Here’s what happened:
Pope Francis was on a Papal tour of Bolivia. He was in the process of greeting Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Now President Morales is a head of state. One would expect him to behave like a head of state and not a middle-schooler, bent on a deliberately blasphemous prank. But then … this guy’s bad news from jump street.
He removed the Bible and the cross from the presidential palace as soon as he took office and began using Andean rituals at official state functions. He is, in short, part of this army of Christian attackers and Christian bashers who are marching around the globe.
So … maybe somebody should have expected him to behave like an adolescent jerk when he was formally greeted by the pope. But evidently the assumption was that he would behave like a head of state.
President Morales must have gone to a lot of trouble to come up with the insult he directed at the pope, Christ and the Catholic Church. He gave the pope a large cross with the Communist hammer and sickle emblazoned on it. This particular cross takes on heavier significance when we remember that it was identical to a cross carried by a priest who was killed by the military regime that ran Bolivia back in the 1980s.
President Morales’ action wasn’t just a nasty prank. It was overladen with symbolism of several kinds. It was a direct affront to the teaching authority of the papacy, since St John Paul II and every pope since has condemned this blending of Catholicism and Communism that we call Liberation Theology.
Most of of us here in America look at the photo of President Morales handing this thing to the pope and think, what a creepy, childish thing for a head of state to do. But people in Bolivia are going to understand all this symbolism and react to it far more forcefully.
The pope went into a country that is being led by a man who wants to destroy the Catholic Church. By doing this he put himself in the line of attack. What has happened instead is that he has been overwhelmed by the love of the people. The cheering crowds have been enormous.
This was a dangerous journey for Pope Francis to make. It was, in some ways, akin to St John Paul II’s trips to Poland and other Communist countries. This deliberate blasphemy by the president of Bolivia was an attempt to publicly insult the pope and tarnish both him and his message of faith and hope.
Pope Francis is, when you see the photos, clearly gobsmacked by this thing the president of Bolivia is holding up. Anyone would be.
Would I have reacted in exactly the right way if someone had done something like this to me? Would you? I doubt it on both counts.
It’s ez pz when you are sitting at home in front of your tv to go all he-should-have-said and he-should-have-done. But when you’re the one in the barrel, it’s not always possible to assess, react and do precisely the right thing in a split second of surprise.
Who would have thought that the president of a nation would stoop to such behavior?
Pope Francis got gobsmacked by a jerk who was trying to assert his own primacy over the Church before the eyes of his electorate. The fact that he stooped to such a crude, juvenile method to do this tells you most of everything you need to know about the type of governance he gives to his people.
I have no doubt that the Bolivians understood this gesture far differently than we do here in America. They know the history behind the symbol and they know the policies of this president.
The photo that resulted from this will probably be used for propaganda purposes inside this country. That is a shame. But it will also be understood for what it is by a large number of Bolivians: An embarrassment to their national honor by a president who can’t behave properly.
It doesn’t matter all that much what the nuts in the USA think. Nobody outside the weird world of Limbaugh and Malkin worshippers believes that the pope is a “marxist.” We all know that is corporatist propaganda by paid talking heads who are dancing to the tune.
Most people will understand immediately that the pope was gobsmacked when the President of Bolivia started waving this thing around at a formal greeting. The danger in this lies with how the photo will be used in Bolivia, where its symbolism has more power and where the government will use this symbolism for its own purposes.
I hate to say this, but the Vatican may need to inspect the gifts that heads of state intend to offer the pope before they let these people near him. They may even need to start frisking heads of state ahead of their audiences with the pope.
It appears that we live in a world where we can no longer expect a head of state to conduct him or herself in public gatherings with the dignity and responsibility that their office requires. Instead, they can, and will, act like jerks.