Thursday, January 05, 2012

Santorum's weird religion

This is the best piece I've seen on our new Republican superstar. As you might have guessed, Rick Santorum has a history of corruption as long and rich as that of any other politician.

I can guess your two-word response: Ho and hum. You expected as much.

Still, check out the article. I think you'll learn about scandals previously unfamiliar to you -- fake charities, misappropriations of funds, livin' large off the taxpayer teat, the K Street project, and all of the rest of it. Like most other Republicans, Santorum seems to define "morality" purely in terms of how one should and should not use one's wee-wee. Ethicists have no business talking about money.

The following paragraph deserves special attention:
Santorum has frequently insisted that his political values are guided by his religious values, and that John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech describing a separtion between the two had done "much harm" in America. But despite inviting such scrutiny, there's been little discussion of Santorum's ties to ultra-conservative movements within the Roman Catholic Church Santorum's comments about JFK were made in Rome in 2002 when he spoke at a 100th birthday event for Jose Maria Escrivade Balaguer, founder of the secretive group within the church known as Opus Dei. Although Santorum says he is not a member of Opus Dei -- which has been criticized by some for alleged cult-like qualities and ties to ultra-conservative regimes around the world -- he did receive written permission to attend the ultra-conservative St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, Va., where Mass is still conducted in Latin and a long-time priest and many parishioners are members of Opus Dei, mingling with political conservatives like Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and former FBI director Louis Freeh.
Time for a long digression. I promise to bring this post back to Santorum eventually. Until then, bear with me.

Many view the Catholic Church as a monolith. Most Americans think that Catholics are Robots From Rome who all think, act and worship in the same way.

Nonsense. There is far, far greater room for variety, even creativity, within Roman Catholicism than you'll find within, say, the Southern Baptist tradition. True, Rome tries to keep its worldwide flock on the same page concerning the most basic issues of theology. But I think it's a losing battle.

Take, for example, the issue of keeping abortion legal: Within American Catholicism, opinion is split almost 50-50, a division which roughly mirrors the divergence besetting the country as a whole, give or take a few percentage points. By contrast, roughly 90 percent of Baptists insist on reversing Roe vs. Wade.

You'll never see the equivalent of a Karl Rahner or an Archbishop Romero within any fundamentalist or evangelical Protestant denomination. There are many Catholics who question the literal truth of the Bible, and some even view the Gospel story itself as a kind of divine metaphor. Even a conservative Catholic scholar like Luke Timothy Johnson can admit, grudgingly, that the New Testament contains contradictions, historically problematic material, and iffy Greek grammar. Evangelicals never allow themselves to state that obvious fact.

Politically, there have been communist Catholics and Nazi Catholics and everything-in-between Catholics. This country has Catholics who call themselves Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Any political ism you can think of will have at least a few Cat-lick representatives.

But the fact that Catholicism contains both liberal and conservative wings should not blind us to the fact that the Church's conservative faction is freaky. And scary.

Alas, the ultra-conservatives have learned that they can get their way by continually threatening to leave the Church -- a threat they mutter under their breath while braying about their devotion to the papacy.

Most of you have not heard of the sedevacantist movement. Those of you who know the word probably learned about it from profiles of Mel Gibson, the world's most famous sedevacantist.

That impressive-sounding Latin term means "vacant seat." Sedevacantists think that the seat of St. Peter has been vacant since Vatican II, and possibly since the election of John XXIII. (The splitters differ on just when the rot set in.) What about those popes we've seen in recent decades? They're really anti-popes. False leaders. Freemasonic conspirators. Maybe even outright Devil worshipers.

I'm not kidding. That's what sedevacantists like Mel Gibson believe.

(Does Gibson still think this way? I heard that he has been going through some weird shit lately. Something about a Russian woman. I haven't been keeping up.)

Bill O'Reilly made me giggle when he interviewed Gibson around the time The Passion of the Christ came out. O'Reilly kept going on and on about how much the Pope (supposedly) loved the movie, while Gibson kept squirming and trying to change the topic. The director didn't want to harm boxoffice receipts by saying anything about the Pope being a freemasonic diabolist. For those in the know, O'Reilly's display of cluelessness was freakin' hilarious.

Here's the really funny part: Sedevacantists like Gibson broke from the Church because they disagreed with the Vatican II ruling that non-Catholics can go to heaven. The schismatics have many other complaints, especially concerning the Latin Mass. But what the ultra-conservatives really demand is a "No Prots allowed" sign over the gates to paradise.

(Also "No Jews Allowed." But that goes without saying.)

The protestant fundamentalists who made Gibson wealthy still don't understand that Mel Gibson thinks they're going to hell. He broke with Rome because Rome declared that protestants are not going to hell, at least not necessarily. Sedevacantists will not tolerate tolerance.

High Weirdness abounds in the realm of the schismatics. Like protestant fundamentalists, they love miracle stories and conspiracy theories. For example, the schismatics think that Vatican conspirators killed Fatima visionary Lucia dos Santos in 1959 and replaced her with an imposter. Spain has a rather impressive schismatic movement known as the Palmarian Catholic Church, run by Pope Gregory XVIII, who speaks with Jesus and the Virgin Mary on a regular basis. The Palmarians don't call themselves sedevacantists, since they believe that the seat has been re-occupied.

You may now be wondering: What does all of this have to do with Santorum? Is he a sedewhatzit?

No. But here's the thing: The schismatic movement, though numerically small, wields great power as a lingering threat. Conservative Catholics never come right out and say to the pontiff: "Any more of this liberalization crap and we will schism so fast your little white beanie will spin." But the possibility is always there.

That's why the Vatican puts up with behavior which once would have been considered beyond the pale. Rome does not want to see further schisms. The threat of a widening breakaway movement is the primary reason why we cannot expect to see any changes regarding, say, the ordination of women. Not within our lifetime.

The traditionalist parish of St. Catherine of Siena, in Great Falls, insists on a Latin Mass, as do the schismatics and the Lefebvrists. Opus Dei members are not necessarily traditionalists -- that is, many of them will attend Mass in the vernacular. Nevertheless, there is enormous overlap between Opus Dei and the traditionalist movement.

Opus Dei members are not schismatic -- indeed, they would claim to be the Pope's most fervent defenders. Moreover, sedevacantists are as paranoid about Opus Dei as they are about everything else.

Nevertheless, all of these strains -- Opus Dei, the Lefebvrists, the traditionalists, the sedevacantists, the Palmarians -- arose out of the mondo bizarro weltanschauung of Catholic ultraconservatism. Although these groups and subgroups bicker among themselves, they resemble each other more than their adherents may care to admit.

An unnerving strain of anti-Semitism occasionally surfaces within the traditionalist community. For example, traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson was excommunicated after he declared that the Holocaust never happened. In 2009, Williamson was reinstated -- a show of leniency which, I suspect, owes much to the threat of schism.

Williamson belongs to the Lefebvrist faction, known as SSPX (Society of St. Pius X). This is the best-known traditionalist group. There is some debate as to whether Archbishop Lefebvre effected a proper schism, but he did state that Rome had "lost the faith." Pope Benedict has tried to bring SSPX back within the fold:
The answer, of course, is that Benedict and his associates simply misjudged the degree of extremism and manic conspiracy theory circulating in the SSPX. The sect's eccentricity went further than simply holding quirky or reactionary views. Lefebvre and his immediate circle reacted radically and fundamentally to the Vatican's 1960s reformism. Theirs was not simply suspicion of modern decadence, but rather a fundamental belief in the evil forces subverting the modern world -- which included the Jews.

Pope Benedict erred in seeing the Lefebvrists as simple traditionalists or reactionaries whose views slotted into the right wing of the acceptable European political spectrum. Some, at least, were far more extreme, and the Vatican's attempted embrace of them will probably cause lasting damage both inside the church, and in relations with other faiths.
Some Lefebvrists consider Opus Dei too squishy-secular and modernistic -- a view which will surprise those observers who consider members of Opus Dei (yes, the same folks you read about in The Da Vinci Code) to be downright medieval in their thinking.

When Rick Santorum decried the separation of church and state, he spoke at a function honoring Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. (I refuse to call him a saint, although the Church has canonized him, mostly as a sop to the far right.) Many writers have alleged that Escrivá favored the fascist dictators Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet, although some Escrivá apologists now claim that Franco mounted fierce attacks on the Opus Dei movement. (Both statements may be true.) From Wikipedia:
During Escrivá's beatification process, Monsignor Vladimir Felzmann, who had been Escrivá's personal assistant before Felzmann left Opus Dei and became a priest in the Archdiocese of Westminster and an aide to Basil Cardinal Hume, sent several letters to Fr. Flavio Capucci, the postulator (i.e., chief promoter) of Escrivá's cause. In his letters, Msgr. Felzmann claimed to have personally witnessed Escrivá make controversial statements in defense of Adolf Hitler. The alleged statements by Escrivá include: "Vlad, Hitler couldn't have been such a bad person. He couldn't have killed six million. It couldn't have been more than four million", and "Hitler against the Jews, Hitler against the Slavs, this means Hitler against communism"... Msgr. Felzmann claimed that Escrivá made those remarks to him in 1967 or 1968, in Rome, during the intermission to a World War II-themed movie. Felzmann has also said that these remarks should be put in the context of Catholic anti-communism in Spain, and said that all of the male members of Opus Dei (who then numbered about fifty) volunteered in 1941 to join the "Blue Division", a group of Spanish and Portuguese volunteers who joined the German forces in their fight against the Soviet Army, along the eastern front.
Although Opus Dei denies that Escrivá ever said these words, I can't think of any reason for Felzmann to have lied.

Is there really that much difference between Rick Santorum and Bishop Williamson?


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. I knew none of this. I am ashamed.


Gus said...

Santorum disturbs me far more than Romney, that's for sure. Plus, being from PA, I'm much too well aware of his corruption to ever vote for him.

An interesting note, I have a degree in Religious Studies. My prof for several classes, and also my advisor, was a Catholic. It was interesting, because he was quite brutal in his textural analysis and criticism of the bible and made sure we all understood how haphazardly thrown together the thing was. He certainly never gave the impression that he thought God had much of a hand in its writing. He also felt that his religious beliefs were a personal matter and not something for class discussions. A real scholar I guess, but I found this interesting as I always thought (having been made to go to a Methodist church by my parents until I was 18) that Catholics were much more controlled by their beliefs and dogma than Protestants were. Of course, I've learned differently since then, but at the time it was something I was unaware of.

Mr. Mike said...

You know that Bungalow Dick took their still born baby home to show his children?

That aside, apparently about 24.5% of the Iowans who went to the caucuses were willing to overlook his flaws or are willfully ignorant of his history because of the religious lunacy he spouts.

I'm hoping his campaign fizzles out in the sane states.

Rich said...

No one planning election strategy in the US can afford to misread the Catholic vote as monolithic -- many raised but not practicing Catholics r some of the most liberal voters in national elections. About one-third of self-identified Catholics in 2010 considered themselves liberal. Much of the political feeling has to do with education of course and geography. Lot of very liberal Catholics in chilly New England, for example (and a brand new Kennedy running for Congress in Middlesex County MA).

Opus Dei has historically, along with Knights of Malta, had strong ties to military intel ops. Gen. Haig is an emblem of this nexus.

Anonymous said...

Interesting note about Louis Freeh... he is the one charged with over seeing the Penn State sex scandal.... LOL. These people are beyond the pale. Santorum is creepy beyond belief. He should fit right in. I always wondered how much damage Louis Freeh did to the Clinton Administration.

Harry Albrecht said...

You have finally, and irretrievably, outed yourself as a liberal-catholic apologist, Joseph.

I will continue to read your blog from time to time, but I will never take you as seriously as I once did.

Joseph Cannon said...

Harry: What the hell are you talking about? I have never set foot in any church in my life except when forced to do so out of social obligation -- weddings, funerals, that sort of thing.

I discuss the existence of various strains of Catholicism because I keep running into people who think there is no room for variation within that tradition.

I've also written knowledgeably about the inner workings of the OTO. That doesn't mean I believe what the OTOers believe. (I learned about them when I researched a screenplay about Aleister Crowley.)

If you are the sort of person who makes 5X worth of inference based on 1X worth of data, then you really should read another blog.

Bob Harrison said...

"By contrast, roughly 90 percent of Baptists insist on reversing Roe vs. Wade."

I live on the Buckle of the Bible Belt and I'd say 50% of the Southern Baptists I know are pro-choice. Baptists are a contrary lot generally; I doubt that you could 90% of them to agree the sky is blue.

Joseph Cannon said...

Bob, you may be right, or closer to right than I thought. Last time I checked on the abortion controversy, I saw a poll indicating that a very high percentage of Baptists wanted to see abortion made illegal -- 87 percent, something like that. I rounded it up to 90 in my post, which may or may not have been a naughty thing for me to do.

However, I've fired up Google to do some double-checking, and it turns out that the polls have offered wide variation on this matter.

This poll puts the number at 60 percent:

However, that poll was conducted way back in 1986, when life in America was a little less nutty. I was surprised to learn that, before 1980, the Southern Baptists officially favored lifting restrictions on abortion.

I'm still looking for that other poll. Damn, don't you hate it when you KNOW you've read something but you can't find the web page...?

Chris Lark said...

Well Joseph I know I haven't posted here in a while but you really outdid yourself this time.

This has GOT to be another "Hall Of Fame" post for you! If not I'd certainly put it in there;)

It's weird noting that all Romney really has to do about Santorum is keep his mouth shut. If Santorum makes it past NH sooner or later GOP voters will see how crazy he is. Although I have a feeling once the GOP gets past New Hampshire Mittster will have ads that show how crazy Santorum is at the ready.

Might as well ask you these...:

1. Any plans to do posts on the various parts inside Islam or the Jewish or even Buddhist faith? You did a great job with Catholicism so why not other religions?
2. Which is worse to you? - that Santorum really IS that bad or that Rick just makes Barack's 2nd term that much more inevitable?

Bob Harrison said...

Joesph, I was trying to google up some myself-- you had better luck than I did. I think that monolithic thing may be getting us both here-- First Baptist church members are apt to have more liberal opinions than the Little Church of the Wildwood variety, but not always. Then there's the whole issue of membership in the Baptist Association of [pick a region] and the Southern Baptist Association and those self-professed but members-of-no-Association Baptists.

Methodists have a conservative branch, too [see Skippy Bush]. My family is Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and a/a, so even in the Bible Belt there's more variety than some of the Frothing Christians like to pretend.