The white smoke has risen and Christendom has been given a new Pope. Of course, I suspect he is not really all that “new”, as someone has been running the Papal show for these past years of John Paul II’s illnesses, and everyone knows it was Cardinal Ratzinger. As Pope John Paul II neared death, Ratzinger was his most trusted aid and his words were believed to be those of the ailing Pope. The London tabloids are headlining the new Pope Benedict with “From Hitler Youth to PAPA RATZI” and “God’s Rottweiler”. The Washington Post and the NY Times are more respectful, although they cannot hide their dismay, as conservatism seems to have taken hold even in the church of that most famous of all liberals – Jesus!
After seeing this article at Yahoo News today, I believe that the new Pope and I will get on just fine, although I must admit it brings back memories of the first Catholic President – Kennedy – and his having to promise during the campaign, that he would not take orders from Rome’s Pope, if he were elected. It worked and he was! Today, the Pope is attempting to give orders to America’s politicians, and nobody notices.
German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican theologian who was elected Pope Benedict XVI, intervened in the 2004 US election campaign ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters including presidential candidate John Kerry. In a June 2004 letter to US bishops enunciating principles of worthiness for communion recipients, Ratzinger specified that strong and open supporters of abortion should be denied the Catholic sacrament, for being guilty of a “grave sin.”
We already know where Pope Benedict XVI stands, as it was he who coined the phrase “Culture of Death” when speaking against abortion. And he has just reminded us of his stand as Pope when he said; “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Brendan Miniter has little good to say of the American Catholic Church. Writing today in OpinionJournal.com he bemoans “a hollowness that is preventing the American Catholic Church from reaching the heights we can rightfully expect of it.”
The problem is symbolized by the recent bout of sex-abuse scandals–priests who molested children and who were then protected, their crimes covered up, by church leaders. Cardinal Bernard Law had to leave Boston and move to Rome after it became clear he’d written letters of recommendation for priests he knew were child molesters. The church’s critics now hope to use these scandals to hobble it for years to come. The truth is that the sex scandals are a symptom of a larger problem: Many American clergymen no longer believe in the teachings of the church.
This crumbling of the moral consensus is more widespread than disagreements over birth control, abortion and the death penalty. It also includes the ordination of women, recognition of gay relationships and how best to confront poverty, disease and slothfulness. There were once Catholic missions in the United States–some are now tourist attractions in California and Texas–that dished out the harsh tonic to social ills of hard work, chastity and humbleness. But the courage of the church’s convictions that built those institutions has long since left this land. As a whole, the American Catholic Church no longer knows what it stands for or why it should stand at all. This was true even as Pope John Paul II attained rock-star status among young people, attracting massive crowds wherever he traveled in the world, precisely because he knew exactly where he should stand.