Saturday, May 26, 2007

More Papal Blundering in Brazil (Contribution)

The Pope has created a new international flap that deserves careful notice, because it tells us something important about the mindset of the man who wields institutional power over hundreds of millions of the Roman Catholic faithful.

On his trip to Brazil last week, Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria, Germany), declared that the indigenous peoples of South America had silently yearned for the gospel of Jesus Christ prior to the onslaught of the European settlers.

The Pope went on to say that the colonizers who brought with them the Gospel, along with a host of other things, had not alienated the indigenous people and had not imposed a foreign culture on them (I don't think the Holy Father here had in mind Marx's concept of alienation from control over the material means of production).

This outrageous statement quickly prompted criticism throughout Latin America. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez called for a formal apology.

The Pope then issued a clarification in which he expressed sorrow for “the sufferings of the indigenous peoples,” the "unjustifiable crimes committed by the colonizers against them,” and the “denial of their human rights."

But Pope Benedict, himself a former Hitler Youth member (membership was “compulsory”) and later a WWII Wehrmacht soldier (also “compulsory”) had nothing to say about the most salient issue of all – genocide.

In a statement quoted in the New York Times, a representative of the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) addressed the issue very forthrightly, noting that "representatives of the Catholic Church of those times, with honorable exceptions, were accomplices and deceivers, and the beneficiaries of one of the most horrific genocides in human history."

That is the truth the Pope must face if he wishes to be taken seriously as a moral leader.

If Benedict really wishes to honor the tens of millions of indigenous people who perished through forced labor, the epidemics of disease brought by the conquistadors, and the outright massacres carried out with the aid of European weaponry and gunpowder (not to mention the tens of millions of slaves imported from Africa), he might begin by rescinding the policy of purging priests and other Catholic activists committed to the doctrine of liberation theology, which stresses religion's role in advancing the struggle for social justice here on earth.

Ratzinger's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, inaugurated the Church’s policy of repression against the followers of liberation theology, and it was Ratzinger who helped craft it. We would also do well to recall that it was one of their papal predecessors some five centuries ago who was instrumental in dividing up the Western Hemisphere between Spain and Portugal (as if any power, spiritual or temporal, had the right to do so).

It should be added, too, that the Protestant churches became as deeply involved as Roman Catholic in the crimes of slavery, global imperialism, and the destruction of indigenous peoples, as their missionaries followed after the gunboats to accumulate souls, while the capitalists accumulated raw material and cheap labor.

The Catholic Church remains the largest Christian denomination on earth, and Latin America remains its most important center because of the tens of millions of people who sincerely refer to Joseph Ratzinger as the Holy Father.

It is considerably more than an apology that the people of the Southern Hemisphere are owed or any "clarification" that the Pope presented. It is also true that there is nothing in the actual gospel of Jesus that is negative for indigenous peoples or any people, including the Pope and all his bishops and cardinals.

They would particularly profit from studying those aspects of the Gospel that inspired the opponents of the Roman slave empire.

In actuality, the left and socialist trend in Latin America, in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile, is squarely in the tradition of that gospel. It stands in direct opposition to the interpretation of Ratzinger and his predecessor of a Christianity that consists of religious dogma and passive faith.

This new political and spiritual trend cannot be stopped by clerical purges or statements that ignore what the masses have experienced through centuries of exploitation and oppression.
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