Friday, April 11, 2008

Papa Nazinger Comes to Town

Journalists who have never sat in a room full of boozed up bishops trading off-color humor about deans sodomizing seminarians have cast the pope’s arrival to Washington in terms of pseudo-ecclesiastical agendas, when in fact, it is subtly about something entirely different.

The liberal Washington Post and the conservative Washington Times played true to the script.

The Post has long fixated on ecclesiastical politics within the Catholic Church that none of its editors have ever mastered, the opening salvo in the coverage of the papal visit focused on whether the local archbishop is an “ally” of the pontiff.

In my opinion, Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, is more open to dialogue than the pope. But let’s face it: the Vatican does not make a habit of selecting Luthers as bishops.

Memo to Post editors: pretty much all bishops can be presumed to be papal allies. No story there.

The Times, whose ownership is tied to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, has carefully avoided any overt reference to the denomination’s unusual theological hodgepodge of ideas, but staunchly sided with the Catholic right-wingers such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Not surprisingly, its curtain raiser, viewed the papal visit in terms of the institutional agenda of traditional-minded Catholics: please, Holy Father, save the Catholic schools!

Yet the history of Irish-American racial animosity towards African Americans and Hispanics even at the highest levels of the Catholic Church shows perfectly well that Catholic schools’ agony is the result of white flight to suburbs. When a traditional Catholic wants to save Catholic schools, the message is really: save the white schools.

Wuerl’s predecessor James Hickey, fought white suburban fellow Irish Catholics tooth and nail to keep subsidizing Catholic schools in the inner city, which in Washington, as in many other cities, essentially serve black non-Catholics. Such schools can claim successes such as Washington’s own former mayor Anthony Williams.

The real story of the papal visit is that it is nothing more than a quiet wink and nod to those who favor a certain mode of Catholicism.

When he was merely Joseph Ratzinger, theologian, the pope's view was that Christianity had lost relevancy in the Western world.

As pope he believes Christianity has all but vanished from the marketplace. He is right.

Keep in mind that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, unequivocally stated that the invasion of Iraq failed to meet the criteria of a “just war.” Recall also that for the last century vigorous Church teaching on social justice has repeatedly criticized capitalism as unjust.

The world, and in particular, predominantly Protestant but unchurched, capitalist United States, does as it pleases without more than a few pious words in church, which have no weight once outside the door.

Yet rather than change the way the message is conveyed so it might be heard -- as the Second Vatican Council recommended in the early 1960s -- Ratzinger, who served the council as a junior adviser, has long given up on what in Church parlance was once called “renewal.”

In serving as John Paul II’s theological hatchet man, Ratzinger opted to cut off all modernizing tendencies. He cut his student the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff at the knees and humiliated the Church’s foremost moral theologian, Bernard Häring, in petty proceedings entirely devoid of due process.

Now that he is pope, he is hunkering down in the catacombs in hopes of better times. He has patched up petty quarrels to his right flank, by re-opening up the use of Latin in church services, while remaining otherwise inflexible. His first encyclical letter was a rant against sex.

Significantly, he has kept the view of history that he likely learned in his Hitler Youth days. When he went to Auschwitz in 2006, he spoke of the “6 million Poles” and the “suffering” Germans and only finally, as an afterthought, oh yes, the Jews.

When the pope complains that Europe is the most secular continent on Earth, he is quietly bemoaning the demographic demise of whites in the cradle of the Caucasians.

Long ago, a prelate explained to me that Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical against birth control was designed to prevent “the suicide of the white race,” a thought I am certain was far from Papa Montini’s mind, but was and is not unthinkable in the hierarchy.

To whom will Papa Nazinger be addressing his message in the United States? To the white, conservative, most obedient Catholic “remnant.”

This is the other side of the coin. With 30 years of bishops appointed by John Paul II and the desertion of liberal or free thinking Catholics to the Episcopal Church and agnosticism, the U.S. Catholic Church offers a bride made in heaven for this pope.

American young women who yearn for the pre-Vatican II Church they never knew often go to church wearing mantilla, while young men who weigh whether to become priests speak boldly of the “ontological difference” that by right prevents the ordination of women.

Justice Scalia is a frequent attendee at events hosted by the ultrasecretive and ultraconservative group Opus Dei (Work of God) and forms with the likes of Chief Justice John Roberts, the visible peak of a phalanx of Catholics who have distinctive philosophical transformations in mind for the United States.

Scalia and Roberts belong to the growing school of “natural law” scholars, who define almost anything they dislike (think abortion and homosexuality, for starters) as against nature and therefore in principle unlawful.

Catholics make up 29 percent of Congress and are now about evenly split between Democrats who are heirs of the New Deal coalition and Republicans of the Scalia bent.

This is the pope’s base. This is the base that is willing to wage crusades against Muslims (note to militant Christian soldiers: the West lost the last crusades, consider using another term).

When Pope Benedict lands, he will be coming as the apostle to the most obedient of white Catholics. All others beware.

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