Issue 229 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
It was enough to send Norman Lamont into orgasmic rapture. He had won an important ally in his fight to save the Santiago One', dear old General Pinochet. His ally was one of the most powerful, influential, respected and loved men in the whole world, Pope John Paul II.
The pope is apparently an old friend of Pinochet, an admirer who, like Lamont, not only wishes for clemency due to age, but thinks the old butcher did rather well in his day quelling the world Communist threat.
So what if there were killings, torture and rapes? So be it. After all, those were troubled times. Pinochet may have approved torture, but his opponent Allende provocatively won elections. Pinochet may have ruled with an Iron fist, but Allende dangerously granted reforms. Pinochet may have turned Chile into one big open air prison and death camp, but Allende was on the left, neutral between Washington and Moscow. He had it coming.
Hearing this kind of garbage from Lamont should not surprise us. He was one of the nastier of Maggie's little helpers.
What though of the pope--the world's number one Christian, a man we are told who has a deep concern for the poor, for all those who suffer, a man who condemns torture and repression? After all, we are told that one of the reasons he became pope was that he stood up to the dictatorial Stalinist regime in his native Poland. He was a new pope in a new world, standing for freedom, justice and humanity.
Actually he was a Cold War warrior, is an extreme social conservative, and despite the odd garbled utterance of criticism of repressive regimes, a thoroughly reactionary old bastard. None of this should surprise us about the man, nor indeed the institution itself. For the papacy has always been thoroughly right wing. It has also of course been the base for power struggles between the ambitious and greedy within the Catholic hierarchy, a centre of financial corruption, and a seat of unchallengeable power. Indeed it is precisely these latter elements which drive it so thoroughly to the right.
So far from being an aberration John Paul's support for Pinochet follows a long line of Vatican flirtation and admiration for the extreme and dictatorial right. The church was over-whelmingly behind Franco in the Spanish Civil War, making propaganda on his behalf and urging Catholics to take up arms for the fascist cause. Although the church's relationship with Hitler was more uneasy, nevertheless the Vatican, and the pope of the day, Pius XII, made their peace with Hitler and Mussolini, and failed to utter a word in condemnation of Hitler's persecution of the Jews, let alone do anything to attempt to stop it, or to aid fleeing Jews.
Indeed Pius XII's regime suppressed a report, 'Humani Generis Unitas', commissioned by his predecessor, a report that was to be issued condemning the racial policies of the Nazi regime.
This document was hardly itself a bastion of anti-racist liberalism. indeed it makes concessions to many of the prejudices fomented by the Nazis, and sticks to much of the reactionary orthodoxy of papal politics.
I remember as a child two parts of religious ceremonies which stand out. One was at mass when we used to be asked to pray for the conversion of Russia. The other was a bit in a reading on Good Friday which referred to the accursed Jews,.
Both strains can be found in the suppressed anti-Nazi report referred to. Firstly it states that the church is not 'blind ... to the spiritual dangers to which contact with Jews can expose souls ... or unaware of the need to safeguard her children to spiritual contagion'. It goes on to give a warning against the Bolshevik Jewish conspiracy:
Now comes the liberal bit, as the church does not regard hatred of Jews or persecution as the answer or safeguard to these problems: 'Persecution, instead of obliterating or lessening the harmful or antisocial traits of a persecuted group, merely intensifies the tendencies that gave rise to them.' In other words persecution strengthens resolve, hardens belief and gives rise to opposition, which is of course a bad thing.
Nevertheless the document did attack the Nazis and therefore went too far for the Vatican. It was suppressed, and the disgraceful compromise with the Nazis and fascists was put in its place.
So John Paul has every historical precedent to use as justification for his stand on Pinochet. As I was taught at school, popes are infallible, so if Pius XI was right to be recruiter in chief for Franco, and Plus XII to do tangos with Mussolini, and play footsie with Hitler, why shouldn't John Paul II be chief witness for the defence in the case of General Pinochet?