President Alvaro Uribe, an Opus Dei adherent, visited the Vatican yesterday. Uribe was seeking the Pope’s opinion on the political realities of the country. This meeting occurred against the backdrop of Catholic bishops declaring Uribe’s second re-election to be antidemocratic and after calling the government to work on a humanitarian exchange with the FARC. These developments made this meeting all the more interesting. Although, the debate, promoted by the Justice Minister, centered more on the appropriateness of clergy to opine on politics than the content of such comments.
Thanks to the 1991 constitution – with which every passing day loses its democratic nature – priests have the liberty to express their views on any topic. However, given the influence they exert, due to people’s immature existential fears, their comments should raise concerns. Nevertheless, the Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, in his first encyclical letter, “Deus Caritas Est”, outlined that Church and state are distinct entities yet interrelated, “She [the Church] cannot and must not replace the state. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument…”
However, the Pope’s authority on such matters is even more questionable. For instance, it is ironic that Ratzinger speaks about justice when he was responsible for transferring around the world the priests involved in pedophile, instead of letting them face “human law”. Some of these priests have even found sanctuary in the Vatican from extradition requests. More ironic still is the Pope’s call for “rational arguments” when it was him who regarded condoms to be part of the problem in spreading HIV. Among other “rational” statements of the Church are the resurrection of Jesus and the virginity of his mother.
Moreover, the ironies of his statements are not the only thing that make of Pope Benedict XVI a divider rather than a unifier of faiths, which has decreased his popularity considerably – if not his authority. His controversies have angered Muslims, after uttering a quote that called Mohammed’s contribution to Islam evil and inhuman and Jews, after ending the excommunication of a holocaust-denier bishop. In addition, the Pope is also promoting the sainthood of Pope Pius VII who contributed to the death of countless Jews during WWI through his omissions.
In light of these realities, it seems that it was Uribe who granted a private audience to Ratzinger. After all, the Pope could learn from the president’s audacity in maintaining such a high popularity despite all the scandals, which is nothing short of a miracle. The most notable are the ongoing investigation of 60 congressmen – out of 81 investigated – belonging to the President’s political parties for links with the paramilitaries, the investigations of over 1,200 systematic extrajudicial killings by the army, and the Government’s security agency (DAS) engaging in illegal wiretappings to the opposition, Supreme Court judges and journalists.
Uribe’s dexterity in managing the blind faith that people have bestowed upon his doctrine of “Democratic Security” was a lesson that the Pope could not have missed. Although, it is fair to say that Uribe’s Messianic figure is not sufficient and he also needs the Pope for advancing his political agenda. This was better expressed by Machiavelli, “The friars continue to live in poverty and have such influence with the people as a result of hearing confession and preaching that they persuade them it is wrong to criticize evil, and it is right quietly to obey the church authorities, and, if they make mistakes, to leave their punishment to God”
As was to be expected the Pope did not advice Uribe’s conscience to desist from a new re-election or to backtrack his rejection to Piedad Cordoba’s involvement in the release of a FARC hostage.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong