Curious Pope St. John Paul II Photo: Meditations on the Tarot?

Curious Pope St. John Paul II Photo: Meditations on the Tarot?

[JP2 the Great-One into reading Tarot cards or meditations on them?]

Posted by St. Corbinian’s Bear at


So, what books are on his Holiness’ desk in 1988?


Kind of hard to read, no?


But carefully compare to this high-quality photograph above. The title, translated, is “Meditations on the Tarot.”

One ephemerist alleges that, while living in Germany, he received a “reliable report” that the book had been presented to St. John Paul II by Robert Spaemann. These were people who knew Spaemann. Now, Rorate Caeli reported an audience between Spaemann and Pope Benedict XVI shortly before the Motu proprio was issued. Spaemann was a philosophy professor at the University of Munich, and is a personal favorite of Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict dedicated one of his books to Spaemann. And Hans Urs von Balthasar was one of Pope Benedict’s very favorite theologians. And guess who wrote the second afterward to the German edition of Meditations on the Tarot, after von Balthasar? Robert Spaemann.

Of course, there is no picture of Pope Benedict sitting at a desk with Meditations on the Tarot.

Now before you get too excited, gentle reader, “Meditations on the Tarot” is not about fortune-telling. It is a melange of Christian Hermeticism, and often reactionary, yet sometimes unorthodox Catholicism. It also has a healthy dose of Christian mysticism. It discusses the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at length. There is much that is intriguing and suggestive, but a little bit of leaven leavens the whole loaf.

As we shall see, however, the book was circulating among Catholic intellectuals at the time so perhaps we should not be surprised.

Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar and Other neo-Catholic Reviewers

In fact, Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a favorable afterward, which is more or less gently critical depending on the edition. It seems as if some unscrupulous publishers left off the end of von Balthasar’s contribution, where he lists issues with the book, such as the author’s apparent acceptance of reincarnation, and believe it or not, the author’s “fundamentalist approach.” (Tomberg could be very non-ecumenical toward Protestants.)

Von Balthasar was not made a cardinal until seven years later, so one assumes whatever he wrote was not an issue for Pope St. John Paul II. (Of course von Balthasar building his theology on the channeled communications of medium Adrienne von Speyr wasn’t a problem, either.)

A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also the Cabbala and certain elements of astrology and alchemy. These symbols are summarized in the twenty-two so-called “Major Arcana” of the Tarot cards. By way of the Major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery. Firstly, it may be recalled that such an attempt is to be found nowhere in the history of philosophical, theological and Catholic thought.

Other Catholic reviews of the book (from the Amazon website) said:

“This book, in my view, is the greatest contribution to date toward the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the High Middle Ages.” (Centering-prayer advocate and Trappist Abbot Thomas Keating, OCSO)

“The book begs not only to be studied cover to cover, but also to be savored, meditated upon and assimilated into one’s life.” (Richard W. Kropf, National un-Catholic Reporter)

National neo-Catholic Register’s Review

But before you snark on the Reporter, the National Catholic Register had a glowing review, too, published in the mid-80s and written by Stratford Caldecott. It saw Meditations on the Tarot as a kind apologetic, even invitation addressed to the New Age Movement. Indeed, it seems that this dense, difficult book has brought many former New Agers into the Church. Further the Bear sayeth not.

We are all aware of the popularity of witchcraft, magic, astrology and the “New Age” movement. The cults and new religions are growing in number and strength every year: in contrast, the Catholic Church is often represented as a fossil, its life extinguished by centuries of dogmatism. True Christianity, says the New Age, has been lost, or retreated underground where only an elite few can find it.

Meditations on the Tarot answers these accusations. It claims that Christianity has not been lost at all, but has been preserved precisely by those institutions and dogmas that, to the New Agers, appear opposed to the life of the Spirit. The book was written by a remarkable convert, an experienced occultist who finally discovered “that there are guardian angels; that there are saints who participate actively in our lives; that the Blessed Virgin is real… that the sacraments are effective… that prayer is a powerful means of charity; that the ecclesiastical hierarchy reflects the celestial hierarchical order… that, lastly, the Master himself–although he loves everyone, Christians of all confession as well as all non-Christians–abides with his Church, since he is always present there, since he visits the faithful there and instructs his disciples there.”

When you put it that way, where does the Bear sign up? Today, that would get you put in fundie time out by Pope Francis.

Proto-New-Ager Valentin Tomberg

The book was published anonymously and posthumously. The reader is addressed rather charmingly as, “My unknown friend.”

The secret eventually came out that the author was Valentin Tomberg.

Tomberg was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1900. He was drawn to Theosophy and the mysticism of the Orthodox Church. He became a Martinist. His family fled the Russian Civil War to Estonia, but his mother was killed by marauders. He went to Amsterdam and married a Polish Catholic woman He also joined Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society. His career course is typical for an aspiring occultist of that era, although had he been English, it would have included a tour in the Golden Dawn.

He converted to Catholicism around the end of WWII. He moved to England and worked for the BBC as a translator. After his retirement, he devoted himself full-time to his writings, including his magnum opus, Meditations on the Tarot.

He died on vacation with his wife in 1973. Meditations on the Tarot was published in 1984.

Bear’s Opinion

It has been awhile since the Bear has read Meditations on the Tarot. It is a difficult work, and the Bear can’t remember much of it. There was much that he thought made sense, and much that is lyrical, and much that gently but devastatingly skewers non-Catholic religions, even eastern ones, which are traditionally admired by New Agers.

Then there’s a long segment on the perilous and illicit process of turning oneself into a ghost, to crystalize oneself after death in order to remain here on earth and avoid judgment and purgatory.

It’s almost like talking to someone with a psychotic delusion. One minute they sound perfectly sane, and the next minute they’re demanding aluminum foil to make hats for everyone. Or, more dangerously — and this is the real problem with Meditations on the Tarot — one minute Tomberg sounds perfectly sane, and the next minute he sounds perfectly sane, too, but he’s saying something unsound.

The Bear can see how people who are not experienced with the magic-show cum striptease that is occultism might be gulled. It isn’t New Age Catholicism, represented by shelves of books in your local Catholic bookstore. It’s nearly a kiss to Catholicism from the best traditions of western occultism, but it’s really a miss.

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7 comments on “Curious Pope St. John Paul II Photo: Meditations on the Tarot?

  1. No quran on his desk?
    I guess he only kissed them and didn’t read them.
    Next thing we’ll find out is he was having a seances at the Vatican.

  2. Following is an excerpt regarding von Balthasar and “Meditations on the Tarot” from an article from the May 2015 issue of Christian Order which I wrote concerning the Jesuits and the infiltration of Freemasonry. The book, Meditations on the Tarot, while feigning Christianity, is straight from Hell. It proposes the standard Kabalistic fusion of opposites with good and evil being resolved in the unconditional love of Christ. Von Balthasar’s influence on “Conservative” Catholicism has been nefarious.

    ….von Balthasar had his own vision of the Church of the future. In an attempt to analyse the thought of von Balthasar, I should like to refer to a book, originally published in German in 1985 by an anonymous author, entitled Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, to which von Balthasar wrote a foreword (afterword in the English edition). Lack of space prohibits a full treatment of this book, which deserves a thorough review, but there are some salient quotes that will give a quite accurate idea of the general tone of the work.

    The “anonymous” author presents Gnosticism, Magic, Kabbalah and Hermeticism as not only compatible, but essential to true Catholic belief. While he quotes St. Paul and St. John the Evangelist and extols the visions of such Catholic mystics as St. John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, and St. Francis of Assisi, as well as quoting from St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, he gives equal coverage to the “initiated” Masons cited above: Papus, Louis Claude de Saint Martin (Martinism), Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, the acknowledged Luciferian, Stanislau de Guaita, the Satanic Magician Elephias Levy, as well as the Kabbalistic false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi, Madam Blavatsky, Swami Vivekananda, Rudolf Steiner, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, Carl Jung, and a host of others.

    The general premise of the book — dedicated to the Virgin of Chartres — is that there is a general cosmic energy labelled egregore [God] that runs through all religions, as well as Freemasonry.(34) This unified energy is manifested in duality: light-dark, male-female, good-evil, etc. which in Hinduism is called Advaita Vedanta, Monism to the Spinozist, and in the Christian tradition (quoting St. John out of context), are united by “Love” (p. 32). All spiritual masters enter mystically into this cosmic spirituality by initiation, understood as “the state of consciousness where all, eternity and the present moment are one.”(35) In this state of consciousness, magical powers are acquired (p. 87). Jesus was an initiate, as were those who came before him, i.e., the Hebrew Moses and the Egyptian Hermes Trismejistis, as well as such people as Eliphias Lévi, Stanislaus de Gauita, and Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, etc. Reincarnation is “simply a fact of experience” (p. 93), for example, Jesus was aware of his “magical” powers, and the theurgist Monsieur Philip “made himself an instrument of the divine magic of Jesus Christ” (p. 193). The Holy Trinity is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or, Father, Mother, and Son interchangeably. The cross is the symbol of the marriage of opposites (p. 259) and the Virgin Mary is “A cosmic entity, Wisdom, the Virgin of Light of the [Gnostic] Pistis Sophia,… the Shekinah of the Cabbalists” (pp. 547-549, 582).(36) “The great Many [founder of Manichaeism] taught a synthesis [that] the good will of the whole of mankind — Pagan, Buddhist and Christian — for a single concerted and universal effort yes towards the eternal spirit and no towards the things of matter” (p. 471).

    The author weaves these syncretistic, Gnostic, Kabbalistic and Manichean beliefs together, while maintaining that all of the above conforms to his orthodox Catholic Faith. Enough said. This book is a “Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” the final fruit of the Catholic-Masonic “spiritual” dialogue established to “counteract materialism” by the Jesuits with Masonic initiates going back at least to 1907.

    Von Balthasar has nothing but praise for this work. In his forward (German edition)/afterward (English edition) he has the following to say:

    A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also the Cabbala and certain elements of astrology and alchemy. These symbols are summarized in the twenty-two so-called “Major Arcana” of the Tarot cards. By way of the Major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic Mystery…. The Church Fathers understood the myths born from pagan thought and imagination in a quite general way as veiled presentiments of the Logos, Who became fully revealed in Jesus Christ… in the light of Biblical revelation, but also the “wisdom of the rulers of this world” (I Cor. ii, 6), by which he meant the so-called “secret wisdom of the Egyptians” (especially the Hermetic writings supposedly written by “Hermes Trismegistus” the Egyptian god Thòth). He also had in mind the “astrology of the Chaldeans and Indians. … Above all during the Renaissance, through the continuing influence of these conceptions, the best minds were occupied with accommodating the Jewish magical-mystical Cabbala into the Christian faith. As has now been observed, many of the Church Fathers had already attributed a place of honour among the heathen prophets and wise men to the mysterious Hermes Trismegistus. … Among those who later endeavoured to understand these teachings were Reuchlin in Germany, Ficino and especially Pico della Mirandola(37) in Italy, whilst the extraordinary Cardinal Giles of Viterbo (1469-1552) wanted to explain the Holy Scripture with the help of the Cabbala. The Cardinal wrote his ebullient dissertation on the “Shekinah,”(38) dedicated to Emperor Charles V. … The first discussions for or against the secret teachings of the Cabbala go back to the converted or non-converted Spanish Jews of the twelfth century. There are other historical examples analogous to that of the gathering and accommodation of Hermetic and Cabbalistic wisdom into Biblical and Christian thought: above all, the transposition of Chassidism to a modern horizon of thought by Martin Buber (Chassidism is deeply influenced by the Cabbala). (659-661)

    [While it is certainly true that many in the Church did fall prey to these alien spiritualities during the Renaissance, they were condemned by the Council of Trent, which insisted on the traditional sacramental nature of the Church and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.] Professor Von Balthasar continues:

    … However, just as strong in its creative power of transformation is the incorporation of Jacob Boehme’s(39) Christosophy into the Catholic world-conception by the philosopher Franz von Baader.

    A third, less clear-cut transposition will be referred to briefly: that of the ancient magic/alchemy into the realm of depth psychology by C.G. Jung.(40) The author’s “Meditations on the Major Arcana of the Tarot” are in the tradition of the great accomplishments of Pico della Mirandola and Franz von Baader, but are independent of them.

    The mystical, magical, occult tributaries which flow into the stream of his meditations are much more encompassing; yet the confluence of their waters within him, full of movement, becomes inwardly a unity of Christian contemplation. …. Repeated attempts have been made to accommodate the Cabbala and the Tarot to Catholic teaching. The most extensive undertaking of this kind was that of Élephias Levi (the Pseudonyme of Abbé Alphonse-Louis Constant) whose first work (Dogma et ritual de la haute magie) appeared in 1854. (pp. 661-662.)(41)

    Von Balthasar ends his afterward with the following words:

    The author is able to enter into all the varieties of the occult science with such sovereignty, because for him they are secondary realities, which are only able to be truly known when they can be referred to the absolute mystery of divine love manifest in Christ. … .” (p. 663. Emphasis added.)

    This book, though little known to the general public, has had a tremendous impact on post-Vatican II Catholic thought. Following are some reviews as presented on the back cover of the
    book itself:

    “It is without doubt the most extraordinary work I have ever read. It has tremendous depth and insight.” — Trappist Abbot Basil Pennington, OCSO

    “It is simply astonishing. I have never read such a com-prehensive account of the ‘perennial philosophy’.” — Father Bede Griffiths.

    “This book, in my view, is the greatest contribution to date toward the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the High Middle Ages.” — Trappist Abbot Thomas Keating, OCSO

    “The book begs not only to be studied cover to cover, but also to be savoured, meditated upon and assimilated into one’s life.” — Richard W Kropf, National Catholic Reporter.

    One cannot but wonder as to how such obviously brilliant thinkers as De Lubac and von Balthasar, able defenders of the Faith on so many fronts, could, via their collaboration with the “Enlightened” Brothers in their joint fight against atheistic materialism, fall into a trap that would lead them into accommodating the “Complete God” (Male-Female, Light-Dark, Good-Evil) of Gnosticism, the Kabbalah, and Freemasonry.(42)

    “The spirits of wickedness on high”

    While the pitfalls of “materialism” and “secularism” are to be assiduously avoided, not all that is spiritual leads us to God. In fact, as St. Paul reminds us,

    “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of present darkness, against the spirits of wickedness on high.” (Ephesians 6:12)

    Holy Mother Church has withstood the onslaughts of the Devil in the past — Arianism, Pelagianism, Priscilianism, Protestantism, etc. — and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, as it has in the past, will triumph in her purity once again. In the words of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: “The night is always darkest just before the Dawn.”

    Professor Armstrong’s article is one of dozens of absorbing essays and commentaries by Catholic scholars published in A Catholic Witness In Our Time — available from (See CO book review, Feb. 2015.)

  3. To the extent that the book proposes ‘Christian Hermeticism’ as an alternative to other gnostic and esoteric secret society traditions, Valentin Tomberg was accused of being a secret Jesuit. It made the rounds back in the 1980s when discussions of Gnosticism and other arcana, heresies, occult, and mystical traditions were in fashion. Whether it is that significant that John Paul II was in possession of a copy would be speculation. Having a copy of a book is not the same as agreeing with its thesis. Many Catholics have books on Gnosticism, Jung, Nietzsche, and various other non-Catholic ideologies and peculiarities which may be useful in apologetics directed toward penitents and converts from such non-Catholic points of view. There are some strange and weird things in Meditations on the Tarot, so it may not be for squeamish readers. That John Paul II had the book does not in itself prove that he was an initiate or adherent of any non-Christian secret society or occult mysticism anymore than a copy of The Communist Manifesto in George Patton’s, Billy Graham’s, or Fulton Sheen’s library should have stirred J. Edgar Hoover’s Fifth Column suspicions.

    Tomberg (the author) apparently converted to Catholicism.

    • Want Occultism? Here’s the Real Deal

      Posted by St. Corbinian’s Bear at


      The Bear has written about an historical curiosity. A book entitled Meditations on the Tarot appears to be sitting on Pope St. John Paul II’s desk. It’s Catholic bona fides are established by afterwords by Robert Spaemann, celebrated as the greatest Catholic scholar in Germany. In all likelihood, it was Spaemann that gave the book to Pope St. John Paul II. Hans Urs von Balthasar (Pope Benedict’s favorite theologian) also wrote a laudatory afterword.

      The Bear fears that he may have given the impression that the book is sound. Well, it is sound, in many particulars. In many, however, such as reincarnation, the book is in error. The premise of the book is Christian Hermeticism — an attempt to express the underground stream of Western esoteric knowledge in Catholicism. However, the Bear’s opinion is that this is a volatile mixture. Unless you are one in a million Catholics who have the background and discernment to separate the wheat from the tares, it will blow up in your face.

      There are many Catholic trappings. But Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for less. The Bear has no reason to doubt the sincerity of the author. But here is what the Church says. The Bear will leave it to the reader to decide it it applies.


      2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

      No, it is not a perfect match. There is no magic, no divination here. However, the book teaches a matrix for all aberrant practices. It is a “weltbilt,” or world view. The relevant phrase from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is: “Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes.” If it is Catholic Hermeticism, it still carries all the baggage Hermeticism carries. It is very near to “Catholic Masonry.” The unspoken assumption is that this esoteric knowledge adds to the deposit of Faith.

      Is the Church really so lacking that it needs esoteric knowledge to supplement the writings of Her great saints? (Although Tomberg recognizes the superiority of the saints, in practice, what does his book stand for?)

      Robert Spaeman, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pope St. John Paul II; Abbot Thomas Keating — none of these people, no matter how deep their scholarship; or how exalted their theological credentials and name; or how shining their holiness; or how popular their books, is qualified to make a judgment of this book.

      It is dazzling, sometimes true, and painted over with a thick coat of traditional Catholicism. But remember this: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 RSV)

      A Man Who Is Qualified to Speak on the Book

      So, who is qualified to speak on this book? The Bear knew a man who joined a nice-sounding, “fully contacted” mystery school. Note that he had no intention of doing anything wrong. The name of the school invoked “the Light.” That had to be good, right? On a regular basis, he would get lessons in the mail from the leader, who lived on the isle of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. (He saved the stamps for the Bear.)

      It was nice, and friendly. The first lessons evidently involved visualizing centers of power in your “aura,” the best the Bear understood his explanation. He said they used Hebrew names of God to activate healing. That didn’t sound too bad, the Bear thought at the time. There was also a lot of work memorizing Hebrew letters and their numeric values — Qabbalism — which he said was tiresome. He liked the meditation, and visualizations, though, and once briefly showed the Bear a meticulously kept journal.

      He had a guide, or teacher, to whom he would send the results of his meditation sessions, and exercises like circulating his “light” through his aura, plus simple banishing rituals. His guide would make notes and send them back. The Bear’s friend seemed anxious to share his knowledge, and taught the Bear a banishing ritual, although the Bear felt a little silly, and wondered if holy water, liberally applied, might do a better job. The Bear suspected, at times, that he was being recruited.

      Each Tarot card had an association with everything, it seemed, including those Hebrew letters. This goes to the idea of analogy in the first chapter of Meditations on the Tarot, and the famous Hermetic maxim: As Above, So Below. The Bear’s friend meditated on each Tarot card, and even colored a black and white deck with colored pencils. He showed the Bear, so the Bear knows this is true.

      Occasionally he would take a trip down to Atlanta for workshops and group rituals at the lodge there. He told me they trained him to “safely” channel “god forms,” (i.e. invite demons into his body it seemed to the Bear). The lodge portrayed Lucifer in a positive “light,” as the original “Light Bearer.” That was just one element of the whole program, and kind of made sense to me at the time, but the Bear’s friend confessed it made him uncomfortable. (The Bear was not really a believing or practicing Catholic at this time.)

      Channeling Set


      On one of these trips, something extraordinary happened. The Bear wasn’t there, but heard the details afterwards.

      It was a ritual with about a dozen people, all dressed in the usual black, hooded, robes. The Bear’s friend was chosen to play the role of Set, who is, for all intents and purposes, the ancient Egyptian devil. He was given a hideous mask to wear. The drama also included Horus, Set’s brother. Other people had lesser roles.

      The Bear’s friend “assumed the god form” as he had been taught. (He told the Bear how to do this, but the Bear will not repeat it here.) He told me he felt like Set. The script called for him to plead his case for sympathy and indict Horus for things like maliciously breaking Set’s toys when they were young. (The Bear remembers that because it sounded silly.) It all went on a long time, apparently, and the Bear’s memory of rest of the details is hazy. The Bear thinks there was a reconciliation.


      The first time Bear saw him after he returned from that ritual, the Bear could tell that there was something different, and it wasn’t good. In the following months he had marital strife and started drinking too much. Call the Bear crazy, but it is as if having put on Set, he could’t get him off. None of his new behaviors were characteristic of the Bear’s friend.

      We lost contact for several months. The Bear doesn’t know if he was still involved with his school or lodge. Eventually, a mutual friend informed me that my friend had slashed his wrists. Providentially, his wife found him before he succeeded in killing himself. A desperate measure to escape from Set? Or an oblation by Set for Set? Or depression caused by the mess he had made of his life? The Bear does not know. The Bear is embarrassed to say it, but he avoided contact. He cannot say exactly why. The Bear hopes he has learned his lesson.

      The Bear would say his friend is qualified to deliver an opinion on Meditations on the Tarot. The Bear does not know what he would say, though.

      The Bear’s Opinion: Not Recommended

      Here’s a man who played another role, besides Set. It was Eve. Her curiosity aroused, the beauty and apparent wholesomeness of the fruit, and behind it all, a cunning deceiver — Satan. “Light! That can’t be bad, can it?” But Satan can appear as an angel of light, can’t he?

      You might be able to read Meditations on the Tarot for the truth it contains without absorbing particular errors. Those are easy, since you see them coming. It’s the subtle matrix of Hermeticism that is more dangerous. If your curiosity is piqued, what book will you read next? Which one is relatively safe, and which one is dangerous? The roads meander, but once you start, it’s hard to stop. Perhaps you will be impressed by the Tarot tome and even search out your own school. They’re easy to find on the internet nowadays. Most look harmless, even good for knowledge. The apple always does, and the cunning hawker is always convincing.

      To the extent his second-hand knowledge of the trajectory of an actual occultist in one of the more well-run and tame groups qualify the Bear, he does not recommend Meditations on the Tarot, in case he has given mixed signals before.

  4. Wouldn’t Evangelical Protestant anti Catholics have a “field day” with this.

    A Pope reading books on the Tarot.

    And, guess what, the Evangelical Protestants would be right! It IS a scandal.

    Just how many scandals will there be?

  5. Fidei, technically termed the convex meniscus effect, when the final drop of liquid (read: the slime of scandal) plops into the goblet of ever-growing divine wrath and the contents overrun the container, it’s time to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

  6. The ex-nuns marketing weekend Enneagram seminars are the ones to watch out for. Someone should give the Pope a book on that movement, but he’s too busy with climate change.

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