By Mark David Blum, Esq.
With the passing of Pope John Paul, in April 2005 and the then the elevation of Conservative papal enforcer John Ratzinger to Pope Benedict, I sadly watched as great possibilities never materialized. Where John Paul was a man who was leading people out of hopelessness, the tenure of Benedict has been ugly. Right now, as the next Conclave is organizing, the tales pouring out of the Vatican makes the Godfather III a documentary. It is a terrible thing we are witnessing as a church of this magnitude feeds upon itself. So much good can come of the papacy. There is so much money and power that the whole of humanity could uplifted with the right words and the right attitude. The opportunity is there now, in the hands of Cardinals like Law, to set the course for humanity. Either the church can choose to keep going down its path of darkness or it can be the light to which all reach out. All we can do now is pray and enjoy the smoke.
I cannot forgive Pope Benedict for giving safe haven and comfort to former Boston Cardinal Law. That is not the description of a Holy Man. This is what happens when you mix conservative politics with Christianity. I sit here continually disappointed and saddened at the path the Catholic Church has chosen to follow into the future.
First of all, I am a Jew. Being a Jew, means concepts like “the resurrection” and “hell” and “Jesus as Savior” are fictional tales of a rebellious lad and good salesmanship two hundred years later by Paul. We view the concept of sacrificing an innocent man and sentencing him to a horrible and painful death to pay for the sins of the guilty to be a horrendous offense to God and man. Bill Mahr considers “religion” to be a mental disease and I am hard pressed to disagree with him.
But I am also an American and a fairly educated person. To me personally, what you believe is your own business and it is not for me to pass judgment on your belief system. Nothing written here is a discussion of religion nor a comment on Catholicism in particular. Rather, I continue to express my disappointment at the path selected by the institution called the Catholic Church.
I remember when John Paul was elevated to Pope and I recall how very impressed I was with him as he moved about the world focusing hard on issues of human rights. He was indeed a great man and the world still misses him.
A great opportunity presented itself in the change in the papacy. The Cardinals could have selected the African or Latin American Bishop to be Pope. In doing so, they could have yanked the Church out of the 15th century in and led it into the 18th. Had the Cardinals the courage to do so, the entire world’s Christian community would have suddenly been forced to deal with their eons old struggle with racism. I know people who left the Democratic Party when Ron Brown became its Chair. Would the Catholic Church have suffered the same fate?
We will never know.
Instead, the Cardinals gave us Ratzinger; now Pope Benedict. He is a hard-core fundamentalist who named himself after the Saint known for his adherence to strict interpretation and isolation from the general world. Instead of a leader capable of facing the issues of the 21st century, the Church has guaranteed that it will adhere and hold fast to practices and policies dating back to the days of witchcraft and when the sun revolved around the flat earth.
I have always been personally troubled by Pope Benedict. He was a member of the Hitler Youth and served as a soldier in the Nazi army. Yes, a big issue has been made of his deserting that army, but only after American and Russian forces were moments from slaughtering him along with the remnants of Nazi Germany. Given the Catholic Church’s dirty hands from its dealings in the past with Nazis, the selection of Benedict as Pope really calls into question the so-called apologies of John Paul. Clearly, the Church is not yet ready to move away from its darker and more sinister roots.
In furthering that tradition, Benedict named himself after Saint Benedict. While in school, the original Benedict was dismayed by the lack of discipline and the lackadaisical attitude of his fellow students which caused him to flee to the mountains and live as a hermit in a cave for three years; reported to have been fed by a raven.
Later, it was said that he had the ability to read consciences, engage in prophesy, and forestall attacks of the devil. He gained wide reputation for destroying pagan statues and altars and allegedly drove demons from groves sacred to pagans. At one point there were over 40,000 monasteries guided by the Benedictine Rule. The summary of the Benedictine philosophy was ‘WORK AND PRAY’. That message is hard to distinguish from the message of today’s Islamic fundamentalists.
My fears were realized that this Pope will carry Benedict’s message and make it the new dogma that the Church seeks to enforce upon humanity. This Pope has been true to history. His church continues its intolerance of other religions and actively acts to bring about conflict and chaos, they continue to show no compassion for those who would choose to live their lives other than just working and praying. The fundamentalism of anti gay, anti women, anti liberty, anti choice, and anti everything not “work and prayer” continues to be the order of the Church. Millions of people lose their lives and liberty and happiness because of this work/pray fundamentalism that has come to the Vatican.
It was said that when John F. Kennedy was elected President, that it would be the beginning of the end and that Catholics would take over everything. While that was the typical paranoia of the then screaming political right wing, nowadays Republican theocons have adopted Catholic dogma as the new Republican religion. With today’s Tom DeLays and the right wing religious fanatic takeover of the Republican party, and the chaos of the Schiavo matter, we see well how Catholic dogma has indeed infected every level of our national psyche. We no longer have libertarian roots but rather seem to have shifted to a people of biblical origin.
As humans, we have come far from the days of witch burning, crusades, and the God / Kings. Science is the new religion and through it we have learned to dispel and dispense with many of the fairy tales and misconceptions of history. Through education and enlightenment, we have learned that some of the ways practiced by the older churches may have been appropriate in their place and time, but have no relevance in the new millennia.
We no longer need explanations for floods and fires and why children die. No longer is it necessary for us to pray for rain or seek blessings for next seasons’ crops. We have come from the days where God and King was the same thing and every legislative invocation is a decree directly from heaven. Instead, we get the United States Congress.
The world needed an enlightened Pope. Someone has to step forward and carry the ball that human beings and their own lives and freedoms and privacy are far more important than a blind faith belief that God wants people to behave uniformly within narrow parameters. Abortion, the death penalty, and contraception are all personal private issues between the individual and their God. The Catholic Church surely has the right to try and bring people into its fold to believe its teachings. But, the Catholic Church does not and should not ever seek to sway governments or other bodies politic to follow that dogma.
At John Paul’s funeral, Ratzinger said, “"We are moving 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 church”, he insisted, “must defend itself against threats such as ‘radical individualism’ and ‘vague religious mysticism’.”
He was wrong then and he is wrong now. Relativism by its nature cannot be a dictatorship because relativism assumes that morality is dependant on time and culture and changes over the span of both. Pope Benedict sees this as a bad thing and argues that there are certain “absolutes” in life. This is where the fundamental issue lies between the Catholic Church and the rest of humanity. The concept that there are only certain “absolutes” and everything flows therefrom is contingent on accepting those “absolutes” as being absolute.
Christianity accepts certain absolutes. The Resurrection is the primary one. If you cannot accept the Resurrection, then you cannot be Catholic. But for the rest of humanity, the resurrection is not real and is a tale relied upon only by Christianity. In fact, outside of the Bible, there is no record of Jesus ever having been born or lived.
Respectfully, the Catholic Church needs to find a way back into the mainstream of world thought. It can certainly maintain its absolutes. But its leadership must accept that even those absolutes are themselves relative. Whether women should be priests or whether priests should marry are internal issues to the Church and have no impact on me.
But, so long as the Holy See continues to provide John Law safe harbor within its walls and so long as those like Cardinal Law are able to be involved in the selection of the Church’s leaders, then respecting the Vatican or thinkers like Pope Benedict is going to be an impossible task.
I accept that having been John Paul’s right hand man as well as the strong man enforcer for the Vatican on issues involving dogma, and being the eldest of the Cardinals gave Ratzinger a certain entitlement to the position. I respect the College of Cardinals for giving Ratzinger the job as a thank you for a life long job well done. Also, given his age, it is unlikely his term will last very long.
Fortunately, the reign of Pope Benedict was short and peaceful. When the next Conclave meets, perhaps the Church will have matured and seen the light.
The rapture will not be when Jesus magically appears. The rapture will be when the entire world finds itself at peace and without human cruelty. Unfortunately, most of fundamentalist Catholic dogma will prevent us from ever finding that relief. The Church could be a powerful voice and leader in bringing about real peace and happiness. Instead, it insists on remaining stuck in the past and enforcing ways and beliefs that are no longer relevant.