Monday, August 28, 2006

The Pope as Caesar, or, Why I Am Not A Catholic.

I find the Catholic Church fascinating. I find that the current pope was a Nazi as a teen – specifically, a member of an Austrian Hitler Youth group – fascinating. But what fascinates me most is the connection to Rome.

The Church is the direct living descendant of the Roman Empire. I mean, it's the Roman Catholic Church. When the structures of the Roman state were falling, the ruling classes sought refuge in the Catholic Church. The language of the Senate and People of Rome was the language of the educated classes of Europe for two thousand years. Two thousand years.

You'd have thought the Church had learned a lot in those years. It's an amazing thing, an institution hanging on from about 400 AD to now.

Gotta say, though, there's some pretty crappy stuff done in those 1600 years.

Our family was nominally Catholic. We stopped going to church when I was 7 or 8. Baptized but not confirmed. A father who was a rationalist and a mother who'd been in a school full of mean Quebecois nuns.

That was fine by me; I was a science fiction fan and a humanist. When I was in World History, we did an exercise where we debated the Reformation. Catholics, Protestants, and Humanists. We Humanists rocked. (The teacher stole it from us, man – three way tie my ass. (Covering his ass, more likely.))

I took a class from a Okie who'd converted to Hinduism (he was a C.O. in WW2, and was an Eastern Philosophies prof. Cool guy.) His wife was a Zen Buddhist, and she would always tell seekers to look at the faith of their birth, first.

Well, there's one big problem I have with the Church. They're all weird about sex. And the violence. Two – two big problems with the church. And the hierarchy. Three! Three big problems with the Catholic Church! (And neat red suits.)
  1. Weird about sex. As in, teaching kids and adults things that are horribly crippling to healthy sexuality. No birth control? But what do you expect from a system that systematically disenfranchises women? The College of Cardinals has to be one of the oldest boy's clubs – no women allowed – in the world. Frankly, the stuff about sexual abuse in the church is historically nothing, given point 2…
  2. The violence. The Inquisition was horrific. Muslims, Jews, witches, old women, political enemies; tortured and killed and imprisoned and ruined and stolen from. Add in the Crusades and the subjugation of South and Central America? There's waaaay too much blood spilt in the name of the Prince of Peace for me. But if the Pope says it's OK…
  3. The hierarchy. How many other faiths claim the status of God-King anymore? The Pope is on top of the Cardinals, who are on top of the Bishops, who are on top of the priests, who are on top of the men, who are on top of the women. This is one of the worst monkey behaviors, this piling of hierarchy, and it creates problems at the top. And this is a structure that's been going strong (they call it the Apostolic Succession) for many many years.
Unlike my last post, bitching about the Democrats, I'm will mention that there are some amazing things in (and around) the Catholic Church. Liberation Theology and the Catholic Worker movement seriously rock. One of the people in my wedding ceremony was a nun, and the Sisters of St. Joseph here in the Twin Cities are bedrock.

But what I'm really into is talking about this new pope. When it looked like JP2 was going to go – a pope I had some respect for – I was like "Anyone but Ratzinger."

Some of my Catholic friends, and some Catholics I've read have tried to say he's not all bad. But check this out.

  • The reason that Ratzinger got elected is because the media was speculating he might be. The right-wing corporate propaganda media buzz got to all these old guys from backward countries who were used to being layered by legions of flappers (in the Panglossian sense) who were bowled over by a smarmy suit on a cable channel with really good production values. So this guy was put in by the same people who gave credibility to the Bush regime.
  • Before he was pope, Ratzi was in charge of the Inquisition. (Oh, the defenders of the faith or something…) And he used that position to keep the homophobic agenda of the Church in place.
  • And, before he was Pope Mr. Church-State was the cardinal who said that John Kerry could be refused communion because he was pro-choice. Nice manipulation of the American election. Taking orders from the Vatican?
  • When he was going up the ladder in the Church hierarchy in the 60s, as Paris was rising up, the youth mobilizing, the world changing, Ratzinger was doing what, exactly? Decrying the culture of the youth and the time. Yes, he was one of those men in the halls of power as the people rose up outside, tut-tutting over their beastly excesses, plotting to regain and retain power.
  • Now that he IS Pope, Ratzi's gone apeshit over the power and regalia of the office. He threw out the Papal Haberdashers – who'd been making dresses for Popes for over 400 years – because they didn't put in enough cloth of gold. He's got 1000 dollar ruby-red slippers. It's good to be king! This is the kind of conspicuous overconsumption that leads to falls like the French kings, or the robber barons of the Gilded Age. The Pope wears Prada. He is a walking shrine to Mammon.
  • Then, there's the Nazi thing. The official line (the apologia?) for it was "it was a long time ago, and he was forced to, and all he did was shoot at tanks. And he was bad at it."
Yeah, there was coercion to join the Party, but there were plenty of people who didn't join, and plenty of people who resisted. Yes, it could be dangerous, it could disadvantage you. Taking those kinds of risks would require a very special sort of person – someone who could see through the dominant lies of your culture, someone who could recognize evil even when all around were calling it necessary. It would be a person of some conviction, inner strength, to do this. A one-in-a-million kind of guy.

It might take people like Sophie and Hans Scholl of the White Rose. These were students, who in 1943, in the middle of Germany at war, wrote letters of dissent. They wrote 7 of them. The last was never distributed. They posted some surreptitiously; they sent them out in the mails. They were seen throwing them out from the tenth story of a school building. They were arrested, tried, and executed. By beheading.

They were brought together by their convictions, and their faith. Their Roman Catholic faith. They felt the message of the Nazarene was incompatible with what Germany was doing. They acted. They were one in a million.

Ratzinger did NOT take these risks. And lest we think that he didn't know people who were anti-Nazi, you need go no further than his father to find someone who resisted. We're not even talking about the kinds of actions the Scholls took. We're talking about dodging the Hitler Youth. Which plenty of people did.

Ratzinger took the line of least resistance. He saw what happened to his father, and he bowed to strength. This is the man that they made Pope.

So now, we have the Prince of Rome, the man who is the successor of the Caesars. The Caesars themselves went through some tough times, as well. And some of the Caesars stood up against the lines of least resistance, and some did not. This Caesar, this Benedict XVI, showed us how he deals with strength. He bends. This Caesar has shown us how he deals with diversity: he holds tight to the status quo. This Caesar has shown us how he deals with controlling wealth: he adorns himself with gold. This Caesar has shown us how he deals with America: he uses his power to do all he can to ensure the victory of the Right.

Forget what kind of pope he is – what kind of Caesar is he?

The College of Cardinals got scared. The Church is under attack in the US for the sexual abuse, and the coverup of same. The congregants of the richest nations pulling them in liberal directions, their third-world members are pulling them conservative. The death of John Paul 2, a man who was one in a million, left a big hole that they plugged with the choice of least resistance.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

1 comment:

Bill Gavin said...

Ah, ignorance is bliss.

On Ratzinger being a 'Nazi': Ratzinger a Nazi? Don't Believe It!

The following is from the Jerusalem Post, written in response to an article that appeared in the Sunday Times (London) on April 17, 2005.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

By Sam Ser, THE JERUSALEM POST Apr. 18, 2005

London's Sunday Times would have us believe that one of the leading contenders for the papacy is a closet Nazi. In if-only-they-knew tones, the newspaper informs readers that German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth during World War II and suggests that, because of this, the "panzer cardinal" would be quite a contrast to his predecessor, John Paul II.

The article also classifies Ratzinger as a "theological anti-Semite" for believing in Jesus so strongly that – gasp! – he thinks that everyone, even Jews, should accept him as the messiah.

To all this we should say, "This is news?!"

As the Sunday Times article admits, Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth was not voluntary but compulsory; also admitted are the facts that the cardinal – only a teenager during the period in question – was the son of an anti-Nazi policeman, that he was given a dispensation from Hitler Youth activities because of his religious studies, and that he deserted the German army.

Ratzinger has several times gone on record on his supposedly "problematic" past. In the 1997 book Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger is asked whether he was ever in the Hitler Youth.

"At first we weren't," he says, speaking of himself and his older brother, "but when the compulsory Hitler Youth was introduced in 1941, my brother was obliged to join. I was still too young, but later as a seminarian, I was registered in the Hitler Youth. As soon as I was out of the seminary, I never went back. And that was difficult because the tuition reduction, which I really needed, was tied to proof of attendance at the Hitler Youth.

"Thank goodness there was a very understanding mathematics professor. He himself was a Nazi, but an honest man, and said to me, 'Just go once to get the document so we have it...' When he saw that I simply didn't want to, he said, 'I understand, I'll take care of it' and so I was able to stay free of it."

Ratzinger says this again in his own memoirs, printed in 1998. In his 2002 biography of the cardinal, John Allen, Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter wrote in detail about those events.

The only significant complaint that the Times makes against Ratzinger's wartime conduct is that he resisted quietly and passively, rather than having done something drastic enough to earn him a trip to a concentration camp. Of course, whenever it is said that a German failed the exceptional-resistance-to-the-Nazis test, it would behoove us all to recognize that too many Jews failed it, as well.

If he were truly a Nazi sympathizer, then it would undoubtedly have become evident during the past 60 years. Yet throughout his service in the church, Ratzinger has distinguished himself in the field of Jewish-Catholic relations.

As prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger played an instrumental role in the Vatican's revolutionary reconciliation with the Jews under John Paul II. He personally prepared Memory and Reconciliation, the 2000 document outlining the church's historical "errors" in its treatment of Jews. And as president of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Ratzinger oversaw the preparation of The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, a milestone theological explanation for the Jews' rejection of Jesus.

If that's theological anti-Semitism, then we should only be so lucky to "suffer" more of the same.

As for the Hitler Youth issue, not even Yad Vashem has considered it worthy of further investigation. Why should we?

We dealt with this a while ago, actually in a post to the blog.

The story that Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth is true. It's a biographical fact that seems to have circulated on many a mailing list, and seems to surface at precisely opportune times when the Prefect finds himself in the media's spotlight. From the way it has been presented one might assume this is one of those skeletons the Cardinal keeps tucked away in his closet (next to his executioner's axe and the token heads of Hans Kung, Matthew Fox, Leonardo Boff & Charles Curran).

The truth is that Ratzinger himself mentions in Milestones: Memoirs: 1927 - 1977 that he and his brother George were both enrolled in the Hitler Youth (at a time when membership was compulsory), and discusses family life under the Third Reich in chapters 2-4 of his autobiography.

Likewise, John Allen Jr., journalist for the National Catholic Reporter and author of 2002's biography of the Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith supplies the historical details sorely lacking in some of the more tabloid-esque articles on the Cardinal:

As a seminarian, he was briefly enrolled in the Hitler Youth in the early 1940s, though he was never a member of the Nazi party. In 1943 he was conscripted into an antiaircraft unit guarding a BMW plant outside Munich. Later Ratzinger was sent to Austria's border with Hungary to erect tank traps. After being shipped back to Bavaria, he deserted. When the war ended, he was an American prisoner of war.

Under Hitler, Ratzinger says he watched the Nazis twist and distort the truth. Their lies about Jews, about genetics, were more than academic exercises. People died by the millions because of them. The church's service to society, Ratzinger concluded, is to stand for absolute truths that function as boundary markers: Move about within these limits, but outside them lies disaster.

Later reflection on the Nazi experience also left Ratzinger with a conviction that theology must either bind itself to the church, with its creed and teaching authority, or it becomes the plaything of outside forces -- the state in a totalitarian system or secular culture in Western liberal democracies. In a widely noted 1986 lecture in Toronto, Ratzinger put it this way: "A church without theology impoverishes and blinds, while a churchless theology melts away into caprice."

"The Vatican's Enforcer", National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999.

1932 December: Due to his father's outspoken criticism of the Nazis, Ratzinger's family is forced to relocate to Auschau am Inn, at the foot of the Alps.
1943 Ratzinger, along with the rest of his seminary class, is drafted into the Flak [anti-aircraft corps]. He is still allowed to attend classes at the Maximilians-Gymnasium in Munich three days a week.
1944 September: Having reached military age, Ratzinger is released from the Flak and returns home, only to be drafted into labor detail under the infamous Austrian Legion ("fanatical ideologues who tyrannized us without respite").
November: Ratzinger undergoes basic training with the German infantry. Due to illness he finds himself exempt from most of the rigors of military duty.
1945 Spring (end of April or beginning of May): As the Allied front draws closer, Ratzinger deserts the army and heads home to Traunstein. When the Americans finally arrive at his village, they choose to establish their headquarters in the Ratzinger house. Josef is identified as a German soldier and incarcerated in a POW camp.
June 19: Ratzinger is released and returns home to Traunstein, followed by his brother Georg in July.

Nazi? Looks like he couldn't help but be drafted and oh, his father was an avid spokesman against the Nazis. I don't think His Eminence is a true Nazi. Don't base your opinions on half truths.


I'd request that any claims you make regarding Ratzinger's alleged "sympathies" with the Nazis be backed up by actual facts and citations from your "sources"; mere presence alone in the Hitler Youth doesn't suffice. Likewise, I find it hard to believe that Ratzinger harbored (in the past or present) any anti-semitic feelings against the Jews, given his numerous writings on their behalf. For example, his essay 'The Heritage of Abraham, the Gift of Christmas':

We know that every act of giving birth is difficult. Certainly, from the very beginning, relations between the infant Church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered by her own mother to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong "the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen" (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge.

It's quite a stretch to describe one so theologically inclined as a 'Nazi sympathizer.'

Finally, Ratzinger "intimidates the Magisterium and the Pope"? -- Give me a break. I've heard from a friend that Father Augustine DeNoia enjoys working with the Prefect, and the Pope's latest memoirs praises the "exceptional theological preparation" of Ratzinger, describing him as a "trusted friend."

Unless your willing to cite some credible historical sources (perhaps a direct quote or two from Ratzinger), let's call and end to this debate over his alleged "Nazi sympathies" and move on to other topics.

Regarding all the 'crappy' stuff done by the Church over the years, I recommend you read Thomas Wood's 'How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization' or Thomas Starks 'The Victory of Reason'.

Regarding the Inquisition:


Regarding 'bad things', please show me the culture that didn't have bad things. Bueller, bueller...

Mongols, uggh.... The Huns...good Lord....Vikings...don't get me started....Aztecs...yikes....Mayans...can anyone say, "Human Sacrifice"?....Africans...can anyone say, "War"? Still waiting...

Regarding sexuality. Hmmm, those who practice the Church's teaching on NFP have roughly a 1-3% divorce rate. Yes, I guess the Church is stupid. Ask any woman who practices NFP and she will tell you she LOVES it and how it makes her feel respected and cherished by her spouse. Just like MTV, VH1 and Cosmo...oh wait, not.

Can anyone say over 65 STD's and growing each year. Can anyone say 52,000 STD's passed every day (with 1/2 of them from young people ages 15-24 in our country alone!)? (See the CDC web site). Can anyone say rampant divorce, infidelity via the internet? Yes, the Church really needs to get up with 'the times' -- they are going so, so well.

How about the Crusades...Don't believe everything you learn at Secular College U. (SCU). See:

Muslims...can anyone say 'Spread by the sword'?
Humanism -- can anyone say 'spread by the guillotine and gulags'?

The Church is in Rome because that is where Peter ended up at the end of his life (and where he died).

Regarding homosexuality:

That's all I can do right now.