Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama, the Black Pope, and American Culture

No question about it. America's President-Elect Barack Obama is black.

About the same way I'm Irish, but since Barack Obama's father is black, Americans say he's black.

In practically every American sub-culture that I'm aware of, that's a good thing, now. And America having a black president is, from what I've run into, generally seen as a good thing. Not everyone sees things that way, but with a population just over 300,000,000, there is bound to be the odd bunch of noisy contrarians.

Barack Obama: Black, Also From Hawaii and Harvard

So, in a month or so America will have a black President. We'll also have a president who was born in Hawaii and went to Harvard, but that's not quite as big a deal, culturally speaking.

Which helps explain this headline: "After Obama, is it time for a black Pope?" (Religious Intelligence (UK) (November 10, 2008)).

I didn't know what to expect, but the opening paragraphs were refreshingly coherent:
"With the recent election of Senator Barack Obama as the first African American US president, church leaders are wondering if maybe it is time for a black pope to take charge.

"Archbishop Daniel Gregory became the first African American to head the US Bishops Conference in 2001, serving for three years. He said that Senator Obama's election into the White House is 'a great step forward for humanity and a sign that in the United States the problem of racial discrimination has been overcome.'..."
(Religious Intelligence (UK))

A Black Pope? Probably, Sooner or Later

Thomas Nast, and quite a few other Americans, seem to have had had the notion that the Roman Catholic Church was an Italian institution. In a way, I can see how they got that idea.

The Holy See (the Vatican, to most non-Catholics, and a lot of Catholics) is in Rome. Rome is in Italy. So, the Roman Catholic Church must be Italian.

Adding to the impression that the Catholic Church was Italian: From the Renaissance to the 20th century, quite a few popes were Italian.

No surprise there: Transportation and communications technology were slow and limited before airliners, Telstar, and the Internet. That made it a whole lot easier for the Holy See to find - and select - bishops who were nearby. Besides, after northern European princes encouraged the Reformation, there weren't all that many non-Latin bishops to choose from.

Recently, however, we've had a pope who's from Poland, and now one from Germany. It's not such a big stretch to think that, before another century or two passes, we'll see one from, say, Kenya. Or India.

Who knows? There might even be an American pope. Although since "American" isn't an ethnic group, that would be a hyphenated American pope.

The First Black Pope Will Be a 'Sign of the End Times,' of Course

I'm not making that up, quite. There's a very earnest article titled "The Most Powerful Man In The World? The 'Black Pope' Count Hans Kolvenbach—The Jesuit's General," on a page headed "The Black Pope and His Jesuit Ruling Priests of Baal."

The article, dated April 15, 2000, starts:
"So, you thought you were pretty well informed by now about all of the main players on the 'conspiracy' playing field? You've maybe been hearing for years about (or bumped into on your own) the various elements of society who control our world from behind the scenes.

"You've gotten familiar with the role played by, for instance, the Khazarian Zionists (who invented the word 'Jew' to disguise their adopted heritage, as distinguished from the biblical Judeans)...."
("The End Times Warning of The Black Pope / The Black Pope and His Jesuit Ruling Priests of Baal,"
This is the sort of discussion of Catholicism that I've gotten used to: earnest, sincere, passionate, and living in an alternate universe.1

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World -

"Black pope" really is a nickname of the head of the Jesuit order. I gather that he's called that because the Jesuit uniform involves black robes. Since the Society of Jesus is quite influential, and the Pope has white robes, "the black pope" is a rather natural nickname.

All of which doesn't have much to do with the stories about global conspiracies, Jesuit assassins (you can't make this sort of thing up), and - of course - the black pope. Two items, and I'll be back to Obama, Catholicism, and contemporary culture.
  • '...It's what they know that just ain't so.' American Catholics often run into this sort of thing: "Every day I defend my faith at work. The Baptists at my job adore me because even though I am a Catholic and they are not, we all talk about Jesus together. I will always talk to them about anything but now one of them brings up the black pope and the Jesuit order in the Vatican. He says things I will not repeat in this forum...."
    (Q and A about the Jesuit Order, from Catholic Answers, January 5, 2002)
  • The Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus (SJ for short), has their own website: As they put it, " serves as a portal connecting Jesuits and friends around the world".

If You Thought the 2008 American Election was Nuts...

A yard sign declaring, "Obama Half-Breed Muslin" made national news during the 2008 presidential election. I used that misspelled bit of misinformation as the opener of a post about how much nonsense was getting displayed and discussed.

Eventually, we'll almost certainly have a pope whose recent ancestors came from Africa. When that happens, I'm quite sure that 'experts' will see this as an epochal development; dire warnings about the coming end times will appear like mushrooms after a heavy rain; and that the Holy See will keep doing its job.

As far as I'm concerned, it's not all that important. Now, if we had an Irish pope, or one from Norway: it still wouldn't be all that important. But, I'd be personally delighted.
1 A sample, from that 'Warning' website: "...There's a good reason the secret Vatican library is so extensive and yet remains so intact from outside intrusion,...." There's a (tiny) grain of truth in that statement.

The Vatican Library is closed at this time.

As the Library put it, "The Vatican Library will be closed to the public from July 14, 2008...." Normally, the Vatican Library serves over 150 readers a day.

Three years seems like a long time to be down for renovations, but I don't know what budget and staff limitations that department has.

The Vatican Library's website, on the other hand, is up.

Yes, the Vatican Library has a website: If you don't find it there, try the main Vatican website:, and follow the links.

There's an open letter at the Vatican Library's website that explains what's going on.

It's headed "Vatican City, June 25, 2008," and starts with:
"Dear Readers and Friends,

"This letter, which introduces the renovated website of the Vatican Library (, is also being sent to the friends of the Library: those readers who are waiting for it to reopen, those who take an interest in our activities, and all those who share a sense of our mission of culture and a taste for research into the past and into the writings and other treasures which we have received and which we preserve in the interest of humanity...."
(Vatican Library)


Anonymous said...

I couldn't care less if the next pope is black, yellow or purple. What I don't like about Obama is his stand on abortion and partial abortions.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


What about green? ;)

You might be interested in "American Catholic Bishops Intolerant! (I Should Hope So)" (November 13, 2008).

And, yes: what a person looks like isn't very important. It's what a person believes and does.

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