Most readers have probably already seen the photo below from Thursday last of leftwing Bolivian strongman Ivo Morales (aka, the apumallku, leader of the condors) gifting Pope Francis with a crucifix on which our Lord is affixed to a hammer and sickle. As a BBC report noted: “[the] crucifix was based on a design by Luis Espinal, a Jesuit priest and filmmaker, assassinated in 1980 by right-wing militia.”
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, was quick to point out that the crucifix would “certainly” not be placed in any church and quickly added – from what source it’s unclear – that:
You can dispute the significance and use of the symbol now, but the origin is from Espinal and the sense of it was about an open dialogue, not about a specific ideology.
It’s hard to credit the truth of that. In the mid-Sixties and Seventies, the period of Fr. Espinal’s activity in Bolivia, the hammer-and-sickle symbol of international communism was as unambiguous and ubiquitous as the Starbuck’s mermaid is today.
The pope had earlier stopped his motorcade near the site of Fr. Espinal’s assassination, where he said of the fallen Jesuit that he had “preached the Gospel, and this Gospel troubled them [Espinal’s murderers], so they eliminated him.” It is highly unlikely that the pope wasn’t already fully aware of Espinal’s background, including his connection to the revolutionary doctrines brought to Bolivia by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was killed there in 1967, the year before Espinal arrived in Bolivia from Spain to make common cause in continuing Che’s campaign for social justice. Strange bedfellows all around.
On the same day that Morales (that indelicate hero of indigenous rights, that jester of illiberal incivility) pressed the communist crucifix into the pope’s hands, Francis gave a speech in which he apologized for the Church’s sins in its history of exploitation of Bolivia’s non-European people. He went on to denounce what he called the “new colonialism” represented not just by capitalism but also by government austerity programs. (Greece was surely on his mind as well.) As the pope’s hometown paper, the Buenos Aires Herald, reported, the Holy Father’s speech was “preceded by lengthy remarks from Morales, who wore a jacket adorned with the face of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.”
One should never say that apologies are unnecessary or that the Church cannot make common cause along limited pathways with individuals and groups otherwise steadfastly opposed to Catholicism, as Morales has time and again shown himself to be, but it does bring to mind the sage advice that whoever sups with the devil had better use a long spoon.
About his host during the Bolivian sojourn, the Heritage Foundation has noted in its profiles of economic freedom:
Weak investment protections, rigid labor rules, and an increased cost of business add to a perception of rising economic subjugation under President Evo Morales, whose government has expropriated over 20 private companies since 2006. Growth has been driven largely by windfall gains from high commodity prices that are unlikely to be distributed broadly. [Italics added]
None of this, of course, has anything to do with the pontiff. But it does raise concerns about what it is he thinks he is accomplishing by hobnobbing with a dictator, who is no less a tyrant for being an indigenous one.
As with the Holy Father’s embrace of measures designed to curb anthropogenic climate change, it’s not at all clear that the top-down methodologies endorsed by Morales and his ilk will have the effects the pope hopes they will, but it is very clear that those with whom he is making common cause have not the slightest interest in saving people’s souls. Indeed, whatever increases in power association with the pope may bring to Morales (or to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) will serve only to aid in promoting a broader agenda, which in both examples includes anti-Catholicism: both in undermining the Church’s core beliefs and in attacking its ministries.
The Church lost official status in Bolivia in a 2009 constitutional revision. In essence, it was disestablished. It’s hard to argue with that as an American defender of the First Amendment. But the constitutional change was intended to do much more than that. As Cardinal Julio Terrazas, archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, said at the time, Morales and his followers sought to eliminate religion altogether and “order a country in such a way that God is not present.”
During that same apology speech, Pope Francis referred to what he called the unfettered pursuit of money as “the devil’s dung.” The folks at the Heritage Foundation would probably like to ask Pope Francis where he finds “unfettered” capitalism – which is what he’s really referring to. In the United States? In Europe? He’d be hard-pressed to find any operator in the worldwide financial system who’d describe himself as unburdened by rules and regulations.
More than this, he’d be even more challenged to find any governmental system that employs the kind of redistributive policies he seems to advocate that hasn’t found itself inching ever closer towards insolvency and revolution. Europe, which had its many decades of flirtation with communism, seemed to have awakened from the bad affair, yet now seems willing to try again, believing that this time the benevolent side of social justice and socialism will succeed.
South Americans may be getting what they want from the likes of Morales, the late Hugo Chavez (and his successors), and the Castro brothers, but it’s unlikely they’ll get either what they need or deserve.