Thursday, November 07, 2013


I know I'm supposed to be profoundly moved that Pope Francis hugged a man with severe facial disfigurements, but forgive me if I'm dry-eyed. I know how hip it is to like this pope -- Esquire concludes that he, in fact, is "the most interesting man in the world" as well as "funny, smart, and fearless"; Bob Cesca, formerly of Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog, says, "Great pope, or the greatest pope?" -- but I'm picking up a profound odor of calculation in Francis's curiously frequent viral moments.

First of all, publicly and very visibly hugging a person with facial deformities doesn't make you a colossus of compassion; it makes you ... Oprah. Yes, it's good to make an example of compassionate treatment of people who might otherwise be rejected by society, but when it's done by a famous person in the presence of lots of witnesses and cameras, it's also very good for the public image of the embracer -- and that's something Pope Francis, like Oprah, clearly understands. He heads an organization that claims to stand for unconditional love, and that's fallen far short in recent years in its effort to reach people with that message, so he's putting that sort of thing much more in the foreground than his predecessor did. If you believe in the Catholic Church, then, yes, this is a good thing -- but it's clearly done on behalf of the church. Me, I'm a lapsed cradle Catholic who's now an atheist, and while I praise the church's charitable works, I don't support its dogma. I'm not so impressed.

(Hugging a disfigured person briefly is a hell of a lot easier, by the way, than devoting years of love to one. As I typed this, I thought about the young woman who famously married her severely disfigured fiancee after he returned from the Iraq War. It turns out that they split up after little more than a year of marriage. Keeping it together was just too difficult -- naturally, because it was more than a photo op.)

I'd feel better about Pope Francis if I thought that his gift for publicity might be accompanied by a change in the way the church deals with gay people (no, the church's stance hasn't changed), or abortion, or ordination of women (no changes there, either), or contraception or end-of-life care or fertility. The pope utters a lot of kind words, and that's helpful, but on the questions of whether these things are right or wrong there still isn't an inch of daylight between Francis and, say, Rick Santorum.

Yes, it's nice that the pope let a little kid run around freely at one of his public appearances. But so did Rudy Giuliani at his first mayoral inaugural -- though in that case it was Giuliani's son -- and the tolerance of the antics weren't exactly a harbinger of any long-term compassion.

I want to see the church change its positions on sex and gender issues, not just its tone. I want to see Francis use the profound goodwill he's engendered to put some pressure on governments and capitalists to dial down the greed and hard-heartedness; a few platitudes about the dangers of materialism in Sunday sermons aren't getting the job done. I'll know that Francis is having a positive impact when he's actually making enemies -- of the priggish haters, of the heartless rich and powerful. He's not. So his hugs don't move me any more than Chris Christie's hugs do.

(Story via Memeorandum.)


Four Bs said...

Well said.

Monty said...

OT - For the lulz.

Victor said...

Full Definition of PATINA (from Merriam-Webster):

1a: a usually green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially (as by acids) and often valued aesthetically for its color.

b: a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use.

2: an appearance or aura that is derived from association, habit, or established character.

3: a superficial covering or exterior.

Yeah, 3.

But, it's better than anything 'fuck-me red; Prada slippers-wearing Pope Ratzi the Nazi had to offer.

But let's see this type of behavior go down to the policy level of the church.

Otherwise, it's just better PR.

Ed Crotty said...

The disfigured, then divorced Marine is now deceased:

Ty Ziegel passed away in December 2012:
A Metamora Iraq War veteran, who became a symbol of survival after a car bomb explosion, has died.

Family members say 30-year-old Ty Ziegel died after falling on ice.

Angela Cochran, Ziegel’s girlfriend, said he has been an inspiration in the three months since they began dating.

"You can ask him anything about his scars, his time in Iraq, how everything happened; he’s like an open book," said Cochran. "He was willing to share stories. That’s what makes him so inspiring. He’s not trying to hide."
Testimony given at a coroner's inquest several months later revealed that Ty's death had been the result of heroin and alcohol intoxication rather than injuries sustained in a fall.

aimai said...

I'm of two minds about the "New Pope" as Wonkette calls him. As someone pointed out on a thread about this at Balloon Juice: technically his job is all about public acts. If he only did public acts and had no private good ones we could condemn him (and should) as a hypocrite and a deceiver. But if he does both? I think we have to consider that the goal of a public person such as the Pope is to change the public discourse.

I am *extremely* suspicious of New Pope and, indeed, of the very idea that the CAtholic hierarchy accidentally picked someone who is really a good human being. Their track record since John the XXIII has been abysmal and they have clearly been going for worse and worse exemplars of a more and more rigid and inhuman orthodoxy.

But be that as it may, without falling into some romantic fantasy of naturalness (as in the boy on stage moment)--this Pope is, in fact, doing very publicly things that are extremely shocking to his important and powerful followers. And that is quite salutary. Even the shift from carefully circumscribed and Papal language to frank and direct speech, or the washing of the Muslim girl's feet, or the dismissing of anti-gay prejudice as orthodoxy without heart and a waste of church energy--these are both cosmetic and in his role profound.

The people who are not dismissing this as mere window dressing are the Cardinals and entrenched power interests in the Church. They believe (I won' t say they know) that in turning pro-forma poverty, mercy, and charity from things that are done ritually to things that must be done spontaneously and sincerely and all the time that he is challenging them and their followers.

To us maybe there isn't a difference between hugging boil guy and a regular photo op. But my guess is that to his Cardinals and his minders? If they didn't schedule it then it is a HUGE rebuke to them and seen as quite dangerous. Just like his insistence on washing the feet of the teenagers and the muslim girl took something that had been contained by its formulaic quality and caused a huge stir.

Steve M. said...

this Pope is, in fact, doing very publicly things that are extremely shocking to his important and powerful followers.

I disagree. If these people were shocked, there'd be far more protest. They're not shy. Once the church reassures them that the foot-washing is symbolic and the nice words about gays translate into zero change of dogma, they fall right back into line, because they know it's all bark and no bite.

aimai said...

Actually, I think that could be wrong. I mean, I agree that if he actually intends for things to change he's going to have to up his game, but the Church is huge and slow and he's only been in power for a few months. If you are reading Catholic lay critiques of the Pope you will find that people take this shit very, very, seriously and some of them are plenty pissed off that the Pope is rhetorically undermining what they thought they needed to do and believe after Benedict and John Paul.

I don't come from this world so the massive, earthquake like ripples caused by what to an outsider seems like just a picture or just a few words is strange to me. But the Vatican usually communicates big, big, changes with small and symbolic acts or with mealy mouthed and extremely boring lectures and communiques. I think its clear from Catholic lay reaction that what the Pope is doing is signficant.

That doesn't mean that I think he's a nice person or secretely in sympathy with an entirely changed and non hierarchical church or anything like that. But I'm not sure I think its all for show to appease some hypothetical liberal US critiques or hipsters. I don't think those people even register with the Church as a problem. Really: they don't care if Wonkette likes the Pope.

Steve M. said...

Where are some of these Catholic lay critiques? And who actually reads them, apart from other writers of Catholic lay critiques?

aimai said...

Oh, I think we are only talking about Catholics, aren't we? I mean, who else matters? Does it really matter to the Catholic church if "hipsters" or the NYT likes the new pope? They are worried about stemming the tide of death and decay among older Catholics and the inability to replace white-first world catholics (who have all the money) except with non white third world Catholics. New "Soft Pope" has zero effect outside the church. The question is: what effect will he have inside the church?

Steve M. said...

I'm talking about whether anyone outside the community of Catholic intellectuals (and self-styled intellectuals) is having this response. Are priests and bishops rebelling? Are prominent political or business figures rebelling, here or in traditionally Catholic countries? If not, then I'm not sure if what's being said in journals and online forums amounts to all that much.

aimai said...

I think its going to take a while. But I can't say I care. I think its clear that if they want to get rid of him, they will. So I don' tthink they have to rebel because I don't think he can get close enough to real power to change things. But I do think his example matters to practicing Catholics and I think its quite disconcerting, for example, to America's professional Catholics. Even these weak gestures are seen as extreme rebukes.

Examinator said...

Let's get real here Rat(z)ie was elected because he was a conservative (read status quo) Catholic by the same status quo cardinals (Read entrenched power).
What has changed is that the systemic kiddie fiddling and cover ups has refused to go away....Ratzie was even vaguely implicated.
The Catholic Church needed a circuit breaker...hence the current POPE!

It's a bit like retiring the the most visible CEO of the Bankers in Wall St after the GFC and hiring a more photogenic PR savvy one. The same dubious hierarchy is still in place and business as usual...
So too with the CATHOLIC the same hierarchy/system Cardinals and bishops are there. Common sense tells us that the many of the guilty are still their and influencing church policy.
Would changing the President for a more moderate one of the GOP eliminate :-
a. The TBer influence
b. Make the GOP DNC lite?
Not so long as my bum points down!
Human nature dictates that the there are too many GOP people who have vested interests to make the change.

Likewise this Pope while seemingly more humane has some dark anti/ people...change history. He is in every way sill part of the problem.
Finally the current pope is less likely to effect meaningful change the the Catholic church juggernaut than ANY POTUS there is far too much galloping inertia (vested interests) in status quo ish.
At the moment the catholic "intellectuals" know that this pope's window dressing actions are necessary to stop the rot.

Inconsequential Essayist said...

"I'm a lapsed cradle Catholic who's now an atheist, and while I praise the church's charitable works, I don't support its dogma."

I'm confused--how could Francis or the Catholic Church ever expose a dogma that you would support?

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with your atheism. I'm just questioning what circumstances would have to occur for an atheist to agree with Catholic dogma?

Catholic dogma is based around the trinity. Do you really expect that a institution would change that basis (and cease to have any religious relevance to anybody) to fit your worldview that God doesn't exist?

Steve M. said...

Somehow the Trinity leads Catholics to oppose birth control even for married people, and in vitro fertilization, just to name two things that are acceptable to even some conservative Protestant denominations. That's one interpretation of the meaning of the Trinity. I could go left and talk about Christians who don't think homosexuality is evil, or masturbation, or abortion.

You have one interpretation. It does't come straight from God, it's a human interpretation of your sacred texts, whether you believe it or not. It could be changed, though I'm not naive enough to think it will be, even by that nice pope.

Examinator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Examinator said...

Steve M,
All Good points. While I don't hold any religious Views at all I have reservations about the label 'athiests' as being WAY to simplistic.
Beliefs are human creations. Having said that I accept that some people have the genetic predisposition to need the notion of predictability more than others. (translations not every one has the same intensity in various instincts as others e.g I have had dogs and birds, well forever, and it is clear to me that even between siblings some are more aggressive, flighty nervous than others.. )

This means I accept others needing a belief in divinity to explain (instinctively) what others like me don't.
this mean that I differentiate between the personal belief and the institution "church".
The latter posessing the usual dogma, traits, individual power plays, hierarchies the same as any organization. Particularly those that are due to personal egos/ greed et al i.e. the needs of the organization to survive exceed those of the individual, notwithstanding it's charitable(?) deeds. I think that the “charitable” good is a mood or highly problematic argument (justification) when taken as a whole .
Abortion, birth control et al particularly when taken on a World scale. Which leads me to my final point about Pope Bennie being nice. If one looks into his past he was implicated in pandering to dictators and the defrocking and excommunication of two priests who helped the poor to gain birth control and abortions (after brutal rapes of some very young girls ….. elsewhere those rapes would have been considered paedophilia attacks one wonders if he covered up kiddie fiddling priests in the name of the Church too, my guess is yup!). Those same priests were a pains to the dictators. To me he has form for putting the institution before the interests of the people.
Ergo Pope Bennie is nice? I prefer my explanation he is a spin circuit breaker because he used the subway and being accessible to the punters (PR exploitability).