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The transition of Canadian broadcaster and journalist Michael Coren, from a conservative Roman Catholic commentator most notable to me for his homophobia to an Anglican who has embraced gay issues, has from my perspective been sudden and remarkable. That homophobia was actually the motive force behind his religious transformation, as he wrote on the 16th of May in the Toronto Star, is still something of a shocker to me.

It’s been an interesting two weeks. I was fired from three regular columns in Catholic magazines, had a dozen speeches cancelled and was then subjected to a repugnant storm of tweets, Facebook comments, emails, newspaper articles and radio broadcasts where it was alleged that I am unfaithful to my wife, am willing to do anything for money, am a liar and a fraud, a “secret Jew,” that my eldest daughter is gay and I am going directly to hell. As I say, an interesting two weeks.

The reason for all this probably seems disarmingly banal and for many people absurdly irrelevant. At the beginning of May it was made public that a year ago I left the Roman Catholic Church and began to worship as an Anglican. More specifically, from being a public and media champion of social conservatism I gradually came to embrace the cause of same-sex marriage, more liberal politics and a rejection of the conservative Christianity that had characterized my opinions and persona for more than a decade. I’d won the RTNDA Broadcasting Award for a major radio debate where I opposed equal marriage, I was the author of the bestselling book Why Catholics Are Right, I was Michael Coren, for God’s sake — certainly not someone who would ever appear in the pages of the Toronto Star!

The change was to a large extent triggered by the gay issue. I couldn’t accept that homosexual relationships were, as the Roman Catholic Church insists on proclaiming, disordered and sinful. Once a single brick in the wall was removed the entire structure began to fall.

I refused to base my entire world view and theology, as so many active Catholics do, around abortion, contraception and sex rather than love, justice and forgiveness. Frankly, it was tearing me apart. I wanted to extend the circle of love rather than stand at the corners of a square and repel outsiders. So I quietly and privately drifted over to an Anglican Church that while still working out its own position on many social issues, is far more progressive, open, relevant and willing to admit reality.


He wrote again about this transition, at length, in The Walrus in the appropriately named "Coming Out".

As a middle-aged, very white, very straight, very Christian man, I was obliged, first reluctantly and then eagerly, to explore the complex dynamic between faith and homosexuality and to work out a new narrative. The crux of that narrative: God is love. The love I felt when I first saw my newborn children, when I watched my mother dissolve into Alzheimer’s, when I found my late father’s diaries that spoke of his pride in our family, when I feel closest to the Christ I worship. Jesus spoke of love for everybody and called for forgiveness, justice, truth, turning the other cheek.

As my faith has deepened over the years, I have tried to broaden the circle of inclusive love rather than guard the borders of what I once thought was Christian truth. Instead of holding the door firm, I want to hold it wide open. I have realized that Christianity is a permanent revolution, a state of being in which we believers must challenge our preconceptions every moment of every day. How dare I—with all of my brokenness and sordid, banal sinfulness—criticize someone simply because he or she wants to live life fully? How the hell dare I?

The standard Christian response to homosexuality is the familiar but entirely inadequate mantra “love the sinner but hate the sin.” In other words, a gay person’s sexual and romantic attractions—much of their being and personality, and all that they want in a lasting relationship—is sinful, but they themselves are just fine. By way of analogy, the teachings go, Christians love alcoholics but not alcoholism, love those who commit adultery but not the act of adultery itself. Such logic presupposes that same-sex attraction is no more central to a person’s identity than substance abuse or unfaithfulness—which any reasonable person knows to be untrue.


I'm still taken aback by this all. The apparent thoroughness of Coren's transition, triggered directly by his recognition of homophobia, impresses me. Really, the only thing coherent I can say about this is that I hope that I, too, am able to make similar shifts in my thinking when I recognize a fault in my worldview.
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Bloomberg's Dara Doyle notes, in the context of Ireland's upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, one consequence of its economic policy aimed at becoming a business hub: Big business is interested in the outcome.

When Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny rallied support for gay marriage ahead of a referendum this month, he got a little more than the usual help from Twitter Inc.

As well as disseminating the message through its social media, the company is backing the “yes” campaign, which is leading the polls before the May 22 vote. It says allowing wedlock for two people of the same sex is good for the economy. Other public declarations of support have come from Google Inc. and EBay Inc., which also have European headquarters in Ireland.

“Marriage equality is as good for our value as it is for our values,” Kenny said at an event last month among the stripped-down brick walls and bare floorboards of the Digital Exchange, a home for startup technology companies.

Just as the issue of gay rights in the U.S. has pit big business against a conservative opposition, in Ireland it’s the government supported by some of the world’s biggest Internet companies versus the tax friendly nation’s past as an upholder of Roman Catholic values.

[. . .]

“Twitter’s clear implication is that if we vote no it will be bad for business and bad for our international reputation,” said Ben Conroy, a spokesman for the Iona Institute, whose stated mission is to promote marriage and religion in society. “The most powerful economy in Europe, Germany, does not have same-sex marriage, so the idea that voting no would be bad for business is clearly ridiculous.”
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Writing for Transitions Online, Felix Corley suggests that many religious communities in Russian-occupied Crimea--particularly ones with Ukrainian or Western links--are facing quiet repression.

Almost 18 years after it was founded, a small Catholic convent in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, was forced to close down in November when its three Franciscan nuns had to leave. They were refused the possibility of extending their residence permits in Crimea, the chancellor of the Odessa and Simferopol Catholic diocese, Krzysztof Kontek, told Forum 18 News Service from the Ukrainian city of Odessa on 15 January. The sisters, who are from elsewhere in Ukraine and Poland, had been helping in pastoral work in the city's Catholic parish. Their enforced departure came a month after the parish’s main priest was similarly forced to leave.

In addition, December saw the enforced departure of the last of Crimea's 23 imams and Muslim teachers from Turkey, a spokesperson for the Muslim Board told Forum 18 from Simferopol on 20 January.

Officials from the Crimean branch of Russia's Federal Migration Service said in October that only registered religious communities are able to invite foreign citizens. No religious community in Crimea or Sevastopol (an administratively separate city) has state registration recognized by the Russian authorities.

A Russian law from 31 December extended the deadline for re-registering religious communities (and other entities) in Crimea until 1 March.

Fines for religious books the Russian authorities regard as “extremist” seem to have reduced in recent months, though they did not stop. However, as a moratorium on raids, seizures of literature, and prosecutions in such cases ended, it remains unclear if such raids, fines, and confiscations will resume. Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and librarians have been particular targets.

The moratorium was announced by the head of Crimea's Russian-backed government, Sergei Aksyonov, in mid-October.
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  • blogTO notes that crowd-funded transit might be coming to Toronto's Beaches.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly describes her favourite shopping experiences in Paris.

  • Centauri Dreams considers the question of how to name planets.

  • Crooked Timber discusses predictions for the coming year which descend into Bitcoin debates.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting that giant stars tend not to have giant close-in planets.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper noting the complicated entry of maize from Mexico into the United States.

  • Livejournaler jsburbidge notes the serious costs associated with a public housing problem for the homeless of Toronto.

  • Marginal Revolution notes that many Poles hold mortgages denominated in Swiss francs, and have thus been hit by the recent currency fluctuations.

  • Otto Pohl describes his writing project on the 1966 coup in Ghana.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes the problems with inexpensive manned spaceflight.

  • Torontoist and (again) blogTO and their commenters react to the end of Target Canada.

  • Towleroad notes that anti-gay American Roman Catholic cardinal Raymond Burke is also a misogynist.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that a Belarusian revolution would lead to a Russian invasion of that country, and wonders about European Union policy towards Crimea.

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  • Claus Vistesen's Alpha Sources considers the arguments for thinking stock markets will continue on their current course.

  • Centauri Dreams notes the discovery of eight potentially Earth-like worlds by Kepler, as does The Dragon's Gaze.

  • Crooked Timber considers the future of social democracy in a world where the middle classes do badly.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks at a redesigned American anti-missile interceptor.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that same-sex marriage in Vietnam is no longer banned, but it is also not yet recognized.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reacts to reviews of bad restaurants favoured by the ultra-rich.

  • The Planetary Society Blog's Emily Lakdawalla provides updates on Japan's Akatsuki Venus probe and China's Chang'e Moon probe.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog looks at the immediate impact of political turmoil last year in Crimea on the peninsula's demographics.

  • Mark Simpson suggests that straight men want attention from gay men as validation.

  • Spacing Toronto reviews The Bohemian Guide to Urban Cycling.

  • Torontoist looks at a Taiwanese condo tower that featured on-tower gardening.

  • Towleroad and Joe. My. God. both note that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami has told its employees it might fire them if they comment favourable about same-sex marriage.

  • Why I Love Toronto really likes downtown restaurant 7 West.

  • Window on Eurasia notes turmoil in the Russian intelligence community and a higher density of mosques than churches in the North Caucasus.

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As described by Daniel Panneton at Torontoist, Guy Fawkes Night was in the mid-19th century an ethnically fraught holiday. Maybe that's why it isn't so big in a Canada where Roman Catholics now form a plurality of the population.

Irish Catholic migrants who came to Toronto in the late 1840s to escape the Famine found themselves in a British and staunchly Protestant world. The municipal government was firmly in the hands of the Orange Order of Canada, an ultra-Protestant and fiercely anti-Catholic fraternity. Facing both official prejudice and a restrictive job market, Irish Catholics turned inwards, founding densely populated and impoverished neighbourhoods such as Corktown and Cabbagetown.

In his paper, the Irish Canadian, Patrick Boyle complained that Toronto “was in the hands of an Orange mob, aided in their work of blood and ruin by an Orange Mayor.” Boyle backed his claim by detailing transgressions committed by Orangemen in the past decade: an 1856 attempt to blow up the House of Providence, an 1858 St. Patrick’s Day riot that ended in the murder of an Irish Catholic, and an 1858 incident in which an Orange mob attacked the National Festival of Ireland.

The Hibernian Benevolent Society had been founded in 1859 to celebrate and protect Irish Catholics. Members of the Fenian Brotherhood, or Irish Republican Brotherhood, quickly infiltrated the Society and politicized its ranks. The Irish Canadian insisted that Irish Catholics “are a law-abiding, peaceable people, desirous that all classes of community shall enjoy the fullest political freedom” and warned the Orangemen that “the men whom you threaten are not school-boys, to be frightened by big words.” The Irish Catholics were not prepared to “lie tamely down and suffer the hell-child of Orange Ascendancy.”

In the days leading up to the Guy Fawkes celebrations of 1864, rumours began to circulate that the Orangemen were planning to burn effigies of Pope Pius IX, Irish politician Daniel O’Connell, and the recently deceased Duke of Newcastle.

Many observers feared street violence would break out. Invoking a riot that had killed 11 that spring in Belfast, the Irish Canadian claimed that on November 5, 1864, “the [Orange] lodges met and determined to follow the example of their brethren” in Ireland. The Hibernians publicly declared they would prevent any such demonstration, by force if necessary. It was only the intervention of Mayor Francis Henry Medcalf and several other Orange leaders that prevented the Order’s rank and file from carrying out their bonfire. Celebrations were held, but, save for a small flute band’s evening parade, took place entirely indoors.

The Orangemen’s restraint did little to cool the tempers of the Hibernians, who, in spite of the Catholic Church’s opposition, were determined to demonstrate that evening. Reports vary, but between 300 and 600 Irish Catholics gathered at Queen’s Park, “armed to the teeth with guns and pikes.”
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  • blogTO notes Ryerson University's new building on Church Street.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to one paper examining comet-like exoplanets and links to another tracking two families of exocomets in the Beta Pictoris system.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the intelligence of raccoons.

  • Steve Munro supports Olivia Chow as the best transit candidate.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that oil prices might remain relatively low for a while.

  • Spacing Toronto's John Lorinc defends strategic voting in Toronto.

  • The Toronto Standard and blogTO both like candidate Ari Goldkind's transit plan.

  • Towleroad notes pop star Ariana Grande dropped Catholicism because of hostility towards gay people like her brother.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Ukrainians overwhelmingly believe there's a war with Russia while Russians disagree, suggests the benefit of a new Russian history that tracks the people along with the state.

  • Zero Geography's Mark Graham announces a new project of his studying global digital development.

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  • Discover's Collideascape notes that, even as agricultural land is falling worldwide, the productivity of this land is increasing even more sharply.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to one paper examining the extent to which saline water might make cooler planets better for live, and to another paper suggesting that planetary magnetic fields are so importance for life (and oxygen levels) that brief reversals in the history of Earth have led to mass extinctions.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes a Ukrainian report that the country's military has captured a Russian tank.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that vehemently anti-gay Minnesota archbishop John Nienstadt is being investigated for allegedly having sexual relationships with men.

  • Marginal Revolution notes that, despite economic collapse, there are some jobs (like low-paying fieldwork) that Portuguese just won't do.

  • The New APPS Blog's Gordon Hull notes the gender inequity involved in the recent Hobby Lobby ruling in the United States.

  • pollotenchegg maps the slow decline of Ukraine's Jewish population in the post-1945 era.

  • Speed River Journal's Van Waffle writes eloquently about his connections to and love of Lake Erie.

  • Strange Maps' Frank Jacobs links to a cartographic examination of the time spent by French television news examining different areas of the world.

  • Towleroad notes a faux apology made by the Israeli education minister after attacking gay families.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy's Jonathan Adler notes the future of contraception coverage under Obamacare.

  • Window on Eurasia reports on fears that Crimean Tatar organizations will soon suffer a Russian crackdown, and suggests that the West should reconsider its policies on Belarus to encourage that country to diversify beyond Russia.

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  • At 3 Quarks Daily, Tamuira Reid writes about the minefields associated with Romani identity, starting with the name.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes a paper suggesting terrestrial worlds may be able to form in systems with hot Jupiters.

  • The Dragon's Tales suggests that Japan is starting to investigate the possibility of orbital solar power satellites.

  • Eastern Approaches notes the political controversies in Poland associated with the canonization of native son John Paul II.

  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad both note that Japan's first lady Akie Abe rode in a float in Tokyo's gay pride parade.

  • Geocurrents notes that long-time contributor Asya Pereltsvaig will no longer be contributing.

  • The New APPS Blog continues to observe the issues surrounding the Fermi Paradox.

  • Torontoist notes, with photos, a Toronto church's annual blessing of the bikes.

  • Towleroad observes that a Buffalo, New York, school refused to share news of a gay alumnus' wedding.

  • Window on Eurasia warns that Putin wants to regain Soviet levels of power and domination, also touching upon the Russian belief that Ukrainians and Belarusians don't have separate histories.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell recounts a book, Robert Bickers' Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, telling the story of an English expatriate fascist turned policeman in interwar Shanghai.

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Angus Bernard MacEachern, bishop, remembered at St. Dunstan's Basilica (1)


Erected quite recently on the property of St. Dunstan's Basilica, on the southwest corner of Great George Street and Sydney, is a monument to Angus Bernard MacEachern, the first Roman Catholic bishop on Prince Edward Island.

Scottish by birth, from his arrival in Atlantic Canada in 1790 MacEachern played a leading role in building the Roman Catholic Church in the British Atlantic colonies, a community fragmented by ethnicity as well as by geography. His death in 1835 left an institutionally strong church, one of its legacies being the St. Dunstan's University that eventually evolved into the modern University of Prince Edward Island. Based on his legacy, many locals would recommend him for sainthood.

(See yesterday's photo post to get a better sense of the setting of the monument.)

Angus Bernard MacEachern, bishop, remembered at St. Dunstan's Basilica (2)


The plaque for Bishop MacEachern's monument has the below passage in four languages: English, French, Scots Gaelic, and Mi'kmaq.

"Angus Bernard MacEachern (1759-1835), first Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown, founded St. Andrew's College, the first post-secondary institution in the colony, on 30 November 1831. In January 1855, the college was re-located and re-opened in Charlottetown as St. Dunstan's College (later University), which has carried on the rich tradition of Roman Catholic education in the province."
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St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (1)


The spires of St. Dunstan's Basilica, located squarely in the centre of downtown Charlottetown on Great George Street, are visible throughout the downtown area. The basilica of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown, St. Dunstan's is the core of Island Catholicism.

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (2)

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (3)

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown (4)
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Maïa de la Baume's New York Times article describes the repetition, in the Roman Catholic communities of France, of a pattern I've read of elsewhere in Roman Catholic communities elsewhere in the world where the numbers of parishoners taking holy orders have dropped off: priests migrate from Third World countries, often former colonies, to take over congregations in the former colonizer.

I'm not inclined to think this a good strategy. In the countries which receive these clerical migrants, differences between the priest's perceptions of the norms of acceptable religious practice and the congregation's can be quite serious (conservatives priests and liberal parishoners are the conflictual combination I've heard of), perhaps enough to create greater conflict between the Church and its members and so worsen things. In the countries which send well-trained clerics, meanwhile, the brain-drain of priests can weaken the position of a Church that is still, despite its vigour, new on the ground.

In Togo, the Rev. Rodolphe Folly used to conduct exuberant Sunday services for a hundred believers of all ages, who sang local gospel music and went up to him to offer what they had.

In this quiet town in Burgundy, he preaches to a more somber audience of about 40 gray-haired retirees in an unadorned 19th-century church that can accommodate up to 600 people.

“In my country, we applaud, we acclaim, we shout,” said Father Folly, a Roman Catholic priest who spoke in the living room of his modern, modest house. “Here, even when I ask people to shake hands, they say no.”

Father Folly, 45, has settled in this town of about 9,000 residents, assigned to replace an aging priest. He has brought his jovial smile and good heart to a place where religious practice is weak, as it is in many other areas of France. He is part of a battalion of priests who have come to France from abroad — from places like Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon but also Vietnam and Poland — who now represent about 10 percent of France’s declining clerical ranks.

[. . .]

The flow of priests from the developing world to wealthier churches in the West amounts to a brain drain within the church. The ratio of priests to parishes is just as bad, if not worse, in the developing world as it is in the West, but the Western nations have the resources to relocate and support these foreign priests. Bishops from Europe and the United States recruit priests from the global south in ad hoc arrangements with local bishops and religious orders, usually without any involvement from the Vatican. The flow of Catholic missionaries, who used to leave France, Italy, Ireland and the United States for the developing world, has now been largely reversed.

The decline of the priesthood as a vocation is particularly pronounced in France, a country that defines itself as secular. Magnificent churches dot the country, but France’s clergy is old and ordinations of priests are in continuing decline. The average age of France’s 14,000 priests is 72.

About 1,600, the number of foreign priests has nearly tripled over the last eight years, with many being recruited to parishes in urban areas and the Parisian suburbs.
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  • A Budding Sociologist or not, Dan Hirschman has a fascinating Q&A up with Canada-based economist Morten Jerven talking about the extent to which economic--and other--statistics in Africa are flawed.

  • Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait notes the landmark discovery of a distant supernova, a Type 1A supernova 10.5 billion light years away (and 10.5 billion years in the past).

  • Bag News Notes comments on the "Jew in a Box" display of a Berlin museum. Providing contemporary German museum-goers with a volunteer Jew to talk about their Jewish experiences may be well-intentioned, but it also has obvious negative echoes.

  • Beyond the Beyond's Bruce Sterling links to an interesting essay on the ethics of geoengineering.

  • Eastern Approaches visits a desolate, impoverished town in Bulgaria.

  • New APPS Blog takes on the ridiculous philosophizing of libertarian economist Steven Landsberg, who suggested that no harm is done to a person--a woman, naturally-who was raped while she was unconscious.

  • Progressive Download's John Farrell is quite unimpressed with the Vatican's latest statement about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Something peer-reviewed and new, not just a remining of old data, would be nice.

  • Steve Munro talks about various developments in Toronto transit.

  • Understanding Society's Daniel Little takes a look at Jonathan Haidt's theory about the natural origins of moral intuitions.

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  • Bag News Notes takes a look at the political iconography surrounding Chinese first lady, and patriotic singer, Peng Liuang.

  • BCer in Toronto Jeff Jedras doesn't like suggestion like the one made by Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray that, in order to bring down Harper, the NDP and Liberals should consider not running candidates in ridings where one party or another might break through against Conservatives. He favours a distinctly Liberal vision (which is?).

  • Beyond the Beyond's Bruce Sterling notes the recent finding that up to a third of American counties have declining populations.

  • Daniel Drezner suggests that Europeans were never as strongly wedding to multilateralism as many, including Europeans, alleged.

  • Eastern Approaches notes the failure of European Union-mediated talks between Kosova and Serbia, a consequence of Serbian resentment at the loss of Kosova.

  • Geocurrents' Martin Lewis maps global cell phone usage, which maps poorly with GDP per capita or wealth. Eastern European countries often have higher rates of cell phone ownership per person than western Europeans, for instance.

  • Joe. My. God notes that the Irish Roman Catholic Church has threatened to respond to a legalization of same-sex marriage in that country by no longer solemnizing marriages, forcing couples to engage in a separate state ceremony. (This could backfire.)

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw argues that his home region of New England, in coastal eastern Australia, is an important political bellweather for his country.

  • At the Planetary Science Blog, Marc Rayman writes about how his team is preparing for the Dawn probe's upcoming encounter with Ceres in two years.

  • Torontoist notes the happy news that Toronto sex shop Come As You Are has avoided closing down thanks to a successful online promotional campaign.

  • Window on Eurasia's Paul Goble notes various sources claiming that the 900 thousand ethnic Russians of Uzbekistan are increasingly unhappy living in a country where the Russian language is dropping out of general usage, the Russian colonial past in Uzbekistan is being criticized, and the only thing keeping many from leaving for Russia is a lack of means.

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Buzzfeed's J. Fester Leder argues how the current Pope may have learned, from his bruising encounter with Argentines over same-sex marriage, to take a non-confrontational approach over social issues. (May.)

Although his focus has often been on social justice issues, Bergoglio is a strong defender of the church's position on the marriage issue. His militancy in the campaign against Argentina's "Equal Marriage Law" in 2010 was so tone-deaf that many observers credit him with helping the law pass. But the mistakes his church made in combatting the law — and the tack it has taken since — may suggest the new Pope Francis will be savvier about guiding the church in opposing marriage in countries headed in that direction.

Bergoglio was Argentina's top bishop during the fight over the marriage law. One of the major turning points in the debate came when a letter he'd written to a group of nuns explaining opposition to the law was made public. The rhetoric seemed so out of touch with Argentina's largely secular population that it marginalized the church even further in the debate.

The law was "sent by the Devil," Bergoglio wrote in July 2010:

Let's not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God's plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that's just it's form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God… Let's look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment… May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.


To this day, the embarrassment the letter caused is evident.

"Bergoglio's letter is nonexistent. It was a private letter" said Father Alberto Bochatey, head of the Catholic University of Argentina's Marriage and Family Institute, when this reporter met with him in Buenos Aires last fall. But, he said, "It surely had a cost."

[. . .]

After that, the church noticeably moderated its tone when fighting social issues. During a debate over changes to the civil code in 2012, which included sensitive reproduction issues like surrogacy and the handling of fertilized eggs, the church tread far more lightly — making their case but avoiding the strong language that cost them support in 2010.

"Today they come with a stance that is much more receptive to another point of view," said the chairman of the committee leading the civil code reforms back in August 2012.
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In a blog post at the Chronicle of Higher Education, scholar of religion and globalization Philip Jenkins makes the point that, in many respects, Argentina is the perfect point of origin for the first non-European Pope: a Latin American country of note that's also a leading neo-Europe, arguably the most Italian country by descent and culture outside of Italy, a church of the Global South dealing with the problems of secularization much like the Church in the Global North.

For decades the prospect of a pope from outside Europe has both excited and alarmed observers of the Roman Catholic Church. As the number of Catholics has grown steadily in the Global South, the continuing domination of the church by European prelates has seemed ever more unjust. By 2030 nearly 80 percent of the world’s Catholics will live in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, and Africa will be home to more Catholics than Europe itself. Is such a church to be headed forever by those from Western Europe, a region rapidly succumbing to secularism?

The shift was going to come, and when it did, no country was better suited to provide the pathbreaker than Argentina. Finally we see a pope who can claim to speak for Latin America and the non-European world. For Catholics of the Global South, the symbolic move is decisive and probably marks the start of an indefinite sequence of non-European popes.

[. . .]

The more we examine Argentina, the more perfect Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio seems as a choice, even for the more conservative Europeans. If we imagine an Italian cardinal grumbling at being forced to look overseas for a pope, it quickly becomes clear why an Argentine would be the most attractive choice. While North Americans tend to lump Latin American countries together, Argentina is in fact distinctive.

It is by far the most European nation on its continent, and specifically the most Italian. People of Italian heritage represent a large proportion of its population, and in the late 19th century it was the favored destination of those Italian migrants who did not head to the United States. Of course the country has plenty of other ethnic groups, notably Germans and Syrians/Lebanese, but it is the Italian character that has most profoundly marked Argentina’s society and politics. Just as the British see Australia and New Zealand as distant cousins, so many Italians regard Argentina.

Argentina is also notably European in its history and tradition. It is Latin American, yes, but emphatically not part of the third world. At least through the 1950s, Argentina was definitively part of the advanced West, the first world, to the point that economists wrote learned essays on why Argentina had succeeded so thoroughly while other colonial possessions, like Australia, remained in the doldrums of underdevelopment and colonial exploitation. Right up to the 1940s, Buenos Aires was one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated cities, commonly fifth in line after London, New York, Paris, and Berlin.

Moreover, unlike other Latin American countries such as Mexico or Brazil, Argentina has only a small surviving Native or Indian population, so questions of religious inculturation scarcely arise.

Additionally, the Argentine church faces problems that are immediately recognizable from Rome or Madrid. While the country has small Pentecostal and evangelical minorities, they are nowhere near as strong as in neighboring Brazil or Chile. Instead, the greatest challenge comes from secularism; perhaps 15 percent declare themselves nonreligious, and the great majority of self-declared Catholics practice the faith minimally, if at all. Many notional Catholics spurn the church’s attempts to intervene in the public realm.
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Ed Stocker's Christian Science Monitor article touches upon Argentine national and Latin American regional pride in the selection of Buenos Aires cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope. As Stocker notes later in the article, the theme of growth in the Global South is undermined somewhat by the growth of non-Catholic sects in traditionally Catholic areas and the spread of secular norms elsewhere. (Argentina, it should be noted, adopted same-sex marriage with majority supporter before France or the United Kingdom.)

As news spread that the Catholic Church's most powerful position had gone to a non-European for the first time in more than 1,000 years residents of Argentina’s capital were scrambling to double check their smartphones – and asking each other if the news was really true.

Local media outlets had largely dismissed the idea of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as a papal front-runner, largely because he had lost out to Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and was an older-than-average 76. Speculation rested, instead, on a possible Italian, Canadian, or even Brazilian candidate.

But as it was confirmed that Latin America – where 40 percent of the globe's Catholics reside – had produced its first pope, crowds quickly began to swell outside Buenos Aires’ cathedral in the city’s main square. The young crowd shouted that they were “the pope’s youth,” waving the yellow and white colors of the papacy alongside Argentine national flags and pictures of the Virgin Mary. At one point, revelers burst into a rendition of the national anthem, and others repeatedly chanted “Francisco,” or Francis, the adopted name of the new pontiff.

Latinos have a great affection for the pope generally, says Timothy Matovina, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. But, he adds, “They will have an even greater affection for the pope in this instance.”

“Demographics are south of the equator, not north anymore,” says Mr. Matovina. “This choice resonates with where church growth is happening.”
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Multiple people on Facebook have been sharing Hugh O'Shaughnessy's article "The sins of the Argentinian church". The current Pope was involved in the infamous dirty war, it seems.

To the judicious and fair-minded outsider it has been clear for years that the upper reaches of the Argentine church contained many "lost sheep in the wilderness", men who had communed and supported the unspeakably brutal Western-supported military dictatorship which seized power in that country in 1976 and battened on it for years. Not only did the generals slaughter thousands unjustly, often dropping them out of aeroplanes over the River Plate and selling off their orphan children to the highest bidder, they also murdered at least two bishops and many priests. Yet even the execution of other men of the cloth did nothing to shake the support of senior clerics, including representatives of the Holy See, for the criminality of their leader General Jorge Rafael Videla and his minions.

As it happens, in the week before Christmas in the city of Córdoba Videla and some of his military and police cohorts were convicted by their country's courts of the murder of 31 people between April and October 1976, a small fraction of the killings they were responsible for. The convictions brought life sentences for some of the military. These were not to be served, as has often been the case in Argentina and neighbouring Chile, in comfy armed forces retirement homes but in common prisons. Unsurprisingly there was dancing in the city's streets when the judge announced the sentences.

What one did not hear from any senior member of the Argentine hierarchy was any expression of regret for the church's collaboration and in these crimes. The extent of the church's complicity in the dark deeds was excellently set out by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina's most notable journalists, in his book El Silencio (Silence). He recounts how the Argentine navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship's political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate. The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio's name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to chose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment.


Others have shared Colin Snider's essay on the aftermath of the election.

Bergoglio was the head of the Jesuits in Argentina during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, during which the military murdered upwards of 30,000 people (as well as kidnapping hundreds of children whose parents the regime had tortured and murdered). Unlike Catholic officials in neighboring Chile and Brazil, where priests, bishops, and even cardinals spoke out against human rights abuses and defended victims of abuses, in Argentina, the Catholic Church was openly complicit in the military regime’s repression. Bergoglio was not exempt from this involvement: military officers have testified that Bergoglio helped the Argentine military regime hide political prisoners when human rights activists visited the country. And Bergoglio himself had to testify regarding the kidnapping of two priests who he stripped of their religious licenses shortly before they were kidnapped and tortured. This isn’t just a case of Bergoglio being a member of an institution that supported a brutal regime; it’s a case of Bergoglio himself having ties, direct and indirect, to that very regime. For those who hoped for a Pope who might represent a more welcoming and open path for the Catholic Church, the selection of Bergoglio has to be a let-down.

This is why the selection of Bergoglio over Scherer is disappointing. Thirteen years younger than Bergoglio, Scherer’s path was notably different. To be clear, the Catholic Church supported Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) in its early years; however, as Ken Serbin has demonstrated, already by the late-1960s and early-1970s, high-ranking officials in the church hierarchy were secretly meeting with representatives from the dictatorship in order to try to pressure military rulers to respect human rights, even for alleged “subversives.” By the latter half of the 1970s, the Brazilian Catholic church had become one of the more vocal opponents of human rights violations under the regime, and the Archdiocese of São Paulo ultimately played a central role in secretly accessing, collecting, and publishing files on torture, murder, and repression under the dictatorship, eventually published in 1985 as Brasil: Nunca Mais (literally Brazil: Never Again; in English, Torture in Brazil). Where Bergoglio was active in a context where the Argentine Church openly supported military regimes and human rights violations, Scherer was active in a context where members of the Brazilian Church openly took a stand against such abuses and against the regime that committed them.

A few weeks ago, a student asked me if I thought the cardinals would finally pick a Latin America pope. I commented that if they were smart, they’d diversify by picking a Brazilian and democratizing a bit, but I feared they’d pick an Italian and show a refusal to reform and democratize the church. With the selection of Bergoglio, it appears they’ve chosen to split the difference, diversifying beyond Europe while continuing the conservatism that defined recent popes.
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Jesuit cardinal of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio has made a few firsts today in becoming Pope, being the first Pope Francis, and the first Latin American and Argentine Pope. Michael Warren's Associated Press article from the 4th of this month profiled the two candidates. Bergoglio seems to have been a dark horse candidate.

(And yes, among other things he's homophobic, having criticized same-sex marriage as evil and having identified adoption by same-sex parents as child abuse. Surprised?)

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would be the first Jesuit pope if chosen, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests.

[. . .]

Bergoglio, 76, reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope. In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world's Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, says his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Bergoglio would likely encourage the church's 400,000 priests to hit the streets to capture more souls, Rubin said in an Associated Press interview. He is also most comfortable taking a low profile, and his personal style is the antithesis of Vatican splendor. "It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome," Rubin said.

Bergoglio is known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.

[. . .] Bergoglio stands out for his austerity. As Argentina's top church official, he's never lived in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

Bergoglio has slowed a bit with age and is feeling the effects of having a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager — two strikes against him at a time when many Vatican-watchers say the next pope should be relatively young and strong. "But he's going to be very influential in the congress of cardinals, one of those who is most listened to," Rubin said.

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