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God and man here and there: looking at Chile

20 May 2018

A strongly worded editorial in today’s Jornada takes the same tack I have when it comes to discussing the clerical purge in Chile:  that the pedophilia scandal has as much to do with the Church getting into bed with Agustin PInochet as it did with Francisco Karadema trying to get young seminarians into his bed.

It was not the only in Chile where violating minors and disorderly conduct by the religious became widespread and frequent practices: since the 90s of the last century, when notably in Ireland and the United States, documented cases of pedophilia, with abundant and irrefutable evidence that the Catholic flock almost everywhere was shaken by the evidence that a large number of clerics, often protected by their hierarchical superiors, were more concerned with the body than with the souls of their parishioners. Little by little, people who at some point in their lives were linked to seminaries, orphanages, parishes, hospitals or Catholic social service centers dared to ventilate situations that had remained hidden for decades.

The case of the Chilean Church, however, threatens a crisis of unique proportions despite the secrecy with which the so-called Holy See investigators examine the accusations of pedophilia and various abuses that weigh heavily on the Chilean clergy. In committing their crimes, the ecclesiastics of that country counted on the impunity that guaranteed them by the government of the dictator Augusto Pinochet: their support for the regime given in return for the favor of extending Catholic confessional education in the schools through high school, an old aspiration of the Church in the local educational environment. It is likely that the certainty of impunity impunity contributed to stimulating the commission of sexual crimes to such an extent that it reached into the cclesial structure of the Andean nation.

Although the acts attributed to the accused Chilean priests are condemnable by themselves, the fact that they were committed with the support (tacit or explicit) of a bloodthirsty regime that proclaimed itself a Catholic at all costs, makes them all the more disgraceful and repudiable.

It is difficult to foresee how far the commitment assumed by the Bishop of Rome in the sense of purging the Church of Chile — and by extension the Church in general — from the corruption in one of the most conservative societies in Latin America will reach. And whether it will staunch the rapid disenchantment of the faithful (in 2016 only 45 percent of Chileans declared themselves Catholic, compared to 74 percent who claimed to be Catholics in 1995). But whatever the result of the papal intervention, it will be difficult for the institution to recover the prestige it reached for the times when many of its ministers violated the elementary rights of children, while blessing the abuses and crimes of a de facto president who claimed that human rights were an invention of Marxists .

In election news here, the latest scandal has been a “hail Mary” attempt to smear the leading candidate as anti-Catholic… specifically anti-Virgin of Guadalupe.  The two events — the ecclesiastical purge in Chile, and the admittedly pathetic political stunt here — are part of a pattern I’ve noticed ever since the leadership of the Catholic Church passed from Popes focused on the East-West divide (the European theater in WWII, and the Cold War) to one from the global south.  The Cold Warrior, John-Paul II, never really understood our part of the planet, and appeared to take for granted that we would remain “most faithful” no matter what. While when it came to Mexico, he was undoubtedly bamboozed by the odious Marcial Maciel, it also has to be said that John-Paul’s attitude towards Latin America (and by extension, Africa and Asia as well) as colonialist.  Just as the Church was emerging (better late than never) from its dominance by the old colonial powers… turning to liberation theology on one hand, and the more traditional role of the Church in Latin America as a counterweight to the State… John-Paul sought to turn the clock back, promoting to the hierarchy not just those who were co-opted by state power (like the former Cardinal of Mexico City, Norberto Rivera), but those whose allegiance is to the European reactionaries, like the Opus Dei bishops we find throughout Latin America.  Not that I think Opus Dei is more prone to pedophilia than any other order within the Church, only that they are a late import meant to bring “us” back into line, just as the Latin American church was finding its own way.

And, so… the fliers claiming Morena (and AMLO in person) is anti-clerical and opposing the will of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  What is more interesting than those behind the fliers is the futility of the effort.  The declining number of faithful (Mexico, much more Catholic than Chile, has always been more “liberal” as well, but even here, the number of faithful has been rapidly declining over the last few decades) are much less likely to simply accept “on faith” what they are told by clerical leaders owing their allegiance only secondarily to Rome, but first to the powers-that-be.  It isn’t only in Mexico City (only starting to recover from Norberto Rivera’s reign) that committed Catholics are turning away from what Rome says, and looking to the traditions of leaders like Bartolome de las Casas, the 16th century defender of the indigenous, or Raul Vera, the liberationist Bishop of Saltillo, or Padre Solinde, the human rights activist.

Perhaps what it all means, if anything, is just that Rome is finally decolonizing.  Purging the Bishops in Chile one hopes clears the field for a hierarchy more attuned to Chilean concerns (and not those of the neo-liberal elites) as much as the failed attempt to call the faithful in a political campaign means that the Mexicans expect more from the Church than just saying no to any attempt to change the system to one more in our own interest.

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