Matthew Fox (former Catholic priest) discusses the Vatican’s work with the CIA and it’s alliance with far right political forces and Pope Francis’ opposition to liberation theology in Latin America.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
The Catholic Church has a new pope. Seventy-six-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio has called himself Pope Francis. He’s the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He’s also the first non-European leader of the Church in more than 1,000 years.
Now joining us to discuss the significance of the choice of this pope is Matthew Fox. Matthew’s written 30 books on spirituality and culture, including The Pope’s War, Original Blessing, Hildegard of Bingen (and I think I probably mangled that), a Saint for Our Time, and Christian Mystics. And he was once a Catholic priest, and he is now an episcopal priest and educator.
Thanks very much for joining us, Matthew.
MATTHEW FOX, PRIEST, THEOLOGIAN, AND AUTHOR: Thank you, Paul. Good to be with you.
Jay: So, first of all, why do we all care so much about who the new pope is? CNN’s been going live all day today, and they’ve been—I think yesterday they were all at it, and it’s this mass media global story. And it is usually. I would have said it’s a slow news day, but I think this would have been like this even if it wasn’t a slow news day. The media doesn’t do this for any other church, and frankly either do we. I mean, we’re doing it too, but I guess we’re doing it because I want to criticize the media. I don’t know. Why are we making such a big deal out of this? What significance and power does the pope have these days?
Fox: Well, of course, no one does theater better than the Italians. And so the whole dramatic aspect of St. Peter’s and the balcony and all those velvet curtains parting and all that, I mean, no one can do it better, you know, if you want drama. And so it makes good television. One person who dresses rather uniquely and supposedly represents 1.2 billion people who call themselves Catholic one way or the other, you know, obviously that has drama to it and theater to it.
But I think there’s a deeper thing going on. I think people would like to feel that there’s some real spiritual leadership someplace among our species. Yesterday I wrote an article actually that was in Huffington Post about how my choice for pope was the Dalai Lama, because I think he represents something of a deeper meaning of being human, the search for compassion and so forth. And I think people would like to see this in a pope, too. It’s not always the case. Pope John XXIII years ago, in the ’60s, was such a mensch and a unique person. But, you know, people do like to see—want to project on others some leadership. And that of course [crosstalk]
Jay: Let me ask you a question which—does it find you a little odd, ’cause it does me, that on the whole the media expresses kind of a secular outlook on the world—I mean, it’s not framed in religious grammar as it might have been a few hundred years ago. I mean, you know, in the past I suppose everything was framed in religious grammar. But now there’s a kind of separation between people’s spiritual and religious beliefs in life and the news. But the fact that they report on, you know, an event and a man that is supposed to be infallible and is supposed to talk to God and is supposed to represent a spiritual force on earth, I mean, they’re very mystical concepts, but they’re taken at face value by the media. Nobody even questions them.
Fox: Well, that’s right. It’s sentimentalized by the media, and there’s very little critical thinking. And that’s one reason I’m glad to be with you. And we can talk about the deeper meanings of this.
But that there is a yearning or a need—and it was interesting in this Pope Francis’s very short talk, he did use a phrase, something about the brotherhood of us all or something like that. So, you know, in this time of globalization and the shrinking of the globe and the fact that he’s Argentinian and the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years [incompr.] first American pope from South America, and there’s a certain meaning in that, that, hey, things are being de-Europeanized, even the papacy. But, you know, it doesn’t go very deep, as you say. I mean, this’ll be news for a little while, and then, as you know, the media gets onto something else.
Jay: The fact that the media takes all this so seriously and the appointment of the pope so seriously, is it partly—and we’ll get to part two of this question, which is the influence it has over so many millions of people, which I think is still real. But let me go to part one of the question, which is: how much is it that the Vatican is still such a financial power, that, like, this is also the appointment of a CEO, you could say, of sorts, or chairman of the board, at least, if not the CEO, of a very powerful financial center?
Fox: That’s true. And, of course, the financial situation of the Vatican is quite scandalous at this time. It needs cleaning up almost as much as the issues of pedophilia and coverup of pedophilia, and almost as much as the issue of the Inquisition, ’cause all those three things—I write about this in my book on The Pope’s War. The Inquisition has been brought back in the last 42 years with the last two popes.
The financial situation’s really scandalous. Just a year or so ago, the Italian government, forbade Vatican credit cards to be cashed anyplace because there’s a whole question of money laundering and all this. And this has been going on for a long time with the Vatican, the lack of transparency about finance.
And then you have to understand there’s a real link in politics with the Vatican. I point out, for example, that under Reagan, the CIA linked up with Pope John Paul II, and they attacked together, they attacked liberation theology based communities in Latin America and have really destroyed that whole movement, as it was, anyway, and replaced it with Opus Dei, Community Liberation, all of which are extreme right-wing groups that feed, you know, right-wing values, if you will, or attitudes of power over, of domination, of patriarchy, and even of fascism.
Jay: Can you get back to what you were saying, that there’s a new Inquisition in the Church?
Fox: Oh, yes. Over 105 theologians—I was just one of them—have been silenced or expelled or harassed, hounded in the last 42 years under Pope John Paul II and Benedict. And Benedict, when he was—he was head of the Inquisition. They’ve changed the name. It’s called the Sacred Doctrine of Faith, but it used to be called the Inquisition. And he led the charge against all of us theologians.
And I list the 105. By the way, there are several good Canadians. And one of them dropped dead. He died of a heart attack when he was packing his bags for the sixth time to go to Rome to defend his theology, even though the Second Vatican Council said that theologians were free to think and there was such a thing as freedom of conscience for everyone.
You see, that’s what’s really happened in the last 42 years is that I think we’ve had two schismaticals because the popes and their curia have taken the real teachings of Vatican II, which were about reformation in the Church and new thinking and so forth, and link it to the gospel values of social justice. They’ve taken that and stuffed it. And that’s what the silencing of the 105 theologians means.
So there’s no question the Inquisition is back. And I sure hope this new pope is alert to that and turns it around.
Jay: Well, let’s look at the new pope, Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. What has been his role in Latin America? There’s always been this split in Latin America between liberation theology and those more dominant and hierarchical sections of the Church that have more or less worked with various dictatorships over the years, and of course Argentina and Pinochet was one of them. And the Church does not have a very glorious role, at least the hierarchy of the Church, in its relationship to Pinochet. But what is Pope Francis’s history in all this? And then, what does he represent?
Fox: Well, from what I’ve read, his actions were not that courageous under the military dictatorship that Argentina went through in 1983 and so forth, and he’s received a lot of criticism for that. Also, he has not backed liberation theologian based communities. He belongs to this group called Communion and Liberation, which is a very right-wing group in Italy. It’s been compared to Opus Dei. They call it the Italian Opus Dei. And it claims to be lay-based, just like Opus Dei claims, but in fact it’s run by clerics.
Jay: Just let me jump in for people that don’t know. I’m going to say—correct me if I’m wrong, ’cause I certainly have no expertise in this, but Opus Dei represents the far right of the Catholic Church in alliance with the far right of various ruling elites in different countries, and it’s a kind of secret, conspiratorial, and usually up to rather dark and nefarious things.
Fox: Well, that’s true. I have a whole chapter on them in my book on The Pope’s War. And it’s scary because they are so prominent in the Catholic Church today. They’re appointing Opus Dei cardinals and bishops all over South America, and now in North America as well. And Escriva, who was a fascist Spanish priest who started Opus Dei, they rushed him into canonization faster than any saint in history, and they ignored all the people who were—opposed him who saw his dark and shadow side, his sexism, the fact that he praised Hitler—let me say that again—he’s praised Hitler, and they tell us he’s in Heaven. I don’t know what that means.
But, yeah, Opus Dei needs to be watched. And they’re everywhere. They’re very strong in the American media. They’re very strong—they were very strong in the CIA and the FBI. The biggest spy in American history who gave away more secrets than anyone, got more of our spies murdered than anyone else, is now in jail, I think, for life because he ran free in the FBI for 20 years and giving away all these secrets—went to mass every day of the week, but meanwhile he was, I think, very treasonous. So Opus Dei is scary. [crosstalk]
Jay: And you’re saying Pope Francis is a member of something like Opus Dei. You’re saying Pope Francis is—.
Fox: No, he wasn’t a member of Opus Dei.
Jay: No, something like it, you’re saying.
Fox: He was close to the Communion and Liberation. And they are another version that’s close to Opus—. Opus Dei began in Spain. Communion and Liberation is a more recent group. They began in Italy. And they are less secretive than Opus Dei. That’s one reason we know he was part of it, because Opus Dei tends to be very secretive about who’s in and who isn’t.
But, anyway, I hope that he—.
You know, I don’t want to lock him down just to Communion and Liberation, but it is part of his history and it has to be looked at carefully and critically.
Jay: Let me read you a quote from Sergio [[email protected]], who wrote a book called The Jesuit and interviewed the new pope before he was pope. And here’s what he said:
Is Bergoglio a progressive, a liberation theologist, even? No. He’s no Third World priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes.
And that’s a quote from this author, [[email protected]]. What does that—does that tell you any more about what this guy’s made of?
Fox: Yes, that confirms what I know. You know, as a man, he’s obviously simple and he’s not a ladder-climber. They say he fired his chauffeur and his limosine. He lives simply. He walks, takes public transportation, even. He used to take the bus to work. Cooks his own food, lives in a simple apartment, refuses to live in [incompr.] palace that the previous hierarchy lived there. So, you know, that’s a good sign. And I suspect that’s part of his taking the name Francis, because Francis was also simple and humble.
I just hope that he has Francis’s deep commitment to rebuilding the Church. And to me that would include bringing women in. After all, not one vote of those 115 cardinals was from women. And, you know, there’s so much that the Church needs to wake up to.
And it’s interesting what that fellow said, that he’s not a Third World bishop, really.
But, you know, I think there’s possibilities here. I think there are. And the fact that he’s simple and not overly ladder-climbing and ambitious would, I think, put to shame a lot of the people in the Curia.
To me, the most important issue is this: who does he appoint as secretary of state? Because that’s the job, that’s the nitty-gritty job that gets things done and oversees the Curia. He’s got to appoint someone who’s tough and who knows the games. You know, this pope has never worked in the Vatican, which I think is a plus on the one hand. But on the other, you know, you’ve got to know the games, you’ve got to know the players and all that, and you’ve got to be tough. So I think the thing to watch is to see who he appoints as secretary of state.
The previous two secretary of states are very shadowy people. And I could tell you some stories about them if you want to know.
Jay: Well, I think we’ll come back and talk to you more and we’ll keep doing these interviews, ’cause, you know, with all this kind of hagiography that’s going on on CNN and other places today, I think we need to do a lot of this. And I watched CNN for a little while as the pope was announced, and it was interview after interview of people in the square about how joyous they were and how happy they were, which is fine. I mean, that’s happening too. But it would have been nice to get some of the context we’re getting talking to you.
Just to end this interview—and as I say, we will do more—what’s left of the liberation theology church in Latin America? What role is it playing now? ‘Cause you have a real leftward push of so many governments. And where’s the Catholic Church in all this? I know they’ve had a rather rocky relationship with just the previous passed away Hugo Chavez. What is the role they’re playing?
Fox: Well, one thing is really a lot of these leftist presidents were birthed in the liberation theology movement, like Silva, the great retired president of Brazil. You know, when I was in Brazil years ago and when I was silenced for a year by Cardinal Ratzinger, I went to Brazil to see what was going on in these base communities, and Leonardo Boff pointed out, da Silva was at a big conference. He said, watch that guy. He could be our next president. He was a union leader and all that. So that’s part of where liberation theology [incompr.]
But actually, if you ask them today, this is what they tell me. They say, we used to serve the Church; now we serve humanity. And I think that they’ve broken the barriers of just being in the ecclesial system, and they’re seeing the not only humanity, but I think they’re definitely seeing too the earth crisis that we’re all in today. And so they’re not bound, I don’t think, by just a church box anymore.
And I think that’s part of the work of the holy spirit. You know. I think we all have to move beyond church. This is why I wanted the Dalai Lama to be pope, you see. That would link east and west and get things moving beyond just the boxes and the tribes in which we so often, you know, connect ourselves to. You know?
Jay: And how has he—I’m not sure you know this, but Bergoglio, now the pope, how has he been towards this leftward shift in Latin America? And I wonder, you know, whether—. Say again?
Fox: He’s not been friendly. This is why Communion and Liberation is his path, you might say, or was, and it’s very much an opposition to liberation theology.
There was another Jesuit cardinal, the fellow in Milan who died this past year, and in his will he said the Church is 200 years out of date. And he fought Communion and Liberation. So it’s interesting. There was one cardinal who was Jesuit who stayed with the liberating tradition of Vatican II and liberation theology (whereas this pope, he had much more moderate, you might say, much more in the middle), but he was now supportive of base communities and liberation theologies.
Jay: So I guess one of the questions will be—.
Fox: [crosstalk] got as far as he did.
Jay: One of the things we’ll be looking for is whether or not the Vatican plays this role of a certain amount of cooperation with the CIA, but this time in Latin America.
Fox: Well, which they’ve done a lot of in the past. And you want to—like you pointed out wisely, there’s a sentimental veneer to a lot of what the media’s into today, and, you know, maybe they’ll calm down. But remember what Carl Jung says: behind sentimentalism there lies violence. So the sweetness is not enough. We have to see the actions and the real philosophy behind any movement and any individual who represents a movement, and not project too much on any human being. You know, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The corruption the Vatican is in at this time in history is unparalleled, unless you go back to the Bourges of the 16th century. So we’ll see if this guy can really clean house or not.
But let’s not put too much of our energy there. Let’s put energy into starting new base communities, a new version of Christianity that really goes back to the Gospels and gets the job done. That’s the real issue.
Jay: Okay. Next time we’ll talk, then we’ll focus on that.
Fox: Thank you.
Jay: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.