Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Problems with the Pope

It is the first time a pope has relinquished the papal throne since the 15th century, when pope Gregory XII stepped down from the papacy in 1415.

Apart from the monumental implications of such an announcement, the weeks following the poignant and somewhat transparent statement by Pope Benedict XVI has unleashed a flood of attempts to surmise the controversial (an apparent byproduct when you are the leader of one of the oldest and largest religious groups in the world) life and career of the man who has been the face of the Roman Catholic Church since 2005.

Yet the scrutiny of such prominent figures seemingly always focuses on what is scandalous and ‘sexy’ in the eyes of the media; accusations, rumors, and facts that instill either outrage or sympathy. Those that contain grains of truth are handed out not for their factual importance, but the pathos based reactions they might cause.  One cannot fairly summarize the life and times of any man with the single or multiple great deed or deeds he has accomplished, nor with the single of multiple range of terrible deed or deeds he has committed. Instead, the whole truth must be allotted to the man—for his eminence Pope Benedict XVI, the “vicar of Christ” himself, was just that, a man.

But first he was a child, born on April 16, 1927, as Joseph Ratzinger in the Diocese of Passau, Germany. His father was a policeman; his mother, the daughter of artisans from Rimsting near the shore of the Lake Chiem, worked as a cook in hotels before the marriage. At the early age of five, Ratzinger was with a group of children who greeted the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich and after the encounter he announced that same day he wished to be a Cardinal. After early home schooling, following his 14th birthday Ratzinger was conscripted in the Hitler Youth—a requirement by law for all 14-year-old German boys—yet according to his brother, he regularly refused to attend meetings and obey those in command. After the war he and his brother returned to a seminary of their youth and in 1953 his dissertation was on St. Augustine and was titled The People and the House of God in Augustine’s Doctrine of the Church, from which many of his beliefs are borne.

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From there Ratzinger rose through the church rapidly through professorships and his appointment as Archbishop of Munich, notably known for his scholarly approach to church doctrine and utilizing reason to reconcile theology. He is most famous for his Encyclicals, which dealt with the topics of love throughout church doctrine and the Bible, and written during his time as the leader of the church.

His first, published in 2005, titled Deus Caritas Est (Latin for “God is Love”), stated that the human being, created in the image of God who is love, can practice love: by practicing love, loving others and God, one comes closer to the latter. The hope by many was that Benedict would use the reasoning in this first encyclical to bridge the gap between the church and same-sex marriage, as well as practicing Catholics and Christians who were homosexual. As is common knowledge, this did not occur or even come close to being achieved.

The church continues to face threats of losing vast members of its flock, which have expressed repeated concerns about the modernization of the world and its ideas, while the shepherd represses and remains dangerously clingy to the past. The conservatism and desire of the papacy to engrain itself firmly in what is sanctimoniously ‘orthodox,’ has alienated many people, to put it lightly.

Benedict’s unflinching stance on contraception and condoms, especially on the subject of HIV and AIDs ridden Africa in 2009, have further caused many to speculate whether he was just abrasive in his stubbornness or actually leading the Roman Catholic Church backwards into the ancestry of his predecessors. Much of his positions on sexuality are rooted in St. Augustine’s own ethics rather than the teachings of Christ (as exemplified in many of his papers).

His comments at Regensburg in 2006 about Islam, in which he ironically quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who labeled Muhammad “evil and inhuman,” was a blunder that emphasizes the needed cohesiveness and desire to cooperate with other religious leaders that should be paramount in the papacy. Since 2005, Ratzinger has managed to insult not just Islam, but Judaism and every Protestant church by stating they are not actual churches.

The biased attempts at investigating the “orthodoxy” of Catholic sisters in America and his repeated assertion that woman may never be priests, has contrasted greatly with the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church for the past decade. Priests who support woman in the church have been dismissed; yet those who participated in pedophilia have been vigorously protected.

His dismissal and act of ignoring scientific research on homosexuality and its existence as a human characteristic draws stark comparisons with Galileo and the way the church dismissed science then.

These are the points being elicited by the media—portraying Benedict as a flawed leader of the Catholic Church, leading it promisingly into the Medieval-like, 14th-century reasoning of the only pope since himself to resign.

In many ways, Benedict has simultaneously promoted congenially a return to the orthodox values of centuries ago whilst allowing any trace of transparency, as well as accountability, to be removed from the papacy.

In many ways, the dark ages of Europe were such because the church kept many in that fearful dark. Anyone who graduated high school will know of the cruelties enacted by church officials, especially the pope himself.

In a letter to Bishop Mandell, the historian John Acton stated accurately that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A direct comparison to the church of today and that of the Middle-Ages would be a drastic exaggeration in many ways, but the regression of the Roman Catholic Church has not gone unnoticed. Flexibility is needed; it is key to the survival of any group or organization. What is needed is a brilliant theological mind that can reconcile the progressive values that are sweeping across western-civilization with that of the ‘orthodox’, values many priests and cardinals have begun to embrace, but do not advocate as strongly because the papacy in Rome remains hung on ‘tradition.’

Benedict had half the brain of this mind—what is not reported is his incisive critical stance of global capitalism and its effects on society; his firm stand in opposition to war and world conflicts, especially the war in Iraq; his strong articulation of his beliefs in ecological issues; it was this scholarly approach that led to numerous writings on all of these topics. Topics he dealt with eloquently with his theological understandings, reason, and logic.

But the world will continue to ignore and view such ample attempts at real change as secondary to the shortcomings of a flawed man—but we often forget how flawed we all are. That the expectations we place on leaders of men cannot often be achieved sanely. In the case of the papacy; in the preservation of morality and continued cohesiveness in spirituality throughout the world; in honor of the responsibility it holds towards the hundreds of thousands of people who look to it for guidance; and all those who are beginning to turn away their heads in shame and confusion—accountability and transparency must be allowed to flow freely.

Around 600 years ago was the last time a pope resigned his privilege as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church; such a monumental occurrence attributes an almost hopeful idea of change. That with this event might be marked the small beginnings of a shepherd reexamining his flock no longer with scrutiny as they walk away, but as one that looks inward, not outward, as the place to begin that reformation of morality, sanctimony, and the very embodiment body of human holiness. Holiness in its most profound and simplistic of meanings: forever flawed, but infinitely sincere.

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