16 August 2011
Reader Interaction Time: You Write the Headline
The Post-Dispatch's religion page takes up its weekly whine against the Catholic Church. This time, 120 or so
useful idiots disgruntled clergy complain that the Pope's visit costs too much money. I couldn't decide among a number of possible headlines, so I'll leave it to the four of you to give a headline to this post. From the full article, with a few comments when I couldn't resist:
MADRID — The Rev. Eubilio Rodriguez’s church is a prefabricated building in an area of this city hard hit by Spain’s economic crisis. In front of the altar are a few scraggly potted plants. Behind it, some plastic chairs. In other words, the typical novus ordo set up that drives away the faithful and makes it as difficult as possible to lift one's thoughts to the Almighty God.
How, he asks, can the Roman Catholic Church be getting ready for a lavish $72 million celebration in this city — some of it paid for with tax dollars — when Spain is in the midst of an austerity drive, the unemployment rate for young people is 40 percent and his parishioners are losing their homes to foreclosure every day?
"It is scandalous, the price," he said. "It is shameful. It discredits the church."
Rodriguez, 67, is among the 120 clergymen working among the poor (ah, yes, the real heroes--working among the poor, unlike every other Catholic outreach you can name) here who have signed a lengthy petition deploring the pope’s visit this week on many grounds — from its cost to what they see as an inappropriate melding of church and state. Deploring? Deploring?! The Pope's visit? Can 120 decrees of excommunication be prepared in one week?
Madrid is girding itself for the arrival of perhaps one and a half million pilgrims. Its lampposts are gaily decorated with banners. Retiro Park (quite beautiful) has been decked out with 200 portable confessional booths. But bitter debates are raging over the festivities and the role of the church in Spanish politics.
The priests, along with dozens of left-leaning groups (i.e., the Communists who tried to destroy the Church by force of arms in the last century) demanding a secular state and young people who occupied many of Spain’s main squares for months to protest the government’s handling of the economy, are planning at least one major protest march on Wednesday.
Pope Benedict XVI is coming here on Thursday to meet hundreds of thousands of young people celebrating a World Youth Day event in this capital. Some 450,000 have already registered, and three times as many are expected, organizers say. To accommodate their activities — which will include a daylong vigil at the airport, with temperatures likely to reach nearly 100 degrees, and an all-night procession with priceless works of religious art — some of Madrid’s main avenues will be closed to traffic for up to six days.
Government and church officials insist the cost to taxpayers will be minimal and the lift to local businesses substantial. Spain’s businesses community came up with $23 million to pay for various events and the pilgrims will pay $44 million themselves. Other donations should cover the rest, the officials say.
"The public administration helped us in only two ways," said Fernando Gimenez Barriocanal, the financial director of World Youth Day 2011. The pilgrims will be allowed to sleep in public buildings like schools. And businesses will be able to get tax deductions for their contributions, he said.
But critics are calling the claims ridiculous. Rodriguez and others who signed the 10-page petition say the costs are always fuzzy when the pope comes to town. They suspect that the cost of extra security, of collecting trash and of stress on health systems will add up to millions for taxpayers. For one thing, the pilgrims have been granted an 80 percent discount on public transportation, which some find particularly galling because subway fares just went up by 50 percent. Envy or lust are always the emotions used by the opinion leaders to win over weak minds.
(And the award for the greatest understatement of the year goes to...) Spain is less solidly Catholic than it once was. A government survey released in July found that 71.7 percent of Spaniards declared themselves Catholics, compared with 82.1 percent in 2001. Of those, 13 percent attend Mass on Sundays, compared with 19 percent 10 years ago. The New Springtime in full force.
But the church is eager to keep a spiritual hold on this country (cue menacing music here), where people can still check a box diverting up to seven-tenths of a percent of their taxes to the church.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said at a briefing in Rome that the protests planned against Benedict’s visit were "not worrying or surprising," particularly because "there are hundreds of thousands of young people who will be happy to welcome the pope."
"It’s part of life in a democratic country," he added. Translation, you can't fix stupid.
Protest organizers said it was hard to estimate the turnout they might get because August is a time when many people are out of the city. But the protests organized by angry young people (hate crime? where's the love and tolerance?) earlier this year surprised almost everyone, as tens of thousands of demonstrators, now called "indignados," took over squares all around the country for several weeks.
"More than 1 million outsiders will be circulating in Madrid," said Alfonso del