With the election of Joseph Ratzinger to be Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church is not joining the 21st century anytime soon. After all the speculation that it was time for a pope from a developing country and after the debate of whether the conclave of cardinals would pick someone who would build bridges toward the church’s outcasts and second-class citizens, the church fled to yesteryear, hoping to avoid facing today.
The cardinals made a choice so cautious as to verge on the callous. If Ratzinger’s past words guide his rule, his papacy has the potential to irritate and inflame religious and cultural tensions around the world.
Ratzinger was the late Pope John Paul II’s enforcer of stark views on many issues that, for all the church’s proclamations of love, fuel disdain. In 2003, Ratzinger issued a proclamation condemning government recognition of same-sex unions saying that instead it was the government’s responsibility to “avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage.” Calling civil unions the “legalization of evil,” Ratzinger said politicians who vote for them are “gravely immoral.”
Ratzinger went on to condemn adoption by gay parents, saying, “Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to the children.” This is the same Vatican that had barely a thing to say about the American clergy child sex-abuse scandal. And when it did, Ratzinger downplayed it.
During the emerging news on the scandals in December 2002, Ratzinger said, “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories and perhaps it is even lower. Less than 1 percent of
(American) priests are guilty of acts of this type . .. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church.”
In 2004, a study commissioned by US bishops would conclude that 4 percent of US priests were sexual abusers.
While the Vatican turned an even more blind eye to clergy sex-abuse than even the US bishops did, Ratzinger had his eyes out for priests and theologians who strayed over the party line. In the mid 1980s, he cracked down on “liberation theology” among the poor in Latin America, saying it was too much allied with Marxists. He led the Vatican in revoking the authorization of the Rev. Charles Curran of Catholic University for his challenge to the ban on contraception. Ratzinger disciplined several other priests and nuns for their liberal views.
In 1997, Ratzinger and the Vatican reaffirmed its ban on women priests. In 1998, John Paul wrote a papal letter rejecting liberalism in the church, including the ordination of women. Last year Ratzinger led the Vatican’s attack on “radical feminism,” blaming assertive women for calling into question the “natural two-parent structure of mother and father and to make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent.”
More recent words by Ratzinger are equally gloomy. Just as the world economy and science and communications technologies are connecting the planet and as religions try to make meaning out of everything from the Middle East to 9/11 to genocides, Ratzinger suggests with a whiff of superiority that Europe look inward. He opposed Turkey joining the European Union. Turkey happens to be predominantly Muslim and Ratzinger said that nation “represented a different continent, always in contrast with Europe.”
In his new book, “Values in a Time of Upheaval,” Ratzinger wrote, according to German newspapers, “The ever more passionately demanded multiculturalism is often above all a renunciation of what is one’s own, a fleeing from what is one’s own.” He also wrote, “Marriage and family are essential for European identity.”
Why Ratzinger found it necessary to narrowly describe marriage and family as part of a European identity only he knows. The world will soon know how broad or how narrow is the world view of Pope Benedict XVI, just when the world needs religious leaders who can look across, reach across, and embrace humanity across all its borders.
Derrick Z. Jackson’s e-mail address is