As I read the list of new cardinals named yesterday by Pope Ratzinger (a.k.a. Benedict XVI), it struck me that this was the same-old, same-old — another roster of doctrinal conservatives to reinforce the hard-right line on sex and “morality” in a College of Cardinals already stacked with arch-conservatives by his predecessor, Wojtyla. This is especially true of the man who now becomes the most important American in the Vatican, San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, who takes over The Rat’s old job as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition, the Vatican’s ideological enforcer.)


But, while I try to keep an eye on Vatican politics, I don’t pretend to be an expert — so I asked a progressive friend of mine who is the veteran Vatican correspondent for one of the most prestigious European television networks, whose judgment I trust in such matters, for his opinion. Here’s what he told me in an e-mail:


“There are no liberals or reformers among this bunch. The three over eighties can be disregarded. Of the remainder by far the most interesting is the Chinese from Hong Kong. This is a delicate political and diplomatic appointment, a prepositioning of the church before the expected gesture from Beijing sometime before the Games offering to reopen official relations with the Holy See. On matters sexual/moral there is to be no letup.  As far as the guy from SF is concerned he is an old buddy of Benedict having worked for twelve years in his  departments and is seen as completely trustworthy to carry on the Ratzinger line across the road in the Holy Office.”


In fact, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took the unusual step on Tuesday of unanimously passing a resolution unanimously condemning the appointment of Levada, so reactionary is he, saying, “Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city, and of the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear.” The resolution was motivated by Levada’s militant opposition to the right of same-sex couples to adopt, and the Board of Supervisors’ resolution went on to say that, “It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city’s existing and established customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need.”


The resolution blasted the teaching of the Catholic Church that homosexual adoption does “violence” to children as “hateful and discriminatory rhetoric (that) is both insulting and callous, and shows a level of insensitivity and ignorance which has seldom been encountered by this Board of Supervisors.’


When Ratzinger came to the U.S. prior to the 2004 elections to rev up the Catholic Bishops to help make gay marriage a prime issue in that year’s presidential campaign and deny the sacraments of the mass to those candidates for public office who favored it, or who believed in a woman’s right to an abortion, the Rat’s first stop was to see his old pal Levada in San Francisco. Count on Levada to keep this closet-case Pope’s vicious anti-gay agenda at the forefront of the Vatican’s doctrinal exigencies.


For a bracing antidote to ultramontane Papacy, see Michel Onfray’s brilliant essay in the latest issue of New Politics on the 17th century atheist French priest Jean Meslier, who presented the first coherent atheist philosophy — you can read it by clicking here. You can also read my accompanying introduction to Onfray’s scintillating synthesis of Meslier’s thought.


Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared March 25, 2006.

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