So far, most American media outlets seem to be walking on eggshells to avoid tough coverage of the new pope. Caution is in the air, and some of it is valid. Anti-Catholic bigotry has a long and ugly history in the United States. News organizations should stay away from disparaging the Catholic faith, which certainly deserves as much respect as any other religion.
After more than two decades as a Vatican power broker, Joseph Ratzinger is now in charge as Pope Benedict XVI. He is extremely well-positioned to push a longstanding agenda that includes hostility toward AIDS prevention measures, women’s rights, gay rights and movements for social justice. No one in the hierarchy was more committed to stances like vehement opposition to condoms while millions of people contracted cases of AIDS that could have been prevented. And he has been the commander of the Vatican’s war on liberation theology.
Hours after the smoke cleared over the Vatican and the world learned the name of the new pope, Mary Jo McConahay — an insightful journalist who has long covered Latin America — wrote for Pacific News Service about a question blowing in the wind. “What would have happened, Guatemalans and El Salvadorans ask to this day, if Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II had regarded the Latin American call for liberation from autocratic rulers with the same force with which the European churchmen supported the Polish Solidarity revolution?”
The new papacy is a huge gift to the minority of conservatives in the United States who are trying to impose their version of morality on the country and the world.
And that’s much of the problem. When a highly debatable position is “beyond reproach” — when religiosity provides cover for all manner of manipulations and repression — it’s easier for demagogic power-mongers to get away with murder.