I speak of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the hope that a “forward thinking” (translate that “liberal”) leader will take the reins of the Roman Catholic Church. At last the Church will allow women priests, homosexual marriages, abortion, and artificial birth control.
For almost half a century, since Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae forbidding artificial birth control, dissenters who insist they’re still Catholic, supported by the all-knowing media, have been predicting the imminent demise of the Roman Church unless it changes. “Change or die” has been the mantra.
Ah, when Paul VI gave up the ghost, the real Vatican II reforms could be implemented. But along came a young and vigorous Pontiff from Poland, John Paul II, who reigned for 26 years and caused much gnashing of teeth by sticking to the old ways. Heavyweights like Ted Turner of CNN fame weighed in with their judgments: the Holy Father was a walking Polish Joke, opined Ted. Well, even a pope doesn’t live forever, and the graying dissenters knew without a doubt that at last they would get their pope when John Paul II died in 2005.
Television talking heads and print media gurus descended on Rome by the thousands in 2005 after the demise of John Paul II. After all, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and they are in dire need of salvation. And who else could possibly provide it but a Pope who meets the criteria set forth as salvific by Those Who Know These Things (usually employed by The New York Times)?
The tension mounted. I well remember the breathless, authoritative report by a media guru to the effect that Cardinal Ratzinger, trusted No. 2 man for John Paul II, had taken himself out of the running. Why? Because he gave a homily to the assembled cardinals about the dangers of the “dictatorship of relativism.”
Relativism? You have your truth and I have mine. One is as good as the other. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth. How arrogant of the Catholic Church to claim that it has the full measure of the truth! Adios Ratzinger. Good riddance.
Wait a minute! The white smoke flares up from the Vatican chimney, and the man in white appears at the window. It’s Cardinal Ratzinger, the Panzer Cardinal, a German, more ultraconservative than John Paul II. Yes, everybody had to admit that the charismatic John Paul was an attractive personality, but it was clear that the Vatican’s real problem was with the snarling German, the man in charge of doctrine. And now the German is pope.
Wait another minute! The new pope comes across as gentle, humble, loving. His first encyclical talks above Love, for God’s sake. Still, he does insist that the Church of Rome has the full measure of truth within it. Also, once again that relativism thing: while many things are relative, some very important ones are not. There are such things as absolute truths, as heretical as that may sound to modern, fashionable ears.
(They can get mean, those Catholics. If you say that you are against abortion personally but don’t believe you have the right to impose your views on others, they may say that’s like being in Nazi Germany and saying you don’t believe in killing Jews but don’t feel you have the right to impose your views on other Germans. Human life is human life, those pesky Catholics say).
Oh, and the birth control issue. How naïve of the Church to believe that artificial birth control is less than the ideal—a falling short of what God wants us to be. Pius VI was silly to suggest in 1968 that widespread artificial birth control—pills, condoms, abortion pills—would lead to an increase in divorce, spousal and child abuse, children born out of wedlock, fatherless families, and the undermining of the institution of marriage. What nonsense. He sure missed the boat on that one, didn’t he? Society is thriving, isn’t it? The Pope believed that the sexual act should be something sacred and beautiful, not a sport or mere recreational relaxation. Come on, get with it.
You do wonder how the Catholic Church has lasted 2,000 plus years with men like Pius VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI running it. Just a few years ago a prominent journalist declared that the Church was dead but hadn’t fallen over yet. Somehow it hangs on. Meanwhile, the common wisdom among the self-proclaimed cognoscenti to the effect that the Church can only be saved by ditching celibacy is itself waning, although the aging dissidents continue to deny that.
Oddly, religious orders for men and women who lay out an orthodox, difficult path for candidates are attracting more and more young people each year. Ironies abound: the graybeards are the liberals, the conservatives are the youngsters. An order of sisters in Ann Arbor (wearing the old habits of distant memory) have so many applicants that they don’t know where to put them. Sounds like the Marine Corps.
Frankly, I doubt that I will watch much of the news coverage of the new papal election. First of all, the liberal-conservative prism through which the media views and covers a consistory is nonsense. Attempting to impose a parliamentary (or Congressional) construct on a consistory leads to silliness like counting out Cardinal Ratzinger because he dared to repeat a basic Catholic belief that there are in fact absolute truths. The cardinals do not wheel and deal like our politicians. “I’ll give you birth control if you let me have women priests. Deal?”
Secondly, the media is for the most part hostile to the Catholic message. As far as the academic and media elite are concerned, homosexual marriage and abortion are opposed only by right-wing extremists (kind of embarrassing, isn’t it, when thousands upon thousands of citizens, so many of them young, march on Washington in bad weather to support Right to Life).
Finally, the Catholic Church is rooted in the belief that certain truths are eternal and that no one can change them. The Church would only fall apart if it were to surrender to the modern culture of death or the sex-is-no-big-deal mentality of our pop culture.
So it ain’t gonna happen, folks. The media will wring its hands when another orthodox Pontiff is elected and once again see the death throes of the Catholic Church. Or it will applaud the elevation of a cardinal from black Africa or South America and forecast big changes (acceptable to the columnists and talking heads of course), only to find that nothing basic will be altered. Of course, that will be because the new Pope is a prisoner of Vatican conservatives.
It’s all so predictable, but maybe it will be worth a few chuckles. Downton Abbey’s season finale is next Sunday. What else is there?