I see a lot of liberals expressing sentiments like "THE POPE STILL SUCKS ON WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND GAY ISSUES SO HE STILL SUCKS." And, well, that's basically true. But he's the Pope, the head of a mostly conservative worldwide religion, not the leader of liberals. This Pope is better. I'll happily cheer better. The last two popes really sucked. JP II was treated as a nice guy, because he knew how to project that image, but he was a complete asshole. As for Benedict, well, I'll just say nothing. Better doesn't mean perfect, but better is progress.
SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Pope Francis offered a direct apology on Thursday for the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in the oppression of Latin America during the colonial era, even as he called for a global social movement to shatter a “new colonialism” that has fostered inequality, materialism and the exploitation of the poor.
Most people have no idea just how horrible the church was in Latin America, and how strong the backlash against them was in some places, particularly Mexico. They were bad actors and this should be acknowledged.
To begin with, I suspect that what Duncan Black knows about the very long, very complex and entirely varied history of the Catholic Church in Latin America is extremely little of it and if he wants to present the violent, at times fascistic, atheist, Calles* dictatorship in Mexico as a better alternative to what he seems to assert is the control of the Catholic church over the Mexican government, then he is probably as ignorant of that, as well. Of course any human institution with a history of a hundred years, never mind thousands and a history that unfolds in one country, as opposed to scores of countries is bound to, eventually, demonstrate the full range of human depravity, from worst to least. The habit of the Anglo-Saxon mind is to imagine "The Catholic Church" as if it has been some monolithic, unchanging, demonic institution under the absolute dictatorship of "The Pope" (another undifferentiated evil) when that is, as well, an expression of ignorance about a very complex entity with a very long and complex history manifesting, again, the full range of human depravity. That history includes hierarchical sanction of slavery and oppression of the native population but, as well, hierarchical and even papal denunciation for slavery and oppression. The attempts to abolish slavery and injustice in Latin America has always had to struggle against the very secular powers, governments, financial interests, oligarchic families and imperial powers which opposed it and which, quite often, rather dominated the Catholic Church, even weak popes and those who were about as admirable as any other corrupt secular leader.
The history of the Catholic Church in Latin America has, to my knowledge, only ever included one period of direct rule under the authority of popes, or, rather, through their agents, the Jesuits, known as the Reductions of Paraguay, from about 1630 to the 1760s when they were destroyed at the behest of secular rulers and interests who forced a weak pope to removed the Jesuits so they could destroy the experiment in egalitarian democracy and economic justice. You can read a detailed account of those from the old Catholic Encyclopedia of you can read what the popular historian, Will Durant, an atheist who had a rather negative view of religion and, especially the Catholic church he'd once been a member of and his wife, Ariel.
After what, I have to say, seems like a rather strange and perhaps romantic assertion of socialism among the pre-invasion Incas, the Durants say:
On the opposite slope of South America, in the Portugese colony along the Uruguay River, 150 Jesuits organized 100,000 Indians into another socialistic society (c. 1620-1750). The ruling priests managed nearly all agriculture, commerce and industry. They allowed each youth to choose among the trades they taught, but they required every able-bodied person to work eight hours a day. They provided for recreation, arranged sports, dances, and choral performances of a thousand voices, and trained orchestras that played European music. They served also as teachers, physicians, and judges, and devised a penal code that excluded capital punishment.
Let me break in and note that, in the 17th century, their penal code abolished capital punishment, something almost no secular government achieved until the 20th century notably those two loci of the touted "Enlightnement" France and Britain, and many of them haven't even now, including the country and state that Duncan Black lives in, where an informal moratorium on it may well give way to a court challenge. I believe no officially atheist state has ever been anything but enthusiastic in its imposition of death, both for criminal punishment but, as well, as a means of suppressing rivals and to terrorize the inhabitants as a method of control.
By all accounts the natives were docile and content, and when the community was attacked it defended itself with an ardor and ability that surprised the assailants. In 1750 Portugal ceded to Spain territory including seven of the Jesuit settlements. A rumor having spread that the lands of these colonies contained gold, the Spanish in America insisted on immediate occupation, the Portuguese government under Pombal (then at odds with the Jesuits) ordered the priests and the natives to leave the settlements; and after some resistance by the Indians the experiment came to an end.
The Lessons of Histrory: Socialism and History
I would guess that any group of poor, non-white inhabitants of, not only the English American colonies at that time would have traded places with the inhabitants of those Reductions but certainly just about any non-white people living under white rule anywhere in North America or Europe or various other lands invaded by Europe. I would imagine many of the poor white people in England and certainly Ireland would have found the system the Jesuits imposed as a vast improvement on their lives under the regime of "enlightenment" which imposed the scientific "reforms" of the Poor Law almost a century after the end of the Reductions. I would also guess that, today, as you read this, if America's vast prison industry were run under those same rules that they would not only be entirely less violent but would actually be productive of something far better for everyone than the second-class, disenfranchised members of an underclass, generally of color of of poor-white people, many of whom are sent back into that system against their will. That is under our entirely secular government, at the behest of our free press.
To lie about the best of what the Catholic church did and does in Latin America is as much of a lie as ignoring the worst. Considering the rarity of moral action in human culture, certainly as much under secular rule as that under the alleged rule of religion, there is certainly more that is useful to be learned from one of the longest and most successful periods of better government than there is from ignoring that or brushing it aside in ideological ignorance.
There was a good reason that when the Reagan administration waged its terror war in Latin America in the 1980s, among the foremost targets of that war were Catholic lay people, priests, nuns, even archbishops, it is because they took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they took the long, long line of papal encyclicals on the subject of social and economic justice seriously and wanted to implement those in the real lives of real people who were oppressed by oligarchs, some of them, yes, members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. But those revolutionaries were not only also Catholics, they were the ones who asserted the teachings of Jesus and the Mosaic Law and the social justice teachings of the Church.
And Reagan's war was not a new thing, even such "liberals" as John Kennedy were part of the long effort of the United States to subjugate the people of Latin America. In this video, as informed a commentator as Noam Chomsky - an atheist, by the way - attributed Kennedy's support for the Brazilian junta to his reaction to the radical turn towards that same gospel tradition, those same social and economic justice teachings by the pope during his administration, St. John XXIII.
Notice, especially in light of the above, his mention of Uruguay. Also notice what he says about the hated evangelical movement as being entirely more complex than it is generally believed to be.
I have to admit, I have had more respect for Duncan Black than I did the present rump remnant of his blog community, though after being the target of libel in that community for the past several years, to his knowing indifference for that, I have to say I don't respect him an awful lot, these days. I do think he is an example of a liberal who isn't very liberal, despite a few details of libertarianism and a few ideas about the more efficient management of economics. But this post was just sheer ignorance due to the absurd reduction of a complicated history into an ideologically retained myth. If I didn't think the real history was extremely important to learn from and to build on, I probably wouldn't have written this post. I really don't know why you sent his post to me, though you clearly didn't think I'd be able to respond to it.
For more, see the series of posts I did detailing the Christian origins of abolitionism in February (see the archive index to the left) including several key papal encyclicals and writings of Christians and Catholics from the earliest centuries of Christianity till the period after official abolition was achieved but the actual practice of slavery persisted. I will be indexing those, soon.
* In his old age and out of power, as death crept up on him, Calles gave up atheism, in the same period he sort of gave up fascism.