Conspiracy Theories

Does a New Book Question Pope Francis' Legitimacy?

The cover of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” by A
The cover of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” by Austen Ivereigh. Photo via Henry Holt / RNS.

Was there a secret plot to elect Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at the papal conclave last year?

Did Bergoglio — who became Pope Francis at that conclave — give the go-ahead to such a plan?

And does that campaign call his election, and his papacy, into question?

Such questions might sound like plot twists to a new Vatican thriller by Dan Brown, but they are actually the latest talking points promoted by some Catholic conservatives upset with the direction that Francis is leading the church.

The furor stems from a behind-the-scenes account of the March 2013 conclave, presented in a new book about Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”

In the last chapter of the biography, which focuses on Bergoglio’s early life in Argentina and career as a Jesuit, author Austen Ivereigh delivers an insider account of how a group of cardinals who wanted a reformer pope quietly sought to rally support for Bergoglio in the days leading up to the conclave.

Just Jesus and an Unjust July 4: Why I Don't Celebrate Independence Day

My friends and I can be stupid. Add explosives to the equation and the idiocy quotient increases exponentially. Such was the case every 4th of July during high school. A group of about 20 of my friends and I would get together to barbecue and play with illegal fireworks. At any unsuspected moment while taking a bite out of a burger, an M-80 could be lit under your seat, a sparkler thrown at your chest like a dart, or a mortar could be shot like a bazooka, catching bushes on fire. These chaotically stupid memories simultaneously serve as some of the most fun I can recall experiencing. So for me, Independence Day equals fun.

However, there's a deeper reality to this holiday. Only about three years ago did I realize that in celebrating Independence Day, I'm also glorifying the roots on which this nation was founded: an unjust war. The "rockets red glare" and "the bombs bursting in air" remind us not of the day God liberated the colonies, but of the moment in history when our forefathers stole the rhetoric of God from authentic Christianity to justify killing fellow Christians. There's two reasons I'm convinced that celebrating Independence Day celebrates an unjust war.

Suspicions of Conspiracy

No sooner had the last of the 168 bodies been removed from the horrendous bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City than America began celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The sharp contrast between the competing images could scarcely have been more glaring.

On the one hand, the jubilation at the war's end recalls an earlier period of remarkable national unity and optimism. On the other hand, the recent image of the worst terrorist bombing in our history betrays deep fissures in the American psyche and society. And this has provoked a period of national soul searching.

Michael Lind, senior editor of Harper's, stated in The Washington Post on April 30 that "the story of Oklahoma City and the militias should not make us forget that the main form of political terrorism in the United States is perpetuated by right-wing opponents of abortion."

Charles Colson was enraged by this article and responded in the May 9 Post:

So there it is: Conservative Christians are dangerous people with the blood of innocents on their hands. Nero himself could not have put it better.

Though I hate to play the role of temperance worker at the keg party, perhaps it is time for people who complain about a "climate of hate" to sober up and make a few distinctions. It is most egregious and irresponsible-indeed a fanatical stretch-to suggest that whoever committed the Oklahoma atrocity is somehow linked to religious conservatives.

Of course Colson is correct. In no way do religious conservatives share responsibility for the bombing in Oklahoma. Those on the Christian Right were as devastated as any other Americans by this heinous act.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1995
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Going to X-Tremes

It's tough to be a conspiracy nut these days, because the conspiratorial worldview has gone positively mainstream. Nobody's sure anymore who's a nut and who's not. So it is no accident that the best new TV show of the 1990s is The X Files.

The "files" of the title are a grab bag of unexplained phenomena tucked away in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, D.C. On a weekly basis, the "X" agents, Scully and Mulder, investigate Satanists, unknown life forms, corporate criminals, bovine growth hormone, and, especially, the ongoing cover-up of America's alien abduction epidemic. It is thrilling stuff, all dedicated, right there in the opening titles, to the proposition that "The Truth Is Out There."

The popularity of The X Files is telling. Perhaps it tells us that people from outer space really are snatching up our citizens and using them in a massive DNA experiment of some sort...with U.S. government collusion. Who knows? But I suspect the show also tells us something very earthbound about the state of our culture.

Conspiracy theories always flourish at the alienated extremes of the politico-cultural spectrum. In one zone of influence, which we still, for lack of better terms, call the Far Right, apparently reasonable people, and lots of them, are sincerely convinced that Vince Foster was murdered. Even further out on a limb is Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has set a new low in moral cynicism by peddling the notorious Clinton video series, which claims our president is a murderer and a dope dealer. Future installments may expose President Bill as a Satanist from outer space, and Falwell will probably sell those, too.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1995
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