When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, many European and American Catholics reacted with dismay, because Joseph Ratzinger was so conservative. Except that he really wasn't. Ratzinger had taken his job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith very seriously, but he was not particularly extreme. Rather, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI represents the center of global Catholicism.
I know that describing shades of theological opinion in terms of Left and Right is inaccurate, but it is also easy shorthand. In that shorthand, Cardinal Sarah represents the Catholic right. Culturally conservative, and confidently outspoken about anything he thinks isn't right, which includes both gay rights and free market capitalism.
Exploding Pet Peeves
We can already see that the initial line of attack against Benedict XVI will be his role during the closing years of John Paul II's pontificate in the Vatican's reaction to the sexual abuse scandals. Here's a typical example, from The Guardian of April 24:
Daniel Shea, the lawyer for the two alleged victims who discovered the letter, said: 'It speaks for itself. You have to ask: why do you not start the clock ticking until the kid turns 18? It's an obstruction of justice.'
The answer to the last question is clear enough. Obviously, you should report credible evidence to the police of on-going abuse of minors immediately, whether you are sure about it or not. If such reports were made after the victim is an adult, however, Cardinal Ratzinger wanted the Church to focus on its own internal discipline. Cardinal Ratzinger's point seems to have been that the Church is not a law-enforcement agency. Wherever possible, the cardinal wanted the church authorities to conduct their own investigation, thereby avoiding a scandal in a situation where nothing had yet been proved. Some people do have a duty to report suspected abuse: teachers, for instance. However, the general rule is that there is no duty to report a suspected crime. It is not obstruction of justice for a private organization to try to police itself.
The flaw in Church policy was that many dioceses turned out to be too crooked or stupid to either conduct an investigation or deal properly with the abuse they found. The flaw in the criticism of Joseph Ratzinger is that he has a livelier appreciation than almost anyone in Rome of the general incompetence of certain dioceses on matters of doctrine and discipline. That is why he is so strongly disliked by the Catholic Left. It is also why he was made Benedict XVI. The attempt to paint him as the chief architect of obstruction is going to backfire in a very satisfactory fashion: unlike the aging John Paul II, he is in a position to do something about the problem.
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On the other hand, David Warren has a point when he says that it's a mistake to appreciate this papacy just for the historical fireworks it is likely to cause:
While I have much sympathy with...trying to build up Benedict XVI as "our new Torquemada", I don't think it will be necessary to build a new Catholic consensus upon "surprise, fear, ruthless efficiency, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope". Rather, let the Pope be Pope, and let every other person find his own way, by the light of grace.
A friend of mine made a similar point to me last Sunday: the wonderful thing about this papacy is that it relieves those of us of an orthodox persuasion of the feeling that we are obligated to conduct our own little campaigns of guerrilla apologetics. The Vatican is going to do that now, and we know that our local dioceses will get the memo.
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And what does the Devil think of all this? Omens from Germany, where he has the greatest cause to be unhappy, suggest that he is fit to burst:
BERLIN (AFP) - Hundreds of toads have met a bizarre and sinister end in Germany in recent days, it was reported: they exploded...According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a metre...
Greater wonders than these we shall see; and hopefully less disgusting ones.
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On a somewhat different note, Blithering Bunny takes aim at a solecism that makes me fit to burst:
Writing a history of music, even a history of western music, begs some big questions.
The question that the breakdown of this distinction raises (rather than begs) is whether the confusion results from a simple misunderstanding of the terms, or whether educated people no longer know what a circular argument is.
Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly