiano. This story of lies, deceit, murder and linkages to international gangsters through the Mafia had been covered up. The true cause of death of the Italian financier Roberto Calvi on 18 June 1982 and the linkages to ultra right-wing forces in all parts of the world had been covered up by the same western media that is now discovering the sex abuse scandal. This sex abuse scandal will bring to light other far more serious linkages of secret societies that existed within the engine of a vast conspiratorial operation in Italy and beyond known as Loggia Propaganda Due (P2), composed of thousands of (some claim far more) politicians, ministers, industrialists, journalists, judges, high-ranking military officers and secret service agents from various countries, whose common aim (the ‘Plan for Democratic Rebirth’). The international strategy of the CIA under Casey mobilised these P2 forces and Catholic charities, universities and humanitarian agencies in all parts of the world were tainted as this gangster formation of bankers had the cover of the Vatican Bank.
EARTHQUAKE IN THE CHURCH
If the greatest secret alliance between the conservatives and the Catholic Church took place under Reagan, we will not have to await the verdict of history to hear of the Opus Dei and the support for George Bush by the Christian right, especially the Vatican bankers. It is known that George W. Bush supported the ideas of celibacy and abstinence in his so-called Global AIDS Initiative. The mobilisation of the Catholic hierarchy and the institutions of higher learning in the war against women are still unfolding as the Catholic Church continues to place the lives of millions of women in danger. The question of the reproductive health of women is one issue that energises patriarchs from most religions and despite differences within the Christian Church and between the Christians and Islamic Fundamentalists, the one feature that unites them is the quest to control the reproductive health of women. The tactical alliance against women was on full display during and after the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which was held from 5–13 September 1994 in Cairo, Egypt.
The struggle to control the bodies of women is strewn with patriarchical ideas and hypocrisy about family values. The church has given itself the right to decide for women how to control their bodies. It was at the Cairo summit where for the first time, the reproductive and sexual health and rights of women became a central element in an international struggle for peoples’ rights. The question of the rights of women in general, and the rights of women in the Catholic Church in particular is creating an earthquake in that organisation. The sex abuse scandal is only the tip of an iceberg that is slowly breaking in the church. If Opus Dei represented the neo-fascist wing of the worldwide organisation with over one billion adherents, there were millions of women inside the organisation struggling for change. These women start from the premise that priests and nuns are humans, and as humans they have desires and emotions.
These emotions and desires have aroused anew the debates on celibacy, on whether priests should be able to marry or whether women can be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church. The debate on emancipation inside the church is calling for a new era of liberation and emancipation. This era is calling for the full exposure of those who have been criminally involved in the abuse of children and criminally involved with money launderers and the mafia. As the legal claims will increase there will be pressures inside the church because all of those abused cannot be silenced. It is only a new era of truth, healing and spiritual renewal that can save the present Catholic Church, but while the process of renewal is being searched for, many other scandals will be uncovered.
Probably the biggest scandal of all is the belief of the Catholic Church that Africans are by nature devil worshippers. In the main, western Christianity was brought to Africa through force and the military power of the colonial state. As an institution gripped by militarism and masculinity, the official church tolerated and supported all forms of brutality against Africans on the grounds that they were heathens. When some of the chiefs and their children converted and became allies of colonialism and apartheid, the church carried out hypocrisy on a grand scale. The leaders of the church were aware that many worshipped in the Catholic buildings on Sundays but from Monday to Friday were involved in community religious practices and beliefs that were considered ‘worshiping the devil.’ Outside of Africa this struggle was sharp and exploded in the society called Haiti. In African societies and Latin America, the present struggles over the child abuse opens the door for other struggles that have laid dormant for decades, if not centuries.
There are hundreds of decent and righteous Christians inside the church who are seeking to expose the long history of secretiveness, deception and cover-up.
In 2000 Pope Paul II apologised for the crimes of the Catholic Church over the centuries since the inquisition and the genocide against the First Nation peoples. Even in the moment of apology and asking for forgiveness, the pope downplayed the seriousness of the sins and crimes committed. This apology was hollow because the church never followed up with the kind of repair to ensure that there was no repetition of the past crimes. The second inquisition and persecution of the followers of liberation theology was going on even while he was making the reparative claim. This sex abuse scandal is taking place at a moment when all other major institutions of capitalism are in crisis. During revolutionary moments all institutions come under scrutiny and in these moments big and powerful institutions are challenged. We are witnessing one such moment in the Catholic Church as the Vatican and the conservative leadership of the church is being challenged to come clean on the cover-up of child abuse, paedophilia, prostitution rings and the alliance with fascists and dictators.
Instead of going away, the scandals will continue until there is institutional self-examination, liberating public honesty and truth-telling. The teachings of Jesus reflected the teachings of a spiritual leader who supported the most oppressed. This religious leader whipped the moneychangers and cast them out of the temple. We will see that revolution when the Catholic Church is no longer a haven for Opus Dei and the hedge fund leaders of the Knights of Malta. Then the church can go back to its revolutionary roots before it became a religion of state power. When that moment arrives, we will know that the bankers are indeed doing the work of the devil.
A framework for forgiveness cannot arise in a context of lies, deceit and hypocrisy. We are waiting for the moment when it is not only the socialists who will write the truth about ‘how governments, bankers, secret services, Masonic lodges, the Vatican and the Mafia impacted international politics in the 1970s and 1980s.’
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* Horace Campbell is a peace activist who is working to realise the dream of the late Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem of building African unity by 2015.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.