Oct 1, 2015 @ 10:05 AM
Was Pope Francis Swindled into Meeting Kim Davis?
I spent a little time Wednesday night examining my conscience, as we used to say around the ol' confessional, as regards the meeting between Papa Francesco and noted civic layabout Kim Davis. This contemplation was prompted by two things: first, an e-conversation I had with someone who had been part of the papal travelling party and second, the appearance of E. J. Dionne on Lawrence O'Donnell's show on MSNBC. According to the first person, there were a great number of people during the pope's tour who were simply hustled in and out for informal private audiences. According to Dionne, the meeting between Davis and the pope was brokered by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States at whose residence the pope stayed during his time in Washington, which is when the meeting took place. Together, these facts set off my Spidey Sense about Vatican chicanery.
Before we continue, let us stipulate a few things. First of all, let us stipulate that there are more than a few members of the Church's permanent bureaucracy, both within the Clan Of The Red Beanie and without, who are not happy that this gentleman got elected Pope, and who are not happy with what he's done and said since he was. Second, let us stipulate that many members of this group are loyal to both former pope Josef Ratzinger and, through him, to the memory (and to what they perceive as the legacy) of John Paul II who, for good and ill, had a much different idea of how to wield a papacy than Papa Francesco does. Third, let us stipulate that this opposition to the current pope has been active and vocal, to say nothing of paranoid. Finally, let us stipulate that, for more than 2,000 years, the Vatican has been a hotbed of intrigue, betrayal, and sanctified ratfcking on a very high scale. (It also has been a hotbed of, well, hot beds, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.) So, if you're one of these people, and you're looking to ratfck the pope's visit to the United States, and to his agenda in general, you'd be looking to put him in a box. So, how would you do that?
Here's what I'd do. I'd arrange for the pope to meet Davis, but not as an American culture war celebrity, but as a devout Christian whose faith is under vague assault. (I would not mention the three marriages or the fact that she took an oath before God to do her job. I mean, why burden the poor old fella with details, right?) I'd shuffle her through the process and she gets some vague words of encouragement from the pope, who otherwise doesn't know her from any other hick who gets sent his way. I'd sit on the news for the entire rest of the pope's trip, even enlisting Davis's publicity-hungry legal team in that effort.
However, as the pope is preparing to go wheels-up in Philadelphia, I'd get the word to a reporter – say, Terry Moran of ABC. On the plane ride home, Moran would ask the pope a vague question about "religious liberty," without mentioning Davis's name, which seems a curious omission for a veteran journalist to make. The pope again would give a fairly anodyne answer about freedom of conscience with which nobody can disagree. Then, with the pope safely back in Rome, I'd leak the news to a conservative Catholic website and wait for the inevitable explosion. (Implicit in this strategy are two facts: a) that the pope doesn't know who Davis is or the facts of her situation, and b) that the Vatican press office will resort to its default position of clumsy semi-stonewalling when the story breaks.) When it comes, lo and behold, Kim Davis gets to give an exclusive interview to ABC, the same network that employs the reporter who asked the question on the airplane. But to pull this off, I'd need someone with serious clout within the Church bureaucracy. And this is where Vigano comes in.
The man is a real player within the institutional church. He first came to prominence as a whistleblower during one of the several investigations of the Vatican Bank, which may be what got him exiled to this godless Republic in the first place. Despite that fact, Vigano is well-known to be a Ratzinger loyalist and he always has been a cultural conservative, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. In April, in a move that was unprecedented, Vigano got involved with an anti-marriage equality march in Washington sponsored by the National Association For Marriage. (And, mirabile dictu, as we say around Castel Gandolfo at happy hour, one of the speakers at this rally was Mat Staver, who happens now to be Kim Davis's lawyer.) In short, Vigano, a Ratzinger loyalist, who has been conspicuous and publicly involved in the same cause as Kim Davis and her legal team, arranges a meeting with Davis that the legal team uses to its great public advantage. Once again paraphrasing New Orleans lawyer Lamar Parmentel from The Big Easy, the Vatican is a marvelous environment for coincidence.
(Also, I have been remiss in not mentioning that, because of the way John Paul II larded the cardinalate with conservatives, the pope was surrounded by conservative American clerics, including his host in Philadelphia, Charles Cardinal Chaput, who's really something of a dog's breakfast. While presiding in Denver, Chaput led the movement to deny communion to pro-choice American politicians. And, after this pope met with survivors of sexual abuse in Philadelphia, Chaput reached deeply into the Corporate Works Of Mercy to declare, "In some ways, we should get over this wanting to go back and blame, blame, blame. The church is happy to accept its responsibility, but I'm really quite tired of people making unjust accusations against people who are not to be blamed—and that happens sometimes." What a guy! As a pastor, Chaput would make a terrific collection agent.)
Ratzinger's fingerprints are all over this story. Vigano is a Benedict loyalist. Robert Moynihan, whose newsletter, Inside The Vatican, got the story first, is an actual lifelong Ratzinger protégé. And the Vatican press office acted just the way I'd want it to act, if I were the guy setting this up. First, it issues a silly non-denial denial, and then it merely confirms that the meeting occurred. At which point, the office clams up, leaving the story festering out there in the news cycle, and leaving the pope out there in the American culture war to twist in the wind. And, if this scenario is in any way accurate, it had its desired effect. The impact of what the pope actually said and did in America has been fairly well ratfcked.
Of course, this speculation depends vitally on the proposition that Papa Francesco didn't know who Kim Davis was, or anything about her current public display of faith-based goldbricking. I don't find that so very hard to believe; for all the attention it's gotten over here, it's not an international story of any consequence. (Whether he should have known about it, or have been briefed about it beforehand, is another matter entirely, as Dan Savage pointed out on Chris Hayes's program Wednesday night.) And, it can be argued, I guess, that I'm engaging in apologetics here. But the whole thing is just a little too hinky, and I know too well how these birds operate. They've had millennia to get really good at it.
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