Monday, June 22, 2015

It looks as if Pope Francis -- "someone who is willing to say what others are afraid to say" -- is learning how to deal with the Vatican bureaucracy


It looks as if Pope Francis, unlike Donald Trump, doesn't have to pay people to cheer for him. Here he's seen on arrival in Turin yesterday.

"[I]t is clear that this pope is very courageous. He is not a politician. He is not a diplomat. He is someone who is willing to say what others are afraid to say."
-- Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences, about Pope Francis

by Ken

Now and then we get glimmerings of the internal politics of the Vatican. I don't think it's shocking that there are internal politics in the Vatican. Is there any human institution -- by which I guess I mean any purpose-driven gathering of two or more humans -- that doesn't have internal politics? What's usually so distrerssing about those insider accounts of the inner working of the Vatican is that they're so grubby. But then, aren't the inner working of most human institutions pretty grubby?

So maybe Pope Francis isn't as naive as many of the cardinals who elevated him to the papacy expected. I have no idea how much success he has had in gaining control of the vast entrenched Vatican bureaucracy, but to this casual observer it seems pretty clear that he took the job on with his eyes wide open, and that at a number of significant junctures he has taken steps to tame the people whose boss he after all is.

In which connection there's some interesting light shed in a report by the Washington Post's Anthony Faiola and Chris Mooney, "How climate-change doubters lost a papal fight."


It took some reading for me to have information jump out at me. Till paragraphs 9 and 10, in fact:
Papal advisers say Francis signaled his intent to draft a major document on the environment soon after assuming the throne of St. Peter in March 2013. His interest in the topic dates to his days as a bishop in Buenos Aires, where Francis, officials say, was struck by the effects of floods and unsanitary conditions on Argentine shantytowns known as “misery villages.”

In January, Francis officially announced his goal of drafting the encyclical — saying after an official visit to the Philippines that he wanted to make a “contribution” to the debate ahead of a major U.N. summit on climate change in Paris in December.
So this is our starting point -- from the moment that white smoke was released announcing his election, Pope Francis believed that his vision of Christianity obliged him to throw the moral weight of the Church behind the fight against environmental contamination. Beyond this, we learn -- it is in fact the issue that engages our journalists -- that the internal Vatican opposition was too weak or disorganized or simply too incompetent to deter the pope, perhaps even to slow him down.

For one thing, from what we've known about the Vatican bureaucracy of times only recently past, there would surely have been a powerful internal bloc of entrenched opposition capable of stifling or at least frustrating the Big Guy until he came to his senses and took it back. And as opposition mounted outside the organization, those inside allies would have known how to channel and amplify it.

Not so on climate change, it appears. According to the Post report, "several efforts by those skeptical of the scientific consensus on climate change to influence the document appear to have come considerably later -- in April -- and, maybe, too late."
In late April, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a free-market group that serves as a hub of skepticism regarding the science of human-caused global warming, sent a delegation to the Vatican. As a Heartland news release put it, they hoped “to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science: There is no global warming crisis!”
Now, to be clear, Pope Francis insists that his environmental policies are a continuation are a continuation of those of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Cardinal Ratguts. But in terms of the internal operation of the papal palace was set up such that, as soon as there were rumblings of high-level support for an initiative unacceptable to the hard-liners -- and I'm guessing that the apparatus was tuned to pick up such rumblings right quickly -- both the inside and the outside games would have been in play and in a coordinated way. Not so in this case, at least.


The Post reporters tell the tale of a committed denier that humans are causing climate change, one Philippe de Larminat thought he had pulled a Vatican string to gain access to "a climate summit in April sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, whose attendees were to include Nobel laureates, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs and others calling for dramatic steps to curb carbon emissions."

De Larminat was able, apparently, to get "a high-level meeting at the Vatican," where "he was told that, space permitting, he could join." It's not clear from what happened next whether he was a victim of behind-the-scenes maneuvering or he was just getting a subtle brush-off.
He bought a plane ticket from Paris to Rome. But five days before the April 28 summit, de Larminat said, he received an e-mail saying there was no space left. It came after other scientists — as well as the powerful Vatican bureaucrat in charge of the academy — insisted he had no business being there.
De Larminat says, "They did not want to hear an off note." That's one way of looking at it. Another is that they didn't want to waste time with pseudo-intellectual bullshit.
De Larminat had a cordial meeting in March with Cardinal Peter Turkson, a senior member of the clergy and a key supporter of the pope’s encyclical. At the meeting, both men said, Turkson promised to try to secure a space for the Frenchman at the April summit.

However, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences — a body of luminaries, religious and not, dating back decades but with roots in the 17th century — effectively vetoed de Larminat's presence. Asked why, Sánchez Sorondo responded in an e-mail, “because he’s not an academic authority in this field, neither a religious authority nor a U.N. authority.”

Turkson, however, said that he was told only that the summit was “well overbooked.”
"The incident," say the Post reporters, "highlights how climate-change doubters tried and failed to alter the landmark papal document unveiled last week — one that saw the leader of 1 billion Catholics fuse faith and reason and come to the conclusion that 'denial' is wrong." (See also our Gaius Publius's pre-release post, "Pope News: Humans Are Causing Climate Change. Have We Crossed a Tipping Point?" and my subsequent post, "Evoking the image of St. Francis: E. J. Dionne Jr. on Pope Francis's environmental encyclical.")
It marked the latest blow for those seeking to stop the reform-minded train that has become Francis’s papacy. It is one that has reinvigorated liberal Catholics even as it has sowed the seeds of resentment and dissent inside and outside the Vatican’s ancient walls.

Yet the battle lost over climate change also suggests how hard it may be for critics to blunt the power of a man who has become something of a juggernaut in an institution where change tends to unfold over decades, even centuries. More than anything, to those who doubt the human impact of global warming, the position staked out by Francis in his papal document, known as an encyclical, means a major defeat.

“This was their Waterloo,” said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, who has been tracking ­climate-change deniers for years. “They wanted the encyclical not to happen. And it happened.”


Talk about "seeds of resentment and dissent inside and outside the Vatican’s ancient walls" confirms my assumption that the resenters and dissenters haven't simply vanished into the woodwork, inside or outside of the Vatican. And so does the tale told of the event staged by "the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a free-market group that serves as a hub of skepticism regarding the science of human-caused global warming," which was also shut out of the Vatican's scientific conclave," put on in competition with it.
Seven scientists and other experts gave speeches at the Heartland event, raising doubts about various aspects of the scientific consensus on climate change, even as several also urged the pope not to take sides in the debate. It’s impossible to know how that influenced those in the Vatican working on the pope’s document — which one Vatican official said was at “an advanced stage.” But Lakely said his group did not see much of its argument reflected in the final document.

“We all want the poor to live better lives, but we just don’t think the solution to that is to restrict the use of fossil fuels, because we don’t think CO2 is causing a climate crisis,” Lakely said. “So if that’s our message in a sentence, that message was not reflected in the encyclical, so there you go.”
Possibly, Lakelyl, the message is that you and your kind -- so many of you so generously supported by the corporations dedicated to plundering and befouling our planet -- are scientific ignoramuses, frauds, liars, and general scumbags, so fuck you the whole pack of you.

The Post reporters tend to be more on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand even-handed. For example:
Based on the people he recently appointed to his council for science, Francis was also seen to have made up his mind on the question of global warming. Some prominent conservatives — particularly economic and environmental conservatives — were consulted by the Vatican during the process, but “many were sort of shocked that none of their contributions made it in there,” Raymond Arroyo, news director at the Catholic mega-channel EWTN, said Friday.

Instead, the pope sought to build on the progressive environmental platforms established by his immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. For advice, he turned to a number of scientific advisers who support the consensus that human activity is warming the Earth.


Assuredly, though, we haven't heard the last from the reactionaries, and neither has Pope Francis. The Post report speaks of "something of a conservative resistance" that "has formed to his more progressive tone," citing the October skirmish over the "document that would have recognized 'the gifts and qualities' of gay people." It struck me at the time, though, that the pope had managed to smoke many of his detractors out, forcing them to take positions that may wind up isolating them from the Vatican decision-making process.

There are those who attribute the leaking of a draft of the envirnomental encyclical to "an anti-Francis cabal inside the Vatican walls." But Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who is said to have "effectively vetoed [Philippe] de Larminat's presence" at the Vatican science conclave, says otherwise.
He insisted that rather than from inside Vatican City, the primary pressure against [the encyclical's] message had come from climate-change deniers — particularly in the United States.

“But it is clear that this pope is very courageous,” said Sánchez Sorondo, who, like Francis, is an Argentine. “He is not a politician. He is not a diplomat. He is someone who is willing to say what others are afraid to say.”

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