TAG | Vatican
On the whole, patriotic priests are preferable to those preaching the old baloney about the universal brotherhood of man, an impossible, unnatural aspiration that, by definition, can only (if it is to mean anything) be coercive.
It is however better if that patriotism is clear-eyed. healthy, and not too heavily worn.
I’m not convinced that that has been the case with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine prelate who has now become Pope Francis. Even if we disregard the rights (hard to discern) and wrongs (monumental) of the Argentine case for its unprovoked attack on the Falkland Islands in 1982, Bergoglio’s language is, well, judge for yourself.
Pope Francis’s election may cause controversy in Britain over comments he made at a Mass last year for Argentine veterans of the Falklands War to mark 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict. He reportedly said at the time: “We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the country who went out to defend their mother country, to reclaim that which is theirs and was usurped from them.”
Addressing relatives of fallen veterans before a visit to the Argentine military cemetery in Darwin in the Falklands in 2009, he said: “Go and kiss this land which is ours, and seems to us far away.”
He said they would not go alone, adding: “There are angels who will accompany you, who are sons, husbands and fathers of yours, who fell there, in an almost religious movement, of kissing with their blood the native soil.”
Or this, via Harry’s Place:
“Let’s pray to God that these years – despite the efforts of many to de-Malvinise history and reality – have served to silently mature the conscience of many Argentinians far and wide in this country, in a more authentic love for the Homeland, in a spirit of justice, through anonymous sacrifice, that they should be the hidden but fruitful sap which will make us live in freedom, in all the possible ways within this anxious life.”
Back in 2002 the (British Roman Catholic) Tablet provided its take on the religious dimension of the Argentine assault on the Falklands:
….Around this twentieth anniversary much has and will no doubt continue to be written. For those of us who lived the conflict at close quarters, perhaps one of the most interesting and under-reported aspects of it was the extent to which God and the Virgin Mary were used to justify the war, and to bring it to an end.
The military regime which decided to invade the islands did so in the knowledge that it counted on a powerful body of opinion within the Argentine Church to give it its blessing. The attitude of the Argentine Episcopal Conference to the regime that came to power in the 1976 coup had been equivocal. Pastoral letters had held back from public condemnation of human rights violations, and suggested that the ?common good? could be served by dealing with the moral and social disintegration that had characterised the previous civilian government of Isabelita Peron.
Only a minority of bishops, priests and nuns condemned the thousands of disappeared, and the complicity of those who pandered to national Catholicism. Those who survived the repression, like Bishop Jaime de Nevares of Neuquin, Bishop Miguel Hesayne of Viedma, and Bishop Jorge Novak of Quilmes, distanced themselves from the nationalistic fervour which surrounded the “reconquest of Las Malvinas?”.
They remained, however, in a minority. From the outset of the Falklands War, the partnership between Church and State gave the Argentine soldiers and their generals a sense of a moral crusade, and the junta the certainty of political cohesion. History was revisited and revised to provide justification for the equation between Argentine sovereignty and holy conversion.
Memories were revived of the first Spanish missionaries to the Falkland Islands, the priests portrayed as picture-book saints laying the sacramental rock on the heathen land. The subsequent British colonialism was reduced to a caricature of spiritual emptiness when, in fact, both the Anglican and Catholic faiths had retained an enduring presence on the islands. The mixing of nationalistic and religious mythology was prevalent in the first crucial hours of the Falklands conflict. On the eve of the invasion, Argentine commanders agreed that the military operation to take Las Malvinas, initially planned under the codename Azul, should be renamed Rosario, in honour of the Virgin of Rosario. According to Argentine cultural tradition, the Virgin had brought her graces to the population of Buenos Aires in the early nineteenth century before an invasion by British troops was successfully repulsed. She has been venerated passionately ever since.
On 7 April, the new Argentine military governor of Las Malvinas, General Mario Men?ndez, was sworn in during a ceremony at which Archbishop Desiderio Elso Collino, the chaplain general of the armed forces, officiated. “The gaucho Virgin is Mother of all men, but is in a very special way the Mother of all Argentines, and has come to take possession of this land, which is also her land”, stated Collino.For the rest of the war a succession of military chaplains ensured that the crusading spirit of the Argentine troops was kept alive in language reminiscent of the speeches delivered to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. In the fight against the English “heathen” no Argentine churchman was more fanatical than Fr Jorge Piccinalli….
How this all ties into Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ is, of course, something that will be worth discussing on another occasion.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini’s nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James’s Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James’s Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company’s true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican….
While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy’s wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.
The Guardian asked the Vatican’s representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.
Not necessarily the most shocking story in the world, but it comes with enough ironies to make it worth repeating, not least this (also from the Guardian, back in 2008):
It is a message sent from on high to the world’s financial and political elite. The Roman Catholic Church is calling for the effective closure of secretive tax havens as a ‘necessary first step’ to restore the global economy to health.
In a policy paper from the Holy See, Pope Benedict pins the blame for the international financial crisis largely on ‘offshore centres’, many of which, such as the Channel Islands, are British dependencies.
‘They have given support to imprudent economic and financial practices and have also played a significant role in the imbalances of development, allowing a gigantic flight of capital linked to tax evasion,’ says the report. ‘Offshore markets could also be linked to the recycling of profits from illegal activities.’
And they have proved pretty handy for the Vatican too.
Not, of course, that Benedict knew that. He had no idea. None at all.
It’s no great secret that the Vatican has never been particularly fond of the idea of free markets, but here is yet more nonsense from Benedict XVI to remind us of just that.
The BBC reports on the Pope’s New Year address:
The Roman Catholic Church leader spoke at a Mass in the Vatican, then greeted a crowd outside St Peter’s Basilica.
He deplored “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor”.
Those “hotbeds” also grew out of “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”, as well as “various forms of terrorism and crime”, he said.
I don’t know what is worse. The ignorance (if there’s one thing that the financial markets were not, it was unregulated; whether they were sensibly regulated is a different question), or the clear signs of a visceral loathing for “financial” capitalism and, of course, the Pope’s attempt to smear it with guilt by association with “various forms of terrorism and crime”.
The Pope, writing in the Financial Times today:
Christians work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that, as stewards of God’s creation, we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life. Christian belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.
The EUObserver today:
The Vatican has been handed a billion euro tax break after the EU ruled that it would be “absolutely impossible” to claw back unpaid property taxes. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia had previously ruled that the Catholic church’s exemption from paying tax on over 4,700 buildings from 2006-2011 breached competition rules.
Via The Independent:
The G20 was under growing pressure to call an emergency summit on global food prices last night as the Vatican accused grain speculators of “hampering the poorest and neediest…
Yesterday the Vatican’s permanent observer at the UN in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, claimed “market activities” such as arbitrage [buying and selling goods to exploit price differences] and the use of derivatives trading in grain supply chains, are “hampering the poorest and the neediest”.
I don’t know what is worse: The attempt to play a populist card, or the profound ignorance of economics that the Vatican has, yet again, revealed.
The Spanish Catholic Church is also concerned about homosexuality. During his Boxing Day sermon, the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, said there was a conspiracy by the United Nations. “The Minister for Family of the Papal Government, Cardinal Antonelli, told me a few days ago in Zaragoza that UNESCO has a program for the next 20 years to make half the world population homosexual. To do this they have distinct programs, and will continue to implant the ideology that is already present in our schools.”
We’ve heard a lot recently from the Vatican on the “social justice” front, most of it the usual leftish sanctimony garnished with the distaste for the free market that has long been an important strand of Roman Catholic thought.
Well, now comes an excellent opportunity for the church to back up its words. The Daily Telegraph has the details:
The Roman Catholic Church in Italy is under growing pressure to start paying taxes on its massive property portfolio, in a move that could raise up to 800 million euros (£680 million) a year and help bail the country out of its economic crisis.
Campaigners, most prominently parties on the centre left, say it is deeply unfair that Church-owned properties with a commercial function — for instance convents and monasteries that charge paying guests similar rates to four-star hotels — are exempt from property tax. As the new technocrat government of Mario Monti seeks to slash the nation’s 1.9 trillion euro debt, attention is turning to the estimated 65,000 buildings owned by the Church.
They include around 50,000 cathedrals, churches and chapels — which would retain their tax-free status — but 11,000 schools, universities and libraries as well as nearly 5,000 hospitals, clinics and other commercial properties would face the tax.
The Monti administration has announced that Italians are to be taxed on their primary residences, reinstating a levy that had been abolished by Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned from his third term in office last month.
It is one of a package of tax increases, labour reforms and pension reductions which will hit Italians hard in the pocket over the next few years. With millions of people facing a bleak era of austerity, politicians are now calling for the enormously rich Church to play its part in shouldering the burden. The potential windfall is enormous. According to an estate agency, Gruppo RE, a fifth of publicly owned properties in Italy are directly or indirectly controlled by the Church.
But calls for Church taxes may encounter resistance from the Monti government, which is heavily stacked with academics, bankers and lawyers with strong Catholic credentials. Under a law adopted in 1982 and backed up by an amendment in 2006, Church-owned properties are immune from taxation, even those that have a commercial element.
This will be a good test of both Monti and the Catholic Church. Serious or not?
The Benetton clothing company is known for shock ads that have stirred controversy around the globe with images of death row inmates and people dying of AIDS. Its latest campaign, unveiled Wednesday, so offended the Vatican that it is taking legal action to prevent the circulation of a doctored image depicting Pope Benedict XVI kissing a leading Muslim imam.
This after the company announced that it was withdrawing the image in response to a protest from the Vatican. In a statement Wednesday, the Benetton Group said the “UNHATE” campaign was designed to “combat hatred” and promote “closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures, and the peaceful understanding of each other’s motivations.”
It features photo montages of world leaders locked in a kiss. President Obama is shown with China’s Hu Jintao and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Benedict was shown with Ahmed Tayeb, leader of Al Azhar in Cairo, Sunni Islam’s most influential institution. The Vatican called the image “offensive not only to the dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church, but also to the sensibilities of believers.”
In a statement Thursday, the Vatican said it was taking legal action in Italy and abroad to prevent its distribution, including “through the mass media.” (Link in Italian)
Benetton’s ad is annoyingly preachy, and, in its intention to “shock”, depressingly lame. More depressing still, however, is the Vatican’s insistence that “offense” (always that telltale word) to “the sensibilities of believers” is reason enough to suppress the ad’s distribution. We can be sure that other religious groups will appreciate the precedent.
Via the Daily Telegraph:
Vatican officials have accused Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister, of diverting attention away from the Irish euro crisis by attacking the Roman Catholic Church over its covering up of sex abuse. Giuseppe Leanza, the Vatican’s envoy to Ireland, was posted to Prague on Friday, just days after he was recalled to Rome amid a row between the Vatican and Irish government over the sexual abuse of children by priests. A report into the Irish diocese of Cloyne earlier this month criticised how the church handled hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of children by priests going back over decades.
The findings shocked Ireland, a deeply Catholic country, and prompted Mr Kenny to launch an unprecedented attack on “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism” at the Vatican. The Irish leader’s speech and the scale of the backlash against the Church has alarmed the Vatican as coming from a country where official and popular defiance of Rome was once unthinkable at a time when Catholic influence is slipping across Europe. Father Ciro Benedettini, a spokesman for the Holy See, expressed “surprise and disappointment over some excessive reactions” amid anger in Vatican at attacks that clerics believe might have a political motive. One high-ranking cleric told a newspaper that the Irish government, officially bankrupt and the recipient of a controversial EU-IMF bail-out, might be seeking to distract public opinion from economic woes.
On reading the story, it looks as if only “one high-ranking cleric” has actually gone public with this view, but still…
And then there’s this from the same report:
Some Irish priests have reacted furiously to Mr Kenny’s speech. In an article headlined “Heil Herr Kenny” Father Thomas Daly, a priest in County Louth, compared the Irish prime minister to the Nazis.
“The last European leader to make such a blistering attack on the Pope was the ruthless German dictator Adolf Hitler,” he wrote in a parish newsletter last weekend.
Father Daly has since apologized, but still…
Via the Daily Mail:
Senior Vatican officials who will accompany the Pope on his historic visit to Britain will stay in a luxury hotel where rooms cost up to £900 a night – courtesy of UK taxpayers. The Government has confirmed it will meet the accommodation bill for 11 members of Pope Benedict XVI’s entourage during the visit from September 16-19. The Government has also decided to give all 11 a daily spending allowance of £150 for the trip. The money has been set aside for expenses such as food, dry cleaning, UK telephone calls and drinks – as long as they are not from the hotel mini-bar. The disclosure will exacerbate concerns about the rising cost of the four-day visit, which is already costing UK taxpayers £12million – 50 per cent more than originally intended…The hotel is close to Westminster and boasts a swimming pool and 24-hour room service. It will cater for the spiritual needs of the party by allowing a chapel to be set up in its private dining room. The Pope himself will stay in the Papal Nuncio’s residence at Wimbledon,
So far as the papal entourage is concerned, the only vow of poverty, it seems, is the one being imposed on the British taxpayers. As for that whole “catering for the spiritual needs” thing, well, you’d think that that was something that the Vatican folk could arrange for themselves.
And then there’s this, via the Independent:
With just over a month to go before the Pope arrives in Britain, the Catholic Church is facing a £2.6m shortfall in donations needed to pay for the visit. The Church officially needs to raise £7m to pay for the pastoral elements of Pope Benedict’s state visit, although sources involved in organising the trip have told The Independent that the final bill will be closer to £8m. So far the Catholic Church in England, Wales and Scotland has raised just £5.1m with the vast majority – £4m – coming from wealthy private and corporate donors. Just £1.1m has been given through individual collections at Mass – the equivalent of £1.27 for each regular mass-going Catholic.
The difficulty that the Church has had in soliciting donations from its own faithful reflects a growing fear that Benedict’s visit is unlikely to generate the sort of papal hysteria that swept Britain in 1982 when his predecessor, John Paul II, was greeted by more than 2 million Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“I wouldn’t want to say that the reaction has been lukewarm but it certainly hasn’t been red hot,” says Clifford Longley, columnist for The Tablet. “I noticed in my own parish that they still have tickets available for the Hyde Park vigil and the Newman beatification. We’re not in a situation where people are queuing around the block for tickets.”