Friday, October 2, 2015

Lies, Pope Francis, and Kim Davis

I'm honestly sick to death of all the press coverage Kim Davis has been getting over the last couple of months simply for refusing to do her job. My guess is that most of the rest of us are too. So when Davis' lawyer issued a statement to the press on Wednesday that she had met with Pope Francis and that he supported what she was doing, much of the blogosphere pretty much lost it.

When I first heard the report, I immediately found it suspect, and here's why - one of my criticisms of Francis is that for all of his progressive statements on issues like income inequality, he has yet to seriously amend the doctrines of the church, many of which I find objectionable. But that cuts both ways - what a lot of non-Catholics don't understand is that it has always been a part of Catholic dogma that good Catholics follow the civil laws of the country in which they live. So I found the idea that Francis would support Davis pretty bizarre if he had any understanding of what she was doing.

Jason Miller put up a good post yesterday that pretty much sums up what has been my thinking on Francis for some time. People don't have to be dropped into "good" and "bad" pigeonholes with no room in between - in fact, doing so reflects poor critical thinking skills on the part of whoever is doing the dropping. I doubt there are two people in the world who agree on absolutely everything, so it's crucial to understand that with just about everybody you're going to agree with some of their actions and disagree with others.

Francis is the best Pope that I remember in my lifetime, especially on issues of poverty and income inequality. But he's still the Pope, head of a religious organization that I find backwards and repressive in a number of ways - which is why I'm not a Roman Catholic. Still, pivoting the church away from an exclusive focus on gays and zygotes and towards social justice is a positive step that should not be underestimated, as in the United States it poses a threat to Roman Catholics who have allied themselves with the evangelical religious right. Prosperity Gospel evangelicals basically think the poor can go fuck themselves, but like their Roman Catholic allies are opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Yesterday Esquire published an article by Charles Pierce suggesting that the Pope may have been tricked into meeting with Davis, and laid out a plausible scenario. The man who arranged the visit, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, is a staunch supported of Joseph Ratzinger, Francis' predecessor, and also has been involved with the National Association for Marriage, one of the aforementioned groups that brings together Roman Catholics and evangelicals in opposing same-sex marriage. And at one of the NAM marches in which he took part, Kim Davis' lawyer was one of the speakers, so they likely already knew each other.

Still, at this point I would put forth that as of yesterday, nobody had any idea of what went on. The Vatican did not deny that the meeting took place, but issued no further statement. In and of itself that struck me as somewhat odd. If Francis really supported Davis' actions, why not issue a more detailed statement? Francis has never before shown himself to be shy about speaking his mind, whether or not his audience agrees with him. But if Pierce's scenario was accurate, there was a meeting, but Francis may have had no idea who Davis was or why the visit was significant.

Yesterday evening, CBS reported a statement from a highly-placed Vatican source yesterday claiming that the Pope and even his spokesman was blindsided by the meeting, and had they known about it advance they would have opposed it.

As Pope Francis was addressing a joint session of Congress, then thousands more gathered outside on the west lawn, Kim Davis, who’d become the poster child for opponents of same-sex marriage, was getting ready for a meeting with him at the Vatican embassy. It is a meeting some charge was orchestrated by the man who lived there, the Pope’s representative here, Carlo Maria Vigano.

Not even the Papal Spokesman Federico Lombardi knew about it ahead of time. Nor did the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which would have opposed it. Others claim the Pope knew about the meeting and had ordered Vatican diplomats, perhaps even Vigano, to set it up. CBS 2’s Vatican source doesn’t think so.

A close adviser to Pope Francis tweeted that the Pope was, in his words, “exploited” by those who set up what the CBS 2 source says was a “meeting that never should have taken place.” Some call it an attempt by highly placed church leaders in the U.S. to diminish the impact of the Pope’s visit.

I would put forth that those church leaders in the United States who have allied themselves with the evangelical right have the most to lose in light of Francis' statements on poverty. So a meeting with an "oppressed Christian" like Davis allows them to argue that the leader of their church remains sympathetic to the cause. The religious right has plenty of money and other resources, so if the movement were to abandon Catholic leaders who have endorsed it over the church's social justice stance, those leaders would find themselves with a lot less material support.

Finally, the Vatican issued a statement this morning, which backs up the CBS report.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement that Davis was one of dozens who met with the Pope that day and his “brief greeting…should not be considered a form of support of her position.”

“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” Rev. Lombardi said. He went on to undermine Davis and her attorney, Mat Staver of the anti-gay law firm Liberty Counsel, who claimed the meeting was a show of support for Davis’ denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” Lombardi continued, speaking of the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”

Just hours before the Vatican’s statement, Davis’s lawyer made a grossly false claim about a massive prayer vigil for Davis held by about 100,000 Peruvians, even producing a fake photograph to bolster the story.

Evaluating all the evidence, it makes the most sense to me that this latter scenario is probably what took place. All the pieces fit, and the motives of the key players are clear. Still, it remains possible that I'm wrong and the Vatican sources rather than Davis and her lawyer are lying - but somebody sure is. And that whole "fake rally" thing gives me little confidence in Davis and her lawyer's veracity. As for my opinion on Francis, it remains largely unchanged - I approve of some his actions and disapprove of others, and don't regard him as either entirely an enemy or entirely an ally. It would be sloppy thinking on my part to treat him as either.

One of the sad things that this incident proves, though, is that the blogosphere is all too often where critical thinking goes to die. Sometimes this tendency can be put to use, as was the case with my article this summer on Etsy's metaphysical item ban. The headline was deliberately exaggerated to get traction, and the issue most certainly did - from many folks who likely didn't even read the whole thing. But nonetheless, we need to do better.

Critical thinking is especially essential to those of us who consider ourselves magical practitioners. That means we need to weigh both sides of an issue, evaluate all the evidence, and only then draw firm conclusions about what took place. Spewing outrage over nothing more than a headline, or even a one-sided account, is both shortsighted and lazy. And when I see fellow occultists signing on to positions that even a modicum of research would debunk, it makes me wonder how they could possibly cultivate any degree of objectivity regarding their own practices and experiences. Confirmation bias is dangerous, particularly to a magician.

I hope that Francis will continue to address social justice issues, and that the influence of those statements on Roman Catholics here in America will not be diminished by the clown show that the Kim Davis situation has become. I also hope that one of these days he will begin revising some of those long-standing church policies that I believe do a lot of harm around the world - but while I'm optimistic that Francis will continue to speak out against the exploitation of the poor, I have no idea about the rest.

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