Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Provisional pontiff

Update: This post's fourth paragraph should have done a better job of explaining that my criticism was directed not at Ratzinger, who did everything he could to avoid association with the Nazis, but at the cardinals, who could have avoided the distraction by electing another man. I've clarified the remarks accordingly.

Pope John Paul II was a towering, charismatic figure, the public face of the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, and perhaps the single most recognizable person on the planet at the time of his death. After his papacy, the Vatican was due for a breather.

That's what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's tenure as Pope Benedict XVI will provide. Ratzinger is 78, which means his stay in office likely will be far shorter than that of his predecessor. For the cardinals, the election of "God's Rottweiler" is a way to prevent any drastic doctrinal changes in the next few years as they debate the church's long-term direction after John Paul II's lengthy reign.

Many observers' complaints about Benedict XVI -- he's too socially conservative, too intolerant of dissent, too hostile toward other religions -- will be neutralized by his comparatively short tenure. The next pope, not this one, will determine the church's long-term future.

Some bloggers today have blasted Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth as a German teenager, and those criticisms are understandable. However, it's unfair to label Ratzinger a Nazi sympathizer, considering that he only joined the group reluctantly when required by law to do so and that he risked execution by deserting in 1944. With that being said, the cardinals made a public-relations blunder by electing a pope whose history contains even the appearance of support for the Nazis.

Benedict XVI's doctrines certainly won't help the church rebuild bridges in the United States, where many lay Catholics disagree with the church's positions on contraceptives, female priests, and other social issues. The new pope could take a big step toward solidifying Western Catholics' support with a categorical apology for the church having turned a blind eye toward the pedophile priests in American parishes, but such a mea culpa is highly unlikely from the same church leaders who allowed Bernard Law to remain a cardinal after his cover-ups of sex abuse in Boston.

I'm not Catholic, but I know several of my readers are or once were. I welcome your thoughts on today's events.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't be more right.

A lot of Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By "a lot of readers," I know you meant only me. Just kidding...I know there's more of us out there.

You say: "Some bloggers have blasted Ratzinger today for his membership in the Hitler Youth as a German teenager, and those criticisms are justified. However, it seems unfair to label Ratzinger a diehard Nazi sympathizer, considering that he only joined the group reluctantly when required by law to do so and that he risked execution by deserting in 1944. With that being said, the cardinals made a terrible public-relations blunder by electing a pope whose history contains even the appearance of support for the Nazis."

You say that the criticisms against Ratzinger for joining the Hitler Youth are justified, yet this man "joined reluctantly when required by law" and "risked execution by deserting." How can those criticisms be justified when he chose to obey such a law instead of being sent to Dachau as a conscientious objector, and then escaped at the risk of death?

He insists he didn't fire a single shot when on anti-aircraft duty, and he was described as being an unenthusiastic Youth member. I don't think his election was a PR blunder, especially since this guy was forced to do what he did.
He wasn't towing the Nazi party line - he was just trying to survive. Many Germans alive today likely had to do the same thing or had ancestors who did such.

As far as his papal reign goes, I too don't see it lasting long (I doubt he'll hit 104, even with modern health care). He was looking pretty healthy for 78, but at his age, that could change rather quickly. But if I were him, I wouldn't have chosen to name myself after Benedict XV, whom I believe had the shortest papal reign in the last century. Seems like a bad idea.

I didn't quite like John Paul II in recent years because at his age and condition, he was unable to quickly and fully address the American Catholic Priest scandal. I don't know if Benedict XVI will address concerns on the issue, but I would love to see something done on it.

Since he was closely aligned with JPII, I too believe there won't be too many drastic changes, but as a priest told me today, "He may have been a loyal soldier, but now he's the general."

J.B.G.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Father McCarthy said...

Pope Benedict XVI never joined the Nazi Youth, he was signed up by his teacher at the "Gymnasium," as well as the other students. He never wanted to be a member of the Nazi Youth. The criticism are not justified at all. Furthermore, when Ratzinger was drafted into the German Army anti-aircraft, he was able to escape (went awol) and returned home.

You have to remember that the American, liberal, press hate the Catholic Church and they hate Pope Benedict XVI.

Furthermore, in regards to the issue of the priest scandal, Cardinal Ratzinger was made in charge of the permanent removal of pedophile priests from ministry. Several hundred priests were removed.

The last Pope to be seen as a "bridge" papacy was Pope John XXIII. He opened the Second Vatican Council that began the reform of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI will continue the rform set out at that Council. Moreover, no Pope can change doctrine. His doctrins are the Church's doctrines. No Pope can change the teachings on birth control, abortion, homosexuality, euuthanasia, the Divinity of Christ, etc. They are the teachings of Christ.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

I don't know what to think about the new Pope yet - it's too early to tell. I *do* think it's great that he intends to embrace most, if not all of the world's religions in the same manner as Jean Paul II. As for his youth, I think it's pretty understandable... after all, he WAS a "youth" and he was under the iron fist of Hitler during a pretty strange moment in world history. Seems to me he was just doing the best he could under the circumstances.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Good points, all. My statement regarding the justified criticism should have been clearer. Ratzinger truly didn't have much of a choice; either he was signed up for the Nazi Youth or he was killed for refusing to join. Unless you believe that he should have chosen to die instead of being signed up, it's tough to blame him personally, especially when you consider that he did everything he could to separate himself from the Nazis once he was in the group.

But criticism of the cardinals for electing a pope with ties to the Nazis, however tenuous they may be, is justified. The church's views are already at odds with those of many of its Western laiety, and this ongoing "was he a Nazi?" distraction -- and it is just a distraction, in my view -- can't be much help at mending fences. Again, though, that's just my outsider's view; your mileage may vary.

Father Ethan, my understanding is that the pope, acting in his official capacity as an infallible interpreter of the Bible, has the power to make pretty much any doctrinal changes he would like. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

One other thing I forgot to mention earlier: I disagree with Father Ethan's assertion that the American media hate the Catholic Church. If they did, they largely would have ignored John Paul II's death and the conclave altogether. Instead, lately it's been, to borrow a phrase I've heard from several acquaintances, "all pope, all the time."

More than 65 million Americans -- more than 20 percent of the population -- are Catholics. Believe it or not, many of them are publishers, editors, and reporters. The media, contrary to popular belief, are plural, not singular; you'll find as many different viewpoints reflected among journalists as among any other segment of society.

It's understandable that Catholic clergy, the vast majority of whom are appalled by the very idea of hurting a child, would despise the American media's coverage of the sex abuse scandal. But the sex abuse scandal, painful as it may have been, was important news, and the media's job is to report important news. Shooting the messenger isn't the answer; addressing the underlying problem is.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Father McCarthy said...

Two points:

(1) The Pope cannot make any infallible decisions he wants. He can only declare "from the chair of Saint Peter" what has been handed down through the ages from the Apostles. In other words, the Holy Father can only make an infallible statement on faith and morals and he cannot contradict what has been revealed in Divine Revelation (Scripture and Tradition). For example, Pope Benedict XVI cannot declare that women can be priests. According to Divine Revelation, only some men can be ordained priests. Moreover, the Pope cannot make a declaration against a doctrine that has already been declared infallible, for example, the Divinity of Christ.

(2) The mainstream media is a mix bag. Certainly, there are some in the media who love the Church and the Pope. But there are many who do not, including Catholic. And, of course, there are some who are neutral about the Church.

May God bless you and your blog.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous urthshu said...

Actually, I think his record as a "nazi" speaks volumes about his foot-dragging and opposition, rather than his collusion.

Remeber the dates of WWII: 1939-1945, with Berlin formally falling in 1945.
We've all seen, by now, the pathetic state the German Army had been in at that time, courtesy of the History Channel documentaries. They were drafting in youths to defend Berlin as young as 10.

Ratzinger was 18 at the time and he deserted. Clearly he wanted no part of it.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Father Ethan, thank you for the clarification and for your blessings. I've added a link to your blog.

Urthshu, I agree that Ratzinger did just about everything he possibly could to separate himself from the Nazis. My point is that the cardinals could have avoided that distracting question entirely by electing a pope who had no connection whatsoever to Nazi Germany.

Because the conclave ended so quickly, I have to assume the cardinals overwhelmingly felt that Ratzinger, all things considered, was the best choice. I suppose time will tell if they were right.

4:05 PM  
Blogger KT said...

I am definitely not as knowledgeable about this subject as Father Ethan, but nonetheless, I have some problems with what he said about women being priests. In the early days of the church women were involved in preaching and spreading the teachings of Jesus. Peter welcomed women in teaching the word of Jesus. Unfortunately, the Catholic church became the church of Paul, who discouraged women from being involved in the church, unless they wanted to become nuns. This new pope doesn't even want young girls to assist at the altar during mass. Women are no less capable of being spiritual leaders than men. Catholic women who want to be involved in the Church should have the same opportunities for enrichment as men.

2:01 PM  

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