Now, I'm not a Catholic, but I do care about who is elected as Pope. Like it or not, after John Paul II's papacy, the role of the pope has changed from Bishop of Rome and doctrinal boss to de facto world leader on a par with presidents and kings. And in that sense, I am disappointed at Ratzinger's election.
Last year, according to the Washington Post, Ratzinger sent a letter to the Archbishop of Washington, which was
advising clergy that they must deny Communion to supporters of abortion rights who, he said, persist in cooperating in what he termed a "grave sin." The note also provided advice on how Catholic voters should proceed when faced with a choice that included a candidate who supported abortion rights. No names were mentioned, but several American bishops had spoken out against Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, for his views on abortion.
I wrote about this back in June, and I still find it as disturbing as I did then:
The fact that some members of the Catholic Church feel that Communion should arbitrarily be denied to politicians with whom they don't agree is deeply troubling. Communion is a symbol of Christ's forgiveness and God's love. It is a symbol of grace. Catholic doctrine says that "Holy Communion is morally necessary for salvation, that is to say, without the graces of this sacrament it would be very difficult to resist grave temptations and avoid grievous sin." It goes on to say that "The subject of Holy Communion is everyone in this life capable of the effects of the Sacrament, that is all who are baptized and who, if adults, have the requisite intention."
In other words, because some bishops may not like a person's political views -- a person who, presumably is a baptized Catholic who has the "requisite intention" for Communion -- they are willing to in effect condemn someone to damnation, by withholding that which "is morally necessary for salvation." I don't understand how this is consistent with Christianity's primary moral message of love and forgiveness.
Ratzinger has also spoken out against Turkey's admission to the European Union. From the WaPo article linked to above:
In August, Ratzinger told the French newspaper Le Figaro that Turkey, a largely Muslim country, ought not be admitted to the European Union. "Europe is a cultural continent, not a geographical one. The roots that have formed it . . . are those of Christianity," he said. "Turkey, which is considered a secular country but is founded upon Islam, could instead attempt to bring a cultural continent together with some neighboring Arab countries."
Ratzinger said he was expressing a personal opinion. But such is the perception of Ratzinger's weight in the Vatican that diplomats quickly besieged Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state, with queries about Vatican opinion, diplomats assigned to the Holy See said. He responded that the Vatican was neutral on the issue.
That same WaPo article mentions that Cardinal Ratzinger blamed the "uproar" over the pedophilia scandal in the U.S. church on a media conspiracy, saying that "the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests. . .is a planned campaign."
Ratzinger is a polarizing figure to many, who seems to prefer combativeness to compromise and compassion. Still, we wish him well.
We're upset that, years ago, he apparently quietly scuttled a Vatican probe into allegations that the prominent founder of the Legion of Christ, Fr. Marciel Macial, sexually abused at least nine boys.
On the other hand, we're encouraged that just a few months ago, that investigation was re-opened.
We desperately hope that, as Pope, Ratzinger thoroughly yet quickly concludes the Macial investigation and publicly announces the results.
In an AP profile of Ratzinger, Fr. Thomas Frauenlob, director of the Traunstein seminary where Ratzinger studied, said "I find it hurtful to see him described as a hard-liner. . .People are too quick to say that, it's not an accurate reflection of his personality."
This remains to be seen. I hope Frauenlob is correct when he says this, and that Pope Benedict XVI -- formerly prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Inquisition -- will be a force for recognizing the inherent humanity, goodness and worth of everyone. I hope that he will reach out to those whose approaches may differ from his. I hope that he acts as an instrument of God's grace and love.
ANOTHER ADDENDUM: The American Prospect on Ratzinger:
Imagine, if you can bear it, Tom DeLay as the president of the United States. With its election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy, the College of Cardinals has committed an act roughly analogous to that (except for the funny money, of course).
Cardinal Ratzinger earned his way into the heart of Pope John Paul II by acting as the latter's enforcer, flexer of the magisterial muscle, the guy who launched a cunning campaign against all those "Kumbaya"-singing nuns, priests, prelates, and theologians who dared to take issue with the most draconian of the Church's doctrines: those that condemned women to a life of biological destiny; queer people to a stigmatized life of chastity; and divorced people to a status of unworthiness when it came to the central rite of the Catholic Mass, the partaking of Holy Communion.
It is difficult to imagine just what the cardinals hope to achieve with the election of Ratzinger. Unlike John Paul II, he bears no sign of warmth, no compassion to accompany the conservatism -- no, authoritarianism -- that characterizes Catholic doctrine as currently interpreted. How then, is he to close the deal with the developing world on selling the Church as its salvation?
Also, Commonweal magazine has some interesting examination of Ratzinger's election as Pope.