Together with millions of others around the world, I was impressed by the words of Pope Francis when he was visiting Bolivia this past week. “Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God,” he said. “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-call conquest of America.” There can be no question that the Pope’s words were genuine and that the contrition they represent is a breath of fresh air in a world suffocating under the tyranny of colonial models that persist to this day. However, the Pope’s impulse to apologize is a measure not only of his but also his advisers’ abject failure to end the futile catechism of contrition. The gold and silver that adorn his churches came at the following cost to the very descendants to whom he apologized.
“The owners of the mines are such tyrants, with no fear of God or Justice… they hang the noble cacique (Inca) by his feet, and seat another one on a llama and whip him. Others are bound stark naked to the whipping post…” Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, 1610
“Every peso coin minted in Potosi has cost the lives of 10 Indians who have died in the depths of the mines.” Fray Antonio de la Calancha, 1638
The genocide of the Andean peoples was not an oversight of the church or the random act of a few psychopaths. No, the same church offering an apology had a perverse incentive for the genocide. While the going rate for masses was 4 pesos, the mass for a “high burial” in the Andean mine boom towns was 40 pesos (a discount to 14 pesos was the rate for slaves!). The church – yes, the one that offered an apology – serves the Sacrament with vessels cast and hammered from the very metal dripping with its complicit blood. The only blood that’s in the Host is the blood of those very laborers who were forced into slavery and violently killed so the Spanish and Vatican elite could satiate their lust for gold and silver. The genocide was so complete among the Andean peoples that the god-fearing tyrants had to resort to slaves from Africa to populate the mines because they had run out of Indians!
The Pope’s church currently has capital balances estimated at approximately $7.3 billion in The Institute for the Works of Religion (or the IOR, the name for the Vatican’s reporting bank). Vatican City has the highest nominal per capita GDP at about $365,796. Bolivia’s per capita GDP is about $3,000! The church’s revenue is estimated to be between $800 million and a billion per year. The IOR reportedly provides “valuable service that can be offered by the Institute to assist the Holy Father in his mission as universal pastor and also aid those institutions and individuals who collaborate with him in his ministry.” With financial assets giving it over $100 billion of economic power, the IOR under the guidance of Cardinal Santos Abril Y Castello and Ernst von Freyberg have done precious little to evidence their capacity to provide such valuable services that their Communique of 2014 state.
And the same Pope who apologizes for grievous sins of 5 centuries past fails to connect the dots to the current actions being taken by his church in the present day. This apologizing pontiff takes no account for the coastal plantations across the globe stolen by the church for the economic benefit of its priests which to this day are pumping revenue to foreign shareholders from oil palm, coconut, coffee, cocoa, and countless other crops. He pays no attention to the priest-turned President John Momis in Bougainville who uses another mine stolen under the same crossed sanction to enrich his own political aspirations at the expense of the local communities who were nearly exterminated in the late 1980s in a bloody genocide. Gilded alters and golden crosses apparently blind the faithful to their present complicity while giving reflection to those moments in history where the unconsidered acts of “others” are worthy of contemplative contrition.
Well Pope Francis, the world is waiting for you to actually take a lesson from your namesake and be the transformation that your Encyclicals pronounce.
Where’s your commission on stolen land repatriation?
Where’s your IOR when it could be offering sukuks and other Shariah compliant investment products to show that the church can no longer hold from the peoples of the Middle East that which it stole a millennium ago?
Where’s your advisory council on charity elimination – the ultimate aspiration of the teachings attributed to Christ? After all, “The poor will always be with you,” was not a mandate – it was Christ stating the inevitability of callous neglect of humans that even he couldn’t imagine coming to an end.
And where’s the acceptance of St. Francis’ own teachings about being paid in coin? For a church that still encourages monetary charity over any other form, one would think that reading St. Francis’ own writings on money – so powerful that even Pope Innocent III was moved to bow and kiss his bare feet – wouldn’t be too far a reach for a Pope taking that name.
Sorry won’t do. Doing something about inverting the alchemy of religion – the alchemy that turned human blood into shiny gold goblets and crosses – would be truly Christian. Try that on for size.