On January 24, 2002, Shelton Hull and I asked Emmett “Bob” Tyrrell, of AMERICAN SPECTATOR fame, to name what he thought would be the most surprising country that the US would target in its War on Terror. This was at the tail-end of a fifteen minute interview Hull was conducting for Folio Weekly, and Tyrrell was taking the whole exercise none too seriously. And so it was that we considered his response — the Vatican — a throwaway line. Despite knowing a fair bit about the proxy war the US led against Catholic operations in the 80s in Latin America, it seemed just too implausible.
Fast forward a year, or thereabouts. The American priesthood has been discredited, sex scandals seeping into every parish if the media is to be believed. A brilliant preemptive strike, intended to discredit the predictable antiwar, anti-abortion program of the Catholic Church. Who, after all, is going to ask child molesters for moral guidance? Unasked, yet pertinent, that question loomed over the Church’s public utterances throughout the 2002 Holiday season. It’s hard to damn the warmongers when all the folks in the pews can picture is a six year old boy going down on a man ten times his age.
But I digress. I’m sure some justification of that practice as a very special sacrament has been circulated within the Vatican already. And even if it hasn’t, more people than not see that as being more than possible. 2002 for the Roman Church should permanently put to rest the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Anti-papists have had a field day with such spectacles as Bernard Law sleazing it up in Boston and the Pope seeming to wilt as he exchanged banalities with Bush 58, or whatever his approval rating is this week.
Of course, the Pope’s apparent wilting may have just a bit to do with the Pope’s history of losing battles to the US government whenever a Bush is installed in the Executive Branch. The aforementioned Jesuits got their asses kicked in Latin America by “freedom fighters” and allies of our cronies in the region. The Vatican’s position in the soybean market reportedly was undercut by collusion between Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and the Chicago Board of Trade in 1989; all this helped out Clinton pardonee Marc Rich, who himself was keenly interested in soybean operations. At every turn during the current papacy, Pope John Paul II has seen his Church’s position in America undercut, and its financial stance terminally compromised.
All this is bad news for the Church, and its consequences will likely outlive the current Pope. In a piece that appeared on the CounterPunch site on December 13, I pointed out that the Roman Church needed to make itself relevant in the only way possible: by branding itself as a force of opposition to the current Empire, doing the honorable work of directly challenging the US government. Nearly six weeks after my piece appeared, the Catholic Church has made its first steps toward some sort of reinvention. But will those steps be enough?
In a seventeen-page document entitled “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” the Holy See called “Catholic politicians into line” and “turned the screws on Catholic publications”, if Reuters is to be believed. “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society. . . Those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them,” proclaimed the Vatican’s doctrinal department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Sometimes I wonder if there are elements in the Church hierarchy dedicated to bringing the organization down. Considering that it took Rome the better part of a century to address sexual abuse by its own clergy, the idea of the Roman church issuing ultimatums to politicians of the faith is tantamount to inviting a schism between the American Church and the Church in Rome. The Church decrying Catholic politicians for not representing Church values on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion shines with false, belated defiance. Why now, after the Kennedys, the Cuomos, and other liberal Catholic politicians have both risen and fallen, neither richer nor poorer for adopting positions of “tolerance”? The Church taking such a stand twenty-five years after it would be relevant is equivalent to the US government upbraiding former client Saddam Hussein for gassing his own people. It reads as a matter of convenience, a bold statement made only after the payoffs stopped.
As I wrote last month, the Catholic Church is a dying organism, its limbs gangrenous with decay. That there are only 400 men in Jesuit seminaries suggests that either churches will have to be closed or staffed with clergy from other countries if Rome is going to continue to minister to stateside savages. But if the Church is truly dying, perhaps it is best seen as part of a natural course of events. Just as the tribal nations were rendered obsolete by people purportedly serving God, the Catholic Church in the US is being pushed to the margins by folks who likewise claim God as their co-pilot. Never too far from declaring a new crusade against one evildoer or another, they don’t seem willing to stop until 9/11 is a more important day to most Americans than Christmas.
And it can be argued that much has already come to pass. If so, it provides an important lesson to all men of God who moonlight as courtiers to the State. Sooner or later, you will be relegated to the dustbin of history. New myths arise and supplant the old, and yesterday’s heroes become villains. The opposite is just as true, as US Catholics almost certainly must attest. Perhaps the moral of the fall of the Catholic Church in this country breaks down as simple as understanding that the Devil rarely makes exclusive deals. Sooner or later, someone else will come along, willing to debase spirituality even more severely than the party who came before. Perhaps that is all that is happening now, just another grisly rotation in the cycle of death and rebirth. In that case, time to make book on what beast is forthcoming.
ANTHONY GANCARSKI writes frequently for CounterPunch, and accepts emails at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.