Friday, February 28, 2014

Reading Francis Through Juan

When I read this today, I wished I knew more about the mindset of Argentina. How much does Pope Francis owe of his world view to John Paul and how much of it to Juan Peron? I am not saying there's a connection, but you'd have to be an uncurious sort not to wonder about it. As someone who has traveled widely, and -- more importantly -- lived in other countries, my sense is that trying to understand Pope Francis without understanding Argentina seems a rather naive approach. South America is not just Europe at a lower latitude. Fr Z's "Reading Francis Through Benedict" has always seemed more of a brave front to me than actually illuminating. Perhaps "Reading Francis Through Juan?" Peronism is hardly a spent force in Argentina, and, after all, it is known for constant appeals to the poor. Of course, so is Christianity.

Even so, everyone seems to be constantly surprised by this pope. No one is this surprising. No, the issue is less with Pope Francis than people who are expecting someone somewhere along a Liberal-Conservative axis. They will be constantly surprised. We have seen that in the blogosphere. One day conservatives are down in the dumps, the next they're ecstatic because Francis said the word "devil" in public.

The Bear has suggested Pope Francis seems to have Protestant sensibilities (as always the disclaimer: this is not saying he is a Protestant). This makes hims less surprising. But perhaps the key to Francis lies in Argentina's frustrated aspirations, and... but now the Bear must recognize he's entering a woods he does not know. Which is exactly the point. We will always misunderstand Francis until we learn about Argentina.

A good example was the recent iPhone chat with Pentecostal televangelist Kenneth Copeland and the eerily hypnotic "Bishop" Tony Palmer. (Seriously, if you haven't watched that whole video I put up a few days ago, you need to.) It is claimed that Pope Francis entered into some sort of "pact" with his "brother Bishop" (oh, brother) to bring about Christian unity. We have all seen the picture of Jorge Bergoglio kneeling to receive a blessing from a Protestant minister of some sort.

Is Francis Kneeling For Blessing, or Did Protestant Slip One In On Him?
Some have tried to say he was not kneeling for a blessing, but the guy clearly holding his hand over the future pope's head took advantage of his posture to impose an uninvited blessing. Even if this is true, is there anything Pope Francis has ever said to make you believe he would not have welcomed such an ecumenical gesture?

What does it mean to be Pentecostal in South America, to speak in tongues, and get all excited? That holds all sorts of cultural associations in the United States, but what does it mean in Argentina? I bet it's very different. The Charismatic Catholic movement is pretty much dead in the U.S. after a brief burst of enthusiasm in the 70s. Or how about the ecumenical movement? Does it have more vitality in South America than the isolated (fortunately) gestures we see in the U.S.?

Let's say Cardinal Dolan had been elected pope. I suspect much of the world would have been scratching their heads at the first Yankee pontiff. Americans operate very differently from Italians, as any American who has had the opportunity to live there knows. Or maybe not. Americans are a known quantity worldwide. Italy we know. Poland we learned about, but it wasn't too different. The only mystery about our German pope was how un-German he turned out to be. (Guess he got all his crazy-German theologian thing out of his system in his youth.)

But Argentina? They've only got one kind of bear: the spectacled bear, considered hillbillies among bears. And that, Evita Peron, and the Falklands War of 1982 is all I know about Argentina. Terra Incognita. Kind of like Pope Francis.


  1. There have been attempts to do this, especially on economic matters. Michael Novak offers this look at Francis and the Argentine experience.

    I have thought so from the beginning, on economics, that Francis' S.A. experience is neither that of Europe or the US. It would be the case for his approach to the faith in general, as you posit. I am not as informed on that area. I do think of liberation theology which JP2 rejected as valid teaching. Think of the history of the Conquistadors basically establishing feudalism in S.A. and the US SW as they had in Spain. Yes, the Franciscans catechized the native peoples, but they kept them down by enslavement and lack of education or civilizing. The race problems are the bases of the economic problems, the bifurcated economies in S.A. So, the Catholic clergy have at least in the last century or so have said enough and sided with the poor, threatening the oligarchs. And communist agents, I guess probably Cuban, came in to agitate; Maryknoll missionaries were notorious for aligning with communists, some declaring themselves communists. (Robert Ellsberg, son of THAT Ellsberg, praised them in his lefty "All Saints") Abp Oscarl Romero of El Salvador was shot as he raised the Blood of Christ for consecration. He spoke out on behalf of poor, but is reported NOT to be a promoter of marxism or liberation theology. It is believed that Roberto Aubisson's death squad took him out. A revolutionary. There is a cause for Romero's canonization. I think this is all important to Francis's make up. Many have also cited his governance methods as a provincial head (?) for Jesuits. You are on the right track.

    1. Very good link, Pete, and the sort of thing I am interested in. I am probably closer to Pope Francis' economic views if he has misgivings about unfettered capitalism as we move forward. It seems to me we would be better off with more jobs at fairer wages onshore than an overabundance of cheap smart phones. I'm not sure what place the kind of small enterprise and wealth production Novak talks about will have in a future global economy, or in the present, for that matter. Right now, I think investing in oneself is a solution; criminal defendants in my neck of the woods know there's only one Bear. My job can never be shipped overseas and I possess a unique marketable commodity: me. But those kind of personal enterprises are for a privileged few, I realize, and subject to hazards of health and burnout.

      Diane Moczar compared the fortunes of natives in Protestant North America and Catholic South America and explodes some myths. Squanto of Thanksgiving fame was a baptized Catholic. The economically-driven Protestants enslaved the Indians, genocide, and all the rest. In South America, the Church worked to end slavery, the natives were not driven out to near-extinction, and within a few generations were being assimilated and even assuming local leadership roles. That doesn't really go to any of the merits, but I thought it important to point out.

      Peronism took care of everyone. In some ways, it was like modern European socialist states without the socialism. The government -- and this is a difference -- identified with popular a leader provided free medical care, semi-paid vacations, and even large resorts with recreational facilities for everyone. Undoubtedly this covered up huge amounts of what we would call graft and corruption. And however much the poor felt cared for, they remained poor.

      I have read in more than one place that Bergoglio was a Peronist, but I don't remember where, so that needs more research. I don't even know what the alternative was. I don't think he was ever tainted by Lib Theo though.

      I think Novak paints with a broad brush. Argentina is not Brazil is not Equador... South America has a fascinating and violent history, e.g The Chaco War and each country has its own cast. He mentions Embraer, but that is HUGE. Jet Blue has a whole fleet of commercial airliners designed and produced in Brazil. They're good airplanes, too. Why Brazil and not Argentina?

      Instead of laying any kind of sensible groundwork for the future, Argentina decided to pick a fight with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands lost in the south Atlantic. Maggie Thatcher unexpectedly sent a task force to take them back. Argentine pilots flew so low above the wave tops they had to use their wipers on the sea spray. Their French-made Exocet missiles inflicted significant losses on the British. Then a British nuclear sub arrived and sank an ex WWII US cruiser, then-named the General Belgrano with horrible loss of life and that was that. Argentina seems tinged with a kind of romantic impracticality, as far as I can see.

  2. B/c you piqued my curiosity this snowy Sunday...and you may get more...take or leave it....
    Protestant encroachment is important as you probably know. Pentecostals are a big faction. They & evangelicals are bigger than mainliners in L.A. (I recall reading once that the mainliners saw their faiths as belonging to particular races, ethnicities, ie, Anglo-Saxon, German, European, etc. The Catholic Church and evangelicals don't see it that way, of course.) The Charismatic movement was the Catholic response to Pentecostals. Now, Argentina has still among the highest Catholic-identifying countries in L.A. & is considered "conservative" or right leaning. I can see Francis making common cause to a degree to limit the bleeding, while he was in Argentina and continues now. This explicitly explains his relationship to Pentecostals.

    I obtained this much from this article that is about religious divides in L.A. and their effect on voting patterns. The politics aren't our primary interest, but not irrelevant. This article gives some hint of cultural changes from non-Catholic evangelism.

    So, do you think that, as in the U.S., the Church became complacent and evangelicals, Pentecostals rushed in? Or it miscalculated by getting too political (or some priests did)? I also have read that many Catholic clergy were corrupt, living in sin, not living their vocations. A vacuum was left.

    Ok. I may post again later, if you don't mind. It is all to understand Francis' worldview.

    1. What, I delete something for grammar and typos and it looks like I've said something crazy and then thought better of it by leaving a damning announcement? Anyone who visited this blog more than once would know I say crazy stuff all the time and don't delete it. So this must be really crazy, probably seditious and heretical! If you had been hit with tranquilizer darts as often as I have, your mind would work this way, too.

    2. I think the interfaith and ecumenical impulses are genuine, unfortunately. One thing that makes Conservative Catholics happier than him saying "devil" is when he talks about being in the Church to find Jesus. That's great, but where is the unambiguous call to enter the Roman Catholic Church? I hate to keep bringing up Bishop He of the Designer Stubble, Tony Palmer, of the Pentacostal Anglican Church Celtic Rite, but here is a Protestant who apparently knows Pope Francis' mind, correctly drawing attention to the chaos since Luther, but calling his heretical brethren to a catholic church that merely means universal, not Roman. Presumably, this catholic church, having agreed on the role of grace, needn't worry about all the other things that keep them out of the real Catholic Church. Why does Pope Francis insert himself into his pitchman's message if he doesn't agree? I have to tell you, that video was the most troubling thing I've ever seen outside of a David Lynch movie. Let me ask you this. What if a substantial number of evangelicals, or a whole protestant sect begged to come back into the Church, but reserving to their conscience certain doctrines for the time being? Would Pope Francis be able to resist the welcome of the vast majority of Catholics, the expectations of the media and calls from Catholic clergy and theologians? A sort of Catholic "Camp of the Saints."

  3. Ok. You're going to ban me soon! This is a book that posits that the Catholic Church became more activist against the repressive regimes when they had more competition from Pentecostals and the like. It has statistical analyses across several L.A. countries. Text can be read on google books, too.

    "Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America" by Anthony Gill.

    No, I haven't looked at Peron too closely. I figure you'll do that.

    1. The Bear requires funds for a fact-finding tour of Argentina. All of it. It will take years.


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