April 22, 2005

Commentary:

Politics and the Papacy

By Humberto Caspa, Ph.D

Let’s leave God in heaven, and let’s begin to look at the appointment of the new Pope down from earth. In other words, let us be more rational, conscious and objective individuals. Then we’ll realize that, just as in Washington or in any other institutions, the bottom line in the Vatican is also politics. Thus, the election of Joseph Ratzinger –now Benedict XVI— is the result of an internal political process rather than the divine power of the Holy Spirit.

First, Joseph Ratzinger’s election is a victory of a new Catholic-orthodox movement over another wave that promotes change, modernity, and a more understanding to a freer society. It wants to get rid of the so-called liberation theology movement, symbolized by Archbishop Arnulfo Romero and other ecclesiastic figures in Latin America. This leftist-religious faction is mostly inspired by the suffering of the impoverished indigenous peasants; and also the writings of socialist philosophers and anti-neoliberal economists. Although it isn’t as strong as it used to be, the teachings of this brand of Catholicism continues to spread out in the region.

Like in the XVI Century, when Martin Luther shocked the Catholic world, the leadership in Rome is again hiding behind the walls of indifference. In doing so, they are abandoning the grassroots of the church, the people’s hunger, the struggle for individual’s rights, women equality, ethnic and gender rights, etc. And they might be letting loose some pedophile priests to face justice in civil courts.

Since Pope Benedict XVI is the core element for discussions today, it is important to look back to his historical background, which is mired with controversial issues so say the least. The fact that he served the Nazis during World War II is a visceral and incongruent argument that doesn’t deserve an inch of examination. Like Ratzinger, many young Germans became victims of an evil and racist regime. He has never supported Hitler.

However, his reasoning and actions while helping lead the Vatican is worth mentioning and analyzing. He was one of the closest advisors to John Paul II, and perhaps someone who most affected his decisions and ideas during the years prior to his death.

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was implacable against internal dissenters. In a highly publicized case, he condemned Leonardo Boff’s actions, a popular priest of Brazil’s shantytowns, for publicly criticizing the Catholic Church during the Martin Luther era.

Besides being a conspicuous opponent to the teachings of the liberation theology, Ratzinger stated divisive remarks against other religions. In the famous Dominus Iesus, he pointed out that the “only path to salvation is the Catholic Church,” branding other religious groups as deficient and pagans. This, obviously, is a fictitious and incongruent understanding of the world, in which most people practice other religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamism and Shintoism. By making a tough stand against them, he leaves little room for integration.

Moreover, Ratzinger doesn’t agree with the goals pursued by the new social movements. His conservative side comes to light when looking at women issues, as he doesn’t believe in gender equality within the Church. And homosexual relation is simply a blasphemous practice that shouldn’t be tolerated, nor practiced in society.

The highly popular “Indian theology,” which allows local parishioners to use the talents of local artists and singers during church services, doesn’t coincide with his orthodox ideals. In such a case, Aztec dancing, mariachi musicians or even the colorful church services in African-American communities aren’t good religious practices in the eyes of God.

It is quite too early to judge Pope Benedict XVI, but his past tell us a lot about what he might bring to Catholics in years ahead. He must realize, nonetheless, that the future of his church depends on how well he interacts with his parishioners and the rest of the world. His inflexible stand will not cure anything. 55% in Central American, for instance, have abandoned Catholicism altogether, and more might be taking the same road if he shows his typical orthodox demeanor. Instead, he needs moderation and great understanding of the changes taking place today to be a successful leader.

Dr. Humberto Caspa, Profesor de economía política en la Universidad Estatal de California San Marcos. E-mail: hcletters@ yahoo.com

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