By Breno Altman
Opera Mundi /Carta Maior [Brazil] Dec. 24, 2014
I come from a Jewish family hardwired to Socialist ideas and to atheism for four generations. The last one in my lineage to believe in God must have died in the beginning of the last century. Christmas is to me a date with no special significance, even though I have learned to respect those who celebrate the birth of Jesus. But I wish to take the opportunity of this Christmas Eve to make a confession.
A year and a half ago, I wrote for Opera Mundi one of the most flawed articles of my journalistic career. The title says it all… : “Pope Francis is the modern counter-revolution.” I realize that the admission of mistakes is not a custom that is much appreciated within my profession. We belong, after all, to that group of professions in which credibility depends on getting information and predictions right. When a mistake is made, the path out is usually to fit reality within the straightjacket that we had written. Or to let the time go by, expecting readers to forget the grievous errors committed. In the worst case scenario, an ‘our mistake’ column is published discreetly just for the record.
The mistake [this time] was, however, so absurd that it would be shameful not to admit it in public. Not that it would make any difference to anyone. Just out of the desire to remain at peace with my conscience.
The summary of the absurd analysis is in the paragraph below, in which I commented on the thinking of the new pontiff, then recently elected:
“There is no difference whatsoever in [his] approach…from the one preached by John Paul II and Benedict II. The same dogmas are still standing: the centrality of religious faith on political and social issues, the irascible combat against women’s right to the interruption of pregnancy, and the affirmation of heterosexuality as the only possible erotic-affective relationship.”
Do you want more?
“Devoid of aristocratic rites and battling the old corrupt curia, the Catholic Church presents itself with a new face, capable of captivating the world to the same ideas of all time.”
“Francis’ style… brings youth, sympathy, and humility to the rotten language of his predecessors. Despite refuting any alteration to the set of decisions that removed Catholic groups from supporting popular struggles, his oratory in favor of the poor rejuvenates the Vatican.”
In order to end it like this:
“The rightwing finds, in this renewal, a good reason for enthusiasm. A strengthened and cherished pope is a noteworthy instrument for any stratefy of reduction of the influence of the left in low-income social strata, especially in Latin America.”
Pope Francis has since then belied all these arrogant predictions.
Besides battling the Vatican court and their interests, he launched a crusade to take Catholicism back to being in touch with social movements, embracing their goal.
He struggles to reform the Church’s discourse on civil rights, including subject that had up to now been forbidden, such as the welcoming of sexual diversity and the defense of women’s health when faced with religious dogma. He reached out his hand to the Latin-American left, supporting Progressive experiences and disavowing the links between Catholic organizations and conservative conspiracies. If that were not enough, pope Francis was decisive in the talks that led the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, after over fifty years of rupture.
I made the mistake of comparing him to his predecessors, patriarchs of the Ultramontane reaction that had established itself in the Church since the 1980s. The appropriate comparison would have been, however, with the age of John XXIII, who led the reform of the institution in the 1960s and opened up space for Liberation Theology. The Argentinian pope, by the way, may have less strong than the head of the Vatican II Council, but his program is deeper and more heretical.
The first person to try to open my eyes to the mistakes I made and published was Joao Pedro Stedile, the brave leader of the MST [Landless Workers’ Movement] and of Via Campesina [Peasant Way], currently one of the main lay interlocutors of Francis. It took me a long time to listen to him. I gradually realized that I had been contaminated by [personal] prejudice and ravings.
Living and learning.
I recognize today that the pope is leading a revolution in Catholicism, that must be observed and shared by the Progressive forces in the planet. I don’t know if he will be victorious, because the reactionary currents may still have immense strengths. What matters, though, is that the Midnight mass will be celebrated tonight, for the second year in a row, by a Pope who has showed his commitment to the poor and to change.
As for myself, were I a Christian, some penance for the rash conclusions of 2013 would be in order. The good thing for Atheists is that self-criticism is enough.
[Source, in Portuguese. Translation and tip: reader A]