Maike Hickson October 17, 2016
A new and unexpected conflict has developed in Rome. This time, however, it is not about marriage and the family, nor, for example, about that vexed question as to whether or not unrepentant and obstinate adulterers may, after all, receive the Sacraments. The contentious issue is now a much more gustatory – and unmistakably profane, yet still very revealing – matter of polite taste: the decision to allow the establishment of a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant at the Piazza della Città Leonina not far away from the St. Peter’s Basilica, just at the border of Vatican City. The Vatican’s decision to rent out a part of its own building to an international food chain from the U.S. seems simultaneously representative of and out of character for the current papacy. So which is it?
As several outlets have already reported, a number of cardinals (among them Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi, Giuseppe Versaldi and Gilberto Agustoni) have raised objections to this plan. Some of these prelates live in the building where the proposed franchise will be built, and are now confronted with having to pay for some of the necessary renovations, as well as having to endure the restaurant’s characteristic permeating odor in their upper-story homes. These cardinals have now publicly and privately (e.g., in a letter to Pope Francis) resisted the establishment of this crass incongruity.
Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, spoke on Saturday with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and offered several objections to the Vatican’s perplexing decision. First, he raised the concern that the food offered by McDonald’s “does not, according to nutritionists and medical experts, guarantee the good health of the consumers”; additionally, “the quality of the food [at McDonald’s] is miles away from the traditional Roman cuisine.” As a cultured man himself, he then added: “I would never eat McDonald’s meals.”
Locals are also concerned about this new development, and have announced an “anti-McDonald’s protest,” according to a Swiss source. “We are very worried, and we shall protest on every level,” said Moreno Prosperi, the President of the Organization for the Protection of the District Borgo. He added: “That the fast-food restaurant is only 50 meters away from the entrance to the Vatican is a contradiction to the principles which Pope Francis [putatively] defends.” [emphasis added]
Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, however — the Vatican cardinal responsible for the accepting the McDonald’s contract –defends his apparently now-irrevocable decision. According to the German website Katholisch.de, “[Calcagno] cannot see anything negative with it. Everything went according to the laws and regulations.” He also said that “there is no scandal. There exist only advantages for the Vatican.” The restaurant is scheduled to be open for business in the spring of 2017, and for its part, the Vatican will receive 30,000 euros per month in compensation for renting the space out on the ground floor.
Somehow, under the current reign of one of the most environmentally sensitive and ardent critics of consumer capitalism in all of its squalid or inhuman hedonistic forms – Pope Francis himself – one of the largest globalist food chains in the world is now being welcomed to set up a conspicuous restaurant at the very border of the Seat of Peter. This is a symbolic event. Symbolic because it shows in a more concrete fashion what we have witnessed more ambiguously since March of 2013: that the public words of Pope Francis are often directly opposed by his actions. He is a pope of contradictions — a figure whom it is impossible, therefore, to ever fully trust.
We do not have to elaborate for our readers that McDonald’s represents the exact sort of corporate institution Francis openly fights against with his “green” environmental talk: a massive, multinational capitalist enterprise that mass produces unhealthy food, pays low wages, and is supported by a globalist chain of production that is neither sustainable nor local. How does this fit with the message of Laudato Si, or the countless speeches Francis has given condemning such enterprises? (It is not our purpose here to critique the economic or business model in question; only to highlight the obvious incongruities between this model and the ideology of the pope.)
This discrepancy between the Holy Father’s words and his subsequent deeds is glaring. Thus far, Pope Francis has not publicly responded to the various reservations and objections to this commercial project by both his cardinals and others; he also has not yet taken any action in order to correct this apparent aesthetic and cultural incongruity, which, under the sovereignty of his office, remains his ultimate responsibility.
It is difficult not to be reminded here of various politicians, perhaps most notably the American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, notorious for her own frequent self-contradictions. She claims, for example, that she will relentlessly fight ISIS and even accuses Qatar, the Gulf Monarchy, of financing the Islamic state. And yet, she and her husband have received large donations for the Clinton Foundation from that same wealthy little country in the Persian Gulf. She was captured on video opposing same-sex “marriage” in 2002 and 2010, but in 2013 she unequivocally stated that she supports such unions and denies that her position was ever different. She claims she is not in favor of trans-national treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but, then, a recent leak shows just the opposite. As Patrick Buchanan wrote:
How could the moderators [of the second Presidential Debate] have ignored that other leak of last week, of Clinton’s speech to Brazilian bankers where she confessed she “dreams” of a “hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.”
What is it that causes this kind of loose dealing and paltering with the truth – shall we not call it a form of dishonor? – among both secular and religious leaders?
Returning to Francis, recall his stated desire for an open debate at the two Synods on Marriage and the Family. And yet, machinations to undermine just such a debate became immediately clear. Before the 2014 Synod even began, hundreds of copies of the so-called “Five Cardinals Book” (which opposed the “Kasper proposal”) were unaccountably found missing — believed stolen — from the Vatican postboxes of the synod fathers, at the alleged orders of Cardinal Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. So many crucial Synod positions were then disproportionately filled by Pope Francis with “Kasperite” prelates that, at the end of the first synod, the polite and fair-minded journalist, Edward Pentin, wrote an entire book about The Rigging of a Vatican Synod. Do we remember how, after two years of agonizing synod discussions — including the noteworthy opposition of 13 prominent cardinals — Pope Francis then effectively established the sliding possibility for the “remarried” divorcees to receive the Sacraments, even though the majority of the Synod Fathers were then against it?
We may also remember well how Pope Francis removed Cardinal Raymond Burke from his prominent position in the Curia after the first Synod of Bishops in 2014. In an historic move, he took him away from his prominent and prestigious position at the Vatican in order to make him the Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. When he was talking with Burke about his own decision, Pope Francis claimed that Burke “thanked me much, in good terms and accepted it, so it seemed to me that he liked it.” Burke himself, however, said at the time, as follows, about his being removed from his position as the Head of the Apostolic Signatura: “I very much have enjoyed [this position] and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it.”
It is not always self-contradiction that causes problems for Pope Francis’ credibility. Sometimes, it instead his insistent contradiction of obvious realities. Perhaps the most profound example of this can be found in his continual support for the largely young male and mostly Muslim immigrants flowing into Europe. Just a few days ago, Pope Francis again condemned those who oppose these large-scale immigrations of non-Christian groups. He said on 13 October in the question and answer session with Lutherans visiting from Germany (and unfortunately, we still do not have an official Vatican translation of his words):
“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee….”
These words were spoken in the face of an increasing danger for German women who fittingly desire to move freely throughout their own country without the great risk of their being assaulted or molested by foreigners. (Here I also speak with the knowledge of my own German relatives and friends – one of whom told me that her local Catholic bishop, who is very much in favor of immigration, has now resorted to having thick security windows installed in his own private residence.) Instead of helping to protect German women from Muslim-male attacks, however, Pope Francis rebukes these women for asking for additional and reliable protection – doing so under the guise of his concept of Mercy! Does this not sound unsettlingly like Hillary Clinton’s own pretense that she is a fighter for the dignity of women while at the same time protecting her husband from the consequences of his varied and multiple assaults on women? Again and again, we must ask the question:
Are the words and actions of those who lead us in consistent accord with one another? If not, why not?
Some may bristle at the comparison between purely political and ecclesiastical figures, but it is impossible not to observe a certain connection and pattern: namely, that we have a pope who inordinately (and often unjustly) politicizes the papacy in public while also adopting certain methods of operation that are much more coarsely political than they are honorably ecclesiastical.
We are thus faced with a situation — both in the Church and in the world of secular affairs — where we have leaders who have deeply damaged our trust. We have lost the sense that there is truth in the words of such individuals. We have lost the important perception that “they say what they mean and mean what they say” and that they will also act accordingly, keeping the bond of their words and standing “on their word of honor.” As my husband recently pointed out, in light of the eloquent witness of Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (d. 1892) – honor is now needed perhaps more than ever in the Church and in our political leadership. On our part – as the simple faithful and as morally responsible citizens – our courage is also needed more than ever (to quote once more Cardinal Manning).
One magnanimous prelate of the Church recently and earnestly told me: “We are living in a world dictatorship.” Just how this form of tyranny – which combines an alluring veneer of pseudo-order and an actual anarchy – is working itself out, I do not know and cannot adequately understand. But its fraud and despotic presence are impossible not to perceive, and the taste imparted is repellent and foul.