Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

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So Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI. It has been an interesting process to follow along with as an adult for the first time. I'm actually a little surprised that Ratzinger got the nod, but, of course, I had no real prior experience to base any prediction on, so maybe I shouldn't be quite so surprised that I'm surprised. (I think that's english.)

I find it amusing that Ratzinger...excuse me...Benedict is constantly referred to as "arch conservative" or a "hardline traditionalist." What he represents is a continuity with Vatican II, the single greatest reform council in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church. How that makes him an "arch conservative" is beyond me. I have to believe that such labelling, by American media sources, is indicative of a baseline hostility to Catholic teachings in general. It certainly doesn't reflect the truth within the church. There are groups within the church that wish to restore the Latin mass and roll back many other changes instituted by Vatican II. Those folks might have earned an "arch conservative" label. But Ratzinger? Hardly.

To American media however, simply believing in the tenets of the Catholic Church as they exist at this date makes one some sort of dangerous reactionary.

Oh well...ignorance is bliss I guess.

Viva il Papa!


Anonymous said...

To be fair, I'm neither an expert on the new Pope's background, nor Catholic doctrine, but given what I know about the debate within the church, and some of the positions that he took as a cardinal, I don't think it's stretching to label him a traditionalist or arch conservative. To whit, in no particular order from various news accounts (and I'm pasting here, so these are not always my words):

1) 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.

2) And in his role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has made a name stamping out dissent, convinced that when voiced in public, it was destructive to the church. It was Ratzinger's view that to the extent priests of the church dissented from dogma, they should do it within the confines of the church, not in public. As his office wrote in a 1990 document, "to succumb to the temptation of dissent . . . is to allow the leaven of infidelity to the Holy Spirit to start to work." While I respect his position on this, I think it does indicated a strong conservative leaning that other moderate church leaders might have trouble with.

3) In addition, the document said, "In no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such." (While I understand it is consistent with church doctrine to oppose homosexuality and forbid the sacrament of marriage to anybody but a man and a woman, I would argue that the secular recognition of legal rights of homosexual couples is outside the province of church doctrine and while the cardinal, and the Church, is free to express the belief that it is wrong, to label them as conservative, or archconservative, or traditonalists, etc., because they express that opinion is completely within bounds).

4) "If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions," the document says. I would argue that the adoption of this doctrine signifies strong conservative tendencies.

5) In April 1984, at Ratzinger's initiative, the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith forced the withdrawal a catechism by Anthony T. Wilhelm called "Christ Among Us," that had sold 1.6 million copies since its publication in 1967. The work had drawn the ire of Catholics United for the Faith, a small but persistent group of conservative Catholics devoted to rooting out what they view as heresy in contemporary church teachings and teachers.

Now I'm not familiar with this catechism, but the reporting (which I recognize might be incomplete or unfair) suggests that Ratzinger's efforts to suppress a reading that had existed for 17 years, presumably with the blessing of the Church (again, this assumption could be wrong), suggests a conservative bent.

6) During last year's U.S. presidential election campaign, he wrote a letter advising American bishops to deny communion to politicians supporting abortion rights -- a move criticized by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, a Catholic. Again, a perfectly tenable position given the teachings of the Church. However, that same action was never recommended against politicians who supported the death penalty (especially for crimes such as drug trafficking, which under no loose reading of church doctrine would be acceptable). To do one, but not the other, suggests strong conservative leanings even within the church.

My point is not that the new Pope has not been consistent with church teachings, but that his actions in implementing doctrine fairly open him up to charges of being an arch-conservative. Again, to be fair, because God knows, you don't want to be on the wrong side of the new Pope, and if you can't be fair to a pope, who can you be fair to, much of the perception of him as such could be due to his role as enforcer of church doctrine. However, I don't think the views expressed in the media are necessarily borne of ignorance, as you claim (at least not all of them). And I don't think it's an outrage to label him as such, as the tone of your posting suggests. Is he as conservative as other church leaders? No. Is he much more conservative than other church leaders, who subscribe to the same doctrine? Certainly. Should reporters be more nuanced in their discussion of his views? Absolutely. But many are, and your post groups all of them together with broad stroke ("constantly" is the term you use).

Maybe it's a matter of degree, and certainly there is some degree of ignorance on the part of reporters in terms of church doctrine, especially the disregard by some of the difference between what it means to be a conservative or even moderate church leader, versus what it means to be conservative in general. That is, even a liberal or moderate leader in the Catholic church, is going to come across as a strong conservative to anybody ignorant of church doctrine. But remember that many of the stories which are paint him as conservative, or hardline, are often quoting theologians who describe them in such a manner.


P.S. I had a real long post to your previous Post "they took the bar" but it got accidentally erased. Maybe at some point, I'll redo it, but I doubt I'll have time to get to it.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

I'll make a general point. I'm not sure that anyone should be using the standards of our liberal political system to evaluate anyones religion. In the context of the Church, for example, dissent need not be tolerated the same way dissenting speech is tolerated in our political system. In and of itself this is neither a "conservative" or liberal position because it deals with a fundamental truth as the Church sees it. Translating this back to our political system, censoring speech is not the "conservative" value and free speech the "liberal" one. Freedom of speech is a fundamental truth upon which we base that portion of our political order. The same way the Church bases their system on doctrinal truths. Dissenting on the authority of the Church to speak on matter of dogma would be the equivalent of arguing for censorship in the politcal context. In that sense Ratzinger was not being "conservative" he was simply being consistent. That such dissent was ignored before (or tolerated or whatever) was, in the context of the Church, an error. Correcting an error isn't necessarily "conservative" either. Such a distinction would touch on many, but not all, of the instances you raised.

Some others would require knowledge of the details which I do not have. As for the letter on Turkey, from an historical perspective it has to be admitted that he has a point. Look at what has happened to the Christian communities of the middle east over the last 125 years or so. Turkey has a genocide against a Christian people under its belt, and the other countries haven't fared much better. Historically speaking caution IS warrented. If there is one thing Europe should have learned by now it is that the phrase "Can't happen here" should be stricken from their vocabulary.

As for the communion flap, it is the current teaching on sin in the Catholic church, like it or not.

Unless you mean to say that, in general, following laws and rules is "conservative" and ignoring/breaking them is "liberal." That is not my understanding of the terms.