Pope Francis Calls for Broad Front Against Tyranny and Savage Capitalism (1/2)
Matthew Fox and Paul Jay discuss the Pope’s message to social movements and comparing the European far right and the rise of Trump to Hitler (1/2)
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
On January 20th, the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, Pope Francis gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper, El Pais. He was asked what he thought of the coming Trump Presidency. Well, his first reaction was, well, let’s wait and see, “I don’t like to get ahead of myself.” But later in the interview he’s asked what he thinks of the rise of right-wing populism? And the answer — he essentially compares Trump and the rise of the European far right — to the rise of Hitler. He said, Hitler didn’t steal power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people.
Now joining us, to discuss Pope Francis, and what some people call his progressive political activism is Matthew Fox. He’s the author of over two dozen books, including, “Letters to Pope Francis, The Pope’s War and Occupy Spirituality” He’s a former Catholic priest who was first stopped from teaching liberation theology, and creation spirituality, by Cardinal Ratzinger, then expelled from the Dominican Order, to which he had belonged for 34 years. He currently serves as an Episcopal priest.
And Matthew, remind me where are you coming from today? What city are you in?
MATTHEW FOX: I’m in Oakland, and I’m in my home, and my dog is getting on TV here, a little.
PAUL JAY: Now, the last time we talked was, more or less, the day the Pope was elected, or not long afterwards. And I would say you and I were kind of dubious about what kind of Pope he would be. He had a history in Argentina that was not considered by many to be one of, not only not standing up to the Argentinian dictatorship, but perhaps cooperating in some ways, with an arrest of some progressive priests, and some others. He seemed to have some connections to some right-wing church organizations, something close to Opus Dei. But he’s not turned out that way, one thinks.
So, first of all, before we get into what he said about Trump, what do you make about the kind of pope he’s become?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, I think you’re right, that he kind of learned something from his previous mistakes, which I think is always a good thing in a leader. And I think of Bobby Kennedy, for example, who began very right, and became much more progressive. And in effect, I think he apologized, and even repented, for not having the courage, is how he put it. He was very young as a Jesuit provincial, when the Argentinian junta took over. So, he was pretty naive about it all.
But, you’re right; his position was not particularly praiseworthy. But I think there’s no question that since then, he’s learned a lot from liberation theology. He’s had the founder of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, come to the Vatican several times for dinner, for example, and that’s a pretty good sign. He’s going to be canonizing Archbishop Romero who, of course was murdered in El Salvador by the military.
So, there’s no question which side of the fence he’s on now. And, of course, this has riled a lot of extreme right-wing Catholics who were very well received during the previous two papacies, that of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. So, that’s 34 years of extreme right-wing conservatism. And there’s no question that he has moved on from that, and there’s a tremendous backlash, of course. I’d say that Cardinal Burke is the leader of that backlash at this particular moment in history.
PAUL JAY: Cardinal Burke, the American, has just got exiled to Guam, if I understand it correctly. He was leading a charge against the Pope, and the Pope seems to have figured out a way to get rid of him.
MATTHEW FOX: Well, first, yeah, he was head of the tribunal, Vatican tribunal. Which is really the Supreme Court in the Vatican, he was head of it, and Pope Francis fired him and made him Chaplain to the Knights of Malta, which is a thousand-year old, rather obscure order. And so, that was really exiling him.
And then all that blew up just two months ago, where the head of the Knights of Malta, was deposed by the Pope because he, himself, had deposed one of the knights who had spoken up on behalf of wearing condoms in a time of AIDS, or something like that. And Burke, the Chaplain, teamed up with the head of the Knights of Malta, called the Grand Master, and told him to fight the Pope on this and everything. The Pope instead fired the Grand Master, and fired Burke from being Chaplain.
PAUL JAY: I think it was over, there were sex workers in Myanmar, and he had said that it was okay for them to use condoms.
MATTHEW FOX: There you go.
PAUL JAY: And to insist on condoms, and that started this controversy.
MATTHEW FOX: That started it all. And Burke is so right-wing, that he actually said that gay couples and Catholic married couples who are divorced, who go to communion, are equivalent to murderers. That’s what this Burke said. He used to be Cardinal in St. Louis.
PAUL JAY: We’re going to get into the struggle within the church in part two of our interview. But I’d like to pursue a little further. The extent of his political, I would even call it activism, in the sense that he’s being so forthright, first of all in his critique of capitalism and the god of money, and I’m going to read some quotes about that soon. But what do you make of this quote where he doesn’t come right out and say Trump is a Hitler, but, boy, he comes close.
MATTHEW FOX: He certainly does. And I think it’s right on, frankly. And I’ve often talked to people about how Hitler, you know, didn’t start as a dictator. He was elected. Now, what’s interesting is, only 26% of the German population voted for Hitler. But it was one of those elections where not a lot of people showed up, and Hitler won. And then from there, of course we know how that developed.
And remember too, that Pope Francis’s family fled fascism in Italy, in the late ’30s, that’s how they ended up in Argentina. So, his family itself is at least sensitive to the whole fascist moment in history, away back in the ’30s. So, he’s speaking from his own family experience too. That’s why they fled Italy in the first place, was to escape fascism.
PAUL JAY: Well, on Friday, the Pope spoke to a meeting of popular movements in California, is the way it’s described in the press release.
And here’s a quote from the message he sent to this meeting. In the Pope’s message he says, “The direction taken beyond this historic turning point, the ways in which the worsening crisis gets resolved, will depend on people’s involvement and participation and largely on yourselves, the popular movements. Sooner or later, the moral blindness of this indifference comes to light, like when a mirage dissipates, the wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real. I know you have committed yourselves to fight for social justice, to defend our sister Mother Earth, and to stand alongside migrants. I want to reaffirm your choice,” he wrote.
This is the Pope coming out and telling the people that have joined mass protests in the streets of the United States, and around the world, that he affirms their decision to be in the streets. That he believes in this popular movement, this popular resistance. You put that together with the previous interview, with this alluding to Trump in the same paragraph as Hitler… I mean, essentially calling for a broad mass front against tyranny, the gutting of democracy, and without saying the words, this new Trump administration.
MATTHEW FOX: Absolutely. I mean, what could be clearer than that? I must say, I’m fully on the page with him. I think that the street movements are a really important part of holding the administration’s feet to the fire. And, of course, getting the media involved at that level, instead of the dark role they played, frankly, I think in glossing over so much that went on during Trump’s campaign.
It’s not just about Trump. I see that the media has been very complicit, when the President of CBS can say, “I know that Trump is bad for the country, but he’s good for our bottom line.” Well, that’s exactly what the Pope means by savage capitalism, and that’s a phrase he uses often. To me, that’s a statement of treason, it really is. I don’t care what corporation you’re head of, if you’re willing to sacrifice the country for your bottom-line, where are one’s values?
So yeah, I think that the Pope is right on, in calling people forward. And I think we’re at that moment in history where people have to get into the streets, and the media has to wake up. We all have to wake up. Young people have to get away from their addictions to the social media, and realize that this is serious business, politics and life itself. And we’ve got to stand up and be counted.
PAUL JAY: Much of the savage capitalism language the Pope used, he used during the Obama administration. This wasn’t, as you say, just directed at Trump. This is sort of the more recent development in the course of this.
Here’s another quote from Pope Francis. “The economic system that has the god of money at its center, that sometimes acts with the brutality of the robbers in the parable, inflicts injuries, that to a criminal degree, have remained neglected. Globalized society frequently looks the other way, with the pretense of innocence, under the guise of what is politically correct, or ideologically fashionable. One looks at those who suffer, without touching them.”
He’s really talking about hyper-capitalism, some people call it neo-liberalism, this very much was the ideology of corporate democrats. This wasn’t just Trump, although it’s clear the way he’s talking, that Trump presents an even, perhaps greater danger.
MATTHEW FOX: No, you’re absolutely right and that’s my point, that for 30 years we’ve had the killing of unions, and the exacerbation of salaries for the one percent, and, of course, the buying of legislators in both the Republican and Democratic fold. So, the god of money has really prevailed, absolutely. And that’s why I think that Trump is really the result of decades of savage capitalism. And it’s left a crater that he is now filling.
And after all, look at the people who really voted for him, the rust belt populations. The people who were so ruined by NAFTA and by the collapse of the industrial work in America. And so, they kind of operated out of their angst and their frustration and, as you say, that happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
So yeah, I don’t give the Democrats good grades in any of this either, and that’s what I liked about Bernie Sanders, neither did he. And I think he was telling the truth, like Pope Francis is, that we can do much better than this, and both parties have to get out from underneath the cloud of the oligarchy that’s taken over.
PAUL JAY: How much does the Pope’s words permeate down to the pulpits across the country? How much does what he says influencing Catholic public opinion?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, to be honest, I don’t think that much. A lot of the left-wing Catholics have left the church, because there were 34 years, as I alluded to, of two previous popes who were very much on the other side of the political fence. And they were very fierce about attacking. I mean, I was silenced and expelled, but I’m only one of 109 theologians silenced, expelled, some of them died of heart attacks and all the rest, by the previous two Popes.
So, there’s not been room in the Catholic Church, for 34 years, for genuine alternative political or theological positioning, that’s a long time, that’s several generations really. So, many Catholics have already voted with their feet, and of course, the young people have too. And then the priestly pedophilia thing that blew up, that, of course turned off a couple of generations right there. You know, last year the entire New York Diocese was shutting a hundred churches, and that’s just the beginning, this year they’re shutting more of them. So, this is because people aren’t there anymore.
So, I think that Pope Francis’s audience isn’t so much the Catholics; I think it’s the larger world. Kind of like the Dalai Lama. I think people are yearning for some moral honesty, and courage. And I think that this is what Pope Francis is delivering. Now, we’ll be getting into this other topic shortly, I guess, but, internally, I don’t see really that he can accomplish an awful lot in the church as such.
I think the church structure has to die, it is dying, before Christianity can simplify its message, and then that the real teachings of Jesus, about justice and love and forgiveness and all the paraphernalia. I say Christianity doesn’t need to carry basilicas on its back, a backpack will do.
PAUL JAY: Okay. In the next section of our interview with Matthew, we’re going to talk about the struggle within the church. Please join us for part two of our interview with Matthew Fox on The Real News Network.