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TAG | Roman Catholicism

Jul/14

5

Pressing Some Buttons

Exorcism?The Raw Story:

The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, giving its blessing to a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who claim to save the possessed from Satan.

The association’s practice of exorcism is now recognised under canon law, the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper reported Thursday.

Pope Francis often insists on the need to fight “Satan” and “demons”, and was captured in dramatic images last year placing his hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair who appeared to slump at his touch — an act of prayer exorcists claim was intended to free the victim from the devil.

The first association of exorcists was founded by Father Gabriele Amorth, the Holy See’s chief exorcist for almost 30 years, who has described intense sessions with possessed people who scream, blaspheme and spit shards of glass.

He set up an Italian exorcists association in 1991, after which he began organising meetings with devil fighters from other countries, leading to the establishment of the international group.

Francesco Bamonte, the head of the association, told L’Osservatore that the recognition was “a cause for joy for the whole Church,” saying that “exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer”.

The Middle Ages, wrote that old crank Carl Jung, “live on… merrily”.

And so they do.

They are good box office too. As this cannily populist pope understands very well.

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May/14

11

Populist Pope, Populist Religion

satan_the_devil_painting_by_Michael_PacherThe Washington Post reports:

VATICAN CITY — A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.

Well, if that is what he is “hardly known for”, people have not been paying attention. Listen to what he has, at least implicitly, to say about those who disagree with his pose on immigration (his speech on Lampedusa would be a good place to start) or economics, and there’s quite a bit of ‘fire and brimstone’, at least as that term is metaphorically understood.

But for this pope, there’s more to this than metaphor.

The Washington Post explains:

After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.

Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces­ of evil at his beck and call.

Last year, for instance, Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons, in what many saw as an impromptu act of cleansing. A few months later, he praised a group long viewed by some as the crazy uncles of the Roman Catholic Church — the International Association of Exorcists — for “helping people who suffer and are in need of liberation.”

….Since its foundation, the church has taught the existence of the Devil. But in recent decades, progressive priests and bishops, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, have tended to couch Satan in more allegorical terms. Evil became less the wicked plan of the master of hell than the nasty byproduct of humanity’s free will. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a lofty German theologian, often painted evil with a broad brush.

Enter the plain-talking first pope from Latin America, where mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region. During his time as cardinal of Buenos Aires before rising to the papacy, Francis was known for stark warnings against “the tempter” and “the father of lies.” Now, his focus on the Devil is raising eyebrows even within the normally unquestioning walls of Vatican City.

“Pope Francis never stops talking about the Devil; it’s constant,” said one senior bishop in Vatican City who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “Had Pope Benedict done this, the media would have clobbered him.”

Yet, as with so many of his actions, Francis may simply be correctly reading the winds of the Catholic Church…

As a good, canny populist should.

Not so coincidentally, the Devil (or, more accurately, fear of the old monster) has always been a good recruiting sergeant for clergy looking to fill their pews.

And so the show goes on:

Although it is difficult to measure, Vatican officials talk about a resurgence of mystical rites in the church, including exorcism — or the alleged act of evicting demons from a living host. Cardinals in Milan; Turin, Italy; and Madrid, for instance, recently moved to expand the number of exorcists in their dioceses to cope with what they have categorized as surging demand.

But by focusing on old-school interpretations of the Devil, some progressive theologians complain, the pope is undermining his reputation as a leader who in so many other ways appears to be more in step with modern society than his predecessor.

“He is opening the door to superstition,” said Vito Mancuso, a Catholic theologian and writer.

Among the things lurking behind that door is the alleged gateway to hell guarded by the small cluster of officially anointed exorcists of the Roman Catholic Church.

By most accounts, the ranks of official exorcists number between 500 and 600 in a global church of more than 1 billion Catholics, with the vast majority operating in Latin America and Eastern Europe. This week, at the ninth and largest Vatican-sanctioned convention on exorcism, attendees gushed about the fresh recognition being afforded the field. Almost 200 delegates — most of them priests and nuns — from more than two dozen nations talked about how Satanic cults are spreading like wildfire in the age of the Internet.

…During the conference, the Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. “Two lesbians,” he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head….

Lesbians! Throwing chocolates!

Well, it beats projectile vomiting.

The Middle Ages, wrote that old crank Carl Jung, “live on… merrily”.

And so they do.

They are good box office too.

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Apr/14

5

O’Malley’s Photo Opportunity

O'Malley's photo opBoston’s “Cardinal Sean” pulls a cheap stunt:

NOGALES, Ariz. — At a Mass held under the shadow of the border fence this morning, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston called on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform this year.

“The system is broken, causes terrible suffering and is a waste of human resources,” O’Malley said.

This is the same priest who campaigned so hard (and so successfully) against Massachusetts’s Death With Dignity Act, a measure that would have done quite a bit to alleviate terrible suffering on his own doorstep.

O’Malley’s stance is, of course, very little to do with compassion, and a great deal to do with power, and more specifically, the power of numbers. Latino immigration fills pews, and (often) adds support for the Roman Catholic Church’s ideological agenda, an agenda that O’Malley is not, as we have seen, reluctant to impose on others.

But back to the cardinal:

“We’ve lost the sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. … America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the know-nothings but the welcome of The New Colussus.”

O’Malley was accompanied by eight other members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 17 other priests. The clergy gave communion to people on the Mexican side of the fence as part of the Mass.

“We see this as a moral issue, as an ethical issue,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese…

The presumption, therefore, is that those who dare to disagree are a thoroughly immoral lot.

The committee of bishops, which favors a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants, on Friday called on Catholics to pray, fast and take action for immigration reform, such as sending members of Congress electronic postcards advocating change….

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Mar/14

30

Connect the Dots

APTOPIX Vatican Pope ObamaFrom The Economist:

Together with a general migration from the north-east and Midwest towards the sunbelt, the number of people leaving the faith has led to a shrinking of Catholicism in its former heartlands….

This shrinking has been offset by growth in the South and southwest of the country. The number of Catholics in the archdiocese of Atlanta has increased by 180% in 2001-11. In these growth areas two-thirds of all Catholics are Hispanic. Hispanics tend to have larger families and their children are more likely to stick with the religion than the offspring of white Catholics. This is causing a big change in the ethnic makeup of the faithful. About a third of American Catholics are Hispanic, but for those under 40 the share rises to almost half. The church’s building programme cannot keep up. In some parishes in Arizona the local church will hold up to seven services on a Sunday, says Gerald Kicanus, the bishop of Tucson. Finding enough pastors is hard: the diocese has brought in priests from Nigeria, India and the Philippines to make up for a shortage of home-grown ones.

Once they have found a pew, Hispanic Catholics expect a different kind of worship. Cross-carrying processions during Holy Week have become commonplace. The way the sign of the cross is made can differ, as can the use of holy water and the saints and shrines chosen for veneration—the growing cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the best example. Services have more music, and the kind of charismatic preaching performed by Father Hoyos in Arlington has gained ground.

This distinctive way of doing things extends to politics. Overall, America’s Catholics vote like the country as a whole. In 2012, 50% of Catholic voters backed Barack Obama and 48% went for Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent. But there was a clear divide between white Catholics, who favoured Mr Romney, and Hispanic Catholics, who favoured Mr Obama.

Though Hispanic Catholics are conservative on some social issues, such as abortion, this seldom determines their party allegiance. (The same is true of black evangelicals.) Their notion of the proper role of government is more Democratic than Republican. Some 61% of white Catholics say it should reduce the income gap between rich and poor. For Hispanic Catholics the figure is 86%. For Mr Obama, who was to meet the pope on March 27th, these numbers must seem miraculous.

So Latino immigration helps fill Roman Catholic churches and brings votes the Democrats’ way.

And both that church and that party favor more of it.

Possibly a phenonemenon that it does not need a Sherlock Holmes to explain.

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Jan/14

22

A Guide to Getting Your Saints Recognized

saintsUS Catholic has a report on Pope Francis’s efforts to clean up the Vatican Bank. It comments that “Francis has repeatedly railed against corruption, and his reforms at the bank are quickly becoming a test case for those efforts”. Fair enough (and a touch belated given the Vatican’s repeated attacks on wicked financiers in recent years), but then came this:

This week, [the pope] took another, less controversial step in that direction, calling for a “spending review” that includes settling on a cap for expenses tied to the canonization causes of would-be saints. In the past, critics charged that figures backed by well-financed supporters usually became saints more quickly than their more meagerly financed counterparts.

One learns something new every day. Amazing.

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Jan/14

12

Economical with the Truth

Reinhard MarxCross-posted on Ricochet:

Religion News‘s David Gibson believes that the current pope’s crude and demagogic attacks (to be clear: that’s not exactly the way that Mr. Gibson appears to see them) on the free market have a useful supporter in Marx. That’s Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. Did you think I meant anyone else?

After taking a few, largely ludicrous, swipes at the pope’s critics on the right, Mr. Gibson gets to the point:

Cardinal Reinhard Marx …says the idea that capitalism has never been properly tried is silly — and he says it in the latest edition of the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano:

“To think that somewhere there are pure markets which give rise to the good through free competition is mere ideology,” wrote Marx, who is one of the pope’s “Gang of Eight” special advisers. “Capitalism should not become the model of society” because “it does not take into account individual destinies, the weak and the poor.”

He noted that “The call to think beyond capitalism is not a struggle against the market economy,” but, according to Catholic World News, he wrote that an economic vision that “reduces economic action to capitalism has chosen the morally wrong starting point.”

And such an economic vision is practiced where, exactly, Cardinal?

Marx then goes on to deny most of postwar European history:

Catholic social teaching offers the “spiritual foundations of a social market economy” but “these ideas have never played a real role.”

Oh come off it.

Marx is an educated man. We thus must assume that he is a knave rather than a fool. As he knows perfectly well, Western Europe’s economies have been run on a ‘social market’ basis since the fall of Hitler, and, indeed, in some places sometimes before, a social market that, at least in Roman Catholic Europe, owed a clear debt to Catholic social teaching, and more specifically to that set out in Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.

It’s worth adding, perhaps unkindly, that the economic ideology running through some of the variants of prewar European fascism can also be seen as a mutation of those very same ideas, a mutation that was profoundly influential in shaping the Peronism that flourished in the Argentina of the future Pope Francis’s youth.

And Cardinal Marx—selected, as Mr. Gibson mentions above, by Francis as one of his eight wise men to assist in the overhaul of the curia— is someone of whom this pope clearly approves.

Make of that what you will.

Oh yes, there’s one other thing. As the Huffington Post noted last October:

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich’s archdiocese spent around $11 million renovating the archbishop’s residence and another $13 million for a guesthouse in Rome.

And make of that what you will.

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Jan/14

9

Devilry Afoot

RosemaryThe Devil (or, more accurately, fear of the old monster) has always been a good recruiting sergeant for clergy looking to fill their pews. It’s thus no great surprise to read that the Roman Catholic church is taking advantage of a current surge in the jitters.

The Daily Telegraph reports:

The diocese of Milan recently nominated seven new exorcists, the bishop of Naples appointed three new ones a couple of years ago and the Catholic Church in Sardinia sent three priests for exorcism training in Rome, amid concern that the Mediterranean island, particularly its mountainous, tradition-bound interior, is a hotbed of occultism. In Spain, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid, chose eight priests to undergo special training in May to confront what he described as “an unprecedented rise” in cases of “demonic possession”. The Church in Spain was coming across many cases that “go beyond the competence of psychologists” and they were occurring with “a striking frequency”, the archbishop said.

Why the surge?

My guess is that decades of devilry on TV and in the movies have had quite a bit to do with the revival in beliefs of this nature, but the Roman Catholic Church seems to be looking elsewhere in its search for an explanation:

The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the Church said.

In a way, that’s fair enough. If someone is inclined to be religious, it is probably no bad idea to act on that instinct in a reasonably conventional manner: attend the local church, you know how it goes. For an individual to open him or herself up instead to a vague ‘spirituality’ or, indeed, more specifically esoteric alternatives, is to risk the prospect that any number of nasties (psychologically speaking) might come flying in.

The canny populist now presiding in the Vatican is well placed to take advantage of all this. The Daily Telegraph quotes the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen:

“After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, there was a great deal of embarrassment among ‘enlightened’ Catholics about exorcisms and other aspects of the supernatural. It was seen as a medieval anachronism. But at the grassroots level there has always been a very strong streak of popular religion, a fascination with the occult and the powers of the Devil. We know that Pope Francis is a strong believer in popular religion such as Marian devotion, but that also includes belief in the Devil.”

In May it was claimed that Pope Francis had performed an exorcism during a Mass in St Peter’s Square.

Television images show him laying his hands on a wheelchair-bound man, who appears to go into convulsions with his mouth open before slumping down into his chair. The encounter was shown by TV2000, a channel owned by the Italian bishops’ conference, which quoted experts as saying that there was no doubt the Pope had performed an exorcism. Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later dismissed the claims, saying Pope Francis “did not intend” to perform an exorcism — an ambivalently-worded denial that left many convinced that he had indeed done so. Pope Francis has not publicly commented on exorcisms, but many of his sermons and homilies feature references to the Devil.

Indeed they do.

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Dec/13

21

Science Update

Sedona (July 97) (AS)The Daily Telegraph reports:

Angels exist but do not have wings and are more like shards of light, at least according to a top Catholic Church “angelologist” who says the heavenly beings are now back in vogue thanks to New Age religions.

“I think there is a rediscovery of angels in Christianity,” Father Renzo Lavatori said on the sidelines of a conference on angels in a lavishly-frescoed Renaissance palace in Rome.

“You do not see angels so much as feel their presence,” said Father Lavatori, adding: “They are a bit like sunlight that refracts on you through a crystal vase.”

…He said the popularised image of angels is a necessary result of their being “back in fashion” but is dismissive of all the angel art around Christmas.

“There is space for that, but you have to understand that these are not real representations. Angels do not have wings or look like cherubs,” he said. The widely-published Catholic clergyman is also a “demonologist” and says angels are more needed than ever because increasing secularisation and materialism in society have left an “open door” for the devil.

“There is a lot more interference from diabolical forces. That is why you see queues of people outside the exorcists’ offices in churches…Pope Francis talks more about the devil than about angels and I think rightly so. But it’s still early, he will get round to the angels too.”

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Dec/13

4

Pope, Rush

jesuitreductionOne of the many advantages of not being religious is that I don’t have to spend any time wrestling with the “contradictions” of my faith.

Christianity has—stretching from its murky beginnings to its wildly syncretic present—quite a few of those.

Writing on his always fascinating (if sometimes infuriating) blog, Andrew Sullivan takes Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin to task for making insufficient effort to reconcile their views on Pope Francis’s demagogic attacks on free markets with the Christianity that the two also profess. I don’t have a god in this fight, but read what Andrew has to say, and judge for yourselves. I should say that this this was one of his high-octane days, and that can make for a rough ride, but I’ll admit that this made me laugh:

In the Church of Limbaugh, there is no greater heretic than Saint Francis. Francis even believed in the sanctity of the natural world, regarding animals as reflecting the pied beauty of a mysterious divinity. Sarah Palin, in contrast, sees them solely as dinner.

And how right she is.

“Pied beauty of a mysterious divinity”, or just beautiful in pies?

With apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins (and pun-hating readers), I’ll take the latter.

Andrew concludes:

Christianity is one of the most powerful critiques of radical market triumphalism. And it’s now coming – more plainly and unmistakably in our lifetimes – to a church near you.

Well, “radical market triumphalism” is a mistake, but one that is more talked about than real: for the most part it is a straw man. On Andrew’s broader point, we’ll have to see whether the religious left is indeed going to enjoy another surge. Maybe, maybe not. It won’t be the first time. Or the last. But, there is a slight something in Andrew’s tone—a shadow, no more than that—which is a reminder that when such surges occur, liberty frays.

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Oct/13

2

The Pope and His Politics

descamisadosCross-posted on the Corner:

Kathryn, I was interested to read this passage from that new interview with the Pope:

Personally I think so-called unrestrained liberalism only makes the strong stronger and the weak weaker and excludes the most excluded. We need great freedom, no discrimination, no demagoguery and a lot of love. We need rules of conduct and also, if necessary, direct intervention from the state to correct the more intolerable inequalities.

Reading the first sentence, I (perhaps mistakenly) was left with the clear impression that the Pope believes that he has seen “unrestrained [economic] liberalism” at work. I am curious to know where.

Looking at the Pope’s second sentence, fair enough, but when it comes to the avoidance of demagoguery, I wonder how, on reflection, the Pope would classify certain sections of the speech he made on a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, sections analyzed by Theodore Dalrymple in an analysis (previously posted on the Corner here), of which this is a key extract:

In his homily, the Pope decried what he called ‘the globalization of indifference’ to the suffering of which the tragedy of the drowned was a manifestation and a consequence. Our culture of comfort, he said, has made us indifferent to the sufferings of others; we have forgotten how to cry on their behalf. He made reference to the play of Lope de Vega in which a tyrant is killed by the inhabitants of a town called Fuente Ovejuna, no one owning up to the killing and everyone saying that it was Fuente Ovejuna that killed him. The West, said the Pope, was like Fuente Ovejuna, for when asked who was to blame for the deaths of these migrants, it answered, ‘Everyone and no one!’ He continued, ‘Today also this question emerges: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We each reply: it was not I, I wasn’t here, it was someone else.’

The Pope also called for ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity that open the way to tragedies such as these to come out of hiding.’

With all due respect, I think this is very loose thinking indeed of a kind that the last Pope would not have permitted himself. The analogy between the two situations, the murder of the tyrant in Fuente Ovejuna and the death by drowning of thousands of migrants, is weak to the point of non-existence. After all, someone in Fuente Ovejuna did kill the tyrant; no one in the west drowned the migrants. Is the Pope then saying that Europe’s refusal to allow in all who want to come is the moral equivalent of actually wielding the knife?

…The Pope’s use of a term such as ‘those who take the socio-economic decisions in anonymity’ was strong on connotation but weak on denotation, itself a sign of intellectual evasion. Who, exactly, were ‘those’ people? Wall Street hedge fund managers, the International Monetary Fund, opponents of free trade, African dictators? Was he saying that the whole world economic system was to blame for the migration across the Mediterranean, that the existence of borders was illegitimate, that Denmark (for example) was rich because Swaziland was poor, that if only Losotho were brought up to the level of Liechtenstein (or, of course, if Liechtenstein were brought down to the level of Lesotho) no one would drown in the Mediterranean? There was something for everyone’s conspiracy theory in his words…

Then we turn to the Pope’s final sentence. Its contents were perfectly reasonable in one sense. Few would deny that the marketplace needs rules of conduct. The real question is what those rules should be. And so it is with the Pope’s observation that it is at times “necessary” for the state to “correct the more intolerable inequalities”. Yes, sure, but the real question is when, and how.

And when it comes to answering those questions, I somehow doubt that this pope is on the side, metaphorically (if not theologically), of the angels.

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