AFT Blog # 25: Vatican

Vatican Smoke… and Mirrors

Jaque Parisien

Even if you are the sort of person who never watches television, you could not possibly have missed the recent conclave of cardinals, following the abdication of Benedict XVI. Indeed, media of all kinds – television, newspapers, radio, the blogosphere, etc. – transmitted the “news” with an unhealthy sensationalism, saturating all possible bandwidth. No, “supersaturating” would be more correct. I know that my friends on various social web sites could not avoid commenting on and criticizing the media overload preceding the election of the all new pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and rightly so, even if they thus inadvertently participated in that flood. An attitude of total and wholesome indifference would have been more fitting. Frankly, I noticed a striking resemblance between the exaggerated media coverage of the conclave and Star académie (roughly the Québécois equivalent of American Idol). Please excuse me for combining several topics, but not only must the news media be criticized, but the person of the newly elected pope has generated its own share of “denunciations” and raised perplexing questions.

For one thing, media reports went into the most excruciating detail about the “candidates” and, here in Quebec, they could not get enough of Monseigneur Ouellet. Honestly, my annoyance could not have risen any higher. We found ourselves confronted with several candidates for the papacy, each with his own supporters who constantly discussed the chances for success of their local favourite. It was almost as if the public participated in the vote via popular networks. The most striking image was that of cardinals surrounded by paparazzi, some answering questions, others rushing to escape, and still others just going about their business, head held high like monarchs unconcerned with the clamour of the surrounding riffraff. And of course each candidate performed according to his talents, each cardinal leading a mass and, by so doing, performing his gig which the microphones and cameras faithfully transmitted to us, at least in part. Here in Quebec, we were even treated to an entire article about the skating rink where Monseigneur Ouellet once broke an arm, as if that anecdote were of some importance and could inspire us with pride in our roots. Day in, day out, it was as if the media of the entire western world had concluded a contract to patently ignore all other more important news stories in order to inundate us with their one story ad nauseam. They focused on the tree in order to hide the forest where it is located. In short, the media frenzy was practically insane, causing the faithful to palpitate with anticipation and devotion as they waited with bated breath to see what colour of smoke would emerge from the Vatican chimney. Finally, the new pope was elected, but any hope that the ordeal might be over was dashed by the realization that it had only gotten worse, because some lucky nominee had just won the papal Oscar and thus become THE star of the year, or perhaps the decade.

The chimney had not even had time to cool when probing into the divine winner’s past began. Several articles already allege probable collaboration between the new pope and the Argentine dictatorship1. As the saying goes, “there is no smoke without fire.” Now, complicity between Church and state is a well known fact of history. Any enterprise – merchant, political or religious – recognizing which way the wind is blowing may make a pact with the devil in order to maintain its influence over the masses and continue getting rich. Don’t tell me there are exceptions; we all know that. But the exceptions prove the rule. As for the new pope’s receptiveness and open mind with respect to unbelievers, agnostics and atheists, I am afraid that we will have to wait for yet another magnate of the Church because the newly chosen one has made his mind up on that score, being a solid partisan of “the struggle against atheism.2” He is quite willing to repeat well-worn platitudes about the hellish implications of atheism, whether one be capitalist or Marxist, because of its alleged absence of moral foundations, as if the monopoly over all morals and ethics belonged exclusively to religious faith.

Finally, in the text quoted above, I was once again amazed by the degree of obscurantism lurking in declarations which ostensibly favour change. Clearly, Jorge Mario Bergoglio sees no contradiction in backing up in order to go forward. Even more annoying is that conservatives throughout the world do not hesitate to promote a “return to sources” as a means of change and progress. I am always appalled that anyone could support such an idea, i.e. “progress through the return to the sources3” (“avance mediante el retorno a las fuentes”). Let us forget about progress, however modest, and instead cultivate obedience and fidelity to tradition; such is the dangerous and oft-repeated refrain which such conservatives use in their efforts to beguile the masses, as we can see from the history of twentieth-century Naziism and its own notorious chimneys.

Is it smoke or is it smoke and mirrors? The difference is sometimes difficult to discern.


  1. Le nouveau pape François 1er : un ami de la dictature argentine
    (“The new pope Francis I: a friend of the Argentine dictatorship”)
  2. Principles of the Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Document signed by Jorge Mario Bergoglio S. J., 1974 (original Spanish version)
  3. Ibid.

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