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Pope’s address to Bishops raises larger questions, 
contradictions in visit to US 


Audio interview with political analyst Daniel Patrick Welch touching on issues raised by Pope Francis’ address to US Bishop conference and the sex abuse scandal, as well as the larger context of his visit to the US and his papacy’s attempt to refocus the church. Click on sound icon for full audio.

This is the kind of story I find sad. Normally with this kind of a high profile target and story I might be chomping at the bit to speak my mind. But I find it just ironic and very sad—it gives me a sense of despair. You know, at the core of it is a case of this very high profile, powerful man being willing to go only but so far.

He will speak to the bishops, but it’s so galling that he would praise them for their courage and not address directly the suffering of the victims in this same speech—it should be part of the same delivery, you know? And to praise their "fiscal sacrifice" for selling off assets and closing churches... That mad me sad and quite angry because they sold off all these assets so that they could pay their expensive lawyers, to find loopholes, to continue the coverup. And it’s not just the victims of this horrible sex abuse scandal, it was local people, whose diocese—like old women who had gone to church every day at the same church for the last fifty years. But it had to be closed, and dioces merged, and this happened all throughout the US because they had to sell off these properties to pay out either hush money or compensation for the victims.

So it really points out the contradictions and the conflict of this pope—a king, a leader, an emperor— who can only go so far. He is a ’man of the poor,’ he chose the name Francis, which is essentially Francis of Assissi—he’s making that connection very open. But what happens when a famous person comes through, say, Spanish Harlem? The New York Post actually called it "parting the sea of bums" to make the neighborhood clean enough and safe enough for the pope to visit. And the irony—as Bart Simpson would say, ’the ironing is delicious’: You know, here is a symbol of poverty and of raising up the poor, and it actually highlights this vicious policy of Broken Windows Policing, this sick thing that has led to the police violence and the murder of so many black teenagers in the United States. Because these neighborhoods have to be made safe for white settlement. They’re in the way, and so these minor crimes like vagrancy, and homelessness, or spitting and jaywalking, have to be aggressively punished.

And he comes along—he says that he is visiting Spanish Harlem because ’Latin Americans’ are the foundation, the rock of the current Catholic church. But of course this is the vestige of the 500-600 year history of plunder, of colonialism. You know, Catholicism was the absolute essence—the ideological, spiritual and political foundation—of colonialism. For God, Gold, and Glory—that’s what Columbus was here for. And that’s what led to the genocide of millions of Native Americans. It’s very important for him to canonize this Spanish priest when he was in California, but this priest is responsible for the deaths of thousands of natives. So these contradictions can never be forgotten, and they shouldn’t be.

He can go to that extent, but he won’t embrace liberation theology. When he was Archbishop in Argentina he was accused of having forgotten or turning a blind eye to the Dirty War, when Jesuit priests were disappeared and killed. He went to Bolivia, and met with Morales and went to the site where Lucho Espinal was assassinated—but then he was shocked at the presentation of the hammer and sickle cross [designed by Espinal. ed] He thought you could do one thing without the other. He talks a good game and can criticize capitalism, but it’s very difficult for him to go that extra mile. He said—when he was at the site of Lucho Espinal’s assassination—that he had died ’just like Oscar Romero’ in El Salvador. But of course he visited Oscar Romero in El Salvador when he was still alive, and wouldn’t give him the time of day.

I think—it’s hard for me personally because I was raised in the Catholic Church and I still have some affinity for some of its teachings: about the unimportance of material wealth, about serving the poor, about raising up others...but the extra thing is that we have to be *of* the people, and we can’t be exponents of this horrific tradition without acknowledging it. And that’s what’s so difficult.

As I say, I find it very sad. The other part of it is that I don’t want to just criticize Catholicism, because other Christians are also involved in this horrendous islamophobia and trying to demonize Islam as a violent religion when Christianity was the backbone of the conquest of the entire western hemisphere. And so there is a lot of blood on the hands of this religion—not just Catholicism but also Christian Zionists, say the right wing of the evangelical church, whose only support for the Jews comes from the fact that they will be used when Zion is set afire and they will ascend to heaven from the Temple Mount. You know, you have to assess both things at the same time. It’s very important, if you want to be a man of the people and a man of the poor—your office, and this is the irony—your office is an exponent of this atrocious history, and it is very difficult to bring those two into line, no matter how good a person he is individually and no matter how he talks the talk.

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(c) 2015 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to danielpwelch.com. Political analyst, writer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. Welch has also appeared in numerous television and radio interviews, and can be available for comment and analysis as his day job permits. 

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