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Letters & Op-Eds - 2005
The Church Will Continue to Suffer
Frances Kissling, et al
20 April 2005
Father Andrew Greeley, sociologist and author of "Priests: A Calling in Crisis"
Why did the new pope choose a name that only one pope in the last 100 years used? Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa became Pope Benedict XV in 1914 and died in 1922. He did his best to prevent and then end the Great War. Moreover, he put an end to the punitive campaign against "Modernism" that Cardinal Merry del Val, the secretary of state under St. Pius X, had unleashed on the church -- spies, secret societies, anonymous denunciations, careers and lives ruined. Benedict was a healer who restored internal tolerance to the church.
The Italian papers told us that you could tell what kind of pope the new man would be by his name. If he chose "John Paul," he would be opting for a continuation of the late pope's style of governance. If he chose "Pius," he would be returning to the middle decades of the last century when the church seem frozen in place. If he chose "John" he would be opting for the exciting years of the Second Vatican Council. The new pope rejected all those possibilities and selected a name that would distinguish his administration from those of his predecessors of the last 100 years and (perhaps) because he wanted to be known as a healer. Heaven knows that there is need for healing in the church.
Perhaps a man whose conservative credentials as the head of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith are unquestioned is uniquely situated for the task -- just as Richard Nixon was uniquely situated to visit China.
Women -- and not only in the United States -- are very angry at the church. It is no exaggeration to say that many of them, devout Catholics to the core, will tell you they hated John Paul because he hated women. If the new pope wants to win them over, he will have a very hard sell on his hands. Similarly, gay and lesbian Catholics will find it difficult to forgive him for his comment that they are "objectively" disordered. He will have to put off his persona as stats professor and put on his persona as a parish priest.
Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice
The good news is that Ratzinger is not John Paul II. No world leader owes him thanks for his role in the downfall of communism. It will take years for his papacy to achieve any potential political cache. The bad news is that he is Pope, and he was elected by two thirds or more of the princes of the church, who knew what they were doing.
I can no longer delude myself about these princes’ almost total lack of interest in healing the divide in the Church, in showing compassion for or even in listening to the voices of the suffering. The time for nuance is over. Let the unholy war begin.
Mary Segers, professor of political science at Rutgers University
Joseph Ratzinger prefers order over anarchy. He'll emphasize Catholic identity. He's talked about a dictatorship of relativism; any kind of flirtation with the idea that all religions might be equal -- he doesn't believe in that. He thinks that Catholic Christianity is the answer. All religious traditions may embody some truth, but somehow Catholics have got more of it.
He believes in the idea that Europe is a kind of base for Christian civilization, and he apparently thinks that an admixture of that with a Muslim country is not a good thing. Last year he stated that he was opposed to the admission of Turkey to the European Union because of its Islamic history, even though Turkey has been secular since the 1920s. Ratzinger thinks that since Europe has Christian roots, by definition you can't admit a Muslim country into the European Union. That worries me more than anything else, because I think that one of the tasks the next pope must undertake is making some sort of outreach to Islam.
James Martin, Jesuit priest, associate editor of America magazine and author of "In Good Company"
While I trust that the Holy Spirit will be helping Pope Benedict XVI over the next few years, I would be lying if I didn't say how disappointed I was by the cardinals' selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope. To my mind, there were many other candidates who had more pastoral experience, who have been more open to dialogue with other religions, and who have demonstrated more sensitivity to the thoughtful questioning that has always characterized Christian theology. But the cardinals quickly settled on a man who would forcefully continue John Paul's approach to governing the church. I can only pray that Pope Benedict proves to be more tolerant and open-minded than Cardinal Ratzinger was. But stranger things have happened in the Catholic Church, and I am hoping that the God of Surprises will surprise all of us.
Amy Sullivan, Salon contributor and editor for Washington Monthly
As tears of joy filled the eyes of Catholic nuns standing in St. Peter's Square on Tuesday with the announcement of Joseph Ratzinger's election to the papacy, tears of anger and frustration stung the eyes of progressive Catholics around the world. Both conservative and progressive Catholics care deeply about the crises facing their church, but they have very different ideas about the solutions. The election of Ratzinger signals a decision to stick with the failed policies that have led millions of Catholics in the developing world to leave the church for Pentecostalism, and millions of western Catholics to simply leave religion altogether. The choice Ratzinger has posed -- between the tyranny of relativism or the triumph of orthodoxy -- is false. The church will continue to suffer for his lack of imagination.
Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco, editor of Tikkun
Ratzinger has been the leader of an internal inquisition in the church against any voices that sought to hold on to the message that came out of Vatican II. Instead, he has pushed the church away from social justice and peace concerns. This guy has a history -- from his short time in the Nazi youth organization and service in the army to his authoritarian and anti-gay perspective -- of fighting against the liberalization of the church that occurred under Vatican II. He has taken fundamentally repressive stands on homosexuality and on women's right to make their own reproductive choices. He has denounced anybody in the church who was willing to give equal validity to other faith traditions, including Jews.
Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at Notre Dame
I think the fact that Cardinal Ratzinger was elected so quickly indicates that there was a fair amount of consensus when they started the conclave Monday morning. They probably found him attractive for two reasons: because he would continue many of the policies of John Paul II, and because he has been occupied by the rapid de-Christianization of Europe in general and Western Europe in particular, with the attendant problem of the rise of Islam in Europe.
He spoke very compellingly about the rise of the secular mentality in the homily he gave at the Mass just before the conclave opened. The name he chose, Benedict, is significant -- St. Benedict was one of the co-patron saints of all of Europe, and his monasteries were one of the primary vehicles for the Christianization of Europe in the early Middle Ages.
If his actions in the past are any indication, he is not going to be sympathetic to relinquishing power to local bishops. He's in favor of centralization, and I think that's bad news for the church.
Andrew Sullivan, columnist and blogger
I'm still reeling, am still in shock. Given the church's internal debate, the choice could not have been more polarizing. Coming so swiftly, and after Ratzinger's pre-conclave rant about "the dictatorship of relativism," it's a statement of where the church is headed: toward more retrenchment, insularity and retreat.
Benedict has no pastoral experience, scant knowledge of the developing world, a terrible reputation in Europe as a full-bore reactionary, and no real comfort as an actor on the world stage.
In other words, he offers all the drawbacks of JPII and none of the advantages. He does have an interesting mind. But the more deeply you read, the scarier it gets: He even backs a pre-modern view of the conscience, which holds that you can only have a good conscience if you agree with him.
John T. McGreevy, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame
Ratzinger was John Paul II's primary theological advisor, but he seems more countercultural than John Paul II: the church standing against society, maintaining the integrity of Catholic doctrine. Ratzinger is very skeptical of secular modernity, as exhibited in the U.S. and Western Europe. He's a critic of liberal individualism. He's going to be skeptical of a lot of values that we associate as particularly American: capitalism, modernity, that kind of thing. That was true of John Paul II also, but his charisma softened the harder edges of that; I think we'll see the harder edges now.
He's not enthusiastic about the idea of women's ordination. Ratzinger seems unlikely to be a reformer in that regard, and also in regard to the sex crisis and what that provoked. He hasn't been a leader in any of that. The sex-abuse issue is a small blip on the larger Vatican screen ... I think they underestimate its importance and the alienation that can go along with it.
I think the two big issues facing the church are the role of women in the church and theological literacy -- that is, a deeper immersion in the Catholic tradition for young people, intellectuals and everybody else. Any pope is going to have to grapple with these; they are inevitable. The evidence we have so far is that he hasn't been very creative on thinking of new roles for women in the church.
Rev. James T. Bretzke, S.J., associate professor and co-chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco
The old Italian saying that the man who enters the conclave a "pope" comes out a cardinal has been disproven by the selection of Joseph Ratzinger as pope. His election does mirror another election; after the 32-year pontificate of the conservative Pius IX the frail and elderly Leo XIII was chosen -- and ended up ruling for the next 25 years! At 78, Ratzinger may have been selected both for his age and his stability; he is perhaps the most well-known commodity as future pope among the College of Cardinals. Yet, as another old pope, John XXIII, showed the world with Vatican II, quite unexpected things can happen when the Holy Spirit gets hold of a man. Ratzinger is a careful, nuanced and firm theologian, and I believe those three qualities will mark his pontificate, whether it be long or short. I join all Catholics in praying as I know he himself would wish: namely that the he would be open to God's Spirit in the world.
Michael Phayer, author of "The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965"
I was not thrilled by any means with the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger. Like Pius IX in the middle of the 19th century, Ratzinger was "burned" by the student unrest in Germany in the 1960s, and fled his teaching post at Tuebingen. His attitude contrasts that of John Paul II, who looked toward rebirth in society with hope, not with fear. Ratzinger's life experiences, beginning with the Nazis, has, I am afraid, led him to recoil and push away from encountering the world.
Rev. Dr. John L. Kater Jr., professor of ministry development and director of the Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, Calif.
In times like ours, people respond to conflict and complexity in different ways. One is to accept that the truth is greater than our attempts to put it into words; the other is to work hard at closing down discussion and debate. The new pope has been identified with the second. As an Episcopalian, I hope that in the future he will come to value dialogue over dogma, diversity over rigidity. The mystery of God is far greater than our efforts to pin it down.
Paul Lakeland, professor of Catholic studies at Fairfield University
Every time a new pope is chosen, whoever the predecessor, it is a moment of hope for the Church, a chance to grow and move forward. Today the cardinals of the Catholic Church dashed those hopes by electing a man who, however talented, is a figure who looks backwards to the past rather than forward to the future.
The cardinals lost their nerve and settled for continuity. Faced with the challenges of Islam in Africa, Protestant evangelicalism in Latin America, hunger around the world, declining numbers of priests and churchgoers in Europe and North America, and calls for flexibility in teaching and adaptabilty in the search of new ways to preach the gospel, they chose a man who just lectured them on secularism, materialism and hedonism, who thinks the solution for the European church is to settle for a smaller and more faithful community, and who was and is a hardline centralizer. Benedict XVI was the closest thing they could find to a clone of John Paul II-- without the charisma. It was John Paul's charisma that let people forgive him for many of his authoritarian ways. But Joseph Ratzinger is a very clever man, and there is always hope for conversion.
Dr. Matthew Fox, founder of Wisdom University and author of "Original Blessing"
Why should we be surprised that the current Catholic hierarchy -- which elevated Cardinal Law, the poster boy for pedophile clergy, to a special place of power in Rome -- has just elected Cardinal Ratzinger as pope? The yes-men of Pope John Paul II's church have chosen one of their own, who is guaranteed to play the role of the punitive father.
Ratzinger will be the inquisitor general of the 21st century. He led the assault on theologians and women, yoga (calling it "dangerous" because it gets you too much in touch with your body), homosexuals (who are "evil"), liberation theology, ecumenism and interfaith, and now he's been made the spiritual head of 1.1 billion people.
Cardinal Ratzinger is living proof of the dictum coined by Catholic historian Lord Acton after the First Vatican Council's declaration of papal infallibility: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Ratzinger does not support movements of justice, and has committed his career to silencing those who do. He is also committed to elevating the rich and powerful, such as Escriva, fascist sympathizer and founder of Opus Dei, to sainthood.
It is a sad day and a decisive one for the Roman Catholic Church.