April 20, 2005

Is The Pope Catholic?

Yes – and that seems to be the problem for some folks.

The election of Benedict XVI seems to have put a quick end to the love-feast that we have witnessed in the three weeks since the illness of his beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul the Great. Having been a lightning rod for criticism as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was inevitable the new pope would be controversial. Yet when it comes down to it, the real complaint seems to be that Pope Benedict XVI is just plain too Catholic.

Consider the criticisms found in this article. First we get the feminists who are seeking to undo the two millennia old practice of limiting the priesthood (and higher advancement) to men only.

The Women's Ordination Conference, a Catholic feminist organization working for the ordination of women priests, said the church desperately needs a healer, but the cardinals have elected a divider: "This is another example of how the hierarchy is out of touch with Catholics in the pews," said Joy Barnes, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference.

Sorry, Ms. Barnes, there was never any possibility of you getting what your heart desires. The Church hasn’t survived for two thousand years by taking flash-polls and interpreting survey data. You may not like that – and you may even have survey results showing that two-thirds want just the “reform” you are backing. But that said, I wouldn’t count on that change happening. The weight of scriptural, historical, and theological evidence is against you, as my dear former professor Sister Sara Butler (herself once a vocal supporter of ordaining women until she studied the issue more closely) used to tell us back during my seminary days. And while I may now be an ex-seminarian married to a woman who is a former church pastor, I fail to see how such a change can be made in a Catholic context.

And then there was this comment from the “official” organization of American nuns.

The National Coalition of American Nuns noted that the new pope has the reputation of being "rigid in his position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, silencing and expelling theologians, priests and nuns whom he perceived as not being orthodox.

"He certainly is not known for his sensitivity to the exclusion of women in the Church's leadership," the nuns said in a statement.

Uh, ladies, the teachings of the Catholic Church are not the menu of your local Chinese restaurant. You don’t get to pick one from column A and two from column B. The “silenced” theologians (many of whom are incredibly vocal) were not teaching what the Church teaches, but claimed that they were. What else is the individual charged with ensuring orthodoxy supposed to do? And as far as alleged rigidity is concerned, that is a necessary virtue for one who is expected to be the arbiter of orthodoxy.

And where would we be without these words of dissent from those who utterly reject the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, yet insist that they (and not the Church hierarchy) get to redefine the historic teachings of the Church to meet their own desires?

"The new Pope is seen as the principal author of the most virulently anti-gay, anti-GLBT rhetoric in the last papacy," said DignityUSA President Sam Sinnett.

"The elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger is being seen by many GLBT Catholics as a profound betrayal by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and betrayal of one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ as the loving Good Shepherd who reached out to the ones separated from the flock."

Sinnett called the election of the new pope a test of faith: "We express deep sadness for all those who will find themselves further alienated from the church because of Cardinal Ratzinger's assumption of the papacy. With their support and that of all our members and allies, we will re-double our efforts to speak the truth of our lives as faithful GLBT Catholics."

Never mind that the teachings of the Church are congruent with the words of the Bible itself in a way that the position of DignityUSA is not – they’ve got the truth and the new Vicar of Christ has it all wrong.

I could go on, but it is simply more of the same. Such theological luminaries as Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan have weighed in, as has the New York Times. Their words lead me to ask one pressing question -- How did Catholicism ever manage to make it through its first two millennia without their prophetic voices to guide it?

UPDATE: Seems that I'm not the only one to have noticed that the objections to Ratzinger boiled down to his being too Catholic. This piece showed up in the London Times.

WHAT HAS been most enjoyable about the stunned reaction of the bulk of the media to the election of Pope Benedict XVI has been the simple incredulousness at the very idea that a man such as Joseph Ratzinger could possibly have become leader of the universal Church.

Journalists and pundits for whom the Catholic Church has long been an object of anthropological curiosity fringed with patronising ridicule have really let themselves go since the new pontiff emerged. Indeed most of the coverage I have seen or read could be neatly summarised as: “Cardinals elect Catholic Pope. World in Shock.”

As headlines, I’ll grant you, it’s hard to beat God’s Rottweiler, The Enforcer, or Cardinal No. They all play beautifully into the anti-Catholic sentiment in intellectual European and American circles that is, in this politically correct era, the only form of religious bigotry legitimised and sanctioned in public life. But I ask you, in all honesty, what were they expecting?

Did the likes of The Guardian, the BBC or The New York Times think there was someone in the Church’s leadership who was going to pop up out on the balcony of St Peter’s and with a cheery wave, tell the faithful that everything they’d heard for the past 26 — no, make that 726 — years was rubbish and that they should all rush out and load up with condoms and abortifacients like teenagers off for a smutty weekend? Or did they think the conclave would go the whole hog and elect Sir Bob Geldof (with Peaches, perhaps, as a co-pope) in an effort to bring back the masses?

Right on the head, Mr. Baker -- I only wish I had written it so well!

Update 2: I thought I had seen it all when it came to the anti-Catholic garbage of the Left. The I found this piece from, which is the web portal for the San Francisco Chronicle. Talk about disgusting and sacriligious!

This, then, was to be your biggest challenge. To make yourself relevant again, make yourself known. To make open-hearted and sex-positive and choice-happy and pantheistic changes to your dusty dying church that make the world sit up and take notice and applaud.

Is it still possible? Is there still a glimmer of hope that you might choose to buck dour church tradition and kick down the doors and throw open the stained-glass windows and remake yourself as modern, as inclusive, as the Pope That Changed Everything? Because right now, the world has this sad, sinking feeling again. All signs point to more of the same as the last bitter and bilious 2,000 years, if not even worse. All signs point to more repression, homophobia, intolerance, denial, insularity, guilt like a weapon.

Be thankful that the dark, evil hateful repressed, < YOUR BIGOTTED ADJECTIVE HERE > Catholics are restrained by a moral code that says to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek. If you wrote this about Muslims, they'd be purchasing an orange jumpsuit and sharpening their scimitars.

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