Before Pope Francis created a controversy by denouncing “trickle-down” economics, the pro-growth policies associated with President Reagan, Russian President Vladimir Putin was visiting the Vatican and acting like a religious believer. Putin made the sign of the cross, gave the pope a Virgin Mary icon, and bent over to kiss it. The pope followed suit.
The Putin visit carries far more significance than a papal document which criticizes free markets and is considered a step toward the possible collaboration—or even merger—of the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church in global affairs. Discussions between these churches are already taking place under the rubric of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Russian Orthodox Church has been dominated by Putin’s old KGB and continues to serve the interests of the Kremlin.
The document, labeled an “apostolic exhortation” and titled “The Joy of the Gospel,” also purports to describe the nature of global Islam. But these comments, even more controversial than the statements attacking free markets, have been mostly ignored by the press.
Pope Francis insists, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
Pamela Geller of Stop Islamization of Nations was greatly alarmed, writing, “At a time when Christianity worldwide is under siege by Islamic jihadists, the leader of the Catholic Church claims that the Koran teaches non-violence.” She adds, “Nothing will be gained by this refusal to face reality. Christians will still be slaughtered in the name of Islam and jihad all over the Muslim world. And now the Pope has forbidden Catholics to speak honestly about what is happening and why. It’s a disgrace.”
The papal document is addressed to Catholic bishops, clergy and the lay faithful.
The Vatican’s dealings with Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church also deserve major media attention. David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent, says Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, was exposed by material from the Soviet archives as a KGB agent. “This means he was more than just an informer, of whom there were millions in the Soviet Union. He was an active officer of the organization,” writes Satter.
Former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky has called the church “Putin’s Espionage Church,” and devotes a major portion of his book, KGB/FSB’s New Trojan Horse, to the topic. “During the Soviet period,” wrote Preobrazhensky, “the Moscow Patriarchate [of the Russian Orthodox Church] bishops were all KGB agents, and the highest of them were also members of the Communist Party.” The FSB is the successor to the KGB.
In connection with Putin’s visit to the Vatican, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, who worked on KGB operations as head of Romanian intelligence, explains the background of what is coming to pass: “On December 5, 2008, Aleksi II, the fifteenth Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, died. He had worked for the KGB under the codename ‘Drozdov’ and was awarded the KGB Certificate of Honor, as was revealed in a KGB archive accidentally left behind in Estonia when the Russians pulled out. For the first time in its history, Russia had the opportunity to conduct the democratic election of a new patriarch, but that was not to be.”
He goes on: “On January 27, 2009, the seven hundred Synod delegates assembled in Moscow were presented with a slate listing three candidates: Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk (a secret member of the KGB codenamed ‘Mikhaylov’); Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk (who worked for the KGB under the codename ‘Ostrovsky’); and Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga (who had the KGB codename ‘Topaz’).”
In the end, when the bells at Christ the Savior Cathedral tolled to announce that a new patriarch had been elected, Kirill proved to be the winner.
“Regardless of whether he was the best leader for his church, he certainly was in a better position to influence the religious world abroad than were the other candidates,” Pacepa explains. “In 1971, the KGB had sent Kirill to Geneva as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to that Soviet propaganda machine, the World Council of Churches (WCC). In 1975, the KGB infiltrated him into the Central Committee of the WCC, which had become a Kremlin pawn. In 1989 the KGB appointed him chairman of the Russian patriarchate’s foreign relations as well. He still held those positions when he was elected patriarch.”
Pacepa tells Accuracy in Media: “In his acceptance speech as the new patriarch, ‘Mikhaylov’ announced that he planned to take a trip to the Vatican in the near future. His boss went ahead, to prepare the way.”
Except for the Associated Press, the major U.S. media failed to report Putin’s display of religious piety at the Vatican, preferring to emphasize a matter of protocol—that he arrived at the Vatican late for his meeting with the pope. Perhaps the omission could be explained by the mystery associated with a former KGB officer from the Soviet era professing a belief in God. The odd spectacle just raised too many questions requiring too many complicated answers.
The AP said, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown off his religious side during a visit to the Vatican, stopping to cross himself and kiss an icon of the Madonna that he gave to Pope Francis.” It did not explore the issue of Putin’s sincerity.
Moscow-funded Russia Today (RT) television reported, in a matter-of-fact manner, that “Putin, an Orthodox Christian, has repeatedly said that he is a man of faith and his administration has consistently sought closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Some Catholics are buying it. “The return of Christianity to Russia should give us hope for our own Nation as we face the effects of moral relativism, secularism and the growing hostility toward Christianity,” writes Deacon Keith Fournier, the Editor in Chief at Catholic Online.
But the “The Joy of the Gospel” document, with its attacks on the free market, has others worried.
One conservative Catholic Priest told me, “Pope Francis may have opposed Liberation Theology in Argentina, but he does not seem to be opposed to Marxism in general. It concerns me that we may have a heretic Pope.”
Despite some initial reports, the papal document does not condemn “unfettered capitalism.” It does, however, attack “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.” The term “trickle-down” is associated by some in the liberal media with President Reagan’s pro-growth policies and is meant to disparage the beneficial impact of tax cuts on the economy.
The Washington Post noted, “The phrase has often been used derisively to describe a popular version of conservative economic philosophy that argues that allowing the wealthy to run their businesses unencumbered by regulation or taxation bears economic benefits that lead to more jobs and income for the rest of society.”
In fact, however, as Richard Butrick notes in his 2012 article, “The Trickle-Down Hoax,” there is no “trickle-down school of economic theory” or economic thought. He explains, “From Hayek to Friedman to Sowell, the main thrust of conservative economics is that money in the private sector is much more productive than money in the public sector and that the path to growth is to keep government (taxes-spending) to a minimum.” This was the Reagan approach.
Conservative Catholics should not “worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope,” writes Ross Douthat of The New York Times. “But his plain language tilts leftward in ways that no serious reader can deny.”
The big mystery, which may cause even more concern, is what Pope Francis intends to do in the future regarding the Kremlin and its “espionage church.”
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.