Popes Have Long Opposed Human Rights and Supported Tyrants: A (Relatively) Brief History

By Betty Clermont | 19 May 2018
The Open Tabernacle

(Photo: Photograph: Osservatore Romano / Reuters)

Most are familiar with the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition. Fewer know about Pius XII’s embrace of fascism, his cooperation with the CIA, John Paul II’s alliance with Reagan in support of dictators, the political consequences of his appointment of right-wing bishops in the U.S. and Latin America – including Pope Francis – and the current pontiff’s unknown history.

It is true that, from the beginning, Christians were recognized for their monumental works of charity and Western Civilization owes much to Catholic education, medicine, art, music, architecture etc. It is also true that popes have obstructed freedom and self-rule while choosing to collaborate with dictators and butchers.

While I was writing about Pope Francis’ obsequiousness towards Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and his vociferous opposition to women’s and LGBTQ persons’ human rights, I thought that if readers were more familiar with papal history, this would be less surprising.

When asked for his opinion on abortion and same-sex marriage, Pope Francis said his position was identical to that of the Church. “I am a son of the Church,” he explained.

This is part of the tradition from which he emerges – remarkable considering Jesus’ “Great Commission” was only to preach the Gospel.


The Roman Catholic Church’s secular power began with the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 313 AD. Christians, who had been an outlawed sect brutally maltreated and killed, were now the recipients of the emperor’s favor. Constantine built the first Christian basilica on the Vatican hill in Rome.

The Christianity became the official and protected religion of the Roman Empire. “The gifts of Constantine, when combined with those of subsequent emperors, made the Church the largest landowner in the West by the sixth century…. Clergy began wearing the clothing of royalty to mark their wealth, still worn to this day as liturgical vestments.”

As the Roman Empire declined, missionaries successfully converted pagans. Ecclesial bureaucrats throughout Europe often assumed the functions of civil government as Roman administration diminished.

When Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope in 800, he granted the Church even greater power. Hierarchs were given rule over additional large tracts of land. In 1066, William the Conqueror gave over a quarter of the land in England to the Church, binding the country to Rome.

Pope Urban II commanded an army of “between 60,000 and 100,000” which he sent on a crusade in 1095 to retake Jerusalem from the “infidels” – making him easily the most powerful man in Europe at the time. “Tens of thousands of people (both soldiers and civilians) were killed in the conquest of Jerusalem. The Crusaders themselves suffered; historians estimate that only one in 20 survived to even reach the Holy Land. It is estimated that 1.7 million people died in total.”

The Inquisition began in the 12th century to abolish and punish heresy. It continued for hundreds of years throughout Europe and the Americas. “Its worst manifestation was in Spain, where the Spanish Inquisition was a dominant force for more than 200 years.”

Most contemporary scholars estimate the number of executions in Spain to be “between 3,000 and 10,000, with perhaps an additional 100,000 to 125,000 dying in prison as a result of torture and maltreatment. However, if the term [inquisition] is used in a broad sense – to represent all Roman Catholic activity against non-Catholics [including] forms of torture and killing that did not involve a formal trial, along with religious wars and other forms of Catholic violence enacted against Protestants and other non-Catholics (in areas outside of Spain and Portugal), then one can easily speak in terms of millions of people who were killed.”

The Anglo-American tradition of legal guarantees of rights dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215 when King John guaranteed certain liberties to free men. A papal bull annulling the Magna Carta was issued by Pope Innocent III on 24 August 1215. He wrote that the agreement was “illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people.”

“In the Middle Ages, all authority was male and monarchical, so the pope became a king. His multiple realms had all the appurtenances of a medieval monarch – armies, prisons, spies, torturers, legal courts in papal service. The money flowed in from many sources – as conquest, as tribute from subordinate princes (secular and religious) or from the crops on farm lands held by the pope, who was not accountable to anyone for use of these funds.”

The Age of the Enlightenment was “the birth of the idea of human rights. Between the 16th and the 18th Centuries … humanity becomes individualized as a result of the Renaissance and Humanism.”

“A dogmatic Roman Catholic Church was one of the chief obstacles that the Enlightenment faced during the eighteenth century…. The Church itself was condemned for its power and influence. It was seen as a bastion of religious intolerance and intellectual backwardness.”

(The Enlightenment was still being denounced by the Church as recently as September 2017 – this time by Pope Francis.)

The Roman Catholic Church and European monarchs were often allied. This Ancien Régime “was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages (c. 15th century) until 1792 [but] the term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe.”

The French Revolution and Its Aftermath

 “When the French revolutionaries drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in August 1789, they aimed to topple the institutions surrounding hereditary monarchy and establish new ones based on the principles of the Enlightenment.”

The French Revolution (1789-1799) was a popular uprising against the Church as well as the State. “French bishops, even many abbots and abbesses in charge of religious orders, lived lavishly. The common people, if noticed at all by the nobles and hierarchy, were valued only for their labor, paying taxes, their adulation and their use as cannon fodder…. God, of course, was responsible for structuring the human race into haves and have nots.”

Napoleon eventually concluded it was better to have the Church as an ally than as an enemy. He wrote of the First Estate:

“What is it that makes the poor man take it for granted that ten chimneys smoke in my palace while he dies of cold, that I have ten changes of raiment in my wardrobe while he is naked, that on my table at each meal there is enough to sustain a family for a week? It is religion which says to him that in another life I shall be his equal, indeed that he has a better chance of being happy there than I have.” (Alec R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution p 19)

Napoleon signed a concordat with Pope Pius VII in 1801 restoring some of the Church’s civil rights. When the First French Republic was succeeded in 1804 by the Napoleonic Empire, the pope travelled to Paris for the coronation. Napoleon presented him with a new, bejeweled papal tiara to replace the one which had been confiscated. The Church’s civil authority ended along with the monarchy.

“The French Revolution initiated the movement toward the modern nation-state. It’s ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood, and ideas of liberalism and national self-determinism, led to the birth of nationalism and democracy across Europe.”

The Church strongly opposed these new forms of government and democratic principles.

“In the Ancien Régime, states were confessional, religion governed private and public life, and the Catholic Church had been closely associated with reactionary governments.” Thus, “the struggle against the Ancien Régime … was necessarily a struggle against the Church” and such conflicts were a central theme of Western European history from the mid-19th century until 1914.

“The German term Kulturkampf (literally “culture struggle”) refers to power struggles between emerging constitutional and democratic nation states and the Church over the place and role of religion in modern polity.” The term also “refers to such power struggles and legislative campaigns” in many countries: Switzerland, in Germany beginning around 1860 and especially their culmination between 1871 and 1876, in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Spain, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Hungary (1890-1895) as well as in Mexico and Brazil.

Pius IX became pope in 1846. “For him, the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, these were the great dangers of the time, these were the great enemies and the Church should abide by its eternal verities,” said David Kertzer, author of the new book The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile Of Pius IX And The Emergence Of Modern Europe.

“At the same time, there was another drama playing out, the drama of Italian unification – the Risorgimento,” Kertzer explained. Until then, Italy was composed of kingdoms, duchies, city-states, republics “and the militarily powerful Papal States,” a large swathe of territory running from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic. Pius IX was one of the “greatest obstacles” to the creation of the Italian nation state, Kertzer noted.

Pius IX promulgated a Syllabus of Errors in 1864. “It stated that no Catholic could believe in freedom of religion, in freedom of speech, in freedom of association, in freedom of the press, that these were all condemned by the Christian religion,” Kertzer said. In addition, the pope reaffirmed that clergy throughout the world are immune to civil and criminal law and subject only the Church tribunals and that the Church has the right to use force to maintain its temporal power.

“There were many other signs of growing curial and papal power…. The growing use of the concordat, that government-to-government accord, was a sign of how national Churches were short-circuited. In few countries were the Church’s violent hostility to liberalism, socialism, and secular modernity … more evident than France and Spain.”

In 1866, Pius IX also stated “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law.”

Pius IX’s “zeal” that popes be proclaimed infallible dominated the first Vatican Council (Dec. 8, 1869 – July 4, 1870). It “played out within the larger drama of the seizure of the Papal States by Italian forces and its seemingly inevitable consequence, the conquest of Rome itself,” according to John W. O’Malley in his new book, Vatican I – The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane [pope-centered] Church.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” was Lord Acton’s response to papal infallibility.

A “self-perpetuating male hierarchy [has] for the last 150 years become an institution controlled in key respects by an unaccountable and secretly selected head, the pope. He answers to nobody about his conduct, his views, his statements or his wealth,” Gerald T. Slevin noted in his review of the O’Malley’s book.

“The Roman populace continued to demonstrate for the Italian government to liberate them also from the pope.” After Pius IX rejected a peaceful resolution, Italian patriots had no choice but to defeat the papal Swiss troops – at a loss of another 72 lives – in order to enter the city on Sept. 20, 1870. Rome was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy after a plebiscite held on Oct. 2, 1870.

There is a marble plague in Carpi, Italy, commemorating the 1870 unification that “emancipated human thought from papal tyranny.”

Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) wrote an encyclical in 1899 condemning “Americanism” and “addressed it to the cardinal archbishop of Baltimore, James Gibbons, out of concern that Catholic American immigrants, along with progressive members of the clergy and episcopate, might assimilate this country’s ideals of democracy and belief that the populace should choose their own religion or none.”

Pius X (1903-1914) condemned “modernism” with encyclicals and forced all clergy to take an oath against “modernism,” i.e. any challenge to the Church’s dogmas, doctrines and traditions, including its interpretations of the Bible.

“Although the Vatican pretended to be impartial and neutral during the First World War there is now evidence that its sympathies lay with the Central Powers, particularly Austria-Hungary. Benedict XV (1914-1922) was dependent on Erzberger, German Centre Party leader, on account of his fundraising activities on the pope’s behalf. This relieved the pope’s situation but made him, and the curia, dependent upon Germany and on occasion ready to voice views that reflected Germany’s desires and needs.”[1]

Popes and Fascism

Pius XI (1922-1939) “played a crucial role in making Mussolini’s dictatorship possible and keeping him in power,” wrote David Kertzer in his book The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. In exchange for papal support, Catholicism became the state religion of Italy. Mussolini “mandated the teaching of Catholicism, Catholic religion in public schools, and so on,” Kertzer noted.

The group of high Italian state officials and church dignitaries shown as they arrived at the Lateran Palace, Rome, for the signing of the Papal Pact. In the center of the photograph is Cardinal Gaspari, the Papal Secretary of State. 1929 Rome, Italy.

The Lateran Treaty of 1929 with Mussolini established the Vatican City State. The Treaty accorded the Roman Catholic Church freedom to act as an independent state in international affairs. It also granted criminal and civil immunity to the pope and other residents of the State of the Vatican City and provided for a financial system beyond the rules and regulations of any authority other than the pope.

“Within a few years, the Vatican was one of the strongest participants in the world-wide financial network which gave the Holy See enormous leverage during the 1930’s depression. The pope now had international clout. Any threat to withdraw Vatican investments would have serious consequences….

When Mussolini needed arms to invade Ethiopia in 1935, Vatican-owned munitions plants supplied the dictator. Other fascist governments were aided in return for non-interference in the Vatican’s business interests….

As would remain true for the next fifty years, often times the quid quo pro for Vatican funds was the bloody suppression of communist movements,” Peter J. Wosh wrote in his review of John E. Pollard, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican 1850-1950.

When his health was failing, “Pius XI began to lash out at the Duce and threatened to denounce Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws before it was too late. Horrified by the threat to the Church-Fascist alliance, the Vatican’s inner circle, including [his Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio] Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, struggled to restrain the headstrong pope from destroying a partnership that had served both the Church and the dictator for many years,” Kertzer wrote.

Catholic leaders initiated or supported other European fascist parties which seized power in the 1920s and ’30s. In addition to Mussolini, dictatorships and political movements supported by Pius XII include Francisco Franco in Spain, António Salazar in Portugal, Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria, the Rexists in Belgium and Vichy France.

“The majority of Germany’s Axis partners in Eastern Europe, as with the Vichy France, had been led by Catholic political parties during the World War II. Tiso [Slovakia], Pavelic [Croatia], Admiral Nisholas Horthy of Hungary. They used the mantle and moral authority of the Catholic Church to help carry out the preparations for, and in some cases, the execution of Nazi genocide of the Jews.”[2]

The Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag after the 1932 election but did not hold a majority. Franz von Papen, a Catholic monarchist, papal chamberlain and head of the Centre Party, made an agreement with Hitler by which the Nazi leader would become Chancellor of a coalition government with Papen serving as Vice Chancellor of the Reich. Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933.

The Reichskonkordat, a treaty between the Vatican and the emergent Nazi Germany, was signed on July 20, 1933, by Cardinal Secretary of State Pacelli and German Vice Chancellor von Papen. “Article 27 provided for military chaplains if Germany broke the Versailles Treaty to re-arm, and the Secret Supplement exempted Catholic clergy from military service. The Secret Supplement does not appear in Church-approved translations, as it won’t admit to knowing that Hitler was about to start a war. Articles 18 and 33 are ‘gag clauses’ (Knebelartikel) which protect [the Church’s] financial and legal privileges forever.”

Hitler and Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) would become bitter enemies. However, “after Hitler’s death, Nazi-style fascism would give way to the ‘garden variety’ of fascism that supported religion, as the fascism of Mussolini, Peron, Franco and Salazar did.”[3]

One reason that Pius XII did not speak out about the Holocaust “is that he wanted to play the peacemaker during the war.”[4] To that end, “the Vatican played a central role in the Iberio-Vatican-Argentine scheme for a negotiated settlement between the Allies and Germany … Spain, Portugal, Argentina and the Vatican together with Germany would be the nucleus of a bloc resulting in a worldwide political realignment.”[5]

At the end of the war, American diplomat George Kennan telegrammed: “Pope never censure[d] Hitler or Mussolini. Pope asks for lenient treatments of Nazi prisoner[s] and war criminals. During the war Vatican hatched plan for a peace at Russia’s expense. Vatican is closely connected with monopoly capital through banks and concerns of many countries.”[6]

There were two Vatican ratlines helping fascist war criminals escape prosecution – one to assist highly-placed Germans and Austrians, the other for Croatians that “reveals the direct involvement of Pius XII himself.”[7] The ratlines enabled 9,000 to escape to South America. About 5,000 went to Argentina.

“At the end of the Second World War, the Vatican found a world changed not to its liking. The outcome was exactly the opposite of what Pius XII had hoped for. With the exception of Spain, European fascism was defeated, the Soviet Union was still intact and the United States of America was the new world power.”[8]

Pius XII did, however, share the same goals as the American financial establishment – “an ideological conviction that their own political economy of freedom would be jeopardized if a totalitarian foe [the Soviet Union] became too powerful in Western Europe.”[9]

Pius XII and the CIA

Cooperation with the CIA had begun during World War II with Allen Dulles, OSS (precursor of the CIA) station chief in Bern, Switzerland. Dulles was a member of the Eastern Establishment who had continued trading with the Third Reich throughout the war. When an Allied victory seemed likely, Nazi businessmen with U.S. contacts made plans to protect their assets with Dulles’s help.

The Vatican, also heavily invested in Nazi companies and Swiss banks, (see John F. Pollard Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950) contributed its diplomatic immunity “to ensure absolute secrecy in moving foreign currency and ownership documents out of Switzerland.”

Lieutenant James Jesus Angleton, one of the youngest OSS officers, was Allen Dulles’ protégé and main contact with the Vatican.[10]

“The 1948 Italian election was an important milestone. It was the first CIA test for use of propaganda and political manipulation techniques, later used in the U.S. and around the world.”

Also, the CIA established deeper and broader ties with the Roman Catholic Church. [This alliance] also laid the foundation for CIA ties to the Intermarium, an influential lay Catholic organization of primarily Eastern European exiles which operated under the protection of the Vatican. At least half a dozen senior leaders and its member groups were Nazi collaborators. Some were fugitive war criminals. The Intermarium was one of the mainstays of scores of CIA-sponsored clandestine operation in the next two decades.”[11]

Much of Italy’s wartime ruling fascists joined the Christian Democratic Party, which became the dominant political party until the mid-1990s through support from the Catholic Church.

“Allen Dulles, Frank Wisner, James Angleton, William Colby and other U.S. intelligence officials put together a program of propaganda, sabotage and secret funding of Christian Democratic politicians designed to block Communist Party ambitions. Since the CIA was limited in 1948 to information gathering and analysis, the Italian campaign was operated from the offices of [Dulles’ Wall Street law firm] Sullivan and Cromwell. Publicly, the U.S. spent $350 million during the campaign on civil and military aid.”[12]

Some of the CIA’s millions were funneled to the Christian Democrats through the Vatican. Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini [the future Pope Paul VI] “actually ran a campaign ‘slush fund’ based on the sale of U.S. army surplus through the Vatican Bank.”[13]

Beginning in 1970, Graham Martin, Pres. Richard Nixon’s ambassador to Italy, “oversaw the distribution of $25 million to Christian Democrats and Italian neofascists. The U.S. financing fueled a failed neofascist coup in 1970. It also financed the ‘Strategy of Tension,’ terrorist bombings which Italian intelligence blamed on the communists.”[14]

“A new era of Catholic power, even omnipotence, had been inaugurated in Italy” made possible by “Vatican financial involvement in the Italian economy.”[15] “Pacelli’s concern, however, was that the Church should be seen as a more truly international institution. [emphasis included] One of the consequences of the effectiveness of the new method of funding the papacy was precisely its ability to build a growing network of papal nunciatures [embassies] in those countries with which it had diplomatic relations.”[16]

By 1950, “the Vatican maintained relations with all the great powers of the world except the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China and with an increasing number of Third World countries, which were the product of the by now inexorable process of the decolonization of the European empires. This was a sign of the growing diplomatic influence and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church in nearly every continent.”[17]

“The Spellman-Pacelli axis served as the underlying link between the Vatican and U.S. during this period.”[18]

Ngo Dinh Diem had been helped to power by the lobbying of New York Cardinal Francis Spellman, the most politically powerful priest of his time, and American Catholic politicians.” In 1950-54, Diem “spent most of his time in the United States and Europe enlisting support, particularly among fellow Catholic politicians in America and Vatican officials.”

“The CIA worked with the Vatican in installing the Catholic Diem in Buddhist-majority South Vietnam as well as money and ‘black ops’ for military dictatorships in Latin America.”

Latin America

“Under pressure and blackmail from the European Catholic monarchs,” Pius VII “urged the South Americans to obey the King of Spain” in an 1816 encyclical. “At a time when the wars of emancipation were about to conclude in favor of the South American patriots,” Leo XII “reiterated papal condemnation of the insurgents, advocating for the return of Spanish supremacy” in 1824.

The Mexican “Fathers of the Country,” Miguel Hidalgo and Josè Maria Morelos, “were condemned for heresy and apostasy by ecclesiastical courts before being executed by Spanish royalist troops” in 1811 and 1815, respectively.

After the 1959 Castro victory in Cuba, many Latin American governments changed to right-wing dictatorships in response to the growing unrest that threatened the status quo. Life for the poor became even more dangerous and oppressive.

The Conference of Latin American Bishops, better known as CELAM, held a conference in 1968 in Medellín, Colombia. The bishops agreed that the Church should take “a preferential option for the poor.” “Misery besets large masses of human beings in all of our countries. That misery expresses itself as injustice which cries to the heavens…. Faced with the need for a total change of Latin American structures, we believe that change has political reform as its prerequisite.”

This “liberation theology” was opposed by Pope Paul VI “who tried to slow the movement.”

By 1972, conservative bishops had regained the upper hand and elected Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo as president of CELAM. The next CELAM conference would be in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. This was the first of the 104 international trips taken by John Paul II, elected with the help of Opus Dei.

(“Opus Dei uses the Catholic Church for its own ends which are money and power … In discerning the real nature of Opus Dei, one must not listen to what the Prelature says, but rather look at what it does.” Preface by Robert Hutchison in Their Kingdom Come: Inside the Secret World of Opus Dei.)

The former head of the Opus Dei, bishop Javier Echevarria (C) arrives at the Clementina Hall to exchange Christmas greetings with Pope Francis on December 21, 2013 in Vatican City.

In a working paper for the Puebla meeting of, for and about Latin Americans, López Trujillo expressed support for the dictators: “These military regimes came into existence as a response to social and economic chaos. No society can admit a power vacuum. Faced with tensions and disorders, an appeal to force is inevitable.”[19]

The new pope made it clear in his address at Puebla that, while Poles and Eastern Europeans deserved his efforts toward their freedom from oppression, Latin Americans did not. John Paul II instructed his clergy and bishops to refrain from political activism in support of the poor.[20]


The democratically-elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. The Institute of General Studies, funded by the CIA and described as an “Opus Dei think tank”, helped plan and coordinate the coup.

John McCone, former director of CIA and ITT, also played a role in the overthrow of Allende. McCone, along with other Knights of Malta, belonged to ITT’s “Ad Hoc Committee on Chile” aiding the coup.

(The Knights preferred to be known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, SMOM, in the 20th century. The American branch was composed of powerful and wealthy right-wing hawks.)

Archbishop Angelo Sodano, Paul VI’s nuncio [ambassador] to Chile, formed a lasting friendship with Pinochet. Later, a group of Catholics wrote a letter to John Paul II asking him replace Sodano. “We do not want this nuncio because of his open affinity with the present military dictatorship. We do not see in him diplomacy, but rather complicity.”

As nuncio, Sodano was able to sponsor the appointments of pro-Pinochet bishops.[21] (Although only the pope can officially appoint bishops, he depends on his nuncios to pre-screen and recommend local candidates.)

One of them was Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, elevated to bishop and then cardinal by John Paul II. “When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, on orders of a magistrate judge in Madrid investigating atrocities against Spanish citizens during the Chilean dictatorship, Errázuriz denounced the move. He later criticized human rights lawsuits in Chile against Pinochet and other officials of the former regime, saying, ‘Excessive justice could be detrimental to reconciliation and social peace.’”

A month after his election, Pope Francis chose Errázuriz to be on his new Council of Cardinals, formed to help him govern the Church.


The Sandinistas overthrew the U.S.-supported Somoza dictatorship by means of armed struggle in 1979. They “developed a new constitution, following the principles and practices of representative democracy.”

In March 1983, John Paul II went to Nicaragua. “He attacked the ‘people’s Church’ as ‘absurd and dangerous,’ implying that the only role the Church had in Nicaragua was to oppose the Sandinistas. Such an outspoken repudiation of liberation theology … must have been well-received within the CIA. The pope’s condemnation of the Nicaraguan revolution coincided with a dramatic increase in border raids from Honduras by CIA-trained exile groups. John Paul II had, in effect, given his blessing to the CIA’s campaign to destabilize the Sandinista government.”


Opus Dei was established in Guatemala in 1953 while the CIA was planning its 1954 coup d’état deposing the democratically-elected progressive president, Jacobo Árbenz. They maintained control of the Archdiocese of Guatemala City, the wealthiest and most influential of the country’s fourteen dioceses.[22]

John Paul II supported the Opus Dei-backed Brigadier General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, who became president in 1983.[23] “He was president during the apex of repression and death squad activity in the Central American nation.”

Roberto Alejos, owner of the sugar plantation where the counterrevolutionaries for the Bay of Pigs invasion had been trained, was head of the SMOM in Guatemala.[24]


Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo was the organizer of the 1979 CELAM conference in Puebla. “While Archbishop of Medellin, López Trujillo worked closely with Fr. Roger Vekemans, a priest accused of misspending CIA funds in Chile. Together, they founded a research center and right-wing journal before López Trujillo was welcomed to the Roman Curia by John Paul II in 1990.”[25]


During John Paul II’s 1988 trip to Peru, he spoke in Lima’s central plaza. “He gave a speech which left no doubt that any argument in favor of class struggle, any thought of explicit political change, any interpretation of man’s fate in solely economic terms, was beyond unacceptable.”[26]

Alberto Fujimori was elected president in 1990. On Feb. 19, 2018, a Peruvian court ruled that Fujimori could be tried for the 1992 kidnappings, torture and killings of six people. Fujimori is accused having a role in authorizing the killings.

Opus Dei Archbishop (later cardinal) Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne maintained close ties to Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, “the de facto chief of Peru’s secret police and the ‘man behind the curtain’ throughout Fujimori’s 10 years in office.” Montesinos eventually went to prison for his crimes. At Cipriani Thorne’s first Mass after being elevated to cardinal, protesters chanted, “Christ is justice, not complicity” and “Cipriani and Montesinos, the same killers.”

John Paul II installed seven Opus Dei bishops in Peru “to preach the Good News to the rich in recognition that the crème of society still wield considerable influence.”[27]

Pope Francis named Cipriani Thorne to his Council for the Economy “to provide oversight, evaluation, and advice on Vatican economic affairs.”


Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle, brigadier general in the Salvadoran army and founder of Opus Dei in El Salvador, was elevated to archbishop of San Salvador by John Paul II in 1995 with the approval and praise of the ARENA ruling party.[28]

That had been the position held by Archbishop Óscar Romero, assassinated in 1980. “It is widely believed that the assassins were members of a death squad led by former Major D’Aubuisson,” founder of ARENA and organizer of “death squads that systematically carried out politically motivated assassinations and other human rights abuses in El Salvador.”[29]


Juan Perón was elected president of Argentina three times, the first two right after World War II. Perón welcomed fleeing Nazis and their money to Argentina – Adolf Eichmann, who had implemented the “Final Solution,” being the most prominent example.

Perón resigned in 1955 and went into exile rather than face a possible coup.

Perón returned to Argentina in 1973. “Juan Peron had survived his 17-year exile in large part by becoming a political ward of Europe’s neo-fascist elite. Included on the dais at the airport welcoming ceremony: Cuban-Americans from Alpha 66, gunmen from Italy’s Ordine Nuovo, Croatian fascist Ustashi thugs and several Corsican gangsters who were involved in the infamous French Connection heroin ring.”[30]

In a 1976 right-wing coup, a military junta headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera and Brigadier-General Orlando Ramón Agosti overthrew President Isabel Peron, Peron’s widow. The junta assumed the posture as defender of the Church and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Argentina (CEA) became their accomplices.

The Dirty War (1976-83) was acts of terror committed against domestic opponents – real and imagined – of the junta. “Up to 30,000 people are thought to have been tortured and killed.”

Paul VI’s nuncio, Archbishop Pio Laghi, visited the torture and killing centers to bless the officers. In a speech given to the military in 1976, Laghi said, “Christian values are threatened by an ideology that the people reject. The Church and the armed forces share responsibility. The former is an integral element in the process. It accompanies the latter, not only by its prayers but by its actions.”[31]

Funds for fifty Exocet missiles for the junta passed through one of the companies under the control of Vatican Bank president, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus. In total, the Vatican Bank guaranteed loans worth millions to finance bogus Latin American companies which supplied arms to Argentina.[32]

John Paul II and Reagan

As soon as Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election, John Paul II transferred Laghi to head the Vatican’s Washington D.C. embassy. “With the coming to power of the Reagan administration in 1981, new and closer relations were forged with the Argentine junta, which was recruited to provide training and assistance to the CIA-backed ‘contra’ mercenaries in their attack on Nicaragua and to join in other counterrevolutionary operations in El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America.”

A Vatican document was sent to Reagan “requesting that the U.S. government take aggressive action against the liberation theology movement which was accused of transforming the Catholic Church into ‘a political weapon against private property and productive capitalism.’”

A close relationship developed between Laghi, CIA Director William Casey and fellow Knight of Malta Judge William Clark, Reagan’s National Security Advisor.[34] Casey had “turned the post as head of the CIA into a shadow Secretary of State.”[35]

“‘Casey and I dropped into his [Laghi’s] residence early mornings during critical times to gather his comments and counsel,’ said Clark…. On at least six occasions Laghi came to the White House and met with Clark or the president; each time, he entered the White House through the southwest gate in order to avoid reporters.”[36]

Also, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, John Paul II’s Secretary of State, and Archbishop Achille Silvestrini, Secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, would meet with U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Clark.[37]

In October 1982, Reagan sent his roving ambassador, General Vernon Walters, another Knight of Malta, to confer with John Paul II. “Working for the CIA, Walters had been involved in some its most notorious coups: Iran, 1953; Brazil, 1964; Chile, 1973. Walters had also helped set up CIA-backed Nicaraguan exile groups based in Honduras. The general advised the pope that five priests were part of the [Sandinista] government.”

In an April 1982 speech before the National Catholic Education Association, Reagan had made the incredible statement, “I will look forward to further guidance from His Holiness Pope John Paul II during an audience I will have with him in June.”[38]

“One of his earliest goals as president, Reagan said, was to recognize the Vatican as a state ‘and make them an ally.’…

The pope himself, not only his deputies, met with American officials [and] sent back messages – sometimes by letter, sometimes orally – to Reagan.

On almost all his trips to Europe and the Middle East, Casey flew first to Rome, so that he could meet with John Paul II and exchange information. But the principal emissary between Washington and Rome remained Walters, a former deputy director of the CIA who worked easily with Casey. Walters met with the pope perhaps a dozen times, according to Vatican sources….

‘It wasn’t supposed to be known that Walters was there,’ said former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican [William A.] Wilson.”[39]

Wilson had sat in on a meeting between Secretary of State George Schultz (who had replaced Haig) and Vatican Secretary of State Casaroli. According to Wilson: “[Schultz] explained the problems we are having in Nicaragua and how the Church could be helpful in certain aspects of that…. We found that there are Catholic clergy who are very active in the matter of liberation theology in a way that puts them either with or strongly against the current regime in Nicaragua.’”[40]

“In 1984 John Paul II met with Senator Robert Dole (R-Kan.), who visited the pontiff on behalf of Reagan to discuss Central America. Dole gave the pope a letter from Reagan outlining Washington’s strategy on Nicaragua; a second letter from the president on the same subject was delivered by the U.S. embassy in Rome. The pope’s response to the two letters was approval of Reagan’s Nicaragua policy.”[41]

When Congress was considering a Reagan request for resumption of aid to the Contras in 1985, Reagan said that Pope John Paul II “has been most supportive of all our activities in Central America.” Ambassador Wilson also recalled discussing the matter with Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo.[42]

The United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of formal diplomatic relations on January 10, 1984.[43] “Some Catholics feared the U.S. government would exert influence over their prelates. Non-Catholic opponents feared increased Vatican influence on the U.S. government. Both concerns proved to be valid.”[44]

At the World Conference on Population held in 1984, the U.S. announced that it withdrew funding from any country or international health organization for the promotion of birth control or abortion. “American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,” Ambassador Wilson explained. “American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning. AID [Agency for International Development] sent various people from [the Department of] State to Rome, and I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and in long discussions they finally got the message. But it was a struggle. They finally selected different programs and abandoned others as a result of this intervention.”[45]

“AID also made a $20-million grant to the Catholic Georgetown University to review all international ‘natural family planning’ projects. It gave a $6.8-million grant to Family of the Americas Foundation which promotes NFP in other countries, condemns contraception, and does not supply information on other methods.”[46]

The Religious Right

The Religious Right is an artificial construct to energize Christian conservatives to political activism and get-out-the-vote in favor of the Republican Party. Although there are historical revisions attributing this movement to Southern evangelical racists, it was founded mostly by Catholics, intended to be national in scope and depended on Catholics. In 1978, Catholics were 25% of the population situated throughout the U.S.; Evangelicals were 21% and concentrated in the South.

The South had already become majority Republican after Pres. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Pres. Nixon launched his “Southern Strategy” to explicitly reach out to Southerners with a campaign based on states’ rights and “law and order.” But the neo-conservative founders of the Religious Right knew they needed to get white Christian Southerners to become more politically engaged and get to the polls in higher numbers for national elections.

President Richard Nixon and the evangelist Billy Graham, 1970. (Photo: Bettmann / Corbis)

The Religious Right founders were “three Catholics and a Jew … Paul Weyrich, Terry Dolan, Richard Viguerie (the Catholics) and Howard Phillips (the Jew).”

Weyrich, from Wisconsin, was “architect of the Religious Right” and “the institution-builder”; Terry Dolan, from Connecticut, “headed a political action committee”; Richard Viguerie, from Texas, “the direct-mail fundraiser”; and Howard Phillips, from Massachusetts, “the grassroots organizer.”

Because religious leaders cannot specifically endorse candidates and retain their tax exemptions, issues were carefully selected to be “moral values” that would arouse an emotional response – i.e. the sins of abortion and homosexuality. Although the revisionists note white conservatives tend to be racists, they are also more likely to be misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic and militarily hawkish than the general populous; but these are not “moral values.”

During a 1979 meeting, Weyrich urged televangelist Jerry Falwell to found the Moral Majority. “This was the period when the New Christian Right arose.”

Founded by Pat Robertson in 1966, the 700 Club TV program began to focus on political issues “between 1978 and 1980 … news segments were added in the first 20 minutes of the show.”

”The 700 Club strongly supported Israel.” Support for a Biblical and bellicose Israel, which benefitted U.S. arms and munitions profiteers, was added to the two major foundational issues of abortion and homosexuality.

“Groups like ours,” Terry Dolan presciently explained to the Washington Post in 1980, “are potentially very dangerous to the political process…. Ten independent expenditure groups, for example, could amass this great amount of money and defeat the point of accountability in politics. We could say whatever we want about an opponent of a Senator Smith and the senator wouldn’t have to say anything. A group like ours could lie through its teeth and the candidate it helps stays clean.”  In 1982, Dolan famously pointed out that “the shriller you are, the easier it is to raise money.”

Other organizations coordinated their message with Falwell, Robertson, the Colorado-based media star James Dobson and all those “religious” leaders to come – eager recipients of neocon-guaranteed fame and fortune. “That is not to say that in the 1980’s, and especially now when current pastors and bishops have no memory of America before the ‘culture wars,’ every religious leader who preached the intentionally constructed ‘issues’ of abortion, homosexuality and militarism was in it for the money. But many of the initial proponents of the party line knew where their money and media access came from.”

Two vital facts are often overlooked by revisionist Religious Right historians. First is the alliance between John Paul II and Reagan. Second, the Catholic Church is a top-down, ideologically unified institution. Nothing officially “Catholic” happens without the approval of a bishop and bishops can only be officially appointed by the pope. This unity, as well as abundant funding and tight organizational control, provides Catholic bishops with more political muscle than Evangelicals. However, because bishops are customarily replaced only when they retire or die, it takes at least a decade to redirect an episcopate, such as the U.S. with about 500 members, from one political ideology to another.

The Neo-Conservative Pope

The neo-conservatives affected changes in Vatican policy, as well. “The Pontifical Academy of Science had prepared a report taking a stand against the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). Not only did Ambassador Wilson get the report suppressed but he said the reason was “so that the Holy Father would not make a statement that was not consistent with the way we saw things and the way we wanted things to happen.”[47]

The 1983 revision of the Church’s Canon Law, rewritten under the guidance of Opus Dei prelate Bishop Julian Herranz-Casado, stated the punishment for abortion was automatic excommunication.[48] A year later, for the first time, John Paul II moved abortion to top on his list of contemporary evils with an address, “Abortion, euthanasia, genetic manipulations are grave dangers of deviation for the doctor.” He referenced the revised Code of Canon Law.

Supporters of birth control access rally outside the Supreme Court. (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)

According to one cardinal present at a meeting to prepare for a 1985 synod of bishops, John Paul II opened the discussion by telling Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin that he did not understand why the bishops did not “support your own president’s policies in Central America.”[49]

In 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a “Letter to the World’s Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” opposing any type of LGBTQ human rights legislation. When such legislation is introduced, “neither the Church nor the society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

Reagan used his alliance with John Paul II to solidify Catholic support for the Republican Party. In addition to his several meetings with the pope, Reagan spoke before the Knights of Malta, the Knights of Columbus, the Heritage Foundation of Eastern Europeans, Catholic universities and numerous other Catholic organizations. Reagan and Vice President Bush visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, important to Polish-Americans, outside of Philadelphia during the 1984 campaign.

Having set out to destroy liberation theology in Latin America, a “correction” in the American episcopate was also necessary for the long-term political goals and financial security of the Vatican. Officially, the pope appoints all bishops. But in a worldwide organization with thousands of prelates, the nuncio helps select the candidates and has an important input in who is chosen. “In considering candidates for bishop, questionnaires are sent to those who know the priest under consideration. The questionnaire used by Pro-Nuncio Laghi asked about the priest’s attitude toward ‘social justice.’”[50]

“At the beginning of the Reagan administration, the majority of U.S. bishops, clergy and religious did not support the president. Many had personal ties to their fellow clergy/religious in Latin America suffering under military regimes.”[51]

By the time Reagan left office, Laghi had been instrumental in the appointment of almost 100 U.S. bishops, 12 of the country’s 33 archbishops and the intimidation of the rest. Within another decade, virtually all active (non-retired) U.S. bishops would be appointees of John Paul II. Neo-conservatives shared the Reagan administration’s optimism that the new bishops would counter liberal Catholics and influence the electorate.

“By the end of Reagan’s two terms, 138 officials in his administration had either been convicted, indicted, or had been the subject of official investigations for official misconduct and/or criminal violations.”[52]

“The share of national income going to the wealthiest 1% of Americans nearly doubled from 8.1 to 15% and the net worth of the 400 richest Americans almost tripled.”[53]

John Paul II’s American Bishops

By the time of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB, precursor of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the USCCB) meeting in 1986, John Paul II had reigned for eight years and the American episcopate had already begun to be influenced by his appointees. The pope warned the U.S. bishops that social activism would no longer be tolerated and he provided symbolic support for the arms race.[54]

Within a month after George H. W. Bush took office in 1989, he included all five of the U.S. cardinals in meetings at the White House. Cardinals Bernard Law of Boston and John O’Connor of New York spent overnight visits at the White House. Law and other U.S. cardinals would receive the president’s support on Catholic issues such as opposition to abortion.[55]

The primary focus of the NCCB became abortion – the code word for a comprehensive political agenda to bring about the neo-conservative transformation of government. In 1989 the NCCB issued its first “Resolution on Abortion”: “At this particular time, abortion has become the fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will.” Their political goals included: “federal and state laws and administrative policies [and] continual refinement and ultimate reversal of Supreme Court and other court decisions.”

The bishops’ plan was the “most focused and aggressive political leadership” ever exerted by the American Catholic hierarchy, wrote Timothy A. Byrnes in his 1991 book, Catholic Bishops in American Politics.

New York Cardinal John O’Connor was elected chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities in 1990. “His efforts set the direction of the USCCB’s approach to pro-life activities until the present in part because of the partnership he formed with the Knights of Columbus, which has provided much of the funding.”

“By the year 1993, all of the hallmarks of today’s Knights of Columbus were in place…. anti-choice activities; anti-marriage equality activities; public policy and policymakers.” Carl Anderson, who served during the administration of Ronald Reagan as special assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, has led the Knights since 2000.

In 1992, Pat Buchanan gave his “culture war” speech at the opening night of the Republican National Convention: “The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat – that’s change all right.”

“When John Paul II visited the United States in 1993, he popularized the term ‘culture of life,’ and spoke directly about the primacy of abortion among political issues.”

In 1995, John Paul II issued an encyclical, Evangelim Vitae, instructing Catholic lawmakers and justices that they were required to oppose any laws or proposed laws that permit abortion under any circumstances.


After winning the 1996 Republican primaries, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), endorsed “school choice” by supporting tuition tax vouchers to fund private schools. Dole appeared on the front page of the New York Times with Cardinal O’Connor. The candidate had agreed to a strong anti-abortion platform. “The cardinal’s blessing, coming when it did, was a blatantly political partisan act,” noted the reporter. Dole said, “Though not a Catholic, I would listen to Pope John Paul II.”[56]

John Paul II’s bishops had begun “A massive political campaign … to achieve religious and political control of crucial American policies and institutions. It was inspired by the Vatican and has been carried out over a period of years under the supervision of the National Council of Catholic Bishops. The bishops have created the impression that they speak for 59 million Catholics, which makes them a formidable political force, able to sway Catholic voters, an important constituency,” wrote professor emeritus John M. Swomley in 1998.

“The ability to control political and judicial offices on one doctrinal issue can and will be used on other matters, such as aid to parochial schools to the neglect of public schools and use of welfare legislation to provide funds for the charitable activities of churches, among others,” Swomley prophetically noted.[57]


“In the autumn of 1998, when Karl Rove was contriving to make Governor George W. Bush president and to build a lasting Republican majority, he came upon ‘The Catholic Voter Project,’ a study of voting behavior in national elections since the Kennedy-Nixon contest of 1960….

“The project compared the voting behaviors of active Catholics – those who regularly attended Mass – and inactive Catholics, and found a clear distinction. Active Catholics characterized themselves as being more conservative than Catholics as a whole, and … were in the vanguard of the thirty-year Catholic march out of the Democratic Party. They were patriotic, anti-abortion, and pro-family….

The Catholic-vote study concluded that Bob Dole might actually have won the 1996 Presidential election if he had attracted more Catholics in just a handful of states.”

Catholics were concentrated in the states with the most electoral votes – California, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan.

During the primaries, Bush “is now daily seeking out Catholic forums and photo ops, replete with church banners and Roman-collared clerics, to assure one and all his presidency would not be an instrument of a dominant religious group – evangelical Protestantism.”[58]

At the Republican convention in Philadelphia, a large banner “Catholics for Bush” hung from an expensive sky box where a “steady stream of the city’s priests” were hosted each night. “Some of them periodically visited the delegates on the convention floor…. Party strategists believe that Catholic swing voters will provide Bush with his margin of victory.”[59]

Candidate Bush met with Cardinals Bevilacqua (Philadelphia), Mahony (Los Angeles) and Egan (New York, replacing O’Connor who had died.); also Pittsburg Bishop (now Washington D.C. Cardinal) Wuerl and Fr. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life.

Bush talked about the “sanctity of life” although he had the worst record for executions of any U.S. governor. His “Catholic outreach” campaign focused on the heavily-Catholic swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Later, Florida, New Jersey and Louisiana were added.

Although Vice President Al Gore won both the Catholic and popular vote by 3 percent, Bush victories in Ohio and Louisiana pushed the electoral-college count close enough that victory hinged on the outcome in Florida. The three Catholic Supreme Court justices (Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas) voted with the majority in Gore v. Bush.

Five days after his inauguration, on Jan. 25, 2001, Bush attended a dinner with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, in the Washington D.C. residence of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Bush was accompanied by Condoleezza Rice and future attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. Also present were Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the USCCB, and several other hierarchs. The primary reason for the meeting was to finalize plans for Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative,[60] vociferously opposed as a breach of the separation of church and state.

Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by executive order on Jan. 29. He named a Catholic, John J. Dilulio Jr., as head of the department. Bush promised more than $8 billion during his first year in office to help social service organizations.[61]

By 2012, The Economist estimated that 62% of the income of “the U.S. Catholic Church and entities’” (mostly charitable activities) “came from local, state and federal government agencies.” During the same period, the bishops contributed just 2.7 percent of their total expenditures to charity.


Although Catholics had decreased slightly as a percentage of the population (22%), 27% of the national electorate would be Catholic in the 2004 election.[62]

During a June 4, 2004, visit with John Paul II in the Vatican, Bush told Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, “Not all the American bishops are with me” on the cultural issues. “The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism [and] asked for the Vatican’s help in encouraging the U.S. bishops to be more outspoken.”[63]

Sometime “during the first half of June,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – who would be pope in ten months – sent a confidential letter to Washington Cardinal McCarrick, head of the USCCB’s “domestic policy” commission. Ratzinger “was more than clear.” No communion for politicians who think abortion should remain legal. “Read: no communion for the Democratic candidate for the White House, the Catholic John F. Kerry.”

“Reporters spied on Kerry in church to see if he received or not. Pundits dreamed up terrible catch phrases like ‘wafer watch’ and ‘wafer war.’ The issue became part of the campaign that year.”

If we lose any of the Catholic vote, we lose the election,” Deal Hudson, Bush’s Catholic coordinator, said during the campaign. The campaign appointed 50,000 Catholic “team leaders” at the local level, and the president made a point of putting his picture with John Paul II on the campaign website with a headline “Catholics for Bush.”

“Hudson’s outreach team, by blanketing parishes in battleground states with voter guides, working with an e-mail list of a hundred thousand addresses, and sending thousands of volunteers into the field, delivered the Catholic vote to Bush.”

“John Kerry’s problems were mostly with the Catholic Church, which was critical of him for not letting Church teachings dictate his politics. The Catholic vote went narrowly [52%] for George W. Bush. [But] nearly half of U.S. Catholics attend church regularly, and they gave Bush a 13-point lead over Kerry.”

Richard Ostling of the Associated Press reported that, based on a poll conducted by the Pew Forum, Kerry’s “failure to capture a majority of Roman Catholics gave Pres. Bush an important advantage in November’s election.”[64]

While “the higher evangelical turnout appeared in the southern states that he already had locked up…. Bush’s strong performance among Catholics, it turns out, was crucial to his victory” especially in battleground states such as Ohio and Florida.

During his term in office, George W. Bush traveled to the Vatican more than any other American president; twice to see John Paul II, including presenting him with Presidential Medal of Freedom, and twice to visit Pope Benedict XVI.  Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also made several visits.

“Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians … have for the past eight years been shaping Bush’s speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history….

“Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation….

“Many Catholics close to him believe that the approximately 300 judges he has seated on the federal bench – most notably Catholics John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court – may yet be his greatest legacy.”

During the Bush administration:

The U.S. military suffered 4,487 dead, and 32,226 wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “But the wounded figure wildly understates the number of American service members who have come back from Iraq less than whole.”

“Nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.”

On April 28, 2004, “60 Minutes” broadcast graphic photos of Iraqi detainees being humiliated and tortured by American soldiers. Two days later, the New Yorker published an article by Seymour Hersh reporting details on the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

“Between 2001 and 2008, the CIA operated secret prisons, or ‘black sites,’ around the world and transported detainees to them through so-called extraordinary renditions without legal process or public records.”

A week after the 2004 election, Bush nominated his long-time friend, Alberto Gonzales, to succeed John D. Ashcroft as attorney general. “Gonzalez was a supporter and enabler of the Bush administration’s policy of torture of detainees, internally referred to as ‘Enhanced interrogation techniques.”

The U.S. detained over 700 men at Guantánamo Bay, including an 89-year-old man and some as young as 13-years-old. The U.S. held them without telling them what charges they faced.

The U.S. experienced the “most massive redistribution of wealth in our history” during the George W. Bush administration.


In late 2007, the USCCB issued a “teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics” for the upcoming national election. “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism,” the bishops wrote. “As to the death penalty, immigration, the Iraq war, health care and other social justice issues, these fall into the realm of ‘prudential judgment’ – areas where Catholics of goodwill, say the bishops, can disagree.”

Pope Benedict XVI chose to visit the U.S. in April 2008, providing plenty of “photo-ops” with the “pro-life” head of the Republican Party, Pres. George W. Bush.

“I want to thank Catholic voters today, who have played a vital role in electing me as the Republican nominee for the presidency,” Sen. John McCain said.

Sen. Barack Obama was vilified as “the most pro-abortion candidate in American history.” (here, here and here.)

On the weekend before Election Day, U.S. bishops “distributed a pamphlet to parishes across the U.S.” It stated that “there are no proportionate reasons that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.’”

According to exit polls, McCain won 45% of the Catholic vote, 55% of those who attend church weekly or more and 52% of white Catholics’ votes, down 4% from George W. Bush’s showing in 2004.”


After their loss in 2008, something in addition to abortion and same-sex marriage was needed to energize the Religious Right. The “Manhattan Declaration” was signed by 148 right wing religious leaders – more than 80 were Catholic leaders and bishops – and was released in November 2009. In addition to the usual “pro-life” and “pro-marriage” rhetoric, the document declares that the signers “affirm religious liberty.” “We see [the struggle for religious liberty] in the use of anti-discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral…. We view [restrictions on “religious liberty”] as an ominous development, the overweening authority of the state.”

The Declaration was written by Robert P. George, a Catholic who the New York Times called “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” Leading up to the 2000 presidential campaign, it was the Catholic Voter Project conducted by George which had made the connection between frequency of church attendance and support for the GOP.

Princeton professor Robert George is a “conservative star and occasional White House adviser.” At Princeton, “George founded the James Madison Program, an academic center within the university that serves as a testing ground for the right’s effort to politicize college campuses…. George’s program is funded by a stable of right-wing foundations and a shadowy web of front groups for the Catholic cult known as Opus Dei. An article in Crisis, a conservative Catholic magazine then published by George’s ally Deal W. Hudson, highlighted George’s machinations, stating, ‘If there really is a vast, right-wing conspiracy, its leaders probably meet in George’s basement.’”

On January 19, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI “warned of a ‘grave threat’ to religious liberty in the United States.”

The next day, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate requiring that health insurance plans include coverage for contraceptives. Churches and religious orders were exempt, but not hospitals, universities and service organizations.

The bishops had already decided they would follow John Boehner’s plan for dealing with the Obama administration. “We’re going to do everything – and I mean everything we can do – to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can,” Boehner had declared. Previously, the bishops had already tried to block enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 by falsely asserting that it provided coverage for abortion even though it was already effectively barred by the Hyde Amendment. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who failed to reach an accommodation that would please the USCCB at the time, finally admitted “that people tried to use abortion as a tool to stop health-care reform, even after [unnecessary] protections were added.”

So now, to further obstruct Obama, a new “moral issue” was added to the Religious Right by the bishops – birth control – even though only 8 percent of Catholics and 4 percent of Evangelicals thought using contraceptives was morally wrong.

In opposing Obamacare, the prelate of Wall Street, Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke against a sitting president by name and implied Obama was “anti-American.”

Not a single Catholic prelate had disapproved when 28 states – some since the 1990s – already required insurers to provide coverage for contraceptives. Not only did Romneycare, passed in 2006, provide coverage for contraceptives, it also provided coverage for elective abortions without the objection of a single bishop. In fact, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley “said that Romney was a better friend to the Catholic Church than any other Massachusetts governor in decades.”

On the last weekend in January in churches across America, priests read a letter sent by every diocesan bishop denouncing Obama’s “severe assault” on their Church. Parishioners were asked to “contact Congress” in support of a legislative ban.

By February, the bishops had generated legislation introduced in the House with 190 cosponsors and the Senate with 29 opposing the mandate. Twelve state attorneys general declared they would file lawsuits and all four of the leading Republican presidential candidates stated their opposition as well.

As a result of the appointments and leadership of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI:

“In the past two decades, the American religious right has become increasingly Catholic…. Catholic writers have emerged as intellectual leaders of the religious right in universities, the punditocracy, the press, and the courts…. In the academy, on the Court, Catholic intellectuals provide the theoretical discourse that shapes conservative arguments across a whole range of issues.” Howard Schweber, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, wrote on April 24, 2012.

“In the realm of actual politics, Catholic politicians have emerged as leading figures in the religious conservative movement. In the Republican primary campaign, a majority of the votes cast have been for Catholic candidates. It’s not just [Rick] Santorum; before him it was [Newt] Gingrich, after all. At the national level, Catholic politicians have emerged as leading figures in the GOP … and evangelical Protestants are flocking to follow their lead….

In political terms, the evangelical Protestant Right has become Catholicized. They do not see Catholicism as a religion very different from their own because it leads to the same positions on the battlefield, call it Fortress GOP. It is a political worldview that is singularly well suited to negative politics. Who cares whether your guy is actually a bit of a nut-case or has some sleaze in his history if he will defeat the forces of darkness?…. “Catholic” conservatives tolerate venality if they believe their candidates will defeat evil.

After 43 dioceses and other Catholic organizations filed suit in May in federal court to eliminate contraceptive coverage – even after Obama acceded to their demands that any religious affiliated employer would not have to pay for such coverage – “leaders from a variety of faith backgrounds, politicians and educators” met later that month. The conference stated the mandate regarding birth control was the “major threat to religious freedom.”

The bishops held their Fortnight of Freedom rallies across the U.S. from June 22 to July 4 attended by thousands. They tried to convince Americans that this was really about “religious liberty” and not presidential election-year politics. The rallies, “dedicated to advocacy,” were aimed specifically at portraying Obama as anti-religion.

As the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney announced “We’re all Catholic today” at July 18 campaign rally. He repeated the bishops’ attack against Obama as “usurping your religious freedom.” Romney received a 20-second standing ovation.

Romney went to Poland later that month where he praised both John Paul II and his ally, Reagan. “Romney’s speech was delivered in Warsaw but his real audience is the many Polish-Americans voters in key Midwest swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, and also in Pennsylvania. Romney likely needs to capture at least one of those states – all of which were won by President Obama four years ago – if he wants to unseat the incumbent.”

On the same day as Romney’s Warsaw speech, six of the surviving eight U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican (excluding a Clinton appointee and an Obama appointee) launched the “Catholics for Romney” group. In a letter to their fellow Catholics, they excoriated Obama for his “direct assault” on “religious conscience,” completely overlooking Romenycare’s coverage for abortion and birth control. Romney “can be a great force for good in this nation,” the diplomats said

In his re-election victory, Obama had narrowly defeated Romney in the national popular vote (50% to 48%) Nearly six-in-ten white Catholics (59%) voted for Romney, up from 52% who voted for McCain in 2008. Catholics as a whole matched the popular vote – 50% for Obama, 48% backed Romney.

The “Autopsy Report”

This time, it was the Republican National Committee not the Religious Right who analyzed their defeat. RNC Chairman Reince Preibus announced in December 2012 a Growth and Opportunity Project to study why the GOP lost that year’s presidential election. The result was known as the “autopsy report.”

There was consensus that “The party’s main problem is who delivers its message and how, not the message itself” and that substantive policy changes weren’t needed. “It’s not the platform of the party that’s the issue,” Priebus said. “In many cases, it’s how we communicate about it.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor “hopes to put a kinder face on Republican policies in a major policy address” on Feb. 5, 2013.

2013 Conclave

On Feb. 28, 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign in 600 years. It did not go unnoticed that the Catholic Church had much the same problem as the Republican Party. “If we come across as negative and crabby and mean and judgmental, we’ll turn people away. If we come across as embracing, engaging, warm and inviting, we’re going to get them in,” the prelate of Wall Street, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said.

The U.S. had 11 papal electors in the College of Cardinals. With 28, Italy was the only nationality with more. Cardinal Angelo Scola was the Italians’ favorite papal candidate. The Americans launched a campaign to increase their own influence and discredit Scola by attacking Italian character and work habits.

As soon as the College of Cardinals assembled in March to attend pre-conclave meetings, the U.S. cardinals set up their own media center even though the Vatican press office announced it would give daily press briefings. By making U.S. prelates accessible to the 5000 members of the press gathered in Rome with not much else to report about at the time, Team USA was able control the talking points. They had the funding, know-how and experience to launch a subtle yet persuasive campaign.

Americans charged that Italians couldn’t be trusted. In describing two pre-conclave news items in the Italian press, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, press director of the USCCB, managed to use the word “leaks” four times in one paragraph. “Italy is a land of leaks,” she said. “It’s just the way to do business here in Rome and has been for years,” noted Sister Walsh.

“The Curia is still deeply influenced by Italianate work habits and that’s problematic,” George Weigel, one of the founding U.S. theocons, said about the eurozone’s third largest economy.

John Thavis, former Vatican bureau chief for the USCCB news service,  said most of the Vatican Bank’s “murky dealings involved Italians who have, sort of, an Italian way of doing things in the Vatican.”

“An anti-Italian sentiment seemed to grow among [the cardinal/electors],” Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne observed.

U.S. Catholic reporter, John L. Allen Jr., became head cheerleader for Team USA: “First, there was already an anti-Italian and anti-old guard humor circulating among many cardinals, who have watched repeatedly as the system in the Vatican has broken down over the last eight years. Second, for those cardinals who believe that a capacity to evangelize and to engage the broader public is an important prerequisite in the next pope, they may look at the American [media] model and think, “That’s the way to go.”

One cardinal said that in those informal pre-conclave discussions, “[Cardinal Jorge Mario] Bergoglio’s profile as a Jesuit known for resisting the liberalizing currents in Latin America during the 1970s was a selling point.”

Fully aware of Bergoglio’s background – Weigel had already vetted him – the American cardinals and their media experts focused the pre-conclave topics and discussions in a manner favoring the Argentine’s election. Weigel told Chris Matthews the day Bergoglio became pope: “He was a man of what I would call dynamic orthodoxy. That did not sit too well with many of his more left-leaning colleagues. He was sent off to teach chemistry at a Jesuit high school in northern Argentina, from which he was rescued by John Paul II.”

“It became immediately clear that the U.S. cardinals played a major role in Bergoglio’s election. Right after Pope Francis’ first appearance on the Lodge of the Blessings, U.S. cardinals, some even anonymouslyreleased to newspapers several statements explaining how Bergoglio’s candidacy came about. It is also understandable that, once it had been launched, Latin American cardinals converged on Bergoglio’s candidacy,” an Italian Vatican expert, Andrea Gagliarducci, reported.

Sandro Magister, another Italian Vatican expert, said that Cardinal Dolan was one of the “big electors,” meaning he wielded a lot of influence in the conclave.

Gagliarducci wondered, “Was Pope Francis’ election the end result of a campaign that had been in the works for a long time?…. It seems that this pontificate was already in the works in 2005. In that year’s conclave, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the second most-voted cardinal after Joseph Ratzinger.”

Francesca Ambrogetti, one of the co-authors of Bergoglio’s only pre-papal biography, related how she had proposed the book to the cardinal in 2001. “Bergoglio kept the proposal in his desk drawer for a long time. Then, after the 2005 conclave, he gave us the go-ahead and brought us a large folder with all his speeches and homilies, asking us to use them as material,” Ambrogetti said. She was able to convince Bergoglio to also include the authors’ interviews. The book was released as The Jesuit: Conversations with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in 2010 and later, Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in His Own Words.


Initial U.S. reporting about the new pope included many articles about his role during Argentine history, including the Dirty War (1976-83). These were dismissed by the Vatican press office as accusations from “anticlerical, left-wing elements that are used to attacking the Church.”

Men detained by police during largest anti-government demonstration since the 1976 military takeover; Buenos Aires, 1982. Nearly a decade earlier, Priest Pedro Arupe and priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, right, give a Mass at the church in the El Salvador school in Buenos Aires, 1973, prior to the peak of the Dirty War. (Eduardo DiBaia / AP, El Salvador School / AP)

Bergoglio was appointed Jesuit novice master in 1968 even before he was ordained in 1969. “Bergoglio completely espoused the cause of bringing back Juan Domingo Perón. He became the spiritual director of the young Peronists of the Guardia de Hierro [Iron Guard “an ultra-Catholic, right-wing, nationalist organization”] who had a powerful presence at the Jesuit Universidad del Salvador. And he continued this militancy after his surprise appointment as provincial superior of the Jesuits of Argentina in 1973, the same year in which Perón returned to the country and won his triumphant reelection.”

On November 25, 1977, the Universidad del Salvador, now under the control of the Jesuit provincial Bergoglio, awarded an honorary doctor’s degree to Admiral Emilio Massera, a member of the junta and head of ESMA (School of Naval Mechanics of Argentina) where most of the Dirty War’s torture and deaths took place. It was “inexcusable” for Bergoglio to have honored Massera, head of ESMA where “thousands of young Argentines were tortured and murdered in a reproduction of Auschwitz.” For Bergoglio to have “cultivated a relationship” with Massera is a “stain” on his record for which “Argentines, the Jesuits and the two hundred billion Catholics in the world deserve an explanation,” wrote Roberto Pizarro, Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Chile and rector of University Academy of Christian Humanism.

An often-mentioned accusation about Bergoglio’s conduct during the Dirty War – and now often dismissed as untrue – involves the kidnapping and torture of two Jesuits, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. “Around 1974, ’75, ’76, many Jesuits and other kinds of priest started abandoning the great congregations to go live in the poor neighborhoods called ‘misery villas.’ Bergoglio was adamantly opposed to that. He became the main detractor of that movement of priests, which denoted issues related to his close relationship with the dictatorship,” according to Fr. Eduardo de la Serna, theologian, author, and coordinator of the group, Priests for the Option for the Poor.

“He urged the more socially committed priests to abandon their social activism in order to avoid repression, as he himself stated [later] in his defense,” noted Claudia Touris, a researcher at the University of Buenos Aires.

On May 14, 1976, seven youths who were doing pastoral/social work in the slum, Bajo Flores, were kidnapped by Navy commandos. One of them was Monica Maria Candelaria Mignone. All were taken to ESMA. None of the seven were ever seen again. A week later Yorio and Jalics were also captured from Bajo Flores and taken to ESMA, but they escaped.

Monica’s father, Emilio Mignone,  spent ten years investigating and then writing about the reasons for his daughter’s disappearance. His book, Church and Dictatorship: The Role of the Church in Light of Its Relations with the Military, was published in 1986. According to Mignone, the junta and senior churchmen were in concert sometimes to rid themselves of liberal clergy. “On some occasions the green light was given by the same bishops” for the junta to act against priests. (herehere and here)

Mignone thought Bergoglio’s criticism “served as part of the basis for the arrest, imprisonment and torture of the Jesuit priests” as did Yorio (See Desde El Mostrador.CL), Yorio’s siblings, Graciela and Rodolfo, and Jalics’ siblings. Another priest present at the time, Juan Luis Moyano Walker, confirmed that Bergoglio did not protect his priests. Jalics issued a statement that Bergoglio had not turned them over to the military, but he was silent as to whether Bergoglio had facilitated their abduction.

Another of the multitude of fallacies and myths about Bergoglio is that he was tried and found innocent by an Argentine court. On April 17, 2005, “A human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against an Argentine cardinal mentioned as a possible contender to become pope, accusing him of involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two priests.” The court failed to indict.

Bergoglio was twice called as a witness. The first trial was about crimes committed in ESMA. On Nov. 8, 2010, “Attorney Luis Zamora requested Cardinal Bergoglio’s statement after testimony before the court on 23rd September by María Elena Funes, a former detainee of ESMA [one of the workers kidnapped with Yorio and Jalics]. Her statement informed the court that [Yorio and Jalics] were abducted on 20th May 1976 after Bergoglio removed their religious licenses to preach in Bajo Flores as well as their protection.”

Bergoglio claimed clerical privilege and refused to appear in court. His testimony was taken in his office in the Metropolitan Curia adjacent to the cathedral. Zamora said “He was evasive.” Bergoglio’s testimony in Spanish is here.

The second time Bergoglio was asked to testify was on Sept. 26, 2011, about the junta’s “systematic plan of appropriation of children of the disappeared,” specifically about the case of Elena de la Cuadra, who was abducted and detained at ESMA. Again, the cardinal requested the privilege of being able to testify from his own office.

According to the family who lost five relatives during the Dirty War, when the five-months pregnant Elena was kidnapped in 1977, her father twice went to see Bergoglio who referred him to the archbishop of La Plata. After “months passed,” the family was told that Elena “had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family ‘too important’ for the adoption to be reversed.” Elena was never seen again. Bergoglio testified that he no idea that children of the disappeared had been taken until 2010. Part of Bergoglio’s testimony is reported here. There has also been other controversy about his testimony.

The Rise of Bergoglio

The superior general of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, issued a decree in 1975 which “redefined the work of the Jesuits as supporting social justice.” Michael Campbell-Johnston, provincial of the British Jesuits, was assigned in 1977 to make an assessment of the Argentine province’s non-compliance with Arrupe’s decree. Campbell-Johnston recounts his meeting with Bergoglio. “In some countries, the Jesuit social institutes were forced to act underground and in secrecy, but … our institute in Buenos Aires was able to function freely because it never criticized or opposed the government…. This was the topic I remembered discussing at length with Fr. Bergoglio. He naturally defended the existing situation, though I tried to show him how it was out of step with our other social institutes on the continent. Our discussion was lengthy [but] we never reached an agreement.”

Bergoglio was removed as provincial in 1979 and began what is commonly referred to as his “exile” because he was assigned to minor duties within the Jesuit community.

In 1992, Bergoglio was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. This was unusual for two reasons. First, auxiliary bishops are usually chosen from among priests who have distinguished themselves working for the (arch)diocese for many years. In 1990, there were 877 priests in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. Second, like all Jesuits, Bergoglio had vowed to “never strive for or ambition any prelacy or dignity outside the Society” although rarely, a Jesuit does become a hierarch. Bergoglio would become the only Jesuit to head the Buenos Aires archdiocese in its 400 year history and the only Jesuit pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is widely reported that Antonio Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, had personally requested that John Paul II appoint Bergoglio. By the mid-1980s, Quarracino had become the “visible head of the conservative sector of the Church” in Argentina. He wrote a book of collected testimonies from the founder of Opus Dei. “In the political world he was considered close to President Menem.” Like Menem, Quarracino supported an end to all investigations of the crimes of the Dirty War.

Pres. Carlos Menem (1989-99) “cultivated a strong relationship with the Vatican during his ten years in office. He made strenuous efforts to strengthen that link.” (also here) Menem had “decisively influenced” Quarracino’s elevation to cardinal in 1990. The president boasted that he discussed “all the leaders of the Church” with John Paul II. Menem met with the pope six times while holding office. “During his two consecutive terms, the Holy See always occupied a privileged place in Menem’s foreign policy.”

Menem gave key positions in his government to Opus Dei members who imposed policies “pleasing to Catholic fundamentalists.” (also here) Menem pardoned every war criminal who had been convicted and many who were facing trial including General Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera.

After leaving office, Menem “was convicted at different trials for embezzlement, corruption, and arms smuggling.”

Archbishop/Cardinal Bergoglio

Quarraccino died on February 28, 1998, and Bergoglio was named archbishop of Buenos Aires becoming primate of all Argentina.

“As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was in contact with various faithful of Opus Dei. He also is well acquainted with [the works of the founder of Opus Dei] St. Josemaria. Some years ago, here in Rome he came to visit the sepulcher and stayed there praying for 45 minutes,” noted the head of the prelature, Bishop Javier Echevarría Rodríguez, who had two private meetings with Pope Francis within the first months of his pontificate.

Bergoglio was elevated to cardinal in 2001 by John Paul II. He vowed, among other things, as do all cardinals: “I shall try in every way to assert, uphold, preserve, increase and promote the rights, even temporal, the liberty, honor, privileges and authority of the Holy Roman Church of our Lord, the Pope and his successors.”

Bergoglio was a strong opponent of the liberal progressive presidencies of Néstor and Cristina Fernandez Kirchner during “a decade in which Argentina lived the largest and fastest reduction of poverty and inequality,” according to Ernesto Semán, an historian at New York University.

Like his American confreres who used “moral issues” to oppose progressive governments, Bergoglio “clashed with the Nestor Kirchner administration sharply over issues of abortion, contraception and sex education.” Kirchner called Bergoglio the “spiritual head of the political opposition” and also “castigated the Church for its willingness to accommodate the military regime during the 1970s and early 1980s.”

Pres. Cristina Fernandez’ relationship with Bergoglio was “strained due to her support for same-sex marriage and the leftism of her administration.” A week before the vote on legislation approving same-sex marriage, Bergoglio wrote a letter “harshly criticizing the initiative.” The legislation was a “move by the father of lies [Satan] meant to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he wrote.

In 2012, when the Fernandez administration “pushed for mandatory sex education in schools, free distribution of contraceptives in public hospitals, and the right for transsexuals to change their official identities on demand,” Bergoglio accused the president of “demagoguery,  totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power.”

In July 2012, General Jorge Videla admitted the Church’s collaboration with his dictatorship in a series of interviews. He said he kept the country’s hierarchy informed about the dictatorship’s policy of “disappearing” political opponents. In turn, Cardinal Raúl Francisco Primatesta, Argentina’s primate during the Dirty War, other leading bishops as well the papal nuncio, Pio Laghi “advised us about the manner in which to deal with the situation.” Military chaplains were assigned as spiritual advisers to the officers who staffed ESMA and other centers for torture and murder. Videla also said that sometimes Church authorities offered their “good offices” in informing families to stop searching for “disappeared” relatives and that the Church “understood well . . . and also assumed the risks” of such involvement.

After Videla’s statements, Church leaders had little choice but to respond but took four months to do so. Cardinal primate Bergoglio was leader of the bishops who issued the statement Los Obispos de la República Argentina, 104º Asamblea Plenaria, 9 de noviembre de 2012.

They “acknowledged the Church’s failure to protect its flock during the 1970s.” But they refer to Videla’s statements as being “completely divorced from the truth of what the bishops were involved in at that time.” They absolved the churchmen of any guilt: “We have the word and testimony of our elder brothers, the bishops who preceded us about whom we cannot know how much they personally knew of what was happening. They tried to do everything in their power for the good of all, according to their conscience and considered judgment.”

The statement also equated “state terrorism” with the “death and devastation caused by guerrilla violence.”

Four months later, Bergoglio was elected pope. Some activists were angry over the positions he had taken in recent years. “Some say he’s been more concerned about preserving the Church’s image than providing evidence for Argentina’s many human rights trials.”

Pope Francis

In his first meeting with the press, Bergoglio was asked why he broke centuries of tradition and became the first to select the name “Francis.” He said he “thought of Francis of Assisi” adding, “This is what I want, a poor Church for the poor.”

Argentine historian Ernesto Semán said that the election of this “very conservative cardinal from the region might help bolster forces that are opposed to continuing this enormous change [to left-leaning governments] that’s occurring in Latin America.”

“In Argentina, his naming as pope has been received with the warmest enthusiasm by the rightist opposition,” said Andrea D’Atri, founder of the feminist organization, Bread and Roses.

“His personal austerity, without question, has always coexisted with a strong and sustained pursuit of power, first in his religious order, then in Argentina and now the universal Church. Bergoglio is a strategist and politician,” noted Oscar Chamber, a professor at the Center for Salesian Studies in Buenos Aires and the Franciscan Theological Institute.

Brazilian nun, philosopher, and feminist theologian Ivone Gebara wrote:

“The Catholic press does not mention his well-known criticism of liberation theology or his disdain for feminist theology….

The See of Peter and the Vatican State are positioning their pieces [as] part of a global power project in which the forces of order are seen as being threatened by the social and cultural revolutions underway in today’s world….

To go out into the streets and give food to the poor and pray with prisoners is somewhat humanitarian, but it does not solve the problem of social exclusion that afflicts many of the world’s countries.”

“Bergoglio is as ideologically conservative as most cardinals created by 35 years of the duo John Paul / Benedict XVI…. Some Jesuits say quietly that Bergoglio, despite being a Jesuit, is closer ideologically to Opus Dei” wrote Bernardo Baranco, Mexican sociologist and journalist.

One month after his election, Bergoglio appointed a Council of Cardinals to “assist him in governing the Church.”

He chose Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga to lead this council. As “head of Opus Dei,” Rodriguez Maradiaga “participated actively” in the coup that overthrew the constitutional and progressive Pres. Manuel Zelaya in 2009, plunging that country into indescribable violence and poverty.

Council member Cardinal George Pell had invited Opus Dei to become established in Melbourne and then in Sydney after becoming archbishop of that city. “Opus Dei’s star is on the rise,” wrote a religious affairs columnist.

Pell also had made national headlines for his maltreatment of sex abuse victims. Prior to being elevated to Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy by Pope Francis, Pell’s previous financial expertise was cheating the victims out of an adequate compensation known as his “Melbourne response“ and his “Ellis defense” where Pell “instructed his lawyers to crush this victim.”

Pell was “close to” right wing former prime minister, Tony Abbott. Pell was described as Abbot’s “spiritual adviser” and “Abbott’s Thomas Wolsey, scheming, power-mad, and cares not at all for the victims of the Catholic Church.” In 2011, Pell, questioned the validity of climate-change science and described some environmental activists as “zealots”, in a speech at Westminster Cathed­ral.

Council member Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, an outspoken supporter of the military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, had made national headlines for covering up for the notorious sex abuser, Fr. Karadima.

Pope Francis “understood that essential to any reform is the de-Italianization” of the Curia, “especially on the financial front,” noted John Allen, Jr.

In 2013, Pope Francis appointed numerous laymen and hired 6 international corporations as consultants to help manage Vatican assets. The firms are known for helping their clients with the “adept circumvention of regulations,” “increasing CEO pay” by “cost cutting and layoffs,” “misstating financial records before the investment bank’s collapse triggered a financial crisis in 2008,” “facilitating” the Great Recession and “gouging U.S. consumers.”

With Bergoglio in office, Banco Santander will “have a presence that is going to mean a new leading role in the Vatican,” noted an online, non-profit newspaper on issues related to the Church. Banco Santander is owned by the Botin family, “close to Opus Dei.”

A “clerical VIP circle” of “individuals within the Vatican as well as politicians and financial raiders who flirted together” similar to that which existed under John Paul II was reestablished under Pope Francis. Now there are “huge multinational corporations and international lobbies anxious to keep their hands inside the Vatican,” wrote Vatican expert, Gagliarducci.

Another Vatican reporter warned against “the pseudo-Franciscan and pauperist mythology that in these days so many are applying to the new pope [where] imagination runs to a Church that would renounce power, structures, and wealth and make itself purely spiritual.”

As for a “poor Church,” Pope Francis has never appointed anyone with expertise in large charitable organizations or forensic accounting.  He has never asked anyone in the Vatican, nor any diocese or religious order, to divest themselves of assets. Only 20% of the money donated by people around the world to the pope expressly for charity, is actually used for that purpose.

Cardinal Dolan said it helps to have a popular pope “because the reputation and the credibility of the Church are much higher now…. I’ve said before that we bishops lack a lot of credibility in many areas, and it’s clear that the goodwill Francis enjoys right now makes things easier for bishops to move the ball on many fronts.”

In March 2014, Pope Francis had granted a private meeting to Steve Green, billionaire owner of Hobby Lobby, during which the pope “asked how the Supreme Court case was progressing”? “The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference had largely engineered Hobby Lobby to block the legitimization of contraception as a standard health insurance benefit.” On July 30, 2014, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores the Supreme Court directly struck down the contraceptive mandate under Obamacare for closely held for-profit corporations.

During his September 2015 visit in the U.S., Pope Francis met with the Little Sisters of the Poor who brought their own lawsuit against Obamacare’s mandated insurance coverage for contraceptives all the way to the Supreme Court in [Bishop David] Zubik v Burwell.

As of October 2015, at enormous taxpayer expense, over 100 lawsuits had been filed in federal courts challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.  The vast majority were brought by Catholic bishops and their affiliated institutions.

Also during his trip to the U.S., Pope Francis met in private with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county employee who refusded to issue marriage licenses for same-sex marriages. During the flight back to Rome, the pope specifically stated after their meeting that “conscientious objection” by “government employees” is a “human right.”

In his speech at the White House, Pope Francis “praised his bishops’ ‘vigilance’ on religious liberty pointedly turning and looking at Obama as he delivered the line.”

In his speech in front of Independence Hall, the pontiff “sounded similar to the most passionate religious-liberty defenders on the American right.”


In view of the above history, Pope Francis’ attraction to China and Russia, as well as his vociferous support for the same “moral values” espoused by right-wing parties and governments – including the Trump administration – we can see that this pontificate is “business as usual” for the Catholic Church.


[1] D. Zivojinovik, The United States and the Vatican Policies, 1914-1918  pp. 12 and 13. Quoted John F. Pollard, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950 p 113.

[2] Christopher Simpson, Blowback, p 177.

[3] Michael Phayer, Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Cold War p 41.

[4] Michael Phayer, “The Silence of Pope Pius XII” p 243.

[5] Phayer, Pius XII, the Holocaust and the Cold War pp 178-180.

[6] Ibid. p 140.

[7] Ibid. pp 231-232.

[8] Ibid.  p 135.

[9] Melvin P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power p 13 quoted by Phayer, Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War p 170.

[10] Aarons and Loftus, Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, The Nazis, and The Swiss Banks p 82.

[11] Christopher Simpson, Blowback p 89.

[12] Ibid. pp 90 – 94.

[13] John Pollard, “The Vatican, Italy and the Cold War” quoted by Phayer Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War p 145.

[14] Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA p 300.

[15] John F. Pollard, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950 p 222.

[16] Ibid.  p 224.

[17] Ibid. p 227.

[18] Ibid. p 225.

[19] John L. Allen Jr., “These Paths Lead to Rome” National Catholic Reporter June 2, 2000 www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/archives/060200/060200a.htm.

[20] Opening Address, Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, Palafox Major Seminary, Puebla, 28 January 1979.

[21] Op. cit. Allen.

[22] John Swomley, “The Secret World of Opus Dei” Human Quest May/June 2000 findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3861/is_200005/ai_n8889207/pg_1.

[23] “Guatemala: Catholic Church and Rightist Parties Exchange Accusations About Mixing Politics and Religion” August 31, 1999 Basic data from Cerigua weekly briefs, 08/13-19/90 http://retanet.unm.edu/LADB-articles/9012.html.

[24] Group Watch: Knights of Malta Interhemispheric Resource Center  www.voxfux.com/features/knights_of_malta_facts.html.

[25] Op. cit. Allen.

[26] “John Paul II, The Millennial Pope, Interview with Roberto Suro,” Frontline PBS, September 1999 www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pope/interviews/suro.html.

[27] Rick Vecchio, “Peru Cardinal Upset by Alzamora Probe” Associated Press April 21, 2004 highbeam.com/doc/1P1-93674184.html.

[28] “El Salvador: Papal Appointment of a Conservative as Archbishop of San Salvador Stirs Debate” NotiSur, May 5, 1995 retanet.unm.edu/LADB-articles/21856.html.

[29] Peter A. Geniesse, “Saints & Sinners: A Journalist’s 50 Years of Third World Wonders.”

[30] Robert Reed, “Juan Perón and Cocaine Politics” The Consortium November 12,  1999 www.consortiumnews.com/1999/111299a.html.

[31] Op. cit. Allen.

[32] Eric Frattini, The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage  p 337.

[33] Penny Lernoux “Excerpts from the People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism” National Catholic Reporter April 28, 1989.

[34] Paul Kengor, “Reagan’s Catholic Connections” Catholic Exchange June 11, 2004  http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/catholic_stories/cs0080.html.

[35] Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA p 376.

[36] Carl Bernstein, “The Holy Alliance” (1 of 2 Special Reports) Time Magazine February 24, 1992 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,974931-1,00.html.

[37]  Ibid.

[38]  Op. cit. Lernoux.

[39] Op. cit. Bernstein.

[40] Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “Three Years Later: U.S. Relations with the Holy See” America Magazine Jan. 17, 1987.

[41] Op. cit. Lernoux.

[42] Op. cit. Reese.

[43] “United States-Vatican Diplomatic Relations: The Past and The Future” americanambassadors.org/publications/ambassadors-review/spring-2001/united-states-vatican-diplomatic-relations-the-past-and-the-future.

[44] Thomas J. Reese, S.J. Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=olbp26918.

[45] Carl Bernstein, “The US and the Vatican on Birth Control” Time Magazine February 24, 1992 population-security.org/15-CH7.html.

[46] John M. Swomley, “Political Power of Roman Catholic Bishops” The Human Quest May-June 1992 population-security.org/swom-92-05.htm.

[47] Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “Three Years Later: U.S. Relations with the Holy See” America Magazine Jan. 17, 1987.

[48] Thierry Meyssan, “The Opus Dei Sets Out to Conquer the World” Voltair Network Jan. 25, 1996.

[49] Op. cit. Lernoux.

[50] Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, Vows of Silence: the Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II p 87.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Guess Which Has Been ‘The Most Corrupt Administration in U. S. History.’” Republican Corruption at the Federal Level liberalslikechrist.org/about/gopcorruption-1.html.

[53] Michael Schaller Reckoning with Reagan p 125.

[54] Op. cit. Lernoux.

[55] Gill Donovan, “Ambition, Defense of Institutional Church Drove Cardinal’s Career” National Catholic Reporter December 27, 2002 ncronline.org/NCR_Online/archives/122702/122702f.htm.

[56] John M. Swomley, “The Vatican connection: How the Catholic Church influences the Republican Party” Christian Ethics Today April 1997.

[57] John M. Swomley, “One Nation Under God … National Council of Catholic Bishops Seeks to Influence Policy” Gale Group 1998  findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1374/is_n3_v58/ai_20770505/print.

[58] Francis X. Clines, “The Nation: Cross Purposes; Mixing God and Politics and Getting Burnt” New York Times March 5, 2000.

[59] Kate O’Beirne, “The Catholic Factor: Which Way Will They Swing?” National Review Aug. 28, 2000.

[60] “So Far, Sympathetic Signals From President Bush” Zenit.org Jan 28, 2001.

[61] “30 U.S. Catholic Leaders to Meet with Bush” Zenit.org Jan. 30, 2001.

[62] Carl Raschke, “Catholics as ‘Value Voters’” Guernica Oct. 2004.

[63] John L. Allen Jr., “The Vatican and America” National Catholic Reporter June 11, 2004.

[64] Richard N. Ostling, “ A faith-based look at ’04 vote” Associated Press Feb. 4, 2005.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).

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