Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

No evidence backs the rumor that the college of Cardinals used Diebold machines. And don't be too quick to believe the report that Cardinal Francis Arinze had to wait in an unusually long line.

Yes, Joseph Ratzinger was once a member of the Hitler Youth. Conspiracy buffs of a certain type (the type I used to hang out with) are going to repeat that fact with an insistence reminiscent of a Philip Glass score. Personally, I'm not worried about what Ratizinger did when he was 18.

A potentially more worrisome factor: His experiences during the student protests of the late 1960s may have left him with -- how to put it? -- certain psychological scars. Confronting the excesses of inflamed youth can turn a decent man into a lifelong reactionary.

The important point to recall is this: The Pope has little power.

He makes no laws that affect anyone outside of Vatican City. Unless you get a paycheck directly from his church, he cannot compel you to do anything. If he wants the faithful to hop up and down on one leg for five minutes, they will do so only if they feel like doing so.

Stalin once asked: "How many divisions does the Pope have?" Damned good question!

Even though the Catholic Church lost all vestiges of temporal rule many years ago (except within a small area of Rome roughly one-third the size of the Los Angeles Zoo), everyone still loves to operate under the hallucination that the Pope wields enormous worldly power. Catholics maintain the hallucination for obvious reasons. Fundamentalist Protestants maintain the hallucination because they adore anti-Catholic conspiracy theories, and all such theories rest on the postulate of an all-powerful Vatican. Atheists and pagans -- as well as some Jews and Moslems -- maintain the hallucination for pretty much the same reason. Who fears a toothless bĂȘte noir?

Believe whatever you wish. But the fact remains: In the modern era, the Pope can rarely do more than run an idea up the flagpole and hope that people salute.

If you find his ideas on gays or the ordination of women offensive, then do as I do and refrain from attending services at a Catholic church. Simple, no? No need for hysterics or outrage.

If a guy in Rome says something with which you do not agree -- no problemo. You are still free to say things he doesn't like.

I do not expect to see a new John XXXIII in my lifetime. If Benedict XVI were suddenly to announce himself a liberal reformer, Protestant evangelicals would scoop up large numbers of disaffected Catholics in Spanish-speaking countries. Conversely, if the new Pope takes too conservative a stance, then those few Europeans paying attention to the church will turn their attentions elsewhere. The church's automatic braking mechanism kicks in whenever the steering wheel moves.

Ratzinger does have a few items in his resume which even I find bothersome. During the 2004 American election, he suggested that priests deny communion to politicians who do not toe the Vatican line on abortion. This message was intended for John Kerry. If Benedict XVI transforms that suggestion into a decree, he will have exercised a malign power in one of the few ways still available to him.

On the other hand, he opposed the Iraq war, and is no fan of unfettered capitalism. So we have some room for optimism.

On the weird front: The new Pope has already fulfilled the alleged "Prophecy of Malachy," a text of dubious provenance first mentioned in a book by a Benedictine historian, published in 1595. The Latin motto associated with this Pope is Gloria Olivae, or "the glory of the olive." Wikipedia (boy, do those guys work fast!) notes that the name "Benedict" relates to the Benedictine order, which uses the olive branch as a symbol.

Of course, the olive branch is also a general symbol for peace.

If Benedict XVI can help this groaning world achieve that goal, I'll happily forgive (or ignore) his conservative views on below-the-waist issues.


Barry Schwartz said...

Your argument against the power of the Pope seems equivalent to an argument that the U.S. media don't have a lot of power, because they can't _make_ anybody do anything. It doesn't hold water. You even acknowledge the power of a Pope to turn people into Protestants.

Humans live in a perpetually unstable state -- at any point a new doctrine may move them in a direction they would not already have gone. This is mostly a good thing -- it is how science works -- but it also can cause harm.

Joy Tomme said...

You're right, Barry.

The RCC has negative power and a lot of it. It has the power to make people suffer and die because they condemn the use of condoms to people in Africa to avoid getting AIDS. Corporations listen to the RCC. The policies on birth control force people to have unwanted children. Pharmacists are denying women the right to use birth control. This is a horrible use of power. And the RCC glories in it. I love Jon Stewart calling Ratzinger Joey Ratz. The RCC is not all that different from the Mafia. They are power mad. Oh yes, they have power. And the awful thing is they wield their power over people who are not Roman Catholic, which is their aim.

I wish you wwere right, Joe. But as it turns out, you're not. Barry is right.

Ratfuck Diary (http://ratfuckdiary.blogspot.com)

Anonymous said...

He's about 76 or so isn't he? So that means he was born about 1929, which means he was about 15 when WW2 ended. 15 years old, I hardly think he knew what he was doing.
They had kids starting in about what? 5? 6? 7? years of age or around abouts, and of course like everything else in Nazi-Germany, or any totalitarian state, points are reached where if you - or your 5/6/7 year old son - are not joining in with the group then people begin to become suspicious of you, etc. I could go on, but come on, 15 years old? Nothing suspicious to it.

Anonymous said...

No power? As Cardinal Ratzinger, in 2004 he threatened American Catholics with excommunication if they voted for a candidate who did not oppose abortion and homosexuality, namely John Kerry. As a result, Bush received 6% more of the Catholic vote than he did in 2000. No power?

Anonymous said...

you are nothing but a stupid idiot who are pretending to be great!

Anonymous said...

It is illogical to minimize the power of the papacy; see what it has done - from the fall of the Berlin Wall to its activities with the Palestinians. I fear that Malachy may be right again; recently a a prominent moslem stated that they (moslems) must attack Washington and the Vatican --why, is the question that should be asked.

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