White smoke from Vatican signals election of Pope

What interests did the big media companies have in broadcasting the countless details of the choice of the new Pope?  Who benefits from the millions of dollars spent on the broadcasts that continued without a break until the white smoke appeared?  On whose side are these interests?  What interests does the Vatican have in facilitating these broadcasts?…It is largely the telecommunications companies that are responsible for maintaining secrecy in the electoral politics of the Vatican.  The secrecy, the oaths and the penalties for breaking them are part of the business.  They create impacts and make news.  It isn’t an age-old tradition without consequences for the life of the world, but behaviour that ultimately frustrates the search for dialogue between groups or excludes groups from a necessary dialogue.  There is no criticism of this perverse system that continues using the Holy Spirit to maintain ultra-conservative positions cloaked in auras of religiosity and kindly submission.  There is no space for dissonant voices to be raised, even at the risk of being stoned, in the official broadcasts….  We are told that Francis, the new Pope, used public transport, cooked his own meals and that the choice of this name symbolised his likeness to the great Saint Francis of Assisi.  He was immediately presented as a simple, jovial and likeable figure.  The Catholic press said nothing about many people’s suspicions about his attitude in the period of the military dictatorship, about his current political positions, about his positions against equal marriage, or even against the legalisation of abortion.  It said nothing about his well-known criticisms of liberation theology and his lack of interest in feminist theology.  The kindly, unpretentious figure elected by the cardinals with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, concealed the real man with his countless contradictions.

The see of Peter and the Vatican State have to move their pieces on the world chessboard to support the political projects of the North and its allies in the South.  The South, we could say, was co-opted by the North.  A political leader of the Church, coming from the South, will balance the relationships on the world chessboard, which have been considerably disrupted in recent years by pro-poor governments in Latin America and by the campaigns of many movements, including the feminist mArgentine President Cristina Fernández with Pope Francisovements on the continent whose demands plague the Vatican.

If it is in the South where something new is happening in politics, nothing better than a Pope from the South, a Latin American to deal with this new political situation and to preserve the traditions of family and property intact.  Obviously an assertion like this breaks the spell of the moment of the election and the emotion of seeing the crowd in St Peter’s Square burst into applause and screams of joy at the appearance of Pope Francis.  Many people will say that these criticisms destroy the beauty of such an emotional moment as the election of a Pope.  Perhaps, but I think that criticisms are necessary.

All the talk about preserving evangelisation as the Church’s priority seems to amount to the preservation of a hierarchical order in the world in which the elites govern and the peoples applaud in the great public squares, get emotional, pray and sing for divine blessings to fall on the heads of the new politico-religious leaders.  The same catechism, with minor variations, continues to be reproduced.  There is no reflection, no awakening of minds, no invitation to think, just the maintenance of a semi-magical doctrine.  On the one hand the society of spectacle invades us to bring us into line with the current order/disorder by giving it a romantic flavour, and on the other a charitable society is identified with evangelisation.  Going on to the streets to feed the poor and praying with prisoners may be to some extent humanitarian but it doesn’t solve the problem of social exclusion present in many countries of the world.

Pope Francis with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Writing about the ‘geopolitics of secrecy’ at a time of media euphoria is like spoiling the party for the traders in the Temple doing well with their stalls laden with rosaries, scapulars, bottles of holy water and images large and small of saint after saint.The problem is that if we open up the secrecy the charm of the white smoke disappears and we do away with the suspense of a secret conclave that bars the Catholic people from access to the information to which we have a right, and the purple-robed bodies are stripped bare to reveal their tortuous histories.

Breaking down the secrecy means breaking down the falsity of the politico-religious system that governs the Roman Catholic Church.  It means taking offthe masks that keep us going and finally opening our hearts for real inter-dependence and responsibility among all of us.  The power games are full of cunning, illusions and even good faith.  We are liable to be impressed by a public gesture of affection or likeability without asking questions about the real history of this person.  We don’t ask questions about his actions in the past, here and now, or what he’s likely to do in the future.It’s simply that moment, the appearance of the likeable white-robed figure, that impresses us.  We can be moved by an affectionate Buona sera from the pope and go to bed like good children blessed by a kindly daddy.  We are no longer orphans – and in a patriarchal society not having a father is unbearable even for a few days.

We are accomplices in the maintenance of these dark powers that delight and oppress us at the same time.  We, especially those of us who have more clarity about political and religious processes, are responsible for the illusion that these powers create in the lives of millions of people, especially when transmitted by the religious media.  We can melt to such an extent that we forget the power games, the invisible manipulations, the theatrical skill that is so important on these occasions.

We cannot make forecasts about the future directions of governance in the Roman Catholic Church.  But at first sight it doesn’t look as though we can expect great changes in current structures and policies.  The significant changes will come if Catholic Christian communities take control of Christianity as it is today, in other words, if are able to say, in terms of their life needs, how the Gospel of Jesus can be translated and lived out in our lives today.

The geopolitics of secrecy has high interests to defend.  It is part of a project of world power in which the forces of order find themselves threatened by the social and cultural revolutions in progress in our world.  Maintaining secrecy means maintaining that there are forces superior to the historical forces of live and that these are more important than the directions we may give to our collective struggle for dignity, bread, justice and mercy among the many reverses and sadnesses that we suffer us on the way.

Brazilian feminist theologian Ivone Gebara

I end this brief reflection with the hope that we may not quench the light of freedom that lives in us and may continue drinking from the well-springs of our dreams of dignity with lucidity without being taken in by surprises that may appear to be major changes.  After all, this is just another Pope to be added to the list of this institution which, despite its history of highs and lows, deserves to be transformed and rethought for our day.  Changes can always occur, and we need to be open to the small signs of hope that burst in on all sides even in our world’s most anachronistic institutions.

SHARE