(image by http://www.theologyonline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32109)
[This cartoon is a piece of satire, not reportage.]
Widespread retaliation was as predictable as mass on Sunday. Enter a Pope with blunt, populist messages about redistributing wealth, worse still, the stinging downsides of capitalism. Bingo, out prance the arch-conservatives filled with cries of "socialist" and "communist." Yet has Francis ever endorsed centralized state planning, or challenged private property. or debunked the whole of capitalism? Hardly. That settled, his entrenched critics are testing new talking points: though "below the radar," they warn, see how Francis suspiciously talks up the omnipresent Satan, plus revving up outdated "mystical rites in the church" like exorcism. So much, comes the sneer, for the vaunted, progressive, reform pope.
What's next: scolding the Pope for promoting compassionate, inclusive, democratic practices for the poorest? Or his so radical commitment to make a myopic church hierarchy more of a meritocracy? Or refocusing from obsessions with genitalia to the grim conditions of hungry familias? Why not knock the Pope for agreeing this weekend to baptize alien Martians, "if they want to be baptized"? What disrupts expectations isn't a pope who acknowledges eons of Church teaching: that Satan, evil forces, and original sin are linked. More shocking would be a prelate who denied demonic possession or banished the age-old cure.
Every belief system that posits external evil mandates its invested shamans to concur up potent antidotes. So, is this the latest rightwing push to delegitimize Francis -- implying that elevating Satan's role is even more suspect than the failed "socialist" ploy? This faux outrage is about alleging contradiction and hypocrisy: here's the most modern-seeming pope falling back on medieval lore about the Old Devil, with cartoon visions of eternal damnation, fire and brimstone.
Bashing by Innuendo
Just to show yellow journalism isn't dead, Washington Post's delivers this crude hit piece, "A modern pope gets old school on the Devil." Despite its former glory, the fallen Post invests an ostensible news report with innuendo, gossip, and unverified sources, then tops it off with incantations from a doddering exorcist. The bar is so low there's even a laughable airplane smell test. The featherweight evidence and devil-may-care tone raises this query: what's in it for a secular mouthpiece to make such a shabby case against this widely-admired Pope, swimming upstream to repair a grievously-tarnished Church's image? Could this Pope's daring populism, dramatizing shocking income and asset gaps, incur the wrath of a right-leaning, elitist paper that opposes reforms to national austerity, costly neocon adventurism, or the billionaire-heavy status quo?
Setting his tone, this writer (whose Italian name oozes Vatican contacts) depicts Francis, as "darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness" now allegedly ensnared in his own papal "fire and brimstone." What's more electrifying than a new pope "locked in an epic battle with the oldest enemy of God and creation: The Devil"? Note loaded language that places Francis on the "Throne of St. Peter's," hardly suitable for the most plain-spoken, non-imperial of papal fathers.
But imperial imagery fits this newly-minted "backslider" keen to rekindle "the Devil's image as a supernatural entity." When did Satan lose his supernatural status, here or across Christianity, and turn wholly symbolic? You'd think Francis' conservative critics would endorse such scare tactics, the fear-mongering response to modern defiance of rules and punishment, even its fables about heaven and hell.
But don't expect anything that logical -- for here's an author unearthing epic conclusions hiding behind every nuance. Thus, because "Francis laid hands on a man in a wheelchair who claimed to be possessed by demons," suddenly hordes turn it into "an impromptu act of [demonic] cleansing." How does what sounds rather conventional morph into a fulsome endorsement of the International Association of Exorcists? What's really unconventional here is the absence of journalism 101 standards for supportive evidence or prudent restraints.
Onward and upward as we peruse citations from an anonymous Vatican official, "some progressive theologians," then a "Catholic writer" (sans credentials), plus the "small cluster of officially anointed exorcists of the Roman Catholic Church." Note the constant weasel words, with "things lurking behind the door," "by most accounts," especially insiders talking about "Satanic cults" spreading "like wildfire." If that holy fire, the Burning Bush, or fire and brimstone?
Enter Growling, Airborne Demons
Then comes what makes any rationalist crazy: a overly-devout exorcist dishing out a bizarre tale. One "Rev. Cesar Truqui" confirms satanic possession on Swissair when two, transparently-evident "lesbians" (what, with forehead marks) not only "growled" at this eminence but driven by demons "threw chocolates at his head." It's just as rational to suggest two Samaritans heard HIS stomach growling and took pity on the hungry by delivering high-altitude snacks.
It gets worse: when asked how Truqui knew these sin-laden "lesbians" must be possessed, his investigative prowess comes to the fore: "once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It's like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It's something you never forget." Here's an authority figure as infallible on growling as the Pope is on doctrine. And pizza comes to mind? Why not the growl of jet engines? Maybe he was hungry. The mind reels, making me wonder how someone from the 13th Century wasn't instead perplexed at flying through the air without angelic lift. "Margherita" refers to the legendary first pizza from Napoli, itself a celebrated hotbed known to all for deviance.
Then cometh the polemical piÃ¨ce de resistance: an absurd narrative that puts exorcism on the same "plane" as the impoverished Rev. Truqui. This outlandish sequence of guilt by association, with the implication Pope Francis endorses such doings, recounts a woman who "became violent around prayers." Not the worse idea methinks at this point. The series of dubious evidence stamps the entire piece as a hasty, if not desperate hatchet job, lacking, shall we say, in (tran)substantiation, symbolic or otherwise.
As a skeptic I am hardly the best defender of by all estimates a still doctrinally-conservative Pope. Yet compared to tepid predecessors, this monarch on "his throne" has transformed the Vatican tone and image, with unstinting, articulate support for all have-nots. Someday, frustrated reformers hope Francis will talk about women priests, or changes to celibacy, modernizing divorce and contraception practices fragrantly disregarded by western Catholics. High time for a Church, open to scientific knowledge, to rethink abortion, especially when "life" begins and parts become wholes.
1 | 2