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After Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to both countries, Mexican President Felipe Calderon met this past week with Cuban President Raul Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega to “discuss possible business ventures, including oil deals.” Mexico is considering leasing exploration blocks in Cuban territorial waters which are part of the Gulf of Mexico. A consortium led by Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF is drilling the first of a series of wells which officials say may hold 20 billion barrels of oil.

Before the pope’s "apostolic journey", as the Vatican calls it, to Mexico and Cuba on March 23, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti accompanied Benedict to Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Monti, an international adviser to Goldman Sachs, resigned as European chairman of the Trilateral Commission upon assuming his current position.

In 2004, Repsol drilled in Cuba’s offshore and said it found hydrocarbons.  By February 2006, Cuba had negotiated lease agreements initially with companies from China and India and later with Spain and Canada to extract oil and natural gas. Cuban officials invited American oil companies to bid for other leases even though drilling in Cuban waters would violate the US embargo. Efforts by US oil companies and Republicans to have legislation introduced which would grant an exemption for oil producers to the embargo similar to the one created earlier for food and medicine failed.

The Chinese-built drilling rig, the Scarabeo 9, a giant, semi-submersible structure, was delivered this past January. Repsol is paying Eni S.p.A., the Italian company which owns the rig sitting off the coast of Havana, $511,000 every day its workers are aboard the vessel. Working in partnership with Norway's Statoil and ONGC Videsh, a unit of India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp, Repsol is expected to drill at least two wells in Cuban waters about 70 miles from the Florida Keys.

Prior to the pope's departure, Vatican official Cardinal Marc Ouellet noted: “Latin America is recognized as a leader on the current international scene. In fact, it is hardly spoken of as a region marked by underdevelopment and backwardness, or even as a developing area, but rather as a group of emerging countries. Isn’t Brazil [destination of Benedict’s last trip to Latin America] now the sixth-largest world power? Aren’t Latin American countries going through economic processes involving exportation to various markets on the one hand, and attracting foreign capital on the other?”

It will be awhile before Cuba sees any oil revenues. In the meantime, Castro has needed both US agricultural commodities and the boost American tourists would bring to his economy.

As if on cue from the Vatican, the Cuban Church began inserting itself into domestic and foreign politics. “The government should promote exports and small- and mid-size businesses, provide a safe environment for foreign investment, institute business reforms, and a single currency,” wrote economist-priest Boris Moreno in January 2010 edition of Palabra Nueva, a publication of the Havana Archdiocese.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote a letter dated March 8, 2010, to members of the House Agriculture Committee expressing support for HR 4645, a bill “To remove obstacles to legal sales of United States agricultural commodities to Cuba and to end travel restrictions on all Americans to Cuba.”

In a series of meetings “coordinated by the USCCB,” Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega was in Washington June 21-28, 2010,  to inform US officials of an upcoming release of political prisoners by Castro. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ortega met with Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee.

When the first prisoners had been released, National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Nick Miroff in Havana said the Cuban government hoped that by using the cardinal as a go-between, the Vatican would mediate its interests with Washington and Miami. In addition, Miroff said, the parties involved hoped the release would help gain support for HR 4645.

That the released prisoners and their family members who wished to accompany them would be exiled to Spain even though most preferred to be reunited with family and friends in the US did not please most dissidents.  

Commenting on the prisoner release, Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski stated that in past decades the Catholic Church had “sought to regain space in Cuban society that had been lost and restricted for years....without self interest.” Actually, in return for Ortega’s lobbying, the Church was allowed to offer a program for the island’s first master in business administration and to build a seminary with money provided by the US Knights of Columbus and American Catholics through the annual collection for the Church in Latin America. “American collections provide some $25,000-$30,000 to each Cuban diocese, and more than twice that to big dioceses….We provide up to $450,000 for the priorities that the local Church sets out.’”

Cardinal Ortega returned to Washington DC in August 2010 to pick up a personal check for $100,000 from the Knights of Columbus. Ortega told Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl

he has been meeting with officials in the Obama administration and Congress. He suggests that a big part of Raúl Castro's agenda is improving relations with the United States so that Cuba's economy can be revived by U.S. trade and investment….
Does that include the democratic reforms the Obama administration has demanded as a condition for improved relations?
‘Everything should be step by step,’ Ortega said. ‘It's not realistic to begin at the end. This is a process. The most important thing is to take steps in the process.’”
Pope Benedict not only refused to meet with Cuban dissidents but their treatment actually worsened during his time on the island. Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation
estimates that, so far, the total number of dissidents detained throughout the country in relation to the Papal visit is more than 150….According to newly received reports, we now estimate between 200 and 300 beggars, drifters, and other homeless people continue to be detained in a hidden location….As part of the repressive measures taken by the regime, several hundred land-lines and cell phones, belonging to dissidents, independent journalists, bloggers and other civil society activists, have been disconnected, including all telephones of this Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation …. Nearly 200 persons who are against dictatorial government have been forbidden from attending the public Masses held by Pope Benedict 16th and we foresee that the number of interdictions, prohibitions and house arrests will grow in number in Havana because of the Mass the Pope will celebrate in this city.
The Vatican has also helped Mexico’s President Calderon as well as Castro. In 2007, Daniel DiNardo, the metropolitan archbishop of Galveston-Houston, center of the US petro-chemical industry, was elevated to the rank of cardinal – not only the first Southern city to be given that stature, but also the first American city to be so recognized for its importance since Los Angeles was given a cardinal in 1952. Earlier in his career, the current Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez was in charge of the Opus Dei regional headquarters in Houston. Gomez was appointed head of the Church in Los Angeles the same month (April 2010) that Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who had given an invocation at the 2008 Republican Convention, was put in charge of Miami. The Vatican now had the right men to represent its interests in three US cities with close commercial ties to Latin America.

On April 30, 2010, the USCCB issued a press release on immigration reform: “We would support the inclusion of provisions which address ‘push’ factors that compel migrants to come to the United States, such as the lack of economic development in sending countries, so that migrants can remain in their countries and support their families in dignity.” Before President Calderone’s scheduled meeting with President Obama in May 2010, Politico.com published an article written by Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration: “Immigration is not just a domestic issue; it is keyed to foreign affairs…Over the long term, joint efforts could be pursued to promote development in communities now drained by the migrant outflow."

GOP/Vatican/oil-producer ties remain current. At least for the second time, former President George W. Bush, heir to his father’s petroleum fortune, met with Legatus, an international group of Catholic CEOs, this time at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples, Fla., February 2-4, 2012. Speakers included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Vatican official Cardinal Raymond Burke, and the notorious William Donohue of the Catholic League.  

West Africa

When Benedict left for his previous “apostolic journey” in November 2011, Monti, prime minister only three days at the time, was also at the airport with the pope before his flight to Benin. Within weeks after that trip, “The West African country of Benin invited Indian companies to help develop its oil and gas sector. ‘There are a lot of unexplored mineral reserves in Benin, especially in the oil and gas segment,’ said Christophe Kaki, director of cabinet, ministry of petroleum and mineral resources.”

A UPI report dated March 7, 2012, noted plans to double oil production from 4 million barrels a day “amid a swelling energy boom in the largely impoverished region” of West Africa. “Given the region’s location on the Atlantic, allowing direct supplies to the United States without the dangers plaguing Middle Eastern exports, the region is expected to provide the US with about one-quarter of its crude imports by 2015.”

Pope Benedict was greeted as a head-of-state with a 21-gun salute after he landed in Cotonou and was met by President Thomas Yayi Boni November 18, 2011. Cotonou is the economic capital of Benin where the pontiff “with a larger retinue of advisers than usual on his travels” met with “Benin's political, religious, business and cultural leaders at the presidential palace.” .

On his last “apostolic journey” to Africa in March 2009, Benedict went to Cameroon, oil reserves estimated at 400 million barrels, and Angola, oil reserves estimated at 13 billion barrels, where he “held private talks with political leaders in the two countries, both of which have been accused of corruption and squandering revenues from natural resources.”

As was done in Havana, the Catholic Church/Opus Dei establishes business schools in areas in which they have an economic interest indicating that the hierarchs are as interested in training CEOs as priests.

Opus Dei, which admits “its image should be that of MBAs,” supports 14 graduate business schools worldwide, including Lagos Business School in Nigeria (oil production in 2010 was estimated at 2.458 million barrels per day) and Ipade in Mexico. Lagos Business School, founded in 1992, contained three classrooms named after corporate sponsors Shell, Chevron and IBTC and began a joint Executive MBA program with Opus Dei’s IESE Business School, Barcelona, in 1996. IESE is also associated with Opus Dei’s MDE Business School (IHE-Afrique) Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, founded in 2003. IESE is supported by some of the largest multinational corporations in the world.

Opus Dei also has more than 100 technical and management schools worldwide. Rome’s Centro ELIS offers courses, again, sponsored by multinational mega-corporations. “The Centro ELIS Association is a recognized NGO for cooperation and development. It has set up or is in the process of setting up formational activities in Argentina, the Philippines, Ecuador, Uruguay, Vietnam, Brazil, China, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and other places.”

In Ghana, which also “shares in an oil exploration boom,”  one young man complained in a July 2011 article that the Catholic University College started in the Brong Ahafo Region with an Accra campus (Catholic Institute of Business and Technology), “known to have been started by a business man…should have been one of the leading private universities in Ghana by now.”

The Vatican would not permit its Japanese bishops and religious orders to participate in a joint anti-nuclear appeal with 70 other religious groups on the anniversary of Fukushima’s nuclear disaster. Is the reason because the Church is so deep in the pocket of global energy producers? “Nuclear power is a fundamental right for economic and social development” reiterated Giampolo Crepaldi, archbishop of Trieste and former secretary of the pontifical council for ‘Justice and Peace’, during the conference organized by the Nuclear Plant Management Company (SOGIN).”

Why does the pope’s prestige continue?

Surely all these heads-of-state and government officials are aware of the criminal, worldwide sexual abuse of children aided and abetted by Pope Benedict and his appointed prelates. In September 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) filed a petition with the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands. They submitted over 22,000 pages of evidence from different commissions and grand juries proving a “cover-up, a pattern of policies and practices of shifting priests, destroying documents, punishing whistleblowers and protecting perpetrators,” said human rights attorney, Pam Spees. Their press release noted the ICC recognizes “rape, sexual violence, assault and torture as crimes against humanity. It also provides for individual criminal liability for those with command or superior responsibility over those who directly commit such crimes.”

Since then, “nearly 500 victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and supporters from 65 different countries” have contacted SNAP. On April 11, SNAP “submitted to the ICC new evidence and extensive documentation showing ongoing child rape by Catholic clerics and continuing cover-ups by Catholic officials.”

At long last, one government agency is now concentrating on the number of suicides among those who were sexually assaulted by priests. Victoria, Australia, police are examining the deaths of 40 people who took their own life in their jurisdiction alone. “It would appear that an investigation would uncover many more deaths as a consequence of clergy sexual abuse,” one of the reports states.

It’s not just Latin American and West African officials showing obsequiousness to the pope. "I think it is important to constantly reinforce the unity of Christians at a time when we are confronted by a growing secularism," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a few days before the pope's "apostolic journey" in September 2011. Benedict was invited by the German government and was welcomed as a head of state, not as a religious leader, with a 21-gun salute and military honors. Benedict and Merkel discussed financial markets on the first of his four-day visit. Germany's parliamentary vote on Europe's next rescue fund was delayed until Benedict left as “a number of deputies have asked for time off to follow the pope on his official visit,” according to Michael Meister, deputy leader of the Christian Democrat parliamentary faction.

Celebrating the first anniversary of another of Benedict’s official head-of-state visits, British Prime Minister David Cameron remarked in September 2011, “The pope’s message is just as relevant today....I am deeply proud of the enormous contribution people of faith have made to our society and look forward to continuing our ever-closer co-operation between the UK and the Holy See as we work for the common good.” Cameron followed-up by sending seven government ministers to a special bilateral conference at the Vatican in February 2012.

Nor is it only conservative heads-of-state. President Obama paid his respects to Pope Benedict at the Vatican within six months of his inauguration and consulted with New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan over the HHS Affordable Care Act regulations. Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced “Cardinal Timothy Dolan Week,” calling him “a beloved leader in our state” and One World Trade Center agreed to turn its lights red in honor of the prelate’s elevation last month to Prince of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, although Dolan had an “abysmal track record on clergy sex abuse and cover up” while head of the St. Louis and Milwaukee archdioceses. Even since being assigned to New York, Dolan is still intimidating a witness and obstructing legislation to provide justice for all victims of sex abuse.

While the 1% find the Church’s diplomatic connections, hidden financial network, its influence on rightwing voters and inestimable wealth useful, only public opinion can dissuade elected officials and government leaders from sanctioning and expanding the pope's power and capacity to harm more children.

(Betty Clermont is author of The NeoCatholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))

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