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April 24, 2005 - Assessment

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As of Tuesday, April 19, 2005 we have a new Pope in Rome.  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has been elected by the Council of Cardinals, and has decided Pope Benedict XVI will be is papal name.  And at least two of my friends are commenting on how this guy used to be a member of the Hitler Youth, the Hitlerjugend.

As I said last September here, I don't like what is in the air, but I want to avoid being one more lefty yelling Nazi and fascist like so many others.  Bush is not Hitler.  And Karl Rove is not Hermann Goering.  Yes, Rove's grandfather was Karl Heinz Roverer, the Gauleiter of Oldenburg. Roverer was Reich-Statthalter - Nazi State Party Chairman - for his region.  He was also a partner and senior engineer in the Roverer Sud-Deutche Ingenieurburo AG engineering firm, which built the Birkenau camp – according to this research.  But so what?  The father of Arnold Shwarzenegger was a Nazi officer, but Arnold is our governor out here now.  That’s all in the past.

Markos Moulitsas Zúniga on his web log, The Daily Kos, puts it this way


Today has seen the third papal election in my lifetime. There are many reasons to criticize the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, like his stances on women and gays in the church, social issues, his work in crushing liberation theology, his comments in regards to the priest sexual abuse scandals, and his generally conservative views.

Calling him a Nazi, however, is unfounded and unfair, and only serves to demean us.

The man is 78 years old. He was 18 when the war ended. He is of the right age group where you were required by law to join the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Hitler Youth by no means made you grow up to be a confirmed Nazi, although that was certainly the intent. Belonging to a Luftwaffe AA battery is also not a sign that he was a Nazi; had he been a fanatical Nazi, not only would he have volunteered for the Waffen SS, but he wouldn't have deserted in 1944. That desertion in itself is not an unremarkable act. They still shot deserters at that time. Being in the German Army does not mean that you were a Nazi.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize this pope and the policies he's likely to enact. Unfounded accusations are unfair, and will only serve to give the [right] wingers more ammunition.

Call him conservative, call him reactionary, call him old, call him surly, call him the wrong choice. Just don't call him a Nazi.


That seems about right.

But another citizen-journalist - and I guess that is what you could call bloggers theses days - Andrew Sullivan, has this to say about what happened here –


It would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision. It's not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning.


Strong words. But, then again, Sullivan is an openly gay conservative, and that is an odd mix – and Sullivan is a devote Catholic.  Forgive him?

Ah, but then Sullivan calms down.  Well, not exactly


… I am still in shock. This was not an act of continuity. There is simply no other figure more extreme than the new Pope on the issues that divide the Church. No one. He raised the stakes even further by his extraordinarily bold homily at the beginning of the conclave, where he all but declared a war on modernity, liberalism (meaning modern liberal democracy of all stripes) and freedom of thought and conscience. And the speed of the decision must be interpreted as an enthusiastic endorsement of his views. What this says to American Catholics is quite striking: it's not just a disagreement, it's a full-scale assault. This new Pope has no pastoral experience as such. He is a creature of theological discourse, a man of books and treatises and arguments. He proclaims his version of the truth as God-given and therefore unalterable and undebatable. His theology is indeed distinguished, if somewhat esoteric and at times a little odd. But his response to dialogue within the church is to silence those who disagree with him. He has no experience dealing with people en masse, no hands-on experience of the challenges of the church in the developing world, and complete contempt for dissent in the West. His views on the subordinate role of women in the Church and society, the marginalization of homosexuals (he once argued that violence against them was predictable if they kept pushing for rights), the impermissibility of any sexual act that does not involve the depositing of semen in a fertile uterus, and the inadmissibility of any open discourse with other faiths reveal him as even more hard-line than the previous pope. I expected continuity. I didn't expect intensification of the fundamentalism and insularity of the current hierarchy. I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise. And I expect the Church's immersion in the culture wars in the West - on every imaginable issue. For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over. They will, in that sense, be successful.


Ah, let’s see.  Contempt for dissent?  A view that women should be subordinate in society?  Homosexuals should be marginalized – and if gay-bashers bash them it’s their own damned fault because they asked for their rights?  No open discourse with anyone who doesn’t agree with what you believe?  Silence those who disagree with you?


Darn, that sounds familiar.

Did George Bush appoint this guy?  No.  He’s just the Pope.  Harmless.

I don’t have a dog in this hunt, as they say. I’m not Catholic – in fact, I’m not anything at the moment.  On the other hand, the Man in Rome is awfully influential, even if he is not our president.  So this does matter a bit in this sorry world.

The Washington Post on Sunday, April 3 did run a profile of Ratzinger and this gives us a sense of the man.


He wrote a letter of advice to U.S. bishops on denying communion to politicians who support abortion rights, which some observers viewed as a slam at Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry. He publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union and wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that stand on the grounds that the continent is essentially Christian in nature.

... Ratzinger was active in stamping out liberation theology, with its emphasis on grass-roots activism to fight poverty and its association with Marxist movements.


Anti-Kerry?  And willing to say that works don’t matter, just the purity of your faith, so you don’t have to anything about injustice or poverty or oppression?  Rove and the guys in the White House are cheering.  The fellow fits right in with the conservative evangelical party that the Republicans have become.  The Post also tells us that once called homosexuality a tendency toward "intrinsic moral evil" and dismissed the uproar over priestly pedophilia in the United States as a "planned campaign" against the church.

This guy is going to fit right in – a man for our times.

And E.J. Dionne of the Post shows us why in this - Cardinal Ratzinger's challenge


04.19.05 - ROME -- The words broke like a thunderclap inside St. Peter's Basilica on Monday. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, addressing the world's cardinals just hours before they sequestered themselves to choose the next leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics, decided to define this conclave.

"We are moving," he declared, "toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

The modern world, Ratzinger insisted, jumped "from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism."

Those are fighting words. They guaranteed that Ratzinger, who was Pope John Paul II's enforcer of orthodoxy, will either set the church's course -- or offer his fellow cardinals the ideas they choose to react against. Decades from now, many conservative Catholics will see the war against the "dictatorship of relativism" as their central mission. It's not a line you forget. ..


Yep, that’s true.

It comes down to what matters –


… for the many cardinals here from the Third World -- 20 of the 115 voting are from Latin America, 11 from Africa, 10 from Asia -- the battle over relativism is far less important than the poverty that afflicts so many of their flock. Some of these cardinals -- Claudio Hummes of Brazil is a representative figure -- may share points in common with Ratzinger on doctrine. But for them the struggle against suffering and social injustice is part of their lives every single day.

Many of these same cardinals, and some in Europe and the United States, place a higher priority on Christianity's rekindled competition with Islam and the urgency of Muslim-Christian dialogue. It's not clear where Ratzinger's approach would take these efforts.

Ratzinger, in other words, is now central to two very different dynamics inside the conclave. Cardinals will be asked to decide -- by voting for or against him or someone he favors -- whether Ratzinger's theological approach is right. And they will decide whether Ratzinger's priorities are about the things that matter.

… What makes this papal election so unusual is not the normal disagreement over specific issues. The odd part is that the cardinals disagree fundamentally over what the election is really about because they differ in their judgments of what constitutes the most important issues confronting the church.


They decided.

Dionne says this too –


Ratzinger is a brilliant, tough-minded intellectual who started out as moderately liberal and -- like so many American neoconservatives -- developed a mistrust of the left because of the student revolt of the 1960s. He once said that "the 1968 revolution" turned into "a radical attack on human freedom and dignity, a deep threat to all that is human."

… He is proposing that the church take one aspect of John Paul's synthesis -- the battle against relativism reflected in doctrinal rigor -- and make it the late pope's central legacy.


Damn.  That year, 1968, caused no end of trouble.


So what is the connection of this matter in Rome with the neoconservatives – this band of evangelical Christians running our country on militarism and intolerance of others?

Well, Jeffrey Hart is professor of English emeritus at Dartmouth College and a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, and he has a pretty good explanation of American Christian evangelical movement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Sunday, April 17 here.

His contention?

The Bush presidency is not conservative. It is populist and radical, its policies deformed by the influence of Christian extremism.

Oh.  That.

This is actually a long history of the American Christian evangelical movement. You can read that if you wish, but this observation is at the core –


Because Evangelicalism is sustained by no structure of ideas, and, beyond that, has no institutional support in a continuing church, it flares up in repeated "Awakenings," and then subsides as the emotion dissipates. Because it is populist and homemade, its assertions tend often to be ridiculous, the easy targets for the latest version of H.L. Mencken.

If we recall Leo Strauss's formulation that "Athens and Jerusalem" -- science and spiritual aspiration -- are the core of Western civilization, American Evangelicalism is a threat to both, through ignorance of both.

Except for that major qualification, Evangelicalism would not matter much if it were a private superstition, a sort of hobby, except that the Evangelicalism of the Bush variety has real and often dangerous effects on the world in which the rest of us, and even they, live.


And Hart goes on to discuss stem cell research and other matters that show the evangelicals shutting things down –


Information about safe sex was removed from the Centers for Disease Control Web site.

- The scandal that the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research prohibited over-the-counter sale of a "morning after" contraceptive as encouraging promiscuity and thus spreading disease -- clearly outside the mandate of the FDA. The New England Journal of Medicine described this as a political decision, which of course it was.

- The fact that the Bush administration has devoted millions to faith-based organizations promoting abstinence, but in doing so telling flagrant lies: that condoms fail to prevent HIV 31 percent of the time during heterosexual intercourse (3 percent is accurate); that abortion leads to sterility (elective abortion does not); that touching a person's genitals can cause pregnancy; that HIV can be spread through sweat and tears; that a 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person"; and that half of gay teenagers have AIDS. Some grants for faith-based programs stipulate that condoms be discussed only in connection with their failure.

You would think that such Halloween science would be impossible in federally funded programs. Isn't bearing false witness prohibited by the Ten Commandments? But, as we see, Evangelicals make up their own scripture. And this is the Bush administration.

- Then there was that book the federal bookstore at the Grand Canyon was obliged to carry, maintaining that the Grand Canyon was caused by Noah's Flood. Geology shows that the canyon took millions of years to form by erosion. No problem. Geology is wrong.


Sigh.  And now this Pope – cut from the same cloth.

What a world.

Who ARE these people?  Well, Richard Cohen explains.

Faith-Based Pandering
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A19

This is a discussion of Bill Frist and the filibuster business, but in taking care of that business Cohen gets to the heart if the matter –


… Frist initially led the Senate's effort to keep poor Terri Schiavo alive even though every court that had heard her case had concluded she was, technically and sadly, dead. Now Frist will be joining a telecast that will attack Democrats as being hostile to "people of faith." It will focus on the filibuster, which the Democrats have used to block 10 of George W. Bush's 229 judicial appointments. Some of the nominees are quaintly anachronistic in their views but to a person I assume they believe in God and therefore cannot be opposed no matter what else they think or do.

"The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith," the telecast's sponsoring organization has declared. Among the participants are some, if not all, who believe that any abortion is wrong, that a stem cell is an inviolate human life, that homosexuality is a sin, that sex before marriage is both a mistake and a sin (don't even ask about homosexual sex before marriage), and that the rights of both Terri Schiavo and her husband should have been brushed aside -- along with a couple of hundred years of allowing state courts to settle such matters.

I am pausing now to wonder if the phrase "people of faith" is meant to include Muslims with several wives, Hindus with several deities or even the odd person here and there who believes, as I am sometimes tempted to, that God can be found in a pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. But I think somehow that "people of faith" is meant to embrace only conservative Christians and maybe Orthodox Jews, who are sometimes lumped together as Judeo-Christians. People of faith, you may rest assured, are people of their faith. All others need not apply.


The result?


I don't think a gay Presbyterian would be considered a person of faith, no matter how devout, nor, for that matter, a pro-choice Methodist -- say, someone such as Hillary Clinton. The category would certainly not include a Baptist such as Husband Bill or a Jew such as Chuck Schumer or, I venture to say, an Episcopalian such as John McCain, whose faith sustained him in a Vietnamese prison. As for a Roman Catholic such as Ted Kennedy, whose faith informs his liberalism, take it on faith that he would not be considered a person of faith. The phrase would also exclude anyone of any faith who believes in a limited role for religion in public life, especially the schools, if only on the pragmatic grounds that otherwise we will be at each other's throats. This is a lesson of history.


So it is, and now we have this new Pope.

Interesting times are coming.  And I don't like what is in the air.


Here is something amusing on the name the new Pope selected for himself - Benedict XVI - from Keith Olbermann at MNSBC –


…the former Cardinal Ratzinger is now invoking the memories of the other fifteen Benedicts.

The first, chosen in 579, is so obscure that the only trace of his pontificate is a document showing he granted one an Italian estate to a local Abbot. The second Benedict, we are told, was a great singer — an unusual resume for a Pope. The third had to fight off an invasion by the Saracens.

Numbers four to nine are generally conceded to mark the darkest period in Papal history — one was deposed, one was killed, one was bribed into resigning. The tenth was literally the "anti-Pope" during the pontificate of Nicholas the second in the 11th Century, but Benedict the 11th made peace with the French.

The 12th we'll get to presently; the 13th was pretty much nondescript; the 14th was feisty (during an argument with the French ambassador, he once seized the man, shoved him into the Papal chair and said "Be Pope yourself!"). And the 15th, who ascended in 1914, tried to keep the Vatican neutral during the first World War and publicly pleaded with world leaders not to fight — becoming in the process the first Pope to correspond with an American president. There is little doubt the new Pope is trying to evoke that Benedict, and the Saint of the same name, and even the word itself (benedictum) meaning, simply, “blessing.”

But then there was Benedict the 12th and one almost wishes there was still a place for his earthy self-deprecation at the Vatican. Elected in 1342 — on the first ballot, and when the Popes still ruled more or less in hiding at Avignon, France — he was Cardinal Jacques Fournier, and he evidently wasn't too happy about his new job.

To his fellow cardinals he said, quote, "you have elected a jackass."

Certainly that is not the Benedict which the former Cardinal Ratzinger hopes to emulate. But the selection does raise the question: What does the name mean in the end? Does the name shape the Pope or does the Pope shape the name?

If we could ask one past Pope for an answer, it would be the Cardinal who advanced to the title in 468. He became Pope Hilarius. At the time, the word — in Latin and Greek alike — still principally meant gracious or cheerful, and had not yet assumed its current sense of stand-up comedy.

They made him a Saint — possibly because he’d have to carry that name throughout history. But it’s instructive to note that there has yet to be a Pope Hilarius II.


And there will not be another, or so it seems.  The days of “gracious and cheerful” are long gone.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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