Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Pope Benedict's political gaffs

Robert Mugabe receives Holy Communion at the beatification Mass in St Peter's Square

The online edition of the Global Post filed the following incredible story about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugambe's invitation from the Vatican  on May 1, 2011 to attend the beautification of John Paul II.

What is the Vatican thinking?
What possessed Pope Benedict and the papal authorities to invite Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the beatification of Pope John Paul II?
They all know that Mugabe is accused of numerous human rights atrocities including murder and torture. They know because Zimbabwe's Catholic bishops have authored several reports cataloging the the horrors perpetrated by Mugabe's regime.
Does the Vatican not realize that Mugabe's presence was a jarring note to the beatification? Or do the papal officials just not care?
Zimbabweans expressed anger over Mugabe's presence at the ceremony.
In response to the controversy of Mugabe's visit the Vatican said said it had "nothing to hide."
Mugabe, 87, and his wife Grace, 45, filed past the casket of John Paul II on Sunday. Mugabe's presence,explained a Vatican Spokesman, was a "function" of the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Zimbabwe, "so there is nothing to hide."
There is nothing to be proud of, either.
When the British royal family revokes the wedding invitation of Syria's ambassador because the of reports that of human rights abuses, surely the Vatican could muster the moral courage to refuse to invite Mugabe to the big show at St Peter's basilica.
Mugabe is banned from traveling through Europe by the European Union and the Vatican had to obtain special permission for him to be allowed to enter the pocket statelet. It will be at least the third time that Mr Mugabe has taken advantage of the Vatican's and/or Italy's diplomatic largesse since John Paul's death.
Mugabe attended John Paul's funeral in 2005, where he stirred controversy by shaking the hand of Britain's Prince Charles. Mugabe also went to the World Food Summits in 2008 and 2009. Zimbabwe's is one of 87 foreign delegations attending the beatification.
Mugabe arrived in Rome Saturday with a large entourage, according to reports from Rome.
Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti recently complained that Mugabe's lavish foreign trips are expected to cost the country $50 million this year,  contributing to a projected deficit of some $150 million.
Zimbabwean economists agreed with Biti’s assessment that Mugabe's trips are not productive and waste precious funding.
Mugabe may be welcomed in Rome, but back in Zimbabwe he is feuding with the Catholic bishops, according to The Zimbabwean.
"There are other so-called bishops who fall under what is called the bishops' conference who are always telling lies, no truth at all," said Mugabe recently, referring to the Catholic bishops' conference.
Did the Vatican think that it could engage Mugabe in a discussion and persuade him to stop human rights abuses and allow free and fair elections? The Catholic bishops could have told them that such discussions have always been futile.
Pope Benedict has yet again shown that he is tone deaf to public opinion and oblivious to human rights issues.

As this article indicates, Benedict seems particularly adept at making serious political gaffs.    Many Muslims have never forgiven Benedict for a lecture he gave in Regensburg in 2006, where he examined the issue of violence and Islam in a bold but ineptly executed move. The speech unleashed a torrent of protests in the Muslim world. While in 2009 Benedict XVI reignited old fears among Jews the world over when he made the unconscious error to reinstate the ultra-conservative bishops of the brotherhood of St. Pius X. One of its member Bishops, Richard Williamson was a notorious Holocaust denier who claimed that “not a single Jew died in a gas chamber”. 
During his visit to Brazil in 2007 Benedict told his audience “the Indigenous populations, welcomed their European colonisers because they were "secretly longing" for Christ "without realising it". Conversion to Christianity "did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture".  He did not mention forced conversions, epidemics, massacres, enslavement and other abuses that most historians agree accompanied colonisation. Indigenous rights groups and the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia were incensed.
Benedict’s revival of the traditional Latin mass, the return of the idea of the controversial prayer for the Jews in the Good Friday prayers, the departure from critical biblical research in his book "Jesus of Nazareth" -- these were all relatively minor and inconspicuous steps in the direction of a more traditional Church. Observant church insiders, however, quickly recognized their significance as a warning sign. Nevertheless, many Catholics find their pope's actions painful to watch, not because they consider him incapable or even unlikeable, but because they cannot look on as this extraordinary man gets in his own way. The members of the "We Are Church" movement, in particular, have turned away from Benedict. In the meantime the rest of the world, shocked by the sheer scope of the sexual abuse cases, continues to look to Rome with skepticism, and some are already calling upon Benedict to take responsibility for his sinning priests and resign.

There is clearly an elephant in the Catholic Church but no one seems to be able to see it, or do anything about it.

Today I wrote the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as follows:

Catholics in Canada and indeed Catholics everywhere in the world should be shocked and concerned by the Vatican’s recent invitation and subsequent attendance of one of the world’s most despised leaders Robert Mugabe to attend the beatification of John Paul II on May 1, 2011. See also: http://nehandaradio.com/2011/05/03/outrage-as-mugabe-attends-pope%E2%80%99s-ceremony/

Robert Mugabe’s record of crimes against humanity is well known and will continue especially when the Church is seen as endorsing if not supporting his ruthless behaviour against his own citizens – especially the poor!
To date the only unofficial response from an anonymous Vatican official, according to the media, was “so there is nothing to hide."  This most unfortunate choice of words will remind many of a similar attitude used to defend the cover-up of the sexual abuse crisis.   

It is therefore incumbent on the Canadian Bishops to publically respond immediately to this action on behalf of the Vatican for the sake of the credibility and future of the Roman Catholic Church.  At the same time our bishops should voice their concerns directly to the Magisterium in Rome.  What is at stake is not only the trustworthiness of the Institution but the credibility of every member of the Catholic Church.

UPDATE: (July 2,2011)  
June 6, 2011 Zagreb, Yugoslavia - What was Benedict thinking when he stopped here to pray at the tomb of the controversial Nazi sympathizer and Ustashi supporter Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac during his recent visit to Croatia?   The fact that Stepinac operated under the watchful eye of Pope Pius XII will do little to bring about  a popular sainthood for either individual.    Benedict’s lack of sensitivity on these issues reveals a deep and troubling future for the church. Could this point to the reason why the Vatican is the only country that has refused to release its wartime records.  

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