XVI arrived in Washington last week against a macabre backdrop
featuring reports of torture, execution, and war. He chose not
Fresh reporting by ABC from inside sources depicted George W.
Bush's most senior aides (Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft,
Rice, and Tenet) meeting dozens of times in the White House during
2002/03 to sort out the most efficient mix of torture techniques
for captured "terrorists."
ABC attempted to insulate the president from this sordid activity,
Bush abruptly bragged that he knew all about it and approved.
That comment and the action memorandum Bush signed on Feb. 7,
2002 dispelled any lingering doubt regarding his personal responsibility
for authorizing torture.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court with a majority of judges calling
themselves Catholic, was openly deliberating on whether one gram,
or two, or perhaps three of this or that chemical would be the
preferred way to execute people. Always colorful prominent Catholic
layman Antonin Scalia complained impatiently, "Where does it say
in the Constitution that executions have to be painless?"
not seem at all concerned that the pope might remind him and his
Catholic colleagues about the Church's teaching on capital punishment;
i.e., the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute
necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."
It was enough
to bring this student of German history (and five-year resident
there) vivid memories of frequenting those places where precisely
these kinds of torture and execution policies were conducted at
similarly high levels by Hitler's inner circle - yes, including
the pope possibly be so suffused with his peculiar brand of theology
that he is oblivious to what happened when he was a young man
during the Third Reich.
Is it possible
that papal advisers forgot to tell him that the post-WW II Nuremberg
Tribunal described an unprovoked war of aggression, of the kind
that the Third Reich and George W. Bush launched, as the "supreme
international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that
it contains the accumulated evil of the whole?" Could they have
failed to tell the pope he would be hobnobbing with war criminals,
torturers, and the enabling cowards in Congress who refuse to
remove them from office?
this Catholic, it was a profoundly sad spectacle - profoundly
sad. Not since WW II, when the Reich's bishops swore personal
oaths of allegiance to Hitler (as did the German Supreme Court
and army generals) have the papacy and bishops acted in such a
fawning, un-Christ-like way.
Thirties, with very few exceptions, the bishops (Catholic and
Evangelical Lutheran) collaborated with the Nazis. Meanwhile,
Hamlet-like Pius XII kept trying to make up his mind as to whether
he should put the Catholic Church at some risk, while Jews were
being murdered by the thousands.
since WW II, when the Reich's bishops swore personal oaths
of allegiance to Hitler (as did the German Supreme Court
and army generals) have the papacy and bishops acted in
such a fawning, un-Christ-like way.
in the shadow of that monstrous world war, the French author/philosopher
Albert Camus accepted an invitation from the Dominican Monastery
of Latour-Maubourg. To their credit, the Dominicans wanted to
know what an "unbeliever" thought about Christians in the light
of their behavior during the Thirties and Forties. Camus' words
seem so terribly relevant today that it is difficult to trim them:
long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice
to speak up in Rome. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that
the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation.
has been explained to me since, that the condemnation was indeed
voiced. But that it was in the style of the encyclicals, which
is not all that clear. The condemnation was voiced and it was
not understood. Who could fail to feel where the true condemnation
lies in this case?
the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak
out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation
in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could
rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away
from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has
taken on today.
that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise,
or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical.
Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue
of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago.
I know - and what sometimes creates a deep longing in me - is
that if Christians made up their mind to it, millions of voices
- millions, I say - throughout the world would be added to the
appeal of a handful of isolated individuals, who, without any
sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly
for children and other people."
from Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays)
Dominican monks took Camus seriously; monks tend to listen. Vatican
functionaries, on the other hand, tend to know it all - and typically
caution the pope to be "discrete." You saw that this past week
with the pope in Washington and New York, as he forfeited the
opportunity to follow the biblical injunction to speak truth to
power - to speak out clearly, as Camus insisted, with whatever
moral authority he could summon.
to last week and the many prominent Catholics who flocked to see
the pope - many of them officials with considerable influence
in the Judiciary and Legislature, with important players in the
Executive Branch as well.
were, with their families, the five Catholic Supreme Court justices,
fresh from detailed deliberations on how best to implement state-sponsored
killings, executions that are banned by virtually every civilized
audibly salivated over how much noxious chemical should be shot
into the veins of a "condemned," and how quickly. (For those with
strong stomachs, C-SPAN captured the proceedings.)
I am embarrassed
to acknowledge that, like me, Scalia is the product of a Jesuit
education (Xavier H.S. in Manhattan and Georgetown College). Despite
his advocacy of "soft" torture techniques like driving nails under
fingernails, Scalia continues to be lionized by many Jesuits and
the world expects of Christians is that Christians should
speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their
condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the
slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest
Pelosi, erstwhile doyenne of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and
now San Francisco, and minority leader John Boehner (R, Ohio)
- also a Catholic - seem about to allocate another hundred billion
dollars to death and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan for the
most reprehensibly crass of political purposes - the coming election.
Congressman Jim McGovern (D, Massachusetts) last week tried to
guild the lily, noting that Pelosi now insists that, in McGovern's
words, "We're an equal branch of government; we're no longer a
cheap date." Right.
appears that Pelosi's key functionaries on House Appropriations
(both of them Catholics) will cave in once again. It is not as
though they do not know the right thing to do. Just six months
ago Appropriations chair Dave Obey (D, WI) declared, "I have no
intention of reporting out of committee anytime in this session
of Congress any such [funding] request that simply serves to continue
the status quo."
chair John Murtha (D, PA) put it even more strongly a year before
Obey did, and came close to calling the occupation of Iraq a lost
cause - which, of course, it is. But it is not politic to say
that before the election. Never mind the troops on the front lines.
Murtha caved last time. I will find it particularly devastating
if Obey caves again now, for I have always considered him among
the best legislators in Congress. And since he is from Wisconsin,
Obey recognizes better than most others the McCarthy-ite demagoguery
coming from the likes of Texas Republican Michael Burgess, to
the effect that anything short of giving the president all the
war funding he demands is "basically giving aid and comfort to
has been unusually candid in admitting that it is electoral politics,
pure and simple, that explain her resistance to holding President
George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney accountable for
high crimes and misdemeanors via the orderly procedure given us
by the Founders for precisely this purpose - impeachment in the
House; trial in the Senate.
If, as widely
expected, the war funding goes through, several hundred more American
troops are likely to die before some common sense can be injected
into U.S. policy next year - not to mention how many Iraqis.
Iraq is a
shambles. Two million Iraqis have fled abroad; another two million
are internal refugees. Am I the only one who finds macabre the
raging debate as to whether the attack and occupation of Iraq
has resulted in a million or "only 300,000" Iraqis dead?
the pope did not have any opinion on the Iraq war.
pope would speak out against the kind of torture for which our
country has become famous: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, CIA "black
sites" - the more so, since Jesus of Nazareth was tortured to
death. The pope chose silence, which presumably came as welcome
relief to five-star torturer's apprentice, Gen. Michael Hayden,
now head of the CIA. The White House has made clear that Hayden
is ready to instruct his torturers to water board again, upon
his mettle when he was head of the National Security Agency. He
saluted smartly when the president and vice president told him
to disregard the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act and
his oath to defend the Constitution. One of Hayden's predecessors
as NSA director asserted that Hayden should have been court-martialed.
Pelosi was briefed both on the illegal surveillance and the torture,
but did nothing.
his allegiance to the president, Hayden was picked to head the
CIA. The general likes to brag about his moral training and Catholic
credentials. At his nomination hearing, he noted that he was the
beneficiary of 18 years of Catholic education.
And all the
while it was quite clear he was positively lusting to be in charge
of water boarding and other torture techniques - whatever you
say, boss. I was somewhat crestfallen after adding up my own years
of Catholic education - only 17. Clearly I missed "Enhanced Interrogation
an interview with the Catholic News Service in 2002, Ratzinger
(now Pope Benedict XVI) branded media coverage of the pedophilia
scandal "a planned campaign... intentional, manipulated,
a desire to discredit the Church."
It General; Focus on Others' Sins
at the UN, the pontiff pontificated on "God-given human rights"
and "massive human rights abuses," but pretty much left it at
that. The Washington Post reported that the pope was "short on
specifics and long on broad themes."
was one specific. Here in the U.S., the pope seemed to prefer
to dwell again and again on the pedophilia scandal - to the exclusion
of much else. He is to be applauded for meeting with victims of
clergy sexual abuse and expressing deep shame, but he got a free
pass from the media in disguising his own role in trying to cover
the whole thing up.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed The Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican office that once ran the Inquisition.
In that capacity he sent a letter in May 2001 to all Catholic
bishops throwing a curtain of secrecy over the widespread sexual
abuse by clergy, warning the bishops of severe penalties, including
excommunication for breaching "pontifical secrets."
for the sexually abused accused Ratzinger of "clear obstruction
American bishops have been disciplined. And when Bernard Cardinal
Law was run out of Boston for failing to protect children from
predator priests, he was given a cushy sinecure in Rome; many
believe he should be behind bars.
an interview with the Catholic News Service in 2002, Ratzinger
(now Pope Benedict XVI) branded media coverage of the pedophilia
scandal "a planned campaign... intentional, manipulated, a desire
to discredit the Church."
It is nice
that the pope has now changed his tune. And nicer still for him
as he found himself in the congenial atmosphere of Washington,
where it has been a very long time since powerful miscreants have
been held accountable.
Did You Expect?
I do wish
my friends would stop asking me that.
was good that the pope addressed the pedophilia issue head on,
it seemed as though he and his politically astute advisers made
a considered decision to devote inordinate amounts of time and
energy to the abuse. An all-too-familiar side-benefit of this
focus on below-the-belt sexual issues enabled the pope to speak
in glorious generality on other major issues - war, torture, capital
punishment - in all of which, as we have seen, many of "the faithful"
are deeply engaged - embarrassingly engaged. Or am I the only
I had hoped
- naively, it turned out - that the pope might encourage his brother
bishops to find the courage to state plainly what 109 bishops
of the Methodist faith, George W. Bush's tradition, declared on
Nov. 8, 2005:
of our complicity in what we believe to be the unjust and immoral
invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the face of the United States
Administration's rush toward military action based on misleading
information, too many of us were silent.
our preoccupation with institutional enhancement and limited agendas
while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed,
while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and die."
I had thought
that perhaps the U.S. Catholic bishops could adopt the kind of
resolution that 125 Methodist bishops signed on Nov. 9, 2007.
Speaking truth to power, the Methodists called for an immediate
withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the reversal of any plans to
establish permanent military bases there.
bishops' resolution noted: "Every day that the war continues,
more soldiers and innocent civilians are killed with no end in
sight to the violence, bloodshed, and carnage." Bishop Jack Meadors
summed up the situation succinctly:
war is not just a political issue or a military issue. It is a
know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall
not be asked the question posed to Cain: 'Where were you
when your brother's blood was crying out to God?'"
- Imre Bathory (Hungarian who risked his
life saving Jews from the concentration camps)
Museum in Jerusalem
Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem last summer,
I experienced painful reminders of what happens when the church
allows itself to be captured by Empire. An acquiescent church,
it is clear, loses whatever residual moral authority it may have
At the entrance
to the museum, a quotation by German essayist Kurt Tucholsky set
a universally applicable tone:
is not just what it does - it is also what it tolerates."
compelling words came from Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who put his
own life at grave risk by helping to save Jews from the concentration
camps. Explaining why, Bathory said this:
know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not
be asked the question posed to Cain: 'Where were you when your
brother's blood was crying out to God?'"
Bible, and "Religion"
to former President George H. W. Bush, George W. has "read the
Bible straight through - twice." Perhaps he skipped by that passage
too quickly; or maybe he is highly selective with respect to whom
he considers his brothers.
for Benedict, though; he knows better. And yet he opted to squander
his glorious chance to speak out and make a difference.
bishop Meadors is right; the war is a moral issue. But President
Bush has refused, time and time again, to meet with his Methodist
bishops. And now he has the imprimatur of the pope.
line is challenging: to the degree that right and wrong, moral
and immoral considerations are to be injected into discussions
about war, executions, torture - well, let's face it. There is
Are we up
to it? Shall we punt, like Benedict? Shall we behave like "obedient
Germans," waiting, as if for Godot, for top-down moral guidance
we know in our hearts will never come?
has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage.
Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the
way they ought to be."
gave us incredibly precious gifts we dare not fritter away. I
sense a lot of anger; I am confident we can summon the necessary
courage. What about you?
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the
ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, DC.
He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity (VIPS). This
article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com and is circulated
by Information Clearing House.
Benedictions, by Andrew Wimmer