Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Last weekend, at a rather ecumenical Passover seder, I heard two Catholics discussing the new Pope, as well they might. One of them referred to the man by his old nickname, "God's Rottweiler". I must have raised an eyebrow, because she quickly turned and preemptively told me that I had nothing to say about it. It seems to be something a lot of Catholics are a bit sensitive about -- like the commenters on Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog who upbraided her for commenting on a matter which, as a non-Catholic, she knew little of -- only to be told that she is, in fact, Catholic. Oops.

Well, I'm not Catholic. And I'd just as soon prefer that the matter was none of my business. But I'd also just as soon that the guy thought that American politics were none of his business -- which is evidently not his view. And if he's going to inject himself into my politics, I have a right to comment on his character.

Not to mince words, the guy is a theocrat. As the occupant of an office which is simultaneously head of a church and head of state, this should be no surprise, no matter how badly it fits American traditions. (Though Christian religious practice is a lot more pervasive here than it is in Europe, where there is centuries of experience with theocratic traditions. Odd, that). But there's no reason to expect him to shape his behavior to fit an American mold. It's not as if he's, say, a Catholic supreme court justice advocating theocracy from the bench. So, for him to urge American politicians to conform their politics to Catholic views is really just in the nature of his office.

And this, in turn, puts American Catholic politicians in a bind. They simultaneously have to uphold the American tradition of ecumenical culture and secular governance, and the Catholic tradition which, well, is what it is. And in dealing with this double bind, it matters a great deal to them whether the clergy is willing to allow them a little freedom of conscience. Well, when still a cardinal, Ratzinger tried to get John Kerry denied communion because -- as he explained in the debates -- he didn't feel it was proper for him to turn his personal convictions on abortion into national policy.

That's one reason that the politics of the pope matter to non-Catholic Americans. The other, given that he's determined to pressure Catholic politicians, is what he's going to pressure them to do. This is plain. The church's tradition is to uphold the authority of the clergy, and that suits Benedict just fine. He was more comfortable with the Salvadoran dictatorship, than with Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop who opposed it. Romero thought the Christian tradition of charity and mercy demanded that they oppose a government which improverished and murdered its citizens. And, as Catholic blogger Jeanne D'arc sadly notes, Cardinal Ratzinger was there to correct him.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home