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Pope Francis has given progressives, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, a lot to cheer about with his public deemphasis on so-called culture war issues (a term he has never used, btw), his focus on the needs of the poor, and his powerful critique of the excesses of capitalism.  And he has certainly upset American Catholic conservatives who have been heavily invested in various combinations of ritual traditionalism, boosterism of various forms of free market capitalism; little to no record of concern for the poor beyond charity or for the interests of working people; and of course, "obsession" with abortion, contraception and homosexuality.  

But the fact remains that the course of the American Church has been set for decades thanks to the previous two Popes who have appointed nearly all of the American bishops and who have aggressively squelched dissent. As Frank Cocozzelli has pointed out, how many and what kinds of bishops the 76 year old Francis will get to appoint in the U.S. may be where the rubber meets the road of his papal legacy.

Time will tell whether Francis's statement on economics will have much impact beyond the current frisson of media interest and liberal encouragement.  But it is worth noting, for example, that Pope John Paul II issued a strong encyclical on labor and Benedict was a strong opponent of the U.S. war in Iraq. But there was little to show for their statements. The power and influence of popes and presidents is almost always greatly exaggerated, as we all tend to project our greatest hopes and worst fears onto leaders of all kinds.    

In the meantime, there is little evidence of Pope Francis having any actual impact on American politics or American Catholicism, and certainly not the culture war or the American bishops' alliance with Protestant Christian Right leaders. At least not yet.  So it is wise to be wary of the media hype of a celebrity religious leader on the other side of the world who has been in office less than a year.

Indeed, it is possible that this papacy may not include substantive reforms in some areas liberals would like to see. Reporting by The Global Post suggests that the record Francis brings to his office really ought to comfort the conservative culture war leaders of the church. As recently as 2010, Francis called a marriage equality bill in Argentina

“a plan to destroy God’s plan” and “a move by the fathers of lies to confused and deceive the children of God.”
And he has urged a fairly obsessive commitment to fighting abortion, telling Catholics in 2005 that they should protect life even if “they persecute you, calumniate you, set traps for you, take you to court or kill you.”
What's more, in the wake of Pope Benedict's Vatican crack-down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) the main organization of American nuns, a review by the  Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) (formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition) accused the LCWR and American nuns generally of promoting “radical feminist themes” over the church's culture warring views on homosexuality and abortion.
The CDF determined that a Vatican-appointed overseer should govern the LCWR to keep the nuns in line. Some critics called the measure an “inquisition.”

When Pope Francis took over for Benedict, he had the opportunity to reverse or change the CDF’s controversial decision. Instead he “reaffirmed the findings."

It is worth noting that even as the ever-loathsome Rush Limbaugh and others have taken to red-baiting Francis over his statement on economics, the usually culture warring Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is claiming that Francis is neither left nor right, that his views on economics are entirely within the traditional Catholic view, and that the Pope has not given an inch on matters of the role of women in the church, abortion, marriage, and taking the culture war to the barricades against "militant secularists" who want to "muzzle" the church. Historically, Donohue has been close to the American hierarchy, and so we may reasonably expect to hear similar views from the more politically minded bishops, who are many.

Meanwhile, there is no indication that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has retreated from their public policy views on abortion and homosexuality, which they have declared to be "non-negotiable." (Nor are they obliged to do so.) The progressive Catholic blog, Enlightened Catholicism observed about the recent annual meeting of the USCCB:

What upsets me is that the USCCB seems to think so little of the laity that they act as if we laity don't get that they cater to the money.  How else do you explain the use of Hummer limousines?  Or the issuing of a letter on pornography when they have done zero about Bishop Finn who enabled a priest porn addict to stay in the priesthood?  Or giving a prime time platform for AB Cordileone to attack gays while refusing to issue any statement on their sincere desire to do right by abuse victims? Or their continuing to talk about the non negotiable aspects of abortion and euthanasia while maintaining dead silence about everything else needed to sustain people in the rest of their lives?  It sure doesn't look to me that too many of our bishops are channeling their inner Francis.
Indeed, the Bishops have played a leading role, for example, in stalling health care reform legislation and implementation over their concerns about abortion and contraception and have opposed immigration reform over issues of same sex marriage. And recently Cardinal Dolan, the immediate past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops appeared on "Meet the Press" with further distortions of the Affordable Care Act. At least 50 bishops were among the original 150 signers of the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, an historic manifesto issued by Protestant evangelical and Catholic leaders to advance the so-called culture war.  The American Bishops could hardly play a more counterproductive role in the forming of American public policy.

Currently, Pew polling suggests that while Francis is personally popular, there is no discernible "Francis effect" in terms of church attendance in the U.S. Conrad Hackett of the Pew Research Center reports:  

In the United States, home to the world’s fourth-largest Catholic population, the pope appears to be well-liked by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, rated favorably by 79% of Catholics and 58% of the general public.  But has the pope’s popularity produced a Catholic resurgence in the U.S., where 10% of adults are former Catholics? Not so far, at least in terms of the share of Americans who identify as such, or the share of those who report attending Mass weekly.

A new analysis of pooled Pew Research surveys conducted between Francis’ election in March and the end of October this year finds that the percentage of Americans who identify as Catholics has remained the same – 22% — as it was during the corresponding seven-month period in 2012. In fact, our polls going back to 2007 show Catholic identification in the U.S. has held stable, fluctuating only between 22% and 23%.

Though Americans may report attending church more frequently than they actually do, our surveys find that self-reported levels of Mass attendance have remained virtually unchanged since the new pope was elected. Since April of this year, 39% of U.S. Catholics report attending Mass at least weekly, similar to the 40% attendance figure last year.

But media boosterism of Pope Francis paints a deceptive picture. NBC News used the Pew data to report that the Pope is popular, but it failed to also report that Pew found no surge in church attendance. NBC relied on anecdotal evidence to support their claim. This doesn't mean that Pew is right and that NBC is wrong. But it does show that confirmation bias won the day at NBC News. As a practical matter, this newscast -- reaching millions -- will undoubtedly create a widening belief in the "Francis effect."  The newscast might even spark or solidify a bandwagon effect as the undefined "Francis effect" becomes a popular, unquestioned, and unquestionable view.  

So, again. Those who care about, among other things, such matters as separation of church and state, religious pluralism, marriage equality, and access to abortion and contraception should be wary, and certainly should not be jumping to premature conclusions.  

Crossposted from Talk to Action

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 01, 2013 at 07:41 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Pro Choice.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It is constantly amazing to me (14+ / 0-)

    the fluff that passes for news.  

    But in the case of the NBC report I mentioned above, it was remarkable how specifically this major news organization selected only the Pew data that supported their story line and ignored data from the same poll that undermined it.

    •  THANK YOU so much for this diary (2+ / 0-)

      although it is good that francis said these things, they mean nothing unless he backs the actions to implement them.  as you said.

      the vatican has now hired some very good pr people (one from fox news,) which is busy at retooling the image of the papacy and vatican.

      the media is so much in the can for this papacy, inquiring minds ask 'how can that be'.... from the get go, the story line about this pope was consistent 'humble' etc., and repeated by every anchor, almost as if they were republican talking points issued that same day and since then.

      Talk is cheap.  but I am afraid that a lot of people are going to be deluded by the way they are being manipulated by the vatican and press.  And this delusion of a softer more liberal pope will take the eyes of their collusion with the tea partiers, their refusal to deal justly with those sexually abused and to hide their nefarious financial dealings.

      "walk on, nothing to see here."  

      we need voices such as yours and frank's to try and cut through the 'fluff.'  a relief that you wrote this.

      again.  thank you.

      We Must DISARM THE NRA The next life you save may be ONE OF YOUR OWN!

      by SeaTurtle on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 09:23:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  thanks, Sea Turtle (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Francis gets earned and deserved kudos for modeling the priestly vow of poverty and opposing the archaic, and monarchical structure of the Church. In this regard, he is similar to Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, whom he picked as one of his 8 "advisers." O'Malley is a Franciscan, who upon taking office as archbishop of Boston (as a reformer to clean up the mess left by the disgraced Cardinal Law) he sold the bishop's mansion as part of the effort to finance the settlements with victims of priest sex abuse of children.  But O'Malley is also a culture warrior, who heads the USCCB prolife committee and who closed the Boston Catholic adoption office, with which the state had contracted to handle adoptions, because he refused to honor and treat as equals, same sex married couples.  

        It is reasonable to expect such moves from Francis as well.

        Meanwhile Adele Stan has a fine article at RH Reality Check that surfaces profound gender issues in the pope's much acclaimed statement.

        People should be careful what they cheer about. It may be much less than they think.


  •  I agree that we shouldn't buy the media's take, (9+ / 0-)

    but I do believe we should sell that take as hard as we can.  The more they report & redistribute papal statements on economic justice, the more the average Catholic/Christian of any status will hear it.  ANY strong statements on economic justice in mass media are precious & rare.  So while we must maintain perspective on just how "liberal" Francis is, we have a strong position to actively promote on the economic field of the culture war.

    It's time to start letting sleeping dinosaurs lie, lest we join them in extinction by our consumption of them.

    by Leftcandid on Sun Dec 01, 2013 at 09:03:50 PM PST

    •  Sure, but unfortunately (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NonnyO, Leftcandid, whaddaya

      economic justice is not what the media is much reporting and discussing. The NBC report was pushing papal popularity translating into church attendance and structural reform.

      My colleague Frank Cocozzelli has been reporting on the historic Catholic view of economics for years. (Most recently,here.  He and other Catholics are pleased with the papal statement.  

      The problem as I see it is that the American bishops and a considerable conservative Catholic media infrastructure stand in the way of this statement gaining much interest among the rank and file faithful.  (I am not at all sure most Catholics pay much attention to these things anyway. )

      Meanwhile, I predict that there will be a Democratic Party temptation to promote Francis effect candidates who are long on economic justice and short on women's rights and marriage equality, blowing off Democratic values, the party platform, and key constituencies, in pursuit of hypothetical Catholic voters.  I hope I am wrong, but I feel like we have seen versions of this movie before.

      •  Promoting Pope Frankie's popularity... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Fishtroller01, SeaTurtle

        ... means a spill-over to other "Christian" churches..., and they'll get an uptick in the Reichwingnut Moronic Media which will cause them to once again push for a passing laws according to their religious principles (free speech, y'know, 'cuz that allows them to cram their version of religion down everyone else's throat and to hell with separation of church and state found in the same First Amendment)..., which will promote more and more misogyny, anti-choice & anti-abortion diatribes, anti-birth control diatribes, homophobia, a push to overturn gay marriage in states where it has already passed and be adverse publicity in states where marriage equality is being discussed.

        I see Pope Frankie as a snake-oil salesman, always have (ditto popes before him going back two millennia).  He should tend to his own flock of priests and cardinals and turn the pedophile priests over to law enforcement to be dealt with in courts before he starts in on hypocritical statements that sound so good to Media Morons and those who choose to believe paternalistic & condescending PR.  To me he's using a lot of words that say absolutely nothing, but it mollifies those who want to change the image of the Vatican & Catholic church as a haven for pedophiles and misogynists.

        I'll give Frankie this:  He has a soft voice, a paternalistic smirk, and it's delightfully deceptive of him to use soft language to worm his church's way into people's good graces again before he comes down hard against all the rights people have fought so long to acquire, particularly when it comes to women's reproductive rights.  The need for these monsters to control women's bodies knows no bounds..., but it sounds better when a soft voice is used, and that's Frankie's forte.

        I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

        by NonnyO on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 05:34:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Gotcha. The problem is we already are dealing (0+ / 0-)

        with elected & nominated Dems who already have been acting as if the civil rights part of the equation is all it takes to be a Democrat, & who downplay the economics (& that goes hand in hand with downplaying the environment).  This is the long-perceived necessity of seeming to be In The Center, which is, we're told, being socially liberal & fiscally conservative.

        We are making solid & (trend-wise) irreversible progress on civil rights.  This cannot be said of economic justice & environmental sustainability, & it is these two that will affect more profoundly not just our quality of life, but potentially whether we live at all, if they aren't solved in a limited & diminishing time frame.  I don't see any movement among the Dems away from the established civil rights platform for that reason, but we are in desperate need of progress on economic & environmental platforms.

        It's time to start letting sleeping dinosaurs lie, lest we join them in extinction by our consumption of them.

        by Leftcandid on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 05:47:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  That list.... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whaddaya, Fishtroller01, SeaTurtle

      You could easily take #2, #3, and #4 from that list and retitle it as 'Pope Francis' Enemies List'.  

      The Pope and his church are scarcely better toward GLBT, pro-choicers and women than the GOP.  Fawning over a papal PR campaign is a poor substitute for closely examining the practices and policies of this pope and his church which are, unfortunately, every bit as homophobic, anti-choice and misogynistic as ever.  

  •  The "optimists" overestimate (5+ / 0-)

    the influence Popes have on the behavior of  "average"  American Catholics.  A Pope's power in America goes through the Bishops he appoints. They're his political arm. The Second Vatican Council did have a huge impact on American Catholicism (& Catholic/Protestant relationships). I thought Pope John Paul II & Pope Benedict XVI were to Vatican II as Ronald Reagan was to the New Deal & Great Society, Basically, they didn't like it & blamed many of the ills of Church on it.  Without Vatican II, Roman Catholicism may have gone into a precipitous decline in America much as it was already doing in Western Europe.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sun Dec 01, 2013 at 10:45:12 PM PST

  •  Does anyone really care? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya, Fishtroller01

    American Catholics left the Pope behind years ago.  It's somewhat entertaining to watch the Catholic Church try to take a leap from Dickensian England into the sixties, but it didn't quite make the mark, and even then, it's still about fifty years behind the times.  

    The Pope can say whatever he wants to say, and American Catholics will do what they've always done -- whatever they decide they need to do, irrespective of the Pope.  It's like trotting out the Queen of England.  She has no power.  She's just a decoration.  But, she is rather amusing, in an antiquated irrelevant sort of a way.


  •  Waiting to see Francis remove a US Bishop (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but first he needs to follow through and remove this German one:

    Catholic Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst has paid a fine of 20,000 euros to end a case for lying under oath... On Monday, the court announced that the state treasury had received the 20,000-euro payment ($27,000) and, with the consent of prosecutors, closed the case...This is likely to take the spotlight off the clergyman, who was suspended by the pope last month in connection with a scandal surrounding the renovation of his residence
  •  Thanks for the word "ephemeral" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya, Fishtroller01

    It goes so nicely with euphemistic and economics.

    Pope Francis, on the other hand, is a real person, even though the position he now occupies is rather effeminate. The Church's antagonism towards women, especially religious women, has always been a puzzlement. Now I suspect it's just simple jealousy which, contrary to what might have been expected, is not actually related to the reproductive function of women. If it were, it wouldn't be necessary to still dump on women who had voluntarily surrendered that role. Rather, as usual, jealousy arises in the soul of the holder in response to the perception of an authority in which he does not share. Female autonomy is an irritant. It's not their anatomy that sets males off.

    Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

    by hannah on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 04:46:43 AM PST

  •  Excellent round up (0+ / 0-)

    I like this Pope. I really do, but I haven't seen much action on the rhetoric.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility (not an original but rather apt)

    by terrypinder on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 05:37:19 AM PST

  •  FINALLY! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Betty Clermont, NonnyO

    A diary on Kos that isn't a love fest about this pope. Betty Clermont (another diarist) and a handful of commentors like me have been trying to get people to apply at least a little reasonable skepticism to the words of Francis and it has been like swimming against a tide of lemmings.

    I've seen the word "progressive" attached to Francis numerous times and am just appalled that people seem to have forgotten that he has not and will not change the church's positions on birth control (a MAJOR poverty and economic issue), gay and lesbian marriage and adoption, and they have not an will not soften their "Ethical Directives" on reproductive health issues in US hospitals.  

    AND, people forget that while the talk about "materialism" (Benedict gave that one in Australia) and capitalism is a big crowd pleaser, it comes from one of the most capitalistic and materialistic institutions to ever thrive on this planet.  The PR talk is smooth all right, but the Vatican bank continues to operate in a vastly capitalistic manner, and the church continues to rake in revenues from selling trinkets (no doubt made in China and poverty ridden smaller countries) to tourists.

    Now the question is, will all the hundreds of Kos commentors who soaked up the rah-rah Pope Francis diaries pay attention to this one?

    •  You must have studied... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... media manipulation, too.  Many years ago in college (I was a non-traditional student), the Honors Seminar evening class I was in met for the first time the day Poppy Bush decided to invade Iraq the first time (or Kuwait; I forget which one they went in first).  Based on newspaper and TV stories we'd seen, we chose 'media manipulation' as the topic for the class.

      I was also taking some critical thinking, logic, and philosophy classes that year.  I learned to deconstruct poli-speak in my head as politicians and "news" broadcasters were speaking.

      Religious "leaders" employ some of the same tactics as politicians and public relations firms use, so aside from my (by then) lack of belief in a supreme being, it became second nature to pooh-pooh some 99.5% of everything any of them said as too vague and not definitive enough.

      Smooth talk using vague words does not make for definitive statements about anything, and it's too easy for the speaker to walk back the words that sound vaguely like promises.

      Obama is very good at poli-double-speak.  The first campaign that lasted over two years was particularly interesting.  All the "frontrunners" said essentially the same thing using the same vague wording; people thought Obama was making firm promises - they heard what they wanted to hear in those vague words and allusions.  that's one reason he's been such a disappointment (The others would have been just as bad had any of them been the candidate).  Change is only a campaign slogan; it doesn't mean anything.

      Oh - in answer to your last question: Probably not.  People hear what they want to hear....

      I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

      by NonnyO on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 10:25:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I didn't really study media (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        manipulation specifically, but I did work in a science facility and absorbed much of the atmosphere of rational thinking, skeptical approaches to solutions offered (prove it!), evidence based analysis, etc. etc.  It also happened that during this period I left behind my religion and superstitious thinking modes of reacting to the world.  I don't take things on faith anymore, whether religious claims or political ones.  I actually preferred Hillary to Barack, but didn't realize how weak he was until he broke his promise on changing the faith based initiatives, which he could have done with a simple directive.  Since then it's been pretty much all downhill.

        Looks like so far, this diary (just as Betty Clermont's diaries on this topic) isn't going to make the headlines.  That does not speak well for not only the readers on here, but for the country as a whole. One of the biggest mistakes made in Europe since about 300 CE on was tolerating the RCC.  How such a corrupt and murderous institution was allowed to flourish is beyond me.  However, from the looks of things on this "progressive" site, I shouldn't be so surprised.

  •  Yes, FINALLY (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NonnyO, Fishtroller01

    a DailyKos diarist other than myself has noticed that so far all we've gotten is rhetoric from Bergoglio. In fact, the same rhetoric as his two predecessors as they built the Catholic wing of the religious right not only in the U.S., but globally as well.

    One minor point: "As Frank Cocozzelli has pointed out, how many and what kinds of bishops the 76 year old Francis will get to appoint in the U.S. may be where the rubber meets the road of his papal legacy."

    If you look at the promotion of Blair and Bergoglio's other appointments to the U.S. episcopate, that train has already left the station.

    Otherwise, kudos, an atta-boy and a job well done.

    •  thanks, Betty (0+ / 0-)

      As I mentioned, I think its fine to cheer Pope's strong critique of the excesses of capitalism. I believe in the power of words and ideas, but I also believe that as the epistle says, you can't have works without deeds.  I am willing to be open minded and wait and see. But I am skeptical.

      In any case, for purposes of this site, I think it is preposterous (or at the very least, way premature) to tease out any electoral implications for any of this. I think that the wishful thinking we have seen, especially among non-Catholics, correlates with the narrative about turning Texas blue and such.  It might be a factor but so far there is, as far as I have seen, zero evidence to support it.  

      As for reform on gender related matters, I now see that Adele Stan has a fine piece posted on Nov. 30 that I had not seen, that makes the case even more strongly and clearly than I did.

  •  I don't even believe Francis on economics (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NonnyO, Fishtroller01

    I think he's going to eventually pull a Mother Theresa and basically argue that yes, we can live on love ... in the next world ... and the entire left-wing economic platform is just as graspingly materialistic as anything on the right.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Mon Dec 02, 2013 at 09:56:12 AM PST

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