Thoughts on Benedict XVI

I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt, but the elevation of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy gives me some reasons for concern.

What mostly bothers me is that he was the cardinal in charge of the Vatican’s handling of the priest sex scandals… and I think that was handled abysmally. Accused priests should have been produced promptly for investigation; convicted ones should have been defrocked. Forgiveness is all well and good, but forgiveness does not preclude punishment, either ecclesiastical or civil, and shuffling accused priests around only made the church look like a haven for molestors, not a haven from them–and I’d say the latter is far more in line with the teachings of Jesus.

Secondly, Cardinal Ratzinger was the main hardliner in the court of John Paul II, and the main enforcer against those who “strayed”, as well as the man behind the writings calling on priests to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, and calling us gays morally damaged. I probably don’t need to elaborate any more on that point, at least from my perspective.

Now, you never know. John XXIII was considered a conservative when he was elevated, and he started Vatican II and the liberalization of the Church. Paul VI started as a liberal, and became more conservative. And to this day, I wonder what the church would look like had John Paul I lived long enough to leave his mark.

Given his age, it’s tempting to consider his papacy a caretaker term, but Cardinal Ratzinger was the ultimate Vatican insider, called by some a “vice-pope” during John Paul II’s several illnesses later in his life. I don’t expect he’ll tackle the office from the perspective of a caretaker, and while 78 may be late in life, for all we know he’ll live to be 95 or so.

Benedict XVI doesn’t scare me–or have any authority over me, as I haven’t been a Catholic in more than twenty years–but he does give me pause for concern.

We’ll see. I’m always willing to be pleasantly surprised.

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8 comments so far

  1. avon_deer on

    I am firmly of the opinion that when given enough rope they will hang themselves. The election of such a hard liner could well be the beginning of the end of the church in the West. No offence here, but that is a good thing in my opinion.

    Socialist principles based on sensible secularism will prove to form a much happier equal, and contented society than “theocracy in all but name” ever did.

    • The Rev Dr Sherwood Forrester on

      When you consider that he was one of only two cardinal-electors remaining who had not been elevated to Cardinal by John Paul II, his election makes perfect sense–within the terms of the College of Cardinals, anyway. But eventually, the Church will have to have another John XXIII, someone to open the windows and air the old place out, someone to take on the issues of interest to North and South American Catholics, or they’re going to run themselves into total irrelevancy.

  2. eviljen on

    I’m glad to see someone whose concerns about Benedict XVI are rational and well-thought out rather than just calling him a Nazi child molestor like some others on my friends list.

    I do think the Pope has rethought the handling of the child abuse scandals as in his reflections for Good Friday this year, when he was Cardinal, he mentioned the need to purge the evil and the scum (it was some word that was very vivid like that) from the Church and to ask forgiveness.

    • The Rev Dr Sherwood Forrester on

      I was raised a Roman Catholic. Most church folk really do mean well, deep in their hearts–you get pronouncements on gays and other religions like Ratzinger’s out of fear and ignorance, not malice. He’s a product of his world, and his world is an extremely conservative one.

  3. sailormac on

    I didn’t even remember that he was the one in charge of the child molestation investigations.
    Thanks for pointing that out — it’s another reason to be concerned about him.

    I find his remarks about gays, and other remarks he made about Buddhists and Hindus, far more disturbing than the fact he was *forced* into being part of Hitler Youth.

    • The Rev Dr Sherwood Forrester on

      Exactly. Membership in the Hitlerjugend was not optional, and by all reports, he never participated–one report said that he even managed to resign from it. He also deserted from the Wehrmacht after being forcibly conscripted. Toward the end of WWII, there was probably a lot of that–not all Germans were willing participants, and by the end of the war, many if not most were children or old, old men. Ratzinger himself wasn’t 18 until 1945.

      I think he’s also perfectly aware that John Paul II left behind an unusually large pair of Shoes of the Fisherman to fill, and that if he wants to be remembered as more than “whoever it was after John Paul”, he needs to do things as Pope, and not merely be Pope.

  4. afeldspar on

    I for one am pretty disheartened by the choice of Ratzinger. No, the first quality one looks for in a Pope should not be a hip, swingin’, “if it feels good do it” attitude, but we have some pretty complex issues in the world today that don’t necessarily have easy answers even assuming “adherence to Christian doctrine” as a given. What is the true moral status of embryonic stem cell research — allowing embryos that never would have been allowed to come to term anyways to give life and health to those afflicted with illness and suffering for which we could do nothing before? Is the use of contraceptives really a worse sin than doing nothing against the spread of AIDS? The ideal Pope would be someone who did not necessarily pick the “progressive” answer to these and other questions — but who nevertheless gave it full, open and honest thought.

    Instead, we get Ratzinger, who not only fails the “thinks hard about the tough questions” test but misses the softballs. The man speaks of rock music as the “vehicle of anti-religion.” Oh, way to go, new Pope. Way to settle any doubts about whether the Church’s pronouncements are relevant anymore.

    • The Rev Dr Sherwood Forrester on

      Well, there aren’t many forces of progressivism left in the Catholic church, largely because of Benedict’s actions while still a cardinal–there are few practicioners of revolution theology left (at least outside of Central and South America), and they are regularly reminded that they aren’t in synch with the “official” Church pronouncements.

      I don’t object to their “life in all cases” stance, per se. I object to taking that stance without taking on the responsibilities that go with it. They’re all for life, but say nothing about quality of life.

      So according to the Church, a poor woman who can’t possibly afford to raise a child should have it anyway and condemn them both to a life of misery–because, of course, it would’ve been wrong to use contraception to avoid that situation in the first place. Until and unless the Church takes a stance on quality of life as well as quantity, that position cannot stand intellectual scrutiny. And that means the Church has to take a stand on living wages, labor rights and a whole slew of other progressive issues.


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