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The Vatican and the left.

THE VATICAN AND THE LEFT

By Charles J. Coe

Years ago life was much simpler. When we were told that someone was a socialist, we did not have to ask, "What kind of socialist?' But today we have so many different kinds that only an avid inquisitor like the late Senator McCarthy can perhaps find a common denominator.

"Is Pope John Paul II a socialist?' was the question posed in the first sentence of Mr. Marzani's article, "The Vatican as a Left Ally?' (MR, July-August 1982). I wondered then if we were about to witness the spawning of a new species of socialism: perhaps Papal socialism. In the months and years that followed I expected that MR might offer an alternative evaluation of the new Pope's role in place of the forty-two page original so extravagantly prettified. But nothing appeared as John Paul II conducted his expeditions into Mexico, Central America, and Poland; nothing, as he intensified his garrote being used to silence the liberal Jesuits supporting people's struggles in Latin America; nothing, as the Vatican's hi-jinx in high finance erupted in scandal after scandal, with one of "God's Bankers' (Calvi) found swinging under Blackfriar's Bridge in London while his predecessor was incarcerated in Sing Sing. When none of these developments brought any comment, criticism, or modification of the mid-1982 evaluation of the Vatican as a potential Left ally, I feared lest "independent socialism' might be metamorphizing itself into "Papal socialism.'

Since left-wing publications are notoriously reluctant to let any humor into their pages, I began to surmise that Mr. Marzani was probably pulling our legs with his rhapsodic vignette of Pope John Paul II. The Wall Street Journal, which is not generally considered a left-wing newspaper, published an analytical article (December 30, 1982) stating that Opus Dei had picked Wojtyla when he was still an obscure prelate to head up the Vatican-- back in the days when Opus Dei's wealthy lay members were sponsoring Franco to be installed dictator of Spain. The WSJ article indicated that a deal had been entered into whereby Wojtyla, if elected, would make Opus Dei a full-fledged Order of the Church, staffing it with enough Churchmen of high status to lift it from lay elitism. Since becoming Pope, John Paul II has mercilessly drained the Jesuits of liberal blood while raising Opus Dei to an accredited Order of the Church.

Both of the so-called God's Bankers, first Sindona and later Calvi, used their Vatican channels to help Opus Dei send millions of dollars to nefarious enterprises, openly reactionary or even fascist, in Latin America, aided by Archbishop Marcinkus of Cicero, Illinois. As the debt load mounted and private creditors were refused payment of Vatican-backed obligations, Italy's largest bank, the Banco Ambrosiano, was plunged into bankruptcy.

Instead of cleaning up this financial flimflam, Pope John Paul II has tried to cover it up and deny responsibility, thereby avoiding repayment to innocent victims. Only the pressure of the Italian government, which has been threatening to extend governmental supervision to the Vatican's privileged financial operations, has permitted some light to penetrate into the darker recesses of Vatican financial hanky-panky.

From some of these revelations, there would seem to be grounds for looking into the charge of close Mafia links with the Vatican financiers. Just how left-wing forces might participate in an alliance with the Vatican and its current cohorts would seem to require more concrete clarification than has been provided so far.

By Martin J. Livney

Since you printed the article "The Vatican as a Left Ally?' quite a few things have happened, and I wonder if you care to write another article in which you could state a few more up-to-date facts.

I have been very interested in what the Pope has been doing in this past year, but cannot see at all where either the Pope, or the powers around him, have changed too much that one can call him an "ally of the left' by the farthest stretch of the imagination. He is certainly a person with very wide influence, and as occasionally a blind hen will find a bit of corn, he has shown some sympathy with the common man. However, when the chips are down he doesn't seem to mind selling Lech Walesa down the river. His latest journey to Poland and the back-door audience he so generously granted to Lech, plus the covert assistance he has given to the Polish military regime, seem to have put him into square one, which he seems to occupy--which is pretty reactionary, to say the least.

With such true friends like the Pope, progressive people don't have to look for enemies!

By Charles Douglas Lewis

I am writing you to consider publishing a critical analysis of the article "The Vatican as a Left Ally?' by Carl Marzani. It may be that I have misunderstood the article's title. It does not say that the Vatican is a left ally. It only seems that Marzani will make the case that to consider the Vatican as a left ally is not to contemplate something utterly absurd. True. But you should warn your readers that a perspective may avoid absurdity and still be false. It is not absurd that the earth is the center of the universe, but it is false.

By Miguel Duran

A letter in the May 1983 MR states that "the Catholic Church is consciously . . . disassociating itself from capitalism.' The writer sees the Canadian Catholic Bishops' statement of January 5, 1983, as a confirmation of this development. To be honest, we must recognize that the Catholic Church is not and never will be disassociating itself from capitalism. There is a simple reason: today the Catholic Church is itself part of capitalism. The Vatican and the Catholic Church are controlled by extremely reactionary people who have solid ties with and investments in multinational enterprises. Statements such as that by the Canadian Catholic Bishops are opportunistic propaganda devices used to attract disoriented people to Christianity and religion. Marxist-Leninists know that religion represents only a certain historical development. We must be suspicious of progressive-sounding pronouncements coming from Church officials, noting especially that they ignore the class struggle, the causes of capitalist crises, and the way to transform capitalist society.

Carl Marzani Replies

The criticisms above are a sample of many MR has received following an article on the Vatican (MR, July-August 1982) and a letter by Errol Black on the "economics crisis' statement of the Canadian Bishops' Conference (MR, May 1983). In the article I had made three points: the Vatican was embarked on a defense of the poor and the disinherited, particularly those in the Third World; the Vatican was increasingly critical of the capitalist system and was slowly but deliberately distancing itself from supporting it; the Vatican was wholly committed to preventing nuclear war and dismantling the arms race, thus coming into conflict with Reaganism.

I also said, explicitly, that John Paul II was not a socialist, a Marxist, or a sympathizer of the left. On the contrary, he is a relentless, but not a fanatic, opponent of socialism. The Pope is a conservative on hierarchical matters (celibacy, authority of the Pope, ordainment of women, etc.), on certain social issues (abortion, contraception, women working, etc.), and is allergic to priests functioning in the political arena unless this suits his purpose. Hence he force Father Drinan (D., Mass.) out of politics and has been trying to get two Sandinista priests out of the Nicaraguan government.

I concluded that, on balance, the progressive positions described in the first paragraph above were more important for left forces than the regressive features in the second paragraph, although both are operative and at any given moment one or the other is in ascendancy. For example, the New York Times of August 20, 1984, had a front-page story that Father Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian exponent of "liberation theology,' had been called to Rome to defend (read: abandon) his positions. At the same time, inside the paper a small item reported that "Pope John Paul II urged American, Soviet, Chinese, and European scientists attending a conference [in Sicily] on nuclear war today, to use the meeting to promote world peace.'

The concept most correspondents reject is that the Vatican is distancing itself from capitalism when most of its investments are in the heartland of capitalism, the United States. The answer is that the distancing is a slow, cautious one, taking place over decades during which the Vatican hopes that it will be able to develop an economic system different from both capitalism and socialism. What this "third way' would be I don't know, and if the Pope knows he's not telling. Based on his encyclical Laborem Exercens I make some guesses in an article in the magazine Etudes d'economie politique (September 1984), which can be obtained from McGill University in Montreal. An English translation may be obtained from MR by sending in $3.00.

Meanwhile, there is considerable evidence confirming the thesis of "distancing.' Not only did the Canadian Bishops' Conference issue a statement highly critical of capitalism (see MR, May 1983), but the American Bishops' Conference will issue a highly critical pastoral letter after the November election (New York Times Magazine, August 12, 1984). Although conferences of bishops are theoretically independent of the Vatican, it is highly unlikely that on such important matters as nuclear war and capitalism their pronouncements would go against papal position.

Space is lacking to discuss every point made by correspondents, but one point made by Brother Coe is very important, namely, that John Paul II was picked by Opus Dei to be Pope when he "was still an obscure prelate--back in the days when Opus Dei's wealthy members were sponsoring Franco to be installed dictator of Spain.' Brother Coe cites the Wall Street Journal as his authority. Taken literally, the theory is nonsense on its face. In 1938, when Franco was installed as dictator, Pope Wojtyla was eighteen years old. He didn't become a priest (much less a prelate) until 1946. More important, the circumstances of his election have been publicized--particularly in The Making of the Popes, 1978, by Father Andrew Greely. A shorter account is given in Chapter 4 of my book, The Promise of Eurocommunism. (Not so incidentally, my account has been tacitly confirmed by a participant in the Conclave.) Opus Dei is a virulently anti-Communist order which is also theologically conservative; John Paul II was elected by a coalition of the most politically progressive and theologically conservative cardinals. Cardinals influenced by Opus Dei (a dozen or so, less than 15 percent of the total) may well have voted for Wojtyla, but I doubt very much that he was their first choice.

In conclusion: I am an atheist and a Marxist; I have no desire to defend either Pope John Paul II, the Curia, or the Catholic Church, but I do want the left to understand them as part of a wider reappraisal of the role of religion in the political struggle of the coming decades. On that issue I recommend a reading (or re-reading) of MR's editorial preface to its special issue on "Religion and the Left' (July-August 1984). One of the editors comes from a Protestant tradition, the other from a Judaic one. I come from a Catholic tradition, and I find it of some significance that we are all at ease with one another in a comradely atheism.
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Author:Coe, Charles J.; Livney, Martin J.; Lewis, Charles Douglas; Duran, Miguel; Marzani, Carl
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Oct 1, 1984
Words:1905
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