Shut Up and Pray

Shut Up and Pray

In about 2006, the Dixie Chicks were riding high with hit after hit in both country and rock genres. Some where in all that newly acquired fame, lead singer Natalie Maines decided that she should use their concerts as a forum to criticize then President George Bush and the Iraq War. Ms. Maines knew virtually nothing about the Iraq War so, like many of her ilk, she chose to engage in a personal commentary on how much she disliked Mr. Bush on the most personal level. The reaction of her audience was instantaneous and, not surprisingly, negative. After all these were Country Western fans who were primarily patriotic and conservative. Their sentiment was summed up in the suggestion that the Dixie Chick, and Ms. Maines in particular, “shut up and sing.”

Pope Francis might be well served to follow that advice as he once again sticks his nose into the secular business of yet another country while turning a blind eye to the real causes of conflict. The Pope was in Hungary this past week where he chose to publicly lecture Prime Minister Victor Orban on Hungary’s actions to limit being overwhelmed by immigration from the Middle East. And along the way he condemned “nationalism” as one of the reasons for the rise of tension in Europe. In this case, “nationalism” means protecting a nation’s borders and economy from the onslaught of illegal immigrants.

So let’s back up a minute to put some context into my view of Pope Francis’ interference. Pope Francis is a Jesuit. He is the only Jesuit in the Church’s two thousand year history. There is a reason – probably multiple reasons. The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) was formally recognized by the Church in 1540. It’s entire structure of governance reflects the military background of its founder, St. Ignatius Loyala – a former Spanish soldier. The Jesuits were noted for accompanying the explorers of Europe as they began to expand and command influence over, if not out right ownership of, foreign lands stretching from the New World to the Far East. (for those of you forced to endure a teachers union led education in the Portland public schools, the New World refers to the Americas, including adjacent islands while the Far East referred to Japan and China and the adjacent islands such as the Philippines.) It’s unclear as to whether the intentions of the Jesuits were to convert the natives or to ensure that the Jesuits were included in the governance and extraction of wealth from these new lands. What is not unclear is that history is replete with the participation of the Jesuits in the shifting tides of tribal influence during and after the colonization of these lands. That interference continues to date and the most recent incidents are the significant participation of the Jesuits in the so-called “liberation theology” – a curious twist of intellectual and theological philosophy that some how concludes that the godless cause of socialism is reflective of the teachings of Jesus – it is not. Regardless, it had its peak in South and Central America during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as Pope Francis began his studies and clerical duties as Fr. Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina where he began a life long criticism of capitalism and free market economics – a socialist. And while Pope Francis has routinely felt compelled to lecture the Western world about the evils of capitalism usually accompanied by demands that Western nations open their borders and treasuries to care for immigrants of other nations, he has yet to open the gates of the Vatican or the treasury of the Church to feed, clothe and shelter those immigrants. Like so many progressives and socialists he believes in spending your money to accomplish his secular agenda.

Everybody is entitled to an opinion including the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. However, there is an aura around the pronouncements of the Pope that first suggest that he speaks for the Catholics of the world and second that when he speaks it is with the backdrop of infallibility. Fortunately neither is true. Under Church doctrine the Pope enjoys infallibility only when he specifically claims the mantle of infallibility and then only when speaking to issues of faith and morality. It is stretch to suggest that “faith and morals” drive his anti-capitalist rhetoric or his demand for Western nations to open their borders and treasuries and most certainly he has declined to claim the mantle of infallibility when speaking about them. But even at that, few understand the distinction and thus they believe that he speaks for all Catholics – he does not. To put it in its simplest terms, Pope Francis is the leader of a city/state/nation that has yet to achieve recognition as a member of the United Nations – mostly due to the objections of Russia, China and other socialist/communist states. He is due respect but not infallibility. He would be due even greater respect if he actually committed the Vatican and its resources to what he demands of others.

And even when he speaks he leaves more out than he includes. For instance when he decries the cruelty, suffering and death happening daily in the ongoing war in Ukraine, he has yet to condemn the specific reason for the war – Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is not Ukraine’s war. It was not Ukraine that invaded Russia. It is really not Russia’s war as much as it is Mr. Putin’s war and his colonial vision of re-establishing the old Soviet Union. As yet, Pope Francis, despite his international travels and his visits the Ukraine and neighboring nations, has steadfastly avoided the obvious by not condemning Mr. Putin’s invasion, his war crimes, and his continuing targeting of civilian populations. He has had no such reticence in lecturing the United States, Hungary, and others about far less volatile issues.

More importantly, while Pope Francis continues to lecture the Western world about the evils of capitalism he has failed to do more than pay lip service to the evil that desecrates the heart of the Church – the sexual abuse by its clerics and the seeming tolerance of that abuse by its leadership. Yes, Pope Francis has condemned the sexual abuse within its ranks but, to date, has failed to undertake clear and convincing action that he has in fact tackled the issue. And while Pope Francis issues Vos estis lux mundi to address the problem there has been little of any visible implementation. Here is what needs to be done:

  • Create a committee composed of practicing lay Catholics not beholden to the Church to administer reforms

  • Identification of past and present accusations of sexual abuse by living members of the ministry including disposition of the accusations.

  • Removal of members of the clergy found to have engaged in child abuse.

  • Referral for criminal prosecution of such accusations.

  • Psychological profiles of current clergy and those seeking to enter the clergy to determine a proclivity for child abuse.

  • Creation of a fund backed by the assets of the Church to compensate victims of the abuse by members of the clergy.

Much of this is in keeping with the recommendations of the American Catholic Bishops; however, Pope Francis deferred their actions in favor of his paper on reform. Until there is a consistent airing of these abuses and a referral to secular authorities for criminal prosecution they will continue. You see sexual predators tend to gravitate toward positions of authority where children gather – coaches, camp counselors, trainers, boys and girls clubs, clergy, teachers, etc. It is unsurprising that the Catholic Church has attracted its share of these predators. What is surprising and disappointing is the failure of the Church* to deal with the problem despite the knowledge of its existence. Like most vermin these predators like to operate in darkness – out of the view of the public. And a public airing of their identities and their actions along with consequences for such actions is the best remedy for their evil.

All of this suggests that Pope Francis would be well served to address problems over which he has absolute authority before he lectures others about problem much more complex that sexual abuse.

So, Pope Francis, perhaps you should pay heed to the former fans of the Dixie Chicks and shut and pray. Pope Francis might also be well served to follow the words of Jesus found in Luke 4:3, Medice, cura te ipsum (physician heal theyself.)


* Pope Francis (nee Jorge Mario Bergoglio) was ordained as a Jesuit priest. The Jesuits are not bound to the regular hierarchy of the Church but rather report directly to the Superior General of the Jesuit Order in Rome, who in turn reports only to the Pope. As a result, the decision by New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s to disclose the names of offending priests did not include the Jesuit priests in the New York archdiocese. A decision to release the names of errant Jesuit priests lies with the Superior General or the Pope. It’s not like the Jesuits are immune from these allegations of sexual abuse. One of the leaders of the Jesuit colony at Gonzaga University, my alma mater, was included in a list of priests who had engaged in sexual misconduct in a lawsuit brought in Montana. An article in the Spokesman-Review claimed that Gonzaga University served as a retirement home for priests who had been accused of sexual abuse and for whom the Jesuits had covered up by moving the errant priests around the Jesuit’s Oregon Province (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Alaska).