The Messenger: How Many Divisions Does the Pope Have?

January 5, 2015

I’m sure readers know that Pope Francis made news over the holiday with news that he will be releasing a letter on the danger of climate change to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics – among them many millions of politically critical hispanics in the US and elsewhere, who are already much more concerned about climate change than other sectors of the electorate.   The Pope is also extremely influential among many in the US midwest, and his words carry weight with a large number of politically active, socially conscious believers around the world.

Joseph Stalin once famously asked “How many divisions does the Pope have?”. This was decades before another Pope was arguably instrumental in the collapse of the seemingly invincible Soviet empire in the late 20th century.


But John Paul was, in the view of historians and historical leaders alike, crucial to the creation of the Solidarity labor movement in 1980. That, after a long and often tragic course, led to the collapse of Communism in Poland in the summer of 1989. And that, in turn, initiated the collapses of the other Communist governments of Eastern Europe from East Germany to Bulgaria.

Newt Gingrich in the National Catholic Reporter:

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.” — John Adams, “Letter to Hezekiah Niles,” Feb. 13, 1818

What John Adams observed about the American Revolution of the 1770s was also true about the Polish Revolution of the 1980s that helped bring about the end of the Cold War.

Before there was a Solidarity trade union with 10 million members that ultimately toppled Soviet Communism, there was a revolution in the minds and hearts of the Polish people that made Solidarity possible.

In August 1980, striking shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, sparked a wave of strikes across the entire country. They demanded the reinstatement of fired shipyard worker Anna Walentynowicz, better working conditions and the right to form independent trade unions.

The strike ended peacefully on Aug. 31, 1980, when the workers and the government signed a landmark agreement that included the right to form independent trade unions.

Two weeks later, Solidarity was born, and within 16 months more than 10 million Poles joined.

Nine years later, in June 1989, Solidarity candidates won overwhelming victories in the first semi-free elections in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe in 40 years and formed the first non-communist-led government in the Eastern bloc. Five months later, the Berlin Wall fell, and, in December 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared.

But what was the revolution in the Polish hearts that led them so decisively to embrace Solidarity and endure nine years of hardship, including martial law and murder, to see this peaceful revolution through to fruition?

It became evident to my wife, Callista, and me while working on the documentary film Nine Days That Changed the World that spiritual factors were decisive, especially the nine-day pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland in June 1979, just 14 months prior to the August 1980 strikes.

As the world joyfully anticipates the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1 and remembers and celebrates his life of holiness, it’s worthwhile to remember how his Christian witness also fundamentally reshaped the political landscape of the 20th century.

For conservatives like Mr. Gingrich, the prospect of another Pope, exerting moral authority against another, even deadlier tyranny – that has become rooted as an article of faith among the American right wing, cannot be a welcome one.
The current Pope’s imminent visit to the US will not be just a standard call to the faithful. It will coincide with the release of an “encyclical” – a rare and powerful message around a critical social or spiritual issue – that will be aimed at breaking the political logjam, in the US and elsewhere, on climate change, in advance of critical international meetings in Paris late this year.


The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.

“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”

In a series of increasingly clear and bold statements on the threat of climate change, the Pontiff has more than once emphasized a stark and solemn message.

Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.

I wish to mention another threat to peace, which arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Even if ‘nature is at our disposition’, all too often we do not ‘respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations’. Here too what is crucial is responsibility on the part of all in pursuing, in a spirit of fraternity, policies respectful of this earth which is our common home. I recall a popular saying: ‘God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives!’.

Which, of course, makes me think of a country song.


21 Responses to “The Messenger: How Many Divisions Does the Pope Have?”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    I’ll tell you the first revolution we need.

    We need to get the people who care about AGW, and who spend time on the internet writing about AGW, to start talking about how to actually start building the infrastructure we need. And how we are going to pay for it, and where is it going to be, and how is it all going to be connected to each other.

    Because it seems NOBODY actually cares about this. Nobody is actually serious about solving the problem! Nope – all the brainy science-y guys who are good at math would STILL rather argue argue deride and argue with morons and liars about about whether AGW actually exists, or what its timetable may be.

    Nobody is doing the math. Nobody is crunching the numbers. Nobody seems to actually give a shit. And the years slip by.

    Even the scientists who profess to give a shit, don’t actually seem to give a shit. Oh, they like their work, and they suffer, many of them, in cruel places to produce the data they publish.

    But, you know what? We don’t really need more data. Not nearly as much as we need new energy infrastructure, which is deployed and replacing dirty energy with clean energy. That is the ONLY thing that is going to save our civilization. Working machines. And who is talking about those? Justifying those? Figuring out how to move opinion about those? Demanding those? Nobody, that’s who.

    The AGW blogosphere is a fucking wasteland of mostly intelligent, well-meaning guys arguing about irrelevancies instead of facing the real issues head-on. And they have been wasting all of our time doing this for two decades now.

    Exxon Mobile could not be fucking happier.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      WallStreet is bad, but markets are good. To me, a market is where we put all our eggs (and take them out again). But we were supposed to watch that basket, because if we don’t, the pirates will take over and turn it into the kind of casino where ‘the house always wins’. And that’s what has happened. But you can’t, imho, jettison the concept of markets just because Wallstreet colluded with the global 1% to buy the democracy out from under us. It’s like hating Exxon. Sure we hate Exxon, but we like oil. So, assuming we can recover the democracy, throw the moneychangers out of the temple, and beef up the public oversight of ‘our’ markets, then a carbon market is a good idea. Properly constructed and regulated, we then let the solutions happen by themselves. Of course, activist government will be needed to nimbly respond with supporting infrastructure necessary to encourage development of whatever the market selects as workable solutions (examples: wave energy, wind energy, no-till organic-fertilized agriculture, nuclear, ocean plowing to create artificial blooms, carbon sequestration, geoengineering, etc).

      I think, sadly, the solution to AGW is the solution to Education, Healthcare, the National Debt, inequality, useless war-making, and political gridlock: campaign finance reform. If the country can change the way campaigns are financed, representatives will start caring what their constituents think. They’ll recover control of ‘our’ markets, and capitalism will work more smoothly and better for everyone. And then I really think those markets will do what they are intended to do: move resources where they’ll have the most efficient effect, reflecting in part the newfound public importance of dropping (not just capping) global CO2 levels.

      • ubrew12 Says:

        To give an example, you can order everybody to stop eating red meat, but its easier to tack the cost of carbon pollution onto the cost of a steak, and let people come to their own conclusion. A carbon market would do this.

        • j4zonian Says:

          A price on carbon in our current state of inequality would keep poor people from eating meat while preserving the rights of the rich to keep doing whatever the hell they want, as they do now. Without a strong commitment and substantial move toward equality or an incredibly complicated, politically infeasible system of redistribution of the carbon tax monies, (tax and dividend) of what use is a system that just reconfirms once more yet again that the problem in the world, including the cause of climate catastrophe, is rich people.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Why have a market solution?

        We didn’t have a market solution for our other great national construction projects. We didn’t have one when we built the interstate system. Or electrified rural America. Or built our large dams. We don’t have it to pave our roads, or light our streets, or do our medical research, or explore space.

        We don’t have a market system for our national defense. Or our water systems. Our sewage systems. Or our police or Fire departments. We don’t have a market system for our public school systems. Every other country in the world doesn’t use a market system for their health care. We do, and we have the most expensive, most un egalitarian, worst-performing health care systems in the world.

        Our utility system, in fact, has always been one of the most public, non profit marketplaces in our country’s history. Why would we want a market solution to build a renewable energy utility system?

        And have we not been waiting twenty-five years already for the marketplace to address our national energy needs? It hasn’t done squat, and we have run out of time.

        • ubrew12 Says:

          But we have a market system for our produce (Farmers Market), and when you have a plethora of choices on how to deal with a need, you might as well ‘harvest’ market efficiencies. And using a market in this way doesn’t prevent you from activist government solutions. Let the market pick windpower for the MidWest, for example, and let activist government build the infrastructure to feed into it.
          But you and I are talking about solutions waaay beyond our ‘pay grade’, for reasons I alluded to:

          to quote: “the energy industry spent more than $721 million during the 2014 election cycle” which is about 10 times more than environmental groups did. This unfortunately matters in a ‘Dollarocracy’. I don’t expect either of us will like the AGW solutions we’ll be ‘allowed’ to have once it becomes obvious that they are needed. For example, I can imagine a future wherein plucky individualist space startups get trillions of dollars of our tax money to place solar mylar reflectors in orbit above the Poles. That way Exxon gets to keep feeding us our oil fix AND they get to use our tax dollars to promote the ‘rugged individualists’ that will ‘settle the space frontier’. The ocean still dies but, hey, half a loaf is better than nothing. So, if we don’t fix the Democracy, whatever AGW solution is eventually fed to us will probably be full of worms.

          • jimbills Says:

            We don’t have a market solution for produce. The government subsidizes farming to a high degree. It’s a funny thing that we believe in the ‘free market’ while not actually having one. We pick winners and losers ALL THE TIME. Why wouldn’t we pick a winner and loser about our infrastructure as well?

          • j4zonian Says:

            We DO have a market solution for food–Monsanto. ADM. Syngenta. Wall Street. Wacker Drive. If we try really hard, and are willing to sacrifice we may be able to dump it and recover before it kills us all.

          • jimbills Says:

            j4 – no, it’s really not. The government’s officials are all in bed with those companies. They have to be to get elected. Over time, laws get created to aid those companies and industries to the detriment of others. It’s a natural process, and it’s not a “free market” one.

            I’m not a libertarian. I personally think a “free market” would be much like the cocaine trade, where only the strongest and most ruthless survive. I don’t think it’s a recipe for a better world.

            But as for agriculture in the U.S. currently, there’s a massive rigging of the game to serve certain interests.

        • andrewfez Says:

          The market has its uses:

          I’m making up these numbers to make a point about efficiency, but would you rather buy 5 trillion dollars worth of Solyndra solar panels in 2009 (or whenever they were still available) to power the US, or would you rather buy 1 trillion dollars worth of SunPower panels, which do the same amount of work, in 2019, and then spend the other 4 trillion on wind turbines, inverters, batteries, maintenance, etc?

          You just have to steer it in the right direction (until it buckles under the weight of resource depletion).

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            What does the falling price of PV panels have to do with a market system? Falling prices over time is an indicator that the tech is maturing on a typical schedule.

            It’s not like there isn’t any competition or innovation in a public utility model. New projects are always put out to bid – the lowest credible bidder wins the contract. One could arguer that this is a much purer crucible for competition than the for-profit political system with subsidies, tax breaks, and lobbying.

            I get my electricity from our city’s municipal electric company – a public monopoly. It consistently has had, for decades, the most reliable and the cheapest electricity in the state – and the other companies are all semi or wholly for-profit.

            This idea that the free market produces the lowest prices or more innovation is baloney. There is no real free market. Public endeavors simply have much lower administrative costs, which is why, even in America, government systems outperform for-profit systems, contrary to the right-wing propaganda we have had shouted at us for decades. Social security, Medicaid, etc have a tiny administrative cost compared to for-profit systems.

          • andrewfez Says:

            While i share some of your sentiments, I should also incidentally point out that governments are only subsets in the global economy [US tax revenue is 16 or 17% of total US GDP] – at any given point they may be major players in particular product, or minor players, or not playing at all. Or they may be good investors in product A and product B, when we really need products A through F to comprehensively solve our problem.

            So insulation companies, for example, shouldn’t wait around for the government to create demand for a more efficient product, creating an incentive for innovation; if they did, this would diminish the rate of innovation for insulation in the overall economy. Same goes for Nest thermostats that talk to your smartphone, or high efficiency quilted curtains made by small businesses, or LED lights, or Tesla giga-factory batteries, etc. Some of these, the G might give you a tax break on, to steer you in the right direction for less energy use, but for the most part, it’s private capital that does the heavy lifting on their purchase; and these private companies are mostly focused on grabbing private capital, and not being or becoming government dependent. If you can create a product with a clear ‘market’ advantage, you don’t have to wait around for status-quo politicians (in each and every country in the world) to be voted out. Indeed if the actions of the US Congress were the litmus test for whether or not to start a green tech company, there might not be any green tech companies thus far.

            Further, examining the end products of what the government contracts are calling for – say a wind turbine or a solar farm – only that final product is what gets the government money. A lot of the sub components that go into building the end product are still products of private companies that have to live in the private sector and innovate to survive in such.

            Then there is serendipity and synergy inside the global economy. Company A may have just made a product exclusively for Company B in the private sector, but Company C who is trying to win a government contract may find that such product lowers their cost and allows them a greater advantage in grabbing the contract.

            In the end, the best outcome is one in which private and government entities cooperate. The G is good at funding long term, risky, high tech. research, injecting capital during moments of volatility, regulating away volatility, or steering the market with benefits and punishments, etc. The private sector brings large stores of capital, serendipity, synergy, it’s own research [remember, it was Exxon Mobile that dropped the price of solar in the 1970s from $100/W to $10/W in their NJ lab, at a time when government $$ towards solar was nil; indeed Exxon invested more money in green energy then, than did the government], etc.

            And the death spiral for the old utility model really comes into play when residential solar + battery storage is organically cheaper (using only private $$) than the alternative in terms of ‘up front’ money (discounting externalities).

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Another nice explanation of how the free market works and how it will save us from destruction. Until the activities of the free market stop working and lead us to destruction (as they almost did during the the recent fiasco). Capitalism is not going to work much longer because it carries the seeds of its own destruction. “Progress” and “growth” are unsustainable. When will the collapse occur? Who knows? 15 or 20 years? 100 years?

            Our only hope will be that government is able to restrain the greedy ones who would destroy us for their own gain, and since they have been buying the government and turning it to their purposes, we shouldn’t be too hopeful.

          • andrewfez Says:

   is still out there fighting below most people’s radar. They have 4 states on the board, and i think they need 33 or 34 to call for the convention to get money ‘out’ of politics.

            Perhaps from a ‘market’ perspective, it could be submitted that one of the features of the market is that it reacts to demand, and as resource depletion grows significantly, demand for sustainability will as well, causing more sustainable features to organically come to pass. Would it be in time? Climate change is the wildcard that still breaks us, even if such a thing were to true.

            As for the history of solar panels goes: I’ll cut and past from green wikia:

            “In the late 1960s, Elliot Berman was investigating a new method for producing the silicon feedstock in a ribbon process. However, he found little interest in the project and was unable to gain the funding needed to develop it. In a chance encounter, he was later introduced to a team at Exxon who were looking for projects 30 years in the future. The group had concluded that electrical power would be much more expensive by 2000, and felt that this increase in price would make new alternative energy sources more attractive, and solar was the most interesting among these. In 1969, Berman joined the Linden, New Jersey Exxon lab, Solar Power Corporation (SPC).

            His first major effort was to canvass the potential market to see what possible uses for a new product were, and they quickly found that if the price per watt were reduced from then-current $100/watt to about $20/watt there would be significant demand. Knowing that his ribbon concept would take years to develop, the team started looking for ways to hit the $20 price point using existing materials.

            The first improvement was the realization that the existing cells were based on standard semiconductor manufacturing process, even though that was not ideal. This started with the boule, cutting it into disks called wafers, polishing the wafers, and then, for cell use, coating them with an anti-reflective layer. Berman noted that the rough-sawn wafers already had a perfectly suitable anti-reflective front surface, and by printing the electrodes directly on this surface, two major steps in the cell processing were eliminated. The team also explored ways to improve the mounting of the cells into arrays, eliminating the expensive materials and hand wiring used in space applications. Their solution was to use a printed circuit board on the back, acrylic plastic on the front, and silicone glue between the two, potting the cells. The largest improvement in price point was Berman’s realization that existing silicon was effectively “too good” for solar cell use; the minor imperfections that would ruin a boule (or individual wafer) for electronics would have little effect in the solar application.[9] Solar cells could be made using cast-off material from the electronics market.

            Putting all of these changes into practice, the company started buying up “reject” silicon from existing manufacturers at very low cost. By using the largest wafers available, thereby reducing the amount of wiring for a given panel area, and packaging them into panels using their new methods, by 1973 SPC was producing panels at $10 per watt and selling them at $20 per watt, a fivefold decrease in prices in two years…”

            “…This market combined with the 1973 oil crisis. Oil companies were now cash-flush due to their huge profits during the crisis, but were also acutely aware that their future success would depend on some other form of power. Over the next few years, major oil companies started a number of solar firms, and were for decades the largest producers of solar panels. Exxon, ARCO, Shell, Amoco (later purchased by BP) and Mobil all had major solar divisions during the 1970s and 1980s. Technology companies also had some investment, including General Electric, Motorola, IBM, Tyco and RCA…”


          • dumboldguy Says:

            PS Did you mean to say “Bell Labs” rather than Exxon Mobil?

    • I actually agree with you, GingerB. We are neck-deep in doo-doo, but we are arguing whether or not AGW exists (it does) and how fast it will take for average world temperatures to rise x degrees (unknown). But actually implementing hard solutions gets pushed to the back burner.

      Of course, one big problem (drumroll please) is the great nuclear debate. Yeah, I know I’ve said it before, and I guess I’m doomed to keep repeating it until I fall out of my chair from a heart attack, but I feel that we’ve got to get busy building 3rd the 4th generation nuclear power plants. That does not preclude implementing other solutions like solar, wind and energy-conservation schemes. It’s not an either/or situation – you can do all of the above, and added together it should make a difference.

      There is also that little issue about birth control. With world population scheduled to rise by another 2 billion bodies by 2050, we need more than a 20% reduction in per capital CO2 emissions just to stay even with today’s already unacceptably high pollution levels. As it is, per capita emissions are still rising, as residents of developing countries scramble to buy energy-hogging gizmos and gadgets.

      I wish I could say that I see cause for optimism, but so far I’m not seeing it. But I can hope.

    • pendantry Says:

      @Gingerbaker — not all bloggers are ignoring the bigger picture. Here’s my take, for instance, on some things we ought to be considering.

      The biggest problem, of course, is that what we ought to be doing is so far out of the comfort zone of most people that they won’t even talk about it…

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        What we ought to be doing is building the new tech, deploying it, and saving actual citizens trillions of dollars in fossil fuel costs.

        That sounds like a comfort zone most people could appreciate.

        • pendantry Says:

          a) Not sure what you mean by ‘new tech’. There’s a lot of things that can be labelled that — and not all of it is beneficial. Just because we can do a thing does not mean that we should do it.

          b) I guess you didn’t bother following the link to my suggestion for a starting point discussion for a way forward. A lot of it is tongue in cheek; but all I was trying to point out is, again, not all bloggers are ignoring the bigger picture.

          c) regarding comfort zones: big changes are coming, that’s unavoidable. And most people are uncomfortable with change, whatever it is. Especially when it poses an ideological conflict.

  2. Gingerbaker does hit it on the head, Solutions, Education on those solutions and implemntation of those solutions is what is uregetnly needed. don’t waste time debating morons anymore.

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