This blog post told me something that was definitely new to me: Smelling a Ratz by pessimist, Left Coater blog 04/22/05. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm terribly surprised.
The "pessimist" post links to the following article: Neil Bush, Ratzinger co-founders by Knut Royce and Tom Brune Newsday 04/21/05.
Neil Bush, the president's controversial younger brother, six years ago joined the cardinal who this week became Pope Benedict XVI as a founding board member of a little known Swiss ecumenical foundation.
The charter members of the board were all well-known international religious figures, except for Bush and his close friend and business partner, Jamal Daniel, whose family has extensive holdings in the United States and Switzerland, public records show. (my emphasis)
The group is called the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue. According to Royce and Tom Brune, neither Neil Bush nor Ratzinger still has their original formal ties to the Foundation. Neil's "close friend and business partner" still does:
Gary Vachicouras, a theologian and foundation official in Geneva, would not explain in a telephone interview yesterday why Bush, who has no clear public connection to religious causes, was on the first board.
"He was interested at that particular time," said Vachicouras of Bush. But like some other initial board members, Bush is no longer involved, Vachicouras said. Ratzinger also left a few years ago and was replaced by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who is responsible for ecumenical relations for the Vatican, said Vachicouras.
Still active is Daniel, a Syrian American who has family active in the Orthodox Church in Geneva, said Vachicouras. "This is an Orthodox lay person," he said. (my emphasis)
They remind us why Neil Bush first became famous. And they point to a fascinating detail about the Foundation:
Daniel reportedly became acquainted with Bush in 1991, the year the federal Office of Thrift Supervision sanctioned Bush for having "multiple conflicts of interest" in his role as a director of Silverado Savings and Loan, a Colorado thrift whose failure cost taxpayers $1.3 billion. Bush paid $50,000 in a settlement.
The foundation, based at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Geneva, is listed by Dun & Bradstreet business credit reports as a management trust for purposes other than education, religion, charity or research. But Vachicouras said the designation must be a mistake of translation to English because the foundation is a private nonprofit established under Swiss law. He said the foundation is being "relaunched" on its mission to publish the original text of the Bible's Old Testament in Hebrew, its New Testament in Greek and the Quran in Arabic. (my emphasis)
I'm sure that Dubya and Neil and Jeb spend a lot of time worrying about how badly the world needs a new version of the Hebrew Bible in the original language. Even Vachicouras' quoted statement sounds odd. "Publish the original text"? Exactly what does that mean? Since there is not definitive "original text" of any of those three documents, it seems an especially odd thing to say if the foundation's purpose is to publish versions of the sacred books. Weird, weird all around.
Oh, I love that excuse, too. "It must be a bad translation." Scotty McClellan should use that in his press briefings sometimes. It could hardly be less credible than his usual act.
Something is strange about this foundation business. I hope some reporters do follow up on this, because there's likely to be a bigger story there:
[Olivier] Fatio, who left the board three years ago, said the foundation "never had any money." Vachicouras declined to discuss finances.
He said, "We keep a low profile because that makes it easier to get work done."
And who is the President sending to represent the Bush dynasty at the Mass to celebrate Ratzinger's ascension to the papacy? Jeb, of course:
Jeb Bush leitet US-Delegation bei Papst-Messe Der Spiegel 23.04.05
Jeb Bush to lead U.S. delegation to Rome USA Today (AP) 04/22/05
The fact that Jeb is a convert to Catholicism at least lends a mild air of it being something more than a dynastic choice. Although that's what it is. And it's giving Jeb the chance to start looking Presidential in preparation for 2008. An attempt with which our sad excuse for a press corps will eagerly cooperate, no doubt.
Gov. Bush leads trip to Vatican by Steve Bousquet St. Petersburg Times 04/22/05. Just think about this comment from Brother Jeb quoted by Bousquet:
"I'm excited to represent our country, and particularly people of the Catholic faith, at this important time," the 52-year-old governor said. "I'm delighted to be going." (my emphasis)
Since when did the Christian Right President of the United States acquire the authority - civil, ecclesiastical or otherwise - to select anyone, Catholic or not, to represent American "people of the Catholic faith"? This reeks to high heaven. Don't these people have any respect for American democratic traditions? And in this case, it shows astonishing arrogance and disrespect toward Catholics for Brother Jeb to suggest that he is representing us.
Like their soulmate and political ally Mullah James Dobson, the Bush brothers seem to believe, "The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution." Or in any other part of the American or Christian tradition either, it appears.
From Bousquet's article:
The five-member U.S. delegation also includes Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele; Carl Anderson, the chief executive officer of the Knights of Columbus; Helen Alvare, an associate professor of law at Catholic University in Washington; and Frank Hanley, president emeritus of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The Knights of Columbus are an influential group of American Catholic businesspeople. I can't claim to be terribly familiar with them. But I have the impression that they tend toward the conservative without being Opus Dei-style reactionaries.
And I may be a bit excessively Jeffersonian on this point. But the idea of an official representative of the American President attending a official event for American cardinals during the celebration of an ecclesiastical event like the celebration of a new Pope just seems inappropriate to me:
The governor will have lunch in Rome today with Mel Sembler, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, and will attend a dinner with American Cardinals.
I remember for my last exam in my political science undergraduate program, one of the questions required us to write an essay about the dangers of Ceasero-papism in the United States. (I get my poli-sci geekiness honestly.) Who would have thought it would arrive in the form of a Republican blue-blood dynasty in alliance with the Pope and a bunch of Christian Taliban Protestant fundamentalists?