Posts Tagged ‘Pope’

Il Papa, Putin, Obama – A Word In Your Ears

September 20, 2015


21 September 2015. London

Today is the United Nations Day of Peace. It is the day the Secretary General says “stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace.”  What Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would like to see is an end to the 16 big wars in the world (each with about 10,000 deaths a year) and the 22 minor wars (each with about 1000 killings a year).

The UN says it would be a good idea to halt the wars during this Day of Peace. Maybe the nearly 40 states or factions at war do not get the Secretary General’s Good Luck Peace cards.

But in one particular area of conflict, Syria, there is at least public demonstration of trying for a fix – however unlikely that is. Because this week, the world goes to New York and the General Assembly of the United Nations. It is the time when heads of government give speeches to the UN.  They talk of rights and wrongs.

On Friday Vatican flag will fly outside UN Headquarters, an unusual event because the Vatican is not a member of the UN. It is there on the day that the Pope will speak to the 180 or so delegates on his mood for peace, his hope for a world without hunger and his belief that it is possible for sides bitterly opposed to come together. It is more than a Have A Nice Day speech. The influence of the Holy Father should never be underrated – even Nikita Khrushchev admitted that after papal intervention in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the focus at the end of this week is on the seemingly intractable moment of the civil war in Syria.

The man with considerable influence who will be most carefully listened to is President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He has, or so we are led to believe, a plan to change the course of the war and to set a proper battle against IS – all in one.

Putin thinks he understands the weakness of the so-called Western Position. He believes that some allies of the United States are coming round to the idea that under America’s bidding they were too eager to jump into the war against Assad.  He believes that after four years bloodletting allies of the US believe that the rebel leaders are not to be trusted, that there is not unquestionable common leadership among them and that should they ever overthrow Assad then little would achieved but another Libya.

Putin on the other hand is building a military stronghold in Syria in support of Assad that has not been seen since the Soviet Union in the 1970s had a similar arrangement with the Egypt of the then President, Anwar Sadat.  The fact that the pact broke down and that the Soviet Union troops were told to leave matters not in the existing circumstance.  Putin is in.  Without him and Iran, Assad would be done for.

Mr Putin’s outline for his speech at the UN is that it would be best to support Assad and then bend a combined force against IS.  That could even, initially, mean Assad falling back on the Western Provinces of Syria, regrouping and then with a combined land-air operation for IS. Putin’s generals even see this as a combined operation with the counter-IS conflicy in Iraq.

The present state of US and UK thinking plus the support of other allies including Australia that has joined the bombing campaign against Assad’s forces is that it would be an unacceptable about face. It is not even certain that American President Obama will meet with Putin.

It might be remembered that the coming weekend in New York is a major part of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. Putin, who has not visited the UN General Assembly for ten years, understands the symbolism of the event. It will give him an opportunity to grandstand his plan (at home as well as abroad) and with it he hopes to get some of the adverse diplomatic and world opinion of his back.

Putin believes his master plan is such an obvious solution to the Syrian war. He understands also that the war is part of the great scheme to realign the 20the century origins of the Middle East and now the imagery of Sunni versus Shia. In this case Putin supposes  the whole region is used to surviving by undated compromise and volte face and therefore his position has more support than publicly demonstrated.

In short, we may not see the results of public and backstairs meeting at the end of this week. But it will not be a time to write off those rarely understood meetings in the margins that mean so much at the General Assembly.

Putin will need credible allies and so far there is none. Putin’s people have hoped to put together meeting with someone they may just rate more than Barak Obama on this occasion.  Putin wants the support of the Pope.

The Pope will be briefly at the UN.  But the Pope is not going to get involved in a very possible public failure in such a tragedy that plays in Syria.  The Pope will speak on Friday. Putin is due to arrive on Sunday.  The Pope will not wait for the Russian President. All a macabre political gavotte? Maybe. But the reality is that somewhere between them all is the start of an effort get people talking in this dreadful war.  Could be we should be watching the mood at the UN by the end of this week. It’ll not be a mundane General Assembly.

Christopher Lee

April 29, 2013


Big Bishop. High Pulpit. Wrong Sermon

29th April 2013

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Church, has pronounced. Whitehall is listening, not because he’s a priest but because he’s on a commission of inquiry and because he used to be in business. All good stuff?

Maybe. The Archbishop says bankers should be trained. They most certainly are trained, archbishop. They’re trained to get fat salaries and mind-boggling bonuses. And Archbishop, you should be very pleased they do so. A lot of them put loadsa money into your charities. They also wind up the public who do not get bags of gold and that takes the heat off your church leaders who for the most part are pretty useless at doing what they are called to do: spreading the Word of God and laying it on so thick that it’s standing room only in the empty churches.

Instead of banging on about banker training, how about telling them they’re morally corrupt? Perhaps that could be tricky.  How many bankers, just as one moral question, have abused minors? None we hear about. How many priests have been in the frame for this aberration of what God had in mind for them? See what I mean?

It would seem the role of an archbishop is to do the archbishop thing. Maybe get up high in your pulpit and proclaim that the government and Parliament that control your state church have failed to get kids out of poverty.  Shout from your throne that your political masters have failed to preach against giving arms to Syrian rebels and want to do so – and that means more will die. How about a sermon on the government’s failure, the government that gave you the job, to provide the people you are supposed to love and cherish with a caring and even fine health service.

empty churchThen what about a few lines about poverty, brotherly love, modesty and as the Good Book you are supposed to read says, Charity. Now Charity in modern translation means Love. Get preaching basics, Archbishop.

Try reading a few words of the new Pope – you could learn a thing or two on all that. Forget trading on your business rep. A business trained archbishop is cute but it doesn’t make you what you’re supposed to be – a priest.

And, I promise you that your old trade as an oil man rates about the same as a banker. So best downplay that one. There’s another bit of unasked for advice you should think about before you get back on your high horsey pulpit: the bankers you slag off make big bucks because they single mindedly concentrate on doing the job they are given and for the most part supported by their shareholders.

Now why don’t you try that?  You may just find it’s profitable

Christopher Lee

March 18, 2013


Why would de Kirchner think Il Papa can fix the Falklands?

18th March 2013

The Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was in the Vatican today claiming that she had asked Pope Francis to fix the Falklands for her.

She said she asked him to bring together the two sides.  Presumably by two sides she means Argentina and the UK.  

Well isn’t that what happened in 1982? Didn’t the British kill enough of the Argentineans and sink their biggest cruiser and make them eat Falklands dirt (reputed to taste better than Falklands mutton)?

Seem to think the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a pretty big victory parade.  Didn’t hear many bands doing hot numbers in Beunos Aires in June ’82.

But back to now: the president, arrived to be the first to kiss the holy ring or whatever it is these people do in private.  Not so private was the shot of the pope giving the fragrant Cristina a big kiss – on the right cheek, just by the ear to be precise.  

Maybe popes should not go about kissing fiery widows who are on the make.  Before you know it, the word would be going the rounds that the swaying and elegant Cristina whispered to Il Papa that if he doesn’t fix the Falklands with the Brits then she may just not deny any stories that appear in the Argentine media that there was a time when she and Jorge Mario Bergolio were a little more than just good friends.  

Everyone knows that’s not true, but we all know how the world works. News editors on six continents  are waiting for the truth about Jorge and the Kirchners to emerge.

The irony of this one is that the Brits would love to do a deal with Kirchner.  The Falklanders have just this past week held a referendum on handover. Seems all but a couple of guys who don’t matter everyone down there in the South Atrlantic want to stay British.  They reckon any Argentina tin-pot who thinks differently  will be taken out by Prime Minister Cameron’s brave boys – that’s if he’s still got any after the biggest defence cuts in Conservative history.

But the lady’s line that the pope will fix it raises the spectre of  Francis being asked to sort quite a few outstanding differences involving the UK.  Let’s take just two.

Maybe he could persuade the British to give back the six Northern Ireland counties to the Republic of Ireland.  The fact that the British want to get rid of Northern Ireland and the Irish government don’t want it matters not.  Pope Fixes 100 Year Old Troubles would be a great headline.

He could even have a go at another Brit-Squatting issue – Gibraltar.  The Spanish want Gibraltar back.  The people of Gibraltar seem stubborn about staying British.  There are only 29,000 of them but they can’t be persuaded to go.  

The British don’t particularly want Gibraltar but it is a good place to put out retired ministers and generals to grass and be saluted.  About 80% of the people of  The Rock are Roman Catholics so maybe the pope wouldn’t want to upset them by suggesting that they be governed by the nice but inept Spanish.  Can’t see that one working either.

All this raises the point: if Francis has signed up for the poor and if as he thinks the poor are always with us, why would anyone want him to be anything else but a mendicant and nice guy and to keep out of politics.

That would be a reasonable line if it were not for the fact that the pope has form on this.  Last year during a service for Argentinean veterans of the 1982 Falklands War he said, and we quote, “We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the Homeland who went out to defend their mother, the Homeland, and reclaim what is theirs”

Not sure Jorge got it right about defending Argentina.  Didn’t they do the attacking? Maybe he was under pressure from the delectable Cristina.  Maybe she does know something or maybe in the context of his service he was saying that the soldiers simply saw things that way.

All this tells us three things: firstly, the British own a lot of places that others still want, or want back and if truth were known, the British want rid of them. Secondly, no pope ever fixed things publicly so why is the Argentinean first lady putting on the pressure? Thirdly, maybe she did after all get her ear nibbled.

Wonder what the pope emeritus makes of all this? Kissing in public? OMG Catholic cardinals only do that in private, surely.  But that’s another story for Francis to fix.


Christopher Lee

March 13, 2013



Habemus Papam! But Does Francis 1 Have A Church?

13 March 2013,

Habemus Papam. We have a Pope. Today, Francis I took in both hands the tainted chalice of  Supreme Pontiff of more than one billion Catholics – one seventh of the world’s population.

With Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal deacon as his comforter in his shadow, Bergoglio emerged on the central balcony of St Peter’s with raised arms no longer in scarlet, blue and black of his times just past but now clothed in the white samite mystic papal habit. Below him, the familiar scene of St Peter’s Square now saturated in the tears and hopes of  the thousands of his gathered pilgrims and acolytes and the hundreds of millions more across six continents.

For the new Vicar of Christ here on earth now has a task far removed from the robes and dignity of the Sistine Chapel, its frescoes and fanfares. In straight business terms, the pope’s task is simple: fix the Church of Rome.

He begins this very day with the most important role of any pope; the balcony scene had it.  The pope must look good.  He has to look credible.  He has to look like The Pope, the Holy Father, The Supreme Pontiff.

Hundreds of millions of Catholics untouched by the politics and social tragedies of the church see his elevation from the skull-capped sinister imagery of Vatican power to pure white figure as the hope and inspiration they have all but abandoned since the passing of  the saintly Pope John Paul II, eight years ago.

The would-be reformers in the church talk of the failure of Rome to implement the finding of the Second Vatican Council back in the 1960s. They felt betrayed by Rome.  They are right to feel so. But the people there today know little of Vatican 2. It was a complex and vital opportunity for the Church of Rome more than half a century ago –  thus its meaning is rarely in living memory.

The new pope has a hard task and must travel, travel, travel. He must emerge from the Vatican to kiss the soil of every province of his global see. The people must see him, hear him celebrate Mass. Sense his humanity.  For the first purpose of this pope is to restore faith not in the God in which he believes, but faith in the Vatican and in the bishops. Faith in the very Church itself. The people probably want a new John Paul II.  They have not got one.  Even more reason to hit the papal road.

But that does not empty his toxic in tray, nor the single almost explosive document locked away in the deepest vault of the Curia. 

This file contains the extent of abuses of children and others by the clergy.  It has been kept even from the cardinals – maybe because some of their names are in it. 

Back in the 1950s a report to the then pope, Paul VI, observed that clergy who have molested children are not likely to change and therefore should be removed from their duties “and not returned to ministry.” 

It didn’t happen, which is why the Church is in such a terrible mess and dilemma.

The pope now has to make a clear declaration: any priest who has committed such crimes or, who has covered up such crimes, must not simply stand aside.  They must be publicly removed and as the 1950s report’s author Fa. Gerald Fitzgerald said “not returned to ministry.”

In not very Vatican phraseology this would be handing over every detail to police, seeing the prosecution through, standing by the verdict and although once a priest always a priest is the common rule, kicked out of the Church. 

During the cardinals deliberations to elect a new pope, any official (down to car drivers) who leaked information was threatened with excommunication.  The pope would electrify the Vatican and its devoted worshippers by doing the same. Charity? Forgiveness?  

The pope must be seen seen to take command and to be as uncompromising as the church is over such issues as celibacy, homosexuality and divorcees.  Unlikely to happen? Maybe. But nothing much less will do.

He then has to reform the curia, the governing body of the Vatican.  It must not be disbanded. After all, the Vatican is a state and has to have government. But it is that very government that prevents the reforms and actions that will mark the new papacy.

On the other issues such as homosexuality, divorce and celibacy and even marriage for priests, there are few reasons to believe that there will be much change.

For the people, the important role is to see the man himself.  He must gird himself for the followers of Roman Catholicism and others. For example, he must get to Brazil and save his church from the attractions of clappy evangelism.  He must get to Ireland, once the most Roman Catholic province of all, where the people have been lured not by tambourines but the attractions of a new post-Tiger economy, social media, the cult of cynicism and indifference and the new betrayal.

Pope Francis’s first task is simply being there among his people and allowing Catholics to metaphorically touch his hem.  After all, it has been done before, albeit 2000 years ago, but it worked.

Christopher Lee

February 11, 2013


How Many Divisions Has The Pope – About One Billion.  Politicians Don’t Forget That

11th February 2013

Benedict XVI has decided that he must go. He is too frail.  Having announced to a meeting of cardinals that he will go at the end of the month, he was helped from his throne by two acolytes and there was no power in him.


So immediately the political classes had to “say something”.


Mario Monti the Italian prime minister said he is “greatly shaken”.


The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of her fellow German that his decision “has my utmost respect. He is one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time.”


The British Prime Minister, David Cameron said “he will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions.” That came from a politician who had just forced through his own Parliament a Bill defying the beliefs of his own state controlled church and most certainly the sentiment preached by the Pope, to make gay marriage an Okay thing.


Maybe the guy who got it right amid all the political sanctimony was the presidential spokesman in the Philippines, Edwin Lacierda: “May he find respite from his physical challenges and contentment in the seclusion of retirement.”


When Stalin inquired without any delicacy “How many divisions does the Pope have?” he was responding to Rome’s declaration that the Soviet leader should stop the persecution of Catholics.


The classic hindsight response to Stalin would have been how many divisions does the Pope need?  No one would have been so silly as to offered themselves to a bullet in the back of the head just for the sake of a worthless quip. The Pope was dismissed as the most recognizable figure in the world but one who had no power over realistic power – the gun, the threat of the gun and the record of the gun.


The hopeless romantic might observe that just six Popes sat in Rome during the whole history of Communism albeit few unstained. Yet for all the criticism of a Church under this Holy Father and before that as leader for nearly a quarter of a century of the Church’s modern Inquisition, officially, the Doctrine of the Faith, he has been the spiritual steward of one seventh of the world.


As the political leaders shoved their divisions into other countries, Benedict and his predecessor counselled caution and humility.


When the born again Christian Bible-quoting Bush and the Hail Marian Blair ignored the truth and the wishes of millions of their own congregations  and went into Iraq and then Afghanistan like some unholy band of text spouting red neck crusaders, the Vatican stood its ground and said it was wrong.


Equally under Benedict and his Cardinals before him the Church chose to ignore or cover up the most bestial crimes of their parish priests who had jangled the genitalia of young boys and even entered their ani.


And yet the politicians are right when they mouth the spiritual recognition of more than a billion followers. 


If Christianity is the opiate of the masses then the need cannot be denied. The sanctimonious vote hungry legislators who struggle with power and its relationship with the profound commandments said to have been given to Moses have an understanding that what they offer is mostly held in contempt by the very electorate who rely on them to keep them from economic and military harms way.


Benedict XVI could present but one core belief and in that, he was no different from those who came before him and is no different from those who follow.  Yet no other religious leader in the whole world could cause such global reaction as would the going by whatever way of a Pope of the Church of Rome.


Whatever we like to think, even when a Pope’s name is unknown, his image is instantly recognized world-wide.  No divisions? An opiate and little more? The prompter of political banality? The uncompromising, cruelly so some would say, denouncer of modern social norms such as homosexuality, divorce and contraception? Yes, all of these things.  But look at the public reaction to nothing more than an 85 year-old guy saying he’s going to retire. Even allowing for the over-reaction of the media, there is hardly another peaceful event of the going of a public figure that could cause such excitement.