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Morning Report 4/20/05Crust Almighty! Rome Delivers a Pope to Domino’s

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Pope Benny’s U.S. pal Tom Monaghan is a leaning tower of pizza—to the far right

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Ave Maria College
Bush ally Monaghan is probably feeling blessed by the white smoke that signaled the selection of pal Ratzinger as the new pontiff. But many of us are asking one another: “Animadvertistine, ubicumque stes, fumum recta in faciem ferri?”

Get ready for a real religious war. Ultra-conservative Pope Benedict XVI‘s close allies in the U.S. reach high into the Bush regime and other conservative institutions.

Financed by people like former Domino’s Pizza mogul Tom Monaghan (a huge contributor of campaign cash to Bush boys Dubya and Jeb), they’ll be delivering an unprecedented crusade against Muslims, abortion, gays, and anything all you godless atheists out there hold sacred.

You’ll just have to live with the news announced by the Vatican:

    Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
    habemus Papam:

    Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Josephum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger
    qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedictum XVI.

In other words: We’ve got a winner! Joe Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI!

So if you have anything to confess to the new pope, e-mail it now.

This is not a conspiracy theory that’s unfolding. It’s real. Admirers of Bush, Monaghan, and the new pope might say to me, Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.” To which I can only say, Absit invidia.”

To continue: One of Pope Benny’s prominent former students is Father Joe Fessio, the head of Monaghan’s chain of Ave Maria colleges, which now include a law school and college in Michigan and a huge new campus and university town near Naples, Florida.

Antonin Scalia has already been a “Justice in Residence” at the law school and makes frequent speeches sponsored by Ave Maria. He has also “consulted” with Monaghan on the start-up phase of the new Florida campus. Clarence Thomas gave the school’s first law lecture in 1999 and the school’s commencement address in 2003. John Ashcroft (an evangelical Protestant) sent a special videotaped greeting during that 2003 ceremony.

Other Catholic fundamentalists are making inroads in the corridors of power. The Reverend John McCloskey, whom Garry Wills described in the National Catholic Reporter in 2002 as the spokesman for the secretive far-right Catholic big-cigar group Opus Dei, shocked D.C. by converting right-wing congressman Sam Brownback to Catholicism in July 2002. Slate‘s Chris Suellentrop dubbed McCloskey the church’s “K Street lobbyist” and added:

    McCloskey is a native Washingtonian, an Ivy Leaguer who graduated from Columbia and a former Wall Streeter who worked at Citibank and Merrill Lynch. As a result, he travels comfortably in elite circles, and his ministry is focused on them: on young priests and seminarians (the intellectual elite in many Catholic communities), on college students at elite universities and “strong countercultural” Catholic institutions, and on “opinion-makers and people of influence.” The self-described supply-sider has a top-down strategy to transform the culture, too. He wants to turn Blue America into Red.

McCloskey has also converted Bob Novak (of Plamegate fame) and other celebrities.

I know. You might say, “It’s just another pope. And so he’s conservative. And so he has friends, allies, and disciples way high up in the U.S. government and power structure. So what? Stercus accidit.”

But this is deep stercus for all of us—more warfare, more religious warfare, more fanatically religious warfare on battlefields and in courtrooms and classrooms.

For the first time in centuries, right-wing Catholics and right-wing Protestants (like Ashcroft and the Bushes) are openly, publicly joining hands in their march to political power.

If you’re a demon, or you engage in any demon-like behavior, you’ll get a lot of exorcise—you’ll be running away quickly from the coming “moral” crusade.

For all the smoke about morality, this surge of fundamentalist Catholicism is about power. And when it comes to its battle with Islam, that’s a war of numbers. During Pope John Paul II‘s long reign, Catholics fell to No. 2, behind Islam, in adherents.

Only yesterday—even before this new ill papa was picked—three reporters at the Wall Street Journal teamed up to write a riveting preview of the battle between Islam and Catholicism—a battle that also threatens those of us who aren’t Muslims or Catholics.

For now, what’s fascinating are the new alliances between right-wing Catholics and right-wing Protestants. The Schiavo circus was just the latest to bring these former enemies under the same big tent.

Monaghan sold Domino’s for a huge fortune and now devotes practically all of his money to political endeavors, like building his chain of right-wing Catholic colleges. They’re not cheesy, either (see photo below).

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Ave Maria University
Wright wing: The envisioned library at Monaghan’s planned Ave Maria University campus outside Naples, Florida. He’s a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.

But shiny new buildings in southwest Florida aren’t Monaghan’s point. Enforcing a rigid form of Catholicism is. Burton Bollag explored Monaghan’s startling burst of philanthropy to that end in “Who is Catholic?,” an April 2004 story in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

    After a quarter century in which no new Catholic colleges were established, most of those being founded now are led by traditionalists who feel the majority of America’s 230 Catholic colleges have strayed from the truth of the Catholic faith.

    The Rev. Joseph D. Fessio, a Jesuit and Ave Maria’s chancellor, shares that view. He is bitterly critical of the University of San Francisco, the Jesuit institution where he taught for almost two decades, for such decisions as hiring a gay former priest as head of marriage-and-family counseling, and allowing students to stage the play The Vagina Monologues. In a fund-raising appeal for Ave Maria he wrote, “Many Catholic institutions … have ceased to be places where the fullness of Catholic truth is joyfully and vigorously taught, defended and proclaimed.”

And who was Fessio’s mentor? The former Joe Ratzinger. Bollag wrote:

    As a young theology teacher at the University of San Francisco in the mid-1970s, [Fessio] founded the St. Ignatius Institute to promote a great-books education, in response to a liberalizing of the university’s curriculum. Two years later he founded Ignatius Press to publish conservative Catholic thinkers, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog and Father Fessio’s mentor since the time he did his doctoral studies at the University of Regensburg, in Germany.

    Many at San Francisco viewed Father Fessio and the small group around him as doctrinaire elitists who opposed the university’s attempts to engage with modern society.

The rebellious Fessio was fired and demoted by the Jesuits to hospital chaplain, but his conservative friends in Rome interceded:

    Mr. Monaghan and Ave Maria University’s president, Nicholas J. Healy Jr., appealed to the Superior General of the Jesuits, in Rome, who agreed to allow Father Fessio to join the new university as its chancellor.

Fessio, backed by all that pizza money, is delivering a rigid education:

    The new orthodox colleges are often seen as attempts to recreate the more structured and insular Catholic higher education of the 1950s, with its clear answers and great certainties. [Patrick J.] Reilly, [president of the conservative] Cardinal Newman Society, says that’s not the case. “There is an understanding that free academic interchange is a central part of academic education,” he says. But within limits. Students at the new institutions will be allowed to debate controversial issues like abortion and gay rights in class, he says, but professors will be expected to uphold the church’s orthodoxy. “Faculty members,” he says, “would not debate.”

    Indeed, for many of those involved with the new colleges, the Vatican’s doctrine represents the truth, period. “I love the church,” says Ave Maria’s Father Fessio. “It means everything to me. I don’t understand people who want to change things.”

Yeah, right. Change is in the air, and the fundamentalist Catholics like Fessio and the new pope are eager to “change things”—not to mention people and their behavior.

The Wall Street Journal story I mentioned briefly above, “Islam’s Global Gains Pressure Catholics to Rethink Strategy,” noted that the Roman Catholic Church had extended an olive branch to Islam for the past 40 years, trying to “lay to rest its 1,400-year history of conflict with Islam.” But that has “backfired,” according to the story, written by Gabriel Kahn, Keith Johnson, and Andrés Cala. (If you have access to the Journal, click here.) They wrote:

    While some Muslims have embraced the call for dialogue, many Catholics now fret that the conciliatory approach has tied the church’s hands, preventing it from keeping up with Islam’s rapid growth, particularly in parts of the world once dominated by Catholicism.

The Journal pointed out that in 1970, there were 666 million Roman Catholics (I know, it’s a weird number, right?) and 553 million Muslims. By 2000, the number of Catholics had risen nearly 60 percent, to 1.1 billion—but the number of Muslims had risen 115 percent, to 1.2 billion. Being overtaken by another conservative institution is intolerable to the Vatican, so forget about that ecumenical bullshit emanating from the Catholic Church to Islam. As the Journal story noted:

    The concerns underscore how Islam is looming as one of the defining issues for Catholicism in the 21st century, in much the same way that communism was in the last century. Islam offers a new type of challenge, one to which the church is still struggling to find a way to respond.

    The former Soviet empire was easier to paint as an enemy, with its armies spread across Eastern Europe, repressive political system, and atheist ideology. Islam’s rise is more difficult to counter because it is a religious faith with many things in common with Christianity, including shared roots that both religions, along with Judaism, trace back to the prophet Abraham in the ancient Middle East.

Now more conservative than under John Paul II, the church will likely strengthen its recent alliances with conservative Protestants—like America’s evangelical Christians, who grew up hating the Catholic Church—to battle the Muslims.

Catholics like Garry Wills have written reams about how the Roman Catholic Church was already growing more conservative under John Paul II and how the powerful Ratzinger was plumb reactionary. The danger is when conservative religious figures are more reactionary than religious and when they venture further and further into non-religious matters to prove how hidebound they are. Wills wrote in the 2002 National Catholic Reporter essay:

    Some people, not all of them Catholic, think that the supreme task and glory of the Catholic church is to oppose the world, to throw up a bulwark of changelessness against the giddy whirl of modernity.

    That is what Malcolm Muggeridge liked about the church—its secular usefulness to conservatism.

    Some take this instrumental approach to all things Catholic. They do not stress the natural law arguments for opposing contraception (a good thing, too, given the weakness of those arguments) but the fact that it goes against hedonistic culture of sexual permissiveness—as if it did not trivialize that opposition by saying one need not have intellectual integrity so long as you are critical of lust.

    Father Richard John Neuhaus has said that any arguments for a married priesthood cannot be considered on their own merits at the moment, because this would be seen as giving in to the modern mood.

    That kind of fear and fanaticism against “the world” was the Pius IX position, and what John XXIII tried to free us from in his opening and updating.

    A mindless opposition to the new has crippled the church in the past, as when it did not see the merits of printing, literacy and the vernacular during the Reformation.

Concerning Ratzinger himself, Wills wrote in 2002:

    Cardinal Ratzinger has opposed the . . . term “the people of God” as a “catchword” hiding “a Marxist myth.” He has opposed liturgical reforms, urging that the eucharistic meal not be called a meal, that the altar be turned around and the priest faced away from the people, that the Marxist myth be fought in such prayers as “Look not on our sins”—it should be individualistic “Look not on my sins.” That means that Ratzinger must condemn the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” In fact the prayer is communal in ways that must strike Ratzinger’s fine sniffing apparatus for incipient Marxism: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

I admire how Wills always tries to parse his own Catholicism. There are plenty of religious people out there who aren’t wild-eyed radicals seeking to convert others or trying to legislate people’s behavior. These days, the problem is that some religious nuts have weapons and others control governments, which have even more weapons.

The last epoch formally called the Crusades may seem like a thousand years ago. But considering that religious warfare seems to be on the increase these days, we have reason to be frightened about Ratzinger’s ascension.

As the old saying goes, Abyssus abyssum invocat.”

Especially with all these self-righteous politicians pandering to people’s superstitions and fears—you know, ad captandum vulgus.

Vah! Denuone Latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur. *


* Oh! Was I speaking Latin again? Silly me. Sometimes it just sort of slips out.