Monday, February 11, 2013

The pope: Th-th-that's all, folks!


"My mother -- she had a lovely Quebec name, Lucienne -- was the sort of faithful Catholic who believed history was destined to leave us in a good place. So she was not the sort to close herself off to what she could learn from what was going on around her. . . .

"Because of her and my dad, I always bridle when people declare themselves 'self-made.' Such people may exist (socially if not biologically), but I’m skeptical and would never make that claim for myself. We can never pretend that we were wise enough to have chosen great parents."

-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his WaPo column
"Nothing self-made about me"

by Ken

Howie told me this morning I could have the pope -- if I want him. I had to think about that, mostly to see if I could think of anything or anyone I might want less. I could probably make a list of those, but it would run to things like especially painful incurable ailments, far-right-wing politicos, and many vegetables (I could list them individually, but they pretty much know who they are).

So no, I don't want Pope Cardinal Ratguts, but maybe we ought to dispose of him now. In which connection I might say that the one thing I don't wish him is what he may have to endure between now and the end -- according to some reports, the very thing he witnessed and is determined not to repeat in the slow, agonized leave-taking of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Of course there's nothing he can do, at least nothing that his Church allows, to circumvent such physical horrors as fate may have in store for him; his concern, if genuine, is presumably to protect the papacy from that slow withering.

Then again, we can't casually dismiss the suspicions being voiced in some quarters as to the extent of His Holiness's present infirmity, that it may be a convenient cover for a discreet slipping away a step ahead of the scandal sheriff, possibly in the form of radioactive fallout from the graphic revelations of the pedophile-protection racket of former Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony. Does anyone really think the incriminating evidence isn't going to implicate the man who was directly overseeing him, Defender of the Faith Cardinal Ratguts?

At the same time, we have accounts of people who claim to have had recent personal contact with Pope Cardinal Ratguts and insist he's so fragile, he can't be touched. Well, in the absence of actual information, there's not much to speculate about.

Nor does there seem to me much to speculate about in the selection of a successor. Not the identity per se, or even whether he will be -- gasp! -- a non-European, or even -- gasper! -- a person of color. This is unknown to me, though I imagine large numbers of the cardinals, especially the Italians, would have cows at either outcome. (Not to mention the supposedly increasingly out-of-control Curia, said to have become even more unmanageable under their present supreme manager.) No, I'm merely going out on a limb to venture that the new pope will be a monster.

How could he not be? It's what his electors want. His predecessor will have been a monster, and his predecessor was a monster, though an infinitely more craftily concealed one. It seems safe to predict that the cardinals will be more careful about their new public face than they were the last time they had to pick a new infallible one. (And, bearing in mind that His Holiness has indicated that he will not participate in the proceedings -- after all, for some 600 years now new popes have been chosen with the old ones in the ground, -- the aforementioned Cardinal Mahony, who as a retired cardinal has voting privileges, has said that he will indeed participate.)

But that's just the public face. Talk that an American might be in the running for the succession focuses now -- now, that is, that Cardinal Mahony is no longer talked about as pope material -- on New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and from the Church's standpoint it's a shame that really there's no possibility of an American succession. A shame for them because Cardinal Dolan, while just as committed to the Church's implacable authoritarianism, repression, and bigotry, is as masterful at the PR game as Ratguts is catastrophically bad. And for all the ferocity of the hierarchy's intramural politics, if they do in fact turn to their one major contemporary growth area, the Third World, they will likely come up with one of their most intransigent ideologues.

If the Church had any interest in its future as a viability earthly organization, its elders would look in another direction altogether. I'm not sure that anyone else will see the connection, but I found myself connecting to a column just published by one of its most honorable parishioners, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. It's a column about his mother, triggered by the circumstance that Friday would have been her 100th birthday. Even by E.J.'s standards it's a beautiful piece of writing, and I hope you'll read the whole thing.
She died in 1995, and my sister and I have spoken often about the extraordinary social changes she came to terms with and was part of. . . . In retrospect, I have been struck by how sensible my mom was through the social chaos, even though those were especially jarring times in our household. . .
As if 1968 wasn't a turbulent enough year, for the Dionnes it meant the sudden death of E.J. Jr.'s father, days before the election.
Family values defined her.

But as the first member of her family to go to college -- and at a time when few women got the chance -- she had an instinctive understanding of what feminism was about. She did not like the Vietnam War, so she sympathized with protests against it, though the movement's most radical elements didn't speak to her. She still honored my dad's Army service in World War II. As I have written before, she was an early supporter of the gay rights cause, partly because her dear godson was gay and she could not abide bigotry against him, one of the most openhearted people she knew.

And she was squarely against government cutbacks when it came to schools or libraries. When federal funds were slashed in the early 1980s, she helped save the storefront branch library she presided over in my hometown of Fall River, Mass. She didn't really need the job -- she worked full time until she was 75 for very little, considering what she gave up in Social Security benefits. But she knew the literary haven she ran on Pleasant Street was the place where many low-income children first came in contact with books. One of the joys of her life was to foster love affairs between kids and reading.
In pieces E.J. has written about his father (to which he provides a link), a dentist with a passionate interest in politics and government, he makes clear that his father was a deep-rooted conservative, though father and son came together politically over opposition to the Vietnam War.
My mom was no reflexive liberal. She started out a conservative and still held to most of her old-fashioned values even as her political views moved leftward. She was a public-employee union member but got impatient when the union blocked reforms she thought would improve services. (She complained to the union business agent about this.)

And she was very old school on matters of personal responsibility -- in education, marriage, parenting, friendship and civic duty. When she died at age 82, she was serving on the board of our local community college. She loved the place for the opportunities it gave students from modest backgrounds who were willing to work hard.


Obviously! I mean, she's dead. But if the Church really wishes to live long and prosper, it needs to acknowledge and build on the values of the people who show it in the best light, as a force for morality and humanity. It occurs to me that one thing the Church elders could do is to pick a woman as pope.

And not some Maggie Thatcher-type man-thuggerish-type female. No, I'm thinking more along the lines of those American nuns that Pope Cardinal Ratguts has devoted so much of his presumably waning papal energies to beating up on. Those nuns are about the last surviving vestige of the official Church that stands up for the dignity of humanity. How about installing a group of them as co-popes?


"Pope Benedict’s legacy is one of paradox" is the title of his retrospective.
Liberal Catholics (myself included) thus greeted Benedict's election as pope in 2005 with a certain alarm. In the end, Benedict was somewhat less conservative than liberals feared -- and somewhat less conservative than conservatives hoped. His most important encyclicals were decidedly progressive on economic matters, and he put far more emphasis on God's love than on His judgment.

The paradoxes of Benedict -- and perhaps of Catholicism itself -- were visible in two statements he made last Christmas. Progressives could only welcome an op-ed piece he wrote for the Financial Times on Dec. 19 in which he declared that "Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God's image and destined for eternal life."

He added: "They work for more equitable sharing of the earth's resources out of a belief that -- as stewards of God's creation -- we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation . . . . The belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all."

Yet he followed this with a Christmas message denouncing gay marriage, declaring that that gays and lesbians were turning their backs on the "essence of the human creature" and denying "their nature. . . .
Yeah, well, I'll still go with "monster."

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At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Tough assignment Ken. Good job.

Not surprised that Ratzinger climbed down off the cross. He earns a little respect for it here.

Let's hope the next pope is MUCH better. THAT was creepy.


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