On June 5, Pope Francis met in private with Doug Coe, one of the most influential evangelicals in the US and head of the Family, tea-party ally Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and former U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne who served under Bush 43 amid unprecedented scandal.
“Their goal is a worldwide invisible organization….The core issue is capitalism and power.” The Family has connections with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries, the CIA, Pentagon and Department of Defense according to Jeff Sharlet, investigative journalist and author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Their “friends” include:
• Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury for the torture of thousands.
• Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, a minister also linked to the CIA and death squads
• Omar al-Bashir, the president of oil-rich Sudan, who has been indicted for genocide in the International Criminal Court
• Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, which recently enacted the Anti-Homosexuality Bill mandating the death penalty for some homosexual acts.
• General Sani Abacha, dictator of Nigeria, the US's fourth-largest supplier of petroleum. “Abacha was known for two qualities: the greed that led him to steal $3 billion from his country, and the ruthlessness that made that theft possible. His execution of dissident writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 made international headlines.”
“Sen. Mike Lee was Sen. Ted Cruz’s right-hand man throughout the 16-day government shutdown.”
In February, Lee and Cruz introduced S. 2024, the State Marriage Defense Act “which respects the definition of marriage held by the people of each state and protects states from the federal government’s efforts to force any other definition upon them.”
When 46 Senate Democrats cosponsored legislation to reverse the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, on July 16 Cruz accused Democrats of "declaring war against the Catholic Church."
Under Dirk Kempthorne’s supervision, “something akin to a secret society residing within the Interior Department was colluding to undermine the protection of endangered wildlife and covering for one another’s misdeeds,” Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, chairman of the House Natural Resources stated.
In September 2008, Inspector General Earl Devaney reported wrongdoing by current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, an agency under Kempthorne's administration which collected about $10 billion in oil and gas royalties annually, and one of the government’s largest sources of revenue other than taxes. According to the New York Times, "Eight officials in the royalty program accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules - including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks. [There was also] frequent consumption of alcohol at industry functions, use of cocaine and marijuana, and sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives."….The meeting with Pope Francis was partially funded by the Vatican Foundation and participants were selected by Coe. Other attendees were:
On December 16, 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity announced intent to sue the Interior Department under Kempthorne for introducing "regulations... that would eviscerate our nation’s most successful wildlife law by exempting thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the Endangered Species Act." …..
Tim Timmons, a pastor based in Newport Beach, Calif. Timmons gave his support to a meeting of U4RF (United For Religious Freedom). The group was founded by Catholic CEOs to oppose the Obamacare “mandate regarding abortion pills, contraception, and sterilization.” The ubiquitous Catholic theocon, George Weigel, was also present.
Gayle Beebe, president of the evangelical Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Joel Osteen, the pastor of Houston's Lakewood Church, said to be the largest in this country. With a vibrant community and a weekly collection totaling $600,000, the pope could have been asking Osteen for advice.
In addition to the pope, the group was scheduled to meet with various cardinals. The purpose of the meetings was “to promote ecumenical prayer and interfaith understanding.”
Like Osteen, Kenneth Copeland preaches the “gospel of prosperity,” the belief that faith can increase one's wealth. He is founder of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, Texas, Eagle Mountain International Church and co-host of Believer’s Voice of Victory.
Copeland was one of several televangelists targeted by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in 2007 for their lavish lifestyles. Calling Copeland the "Godfather of Prosperity,” CBS News released a detailed report in 2008 on Kenneth Copeland Ministries, saying an investigation “raises serious questions about the Copeland’s religious empire.” “In my viewpoint,” one of the Copelands’ former employees told CBS News, “I believe that they were using a lot of the ministry’s assets for personal businesses.”
Copeland and his wife “live in a 20,000-square-foot lake-front mansion near Fort Worth, Texas. They regularly fly one of their two expensive jets around the world, including regular trips to their multi-million dollar mansion in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. In 2008, Mr. Copeland even boasted that he had collected over $1billion in donor funds during his career.”
James Robison of Life Outreach International is an “apostolic elder” at Gateway Church and co-hosts the Life Today TV program. “Property records show that James and Betty Robison live in a ‘modest’ Texas home appraised by tax-assessors at $742,800. They also own one or more multi-million-dollar homes in Silverthorne, Colorado and their large Robison ministry ranch and lodge in East Texas, likewise built with donor money.” “Robison said he and Pope Francis found common ground in caring for the poor.”
Other attendees of the June 24 meeting included:
Rev. Geoff Tunnicliff, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance and Rev. Brian Stiller and Rev. Thomas Schirrmacher, also from the World Evangelical Alliance. The World Evangelical Alliance recently terminated the membership of Oasis Ministry after founder Steve Chaulk’s decision to support gay marriage and faithful same-sex relationships.
Rev. John Arnott and his wife, Carol, of Catch the Fire Toronto are co-founders of Partners for Harvest ministries in Toronto, Canada. Hank Hanegraaff, in his book Counterfeit Revival (see Google eBook) used Arnott’s “healing” of the legally blind (and still legally blind) Sara Lilliman as an example of “counterfeit revivalists who pepper their appearances with fabrications, fantasies and fraud.”
The meeting was organized by Tony Palmer, former director of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Africa. Palmer is ordained with the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches (CEEC), a small congregation unrelated to the main Episcopal denomination. “The CEEC also ordained Gene Ewing, who for decades has been running a direct-mail operation sending out gimmicky letters (with prayer cloths, holy water from the Jordan and holy oil) promising riches and healing for anyone desperate enough to send him money.” When Bishop Palmer began working to reconcile Roman Catholics and Protestants in Italy, Kenneth Copeland Ministries was one of his first financial contributors.
Mr. Robison said he was “blessed to be part of perhaps an unprecedented moment between evangelicals and the Catholic Pope.” He described the private meeting as “an intimate circle of prayerful discussion and lunch to discuss not only seeing Jesus’ prayer answered, but that every believer would become a bold, joy-filled witnesses for Christ.”
Certainly “ecumenical prayer,” “interfaith understanding” and the hope that “every believer would become a bold, joy-filled witness for Christ” are legitimate goals for religious leaders. So why didn’t the Vatican and corporate media trumpet these meetings like other news about this pope?
For the same reason they didn’t report the pope’s March 31 private meeting with Steve Green, billionaire owner of Hobby Lobby during which they discussed “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom.” Pope Francis even “asked how the (Hobby Lobby Supreme Court) case was progressing.”
And didn't report that the only two American laypersons currently working in the Vatican - Juan Zarate and Mary Ann Glendon - were both members of the Bush 43 administration.
Because fortifying the Church’s alliance with the American rightwing and evangelicals does not conform to their carefully constructed image of this pope. Nothing demonstrates the enduring partnership between the Catholic Church and the corporatocracy more than the corporate media’s coverage of Pope Francis.
This week, the pope received the usual media saturation by stating that “two percent of priests are pedophiles, even bishops and cardinals.” What wasn’t reported is that he also said, “most of these abominable acts occur within families.” He stressed again, “this frequently happens within families, and it is practiced by relatives, grandparents, uncles, family friends. Often, the other members of the family are conscious of that, but they do not intervene, taken by interests or by other forms of corruption.” (For those of you who follow papal news, yes, the Vatican questioned the accuracy of the pope’s third interview with journalist Eugenio Scalfari but only “the claim that some cardinals have been guilty of sexually abusing children and [the pope’s] vow to ‘find solutions’ to the ‘problem’ of priestly celibacy.”)
Sadly lacking were OpEds noting that Pope Francis’ meeting with six carefully selected and vetted victims of clerical sex abuse has had little effect if he is still trying to shift focus away from his Church and/or that he still depends on his inner circle of appointees for information when reliable studies put the percentage of pedophiles in the priesthood at 5.9 – 10%.
Another glaring media omission was reporting that Pope Francis excommunicated members of the Mafia but not that he had also excommunicated the leaders of a Catholic reform movement.
Last July, when Pope Francis was receiving confidential reports accusing his nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, of sexually abusing minors, he enacted a law criminalizing leaks of Vatican information and sex abuse of minors punishable by up to 12 years in the Vatican’s prison. The law applied not only to residents of Vatican City State but also to all diplomatic employees of the Holy See. This gave the pope justification for not turning Wesolowski over to civil law enforcement authorities and would generate great publicity about Pope Francis "getting tough about sex abuse" when Wesolowski would be tried by a Vatican tribunal.
The pope whisked Wesolowski out of the country a week before accusations became public that he had paid poor boys to masturbate for, and engage in oral sex with, him as he filmed them with a cell phone. While the governments of the Dominican Republic and the Wesolowski’s native Poland were “seeking his prosecution by local judges” the archbishop's whereabouts remained unknown.
Three days after Santo Domingo Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Victor Masalles said he “was shocked to see the former papal nuncio walking freely around the center of Rome,” the Vatican announced on June 27 that Wesolowski had been defrocked. The Vatican acknowledged that the archbishop “has been granted relative freedom of movement as he awaits verification by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith of the basis of these accusations made against him.” So Wesolowski apparently still has unlimited access to children.
The AP and others inaccurately reported that Wesolowski had been “convicted of sex abuse” and “sentenced to the harshest penalty possible against a cleric: laicization.” Had Wesolowski been “convicted of sex abuse” he could have been "sentenced to the harshest penalty” of a Vatican prison term. Or the pope could have just turned Wesolowski over to Dominican or Polish authorities from the get-go and he wouldn’t be “walking around freely” during this past year.
During the reign of Pope Francis, the Vatican has shown remarkable expertise in manipulating the willingly complicit media. Some of the most egregious examples have been demonstrated by the Associate Press. With “more than 1,700 newspapers, more than 5,000 television and radio broadcasters,” the AP drives much of the flattering news about the pope.
At the height of the worst publicity for the Church surrounding the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child hearings last January, an “APNEWSBREAK: POPE DEFROCKED 400 PRIESTS IN 2 YEARS” appeared and was quickly picked up by about every media outlet imaginable. This information was taken from “an internal Vatican document prepared to help the Holy See defend itself before a UN committee” and given to the AP.
In his last two years as pope, Benedict XVI did defrock 384 priests for sexually assaulting children but 202 were voluntary requests by the priests themselves.
On April 11, 2014, the AP reported (and picked up by other media):
Pope Francis said today he took personal responsibility for the "evil" of priests who raped and molested children, asking forgiveness from victims and saying the church must be even bolder in its efforts to protect the young….Francis made the off-the-cuff remarks [as he spoke] to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, a French Catholic network of organizations that protects children's rights….As noted above, not every papal meeting is reported by the Vatican nor covered by the secular media. So it is probable that the AP was tipped off that the “video of the full comments” should be obtained.
Francis comments during the closed audience were only reported in part by Vatican Radio, and Vatican Television excluded them entirely in its initial edit of the audience. The full quote was obtained after the Associated Press requested video of the full comments from Vatican Television.
In a January article, David Gibson of the Religion News Service did a great job highlighting some of the almost absurd widely reported stories about Pope Francis:
• The Vatican once again had to dispel media reports that went well beyond what Francis actually said, as his spokesman formally denied that the pope had signaled an openness to same-sex unions in a recently published conversation with leaders of religious orders.
• On New Year's Eve, Fr. Federico Lombardi put out a statement to counter a column by a prominent Italian journalist and atheist, Eugenio Scalfari, claiming that Francis "has abolished sin." Lombardi had to reiterate that those "who really follow the pope daily know how many times he has spoken about sin."
• After fevered speculation that the pope might break with tradition and name women as cardinals, Francis himself denied the rumors. "I don't know where this idea sprang from," he told an Italian journalist in an interview in December.
• In early December, the Vatican categorically denied a media report that Pope Francis has been slipping out at night to visit the homeless in Rome.
• In September, the Vatican "firmly denied" that Francis had called a gay man in France to assure him that "your homosexuality doesn't matter." No way, no how, Lombardi said.
• And last May, the Vatican called the claim that Francis had performed an exorcism on a handicapped man in St. Peter's Square "absolutely false."
I am somewhat puzzled that people who consider themselves to be well-informed Democrats, liberals or progressives and know that the raison d’être of the religious right is to elect Republicans, and/or who claim a certain sophistication as regards the corporate media, have been so naive.