The Pope is Catholic

It would seem that the Pope’s recent whirlwind tour should have at least resulted in the understanding of one thing: that the The Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Pastor of the Universal Church, the Head of the Episcopal College, the Metropolitan of the Roman Ecclesiastical Council, is, in fact, Catholic. But this evidently came as a surprise to certain leftists who were taken aback by his notably reactionary positions on “choice”, women’s rights, the nuclear family, and on the sins of the church itself.

The George Zimmermans policing the compound’s boundaries were, it should be noted, temporalily silenced as the Pope delivered his own uniquely virtuosic set of variations on traditional left themes,  denouncing capitalism as excrementum diaboli (“the dung of the devil”) and joining in with Naomi Klein and others in the radical wing of the environmental movement in calling for a green new deal implemented on a global scale.

But it was the final days of the visit which provided an opportunity for them to pounce: the Pope, it was claimed, had met with the much reviled theocratic right wing icon, Kim Davis.

And with that MSNBC’s Chris Hayes sprang into twitter-action to remind us that

“BREAKING: The Pope does not have your politics.”

Also singing from the same hymnal was Salon’s Scott Timberg who pronounced “the honeymoon” with the “cool Pope” over, Kim Davis providing “the tipping point” to the realization that “There’s only so much we’re ever going to have in common with each other.”

Those with some capacity for skepticism might have wondered why Hayes has rarely seen fit to mention that Barack Obama, the patron saint of MSNBC neoliberalism hardly shares the politics of Hayes’s left of center audience. Nor did Timberg bother to observe that the left has little in common with Hillary Clinton, relentlessly hyped to the Salon readership by editor Joan Walsh.

But it wasn’t necessary to do much thinking since the Kim Davis story turned out to be mostly a canard:  Not only had the Pope not met with her personally, he had privately met with an old friend, who happened to be gay, and his same sex partner. And the official responsible for Davis’s appearance in the receiving line is in the process of being sacked by the holy see.

None of this made much difference to zealots for whom facts are irrelevant to “the truth” and so few retractions were issued by them when they became aware of the Pope’s schedule on the day in question.


That said, there are plenty of reasons to sympathize with those who will never be able to join with the Pope’s forces on the barricades.  Many are still nursing wounds inflicted on them by the church’s teachings or, still worse, by the church teachers themselves. They can be easily excused in directing their rage at a hierarchy which was not only responsible for but continues to cover up a long history of heinous crimes committed under its auspices.

The same can’t be said, however, of another segment of the left whose shotguns are always at the ready to take down those displaying anything less than perfect alignment with left dogma. Always on the look out for any signs of deviance from the official party line,  for them, the continuing success of the Sanders campaign is a constant irritant and has provided many expressive opportunities for their ex-communicative frenzies.

Notable among these was normally reliable former Times journalist Chris Hedges, who, while willing to accept the Pope’s credentials for entry into what he sees as the church of the left, has called for the excommunication of Sanders.  Just as the Pope’s institutional association with the Catholic Church consigns him to pariah status for one sector of the left, so too, for another, does Bernie Sanders for having committed the unpardonable sin of running with the Democratic Party.

While this is, as everyone knows, Sanders temporary affiliation, it elides the fact that Sanders has run, and, with one exception, won, as an Independent Socialist in every election he has entered.  It also disregards Sanders’s numerous expressions of contempt for a Democratic Party which he has referred to as  “ideologically bankrupt,” having “no ideology (with) Their only ideology (being) opportunism.”

But Hedges is not interested in what Sanders does or what he says preferring to simply invent out of whole cloth the claim that “Sanders has been the main obstacle to creating a third party within Vermont.”   This comes as news to those such as State Senator Anthony Polina, of the Vermont Progressive Party who pointed out in an emailed response that Hedges “makes no sense” since  “the Vermont Progressive Party is the strongest, most successful third-party anywhere in the United States.”

Rather than hindering the VPP’s efforts as Hedges suggests, according to Polina “There’s no doubt that our efforts have been helped by Bernie’s leadership; his ability to frame the issues and inspire others to run for office.”

Polina concludes that far from being an obstacle, as Hedges claims, “a third-party. . .  wouldn’t have happened in Vermont if not for Bernie Sanders.”


That Hedges has felt it necessary to ignore facts and invent others is by no means an isolated case.  The reasons why need to be recognized by those who are interested in understanding how the left has become irrelevant-why it has now for generations completely failed to offer even token resistance to the neoliberal onslaught degrading the lives of countless millions and now threatening to destroy the planetary ecosystem on which our species depends.

One of these, as I have pointed out previously, involves the left being populated by a range of cranks and fanatics, who, while having numerous differences, are united by inhabiting a fact free reality largely of their own invention.  Another of these involves a distinct form of left fundamentalism which insists on a rigid adherence to dogma which in practice means the inability to work with those they regard as doctrinally unsound on some point of scripture.  Though these are often (though not always) of little ultimate significance, they are sufficient to prevent the assembling of coalitions required to support a serious challenge to elite hegemony.

The combination of the two is toxic: a left whose sectarian dysfunctionality is supported by logically fallacies, trivial factual misunderstandings and dishonest canards.

To recognize this, of course, is in no way a defense of Sanders’s indisputable weaknesses, most notably his disappointing stands on Israel, on the military and his obsession with a “nuclear Iran” and his commitment to maintain the budget busting Global War on Terror.  Nor is it a defense of the vile present and still viler past history of the Catholic Church.

Rather what it recognizes is that political change sometimes involves working within fatally compromised institutional structures, recognizing the degree to which they can and cannot be reformed while other times focussing an eye on their eventual elimination through the exposure of their underlying contradictions to their rank and file base.

The Pope and Sanders have both clearly demonstrated that they are flawed but necessary vehicles through which a left opposition to the savage austerity promoted by neoliberal governance  is finally moving forward.

The legacy factions of the left can either get on board or bark annoyingly and irrelevantly while the caravan passes.

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One thought on “The Pope is Catholic”

  1. Hedges writes the same (boring) essay over and over again. I stopped reading him years ago. Seems I’m not missing much.

    People should be taking their cues from the likes of Steve Early and Adolph Reed instead, both of whom are actively supporting Sanders. (Steve has written about the VPP more than once, making precisely the points you made.)

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