Friday, April 22, 2005

The anti-John XXIII?

In the end I watched it live. The spectacle, with its obvious theatricality and the, first expectant and then jubilant, cast of thousands, reminded me of nothing so much as the loyal subjects awaiting to see their new sovereign after he has been crowned – which, essentially, is what happened. The first in line to the throne ascended among much public jubilation – who would have to have been chosen for the masses not to be jubilant, I wonder?

Out of the likely candidates Ratzinger definitely appeared to be the worst possible choice. Sidney Blumenthal managed to say it best in an article in Salon (requires that you watch a short add to access the article):
Some have been critical of Ratzinger on the basis of his belonging to the Hitler Youth when he was fourteen. I think this is basically besides the point: would anyone bother pointing this out as a shortcoming if Ratzinger was a modernist? It isn’t even the case that a Pope, being the spiritual leader of Catholicism, must be without moral blemish – Catholicism, for all its shortcomings, is very keen on forgiveness when it comes to past sins that are sincerely regretted. No, the significant problem with Ratzinger is not what he did more than sixty years ago but what he will do now.

Some have said that they hope or even think that, as it is often put, Pope Benedict XVI will be less doctrinaire than Cardinal Ratzinger. Indeed, they see something of this in the sharp change in tone between what Ratzinger was saying in the days before the conclave and what he has been saying since. Frankly, I find it unbelievable that a man like Ratzinger would suddenly show such a lack of consistency. In that context, the interesting thing about his recent statements isn’t their content but their sharp difference from what had been said before. To believe that behind them stands a sincere change of heart is foolishness. To think that the change is due to the changed circumstances Ratzinger finds himself in is much closer to the truth. It would be, I think, folly, however, to expect actions to follow these words. Ratzinger was a Cardinal in Germany where Catholicism is burdened with a history of conflict with the Protestant Churches and a current situation in which most Catholics have, in effect, left the Church if not the faith. Ratzinger’s reaction was not to reach out to the nonpracticing Catholics and the Protestants but to try and encircle the Church with walls high enough to retain those who still remained inside. His reaction to the various problems the Catholic Church finds itself in around the world will be the same – his twenty-four years at the head of the renamed Office of the Inquisition not having taught him anything else.

This will all, of course, have a highly damaging effect upon the Catholic Church. An atheist like myself might be thought to find reason in this to crow, or to use the German word to feel schadenfreude. However, there are at least two good reasons why this seems to me no reason for joy. The first is that Ratzinger is going to strengthen extremist religious feelings in the world at the cost of more moderate ones as well as providing support for the political extremists that feed off such feelings – the current US administration being a case in point. The second is that people who will end up leaving the Church will not do so due to the realisation that humanism and atheism are the intellectually and morally preferable positions and will, therefore, gravitate towards other faiths and sects. No, Ratzinger’s election is bad for the Church and for the World.


Post a Comment

<< Home