Monday, January 13, 2003


When I peruse around the blogosphere, there seems to be one common theme among many bloggers, Christian and Atheists alike-- they seem to despise Pope Benedict XVI. I've seen criticism about his views on womens roles in the Church, his strict authoritarian manner, and what seems to be a disconnect from the people, especially American members within the Roman Catholic Church. It's not just the average practicing Catholic who don't connect to Pope Benedict, some of his priests and Bishops aren't all that keen on him either.

When it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI was coming to the United States and would be celebrating the Mass in Washington, The Reverend Gerald Fogarty decided not to go because he was busy teaching that day at the University of Virginia. The Reverend John Dufell thought of joining him at Yankee Stadium, but...he just happened to have a couple of weddings to do, so he took a pass. Paul Kane, a retired lawyer who goes to church in Georgetown, laughed at the idea of seeing the Pope.

The Pope seems to have the most difficulty with the chancery bureaucrats within the RCC (Roman Catholic Church). The day that the Pope was elected after the death of John Paul II, it is said that there were two reactions when the cardinal intoned, "Josephum"...there was great love and intense hate. Some chancery officials looked dumbstruck, their faces filled with shock and revulsion. "It's time for another nine days of mourning." The assistant director of the Archdioceses of Galveston-Houston said, "We can pray for another thirty day pontificate," (alluding to the short reign of Pope John Paul I who died 30 days after he was elected Pope). Another said, "The Episcopal church is looking better all the time."

My own personal experience of that day was when I was teaching 6th grade religion classes at my parish. I walked into the office to see the secretaries and the directors looking tense and sad. They moaned that they had lost all hope that women could ever play a strong roll within the Catholic church, nothing will change now.

I must admit, I knew little about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Looking at his physical appearance on TV as they were flashing pictures of him on CNN, he looked a little mean, not much of a Shepherd. I just shook that off because I knew it would be difficult for anyone to fill the shoes of the much respected and beloved Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II could connect with any age group, and especially seem to enamor the youth. Teens loved him and would try to reach out and touch him when he walked by, as if he was a rock star. He loved his flock and most of them loved him. He didn't score many points with some women, especially those thought that hoped they would see the RCC allow women an equal role as men in the ministry. They want to be priests, they want celibacy to finally be abandoned, and Pope John Paul II said emphatically, "No." The announcement of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Pontiff squashed any signs of hope for women's future as leaders within the Catholic Church as far as some woman were concerned.

On the other hand, when Pope Benedict arrived in the United States, he drew huge crowds of cheering people wherever he went. Youth groups arrived in buses in order to attend his Masses. To make it clear, it is not mandatory for Catholic teens to attend these events, parishes will often offer a trip to an event like this and the teens will pay the costs for transportation, food, and lodging if they are spending the night. Volunteers from the parish go along as chaperons (all chaperons for the RCC now are given background checks and not allowed to teach or travel with any child or teen unless the background check is completed).

This post isn't going to be a Pope B-16 bash fest, though. I want to explore all sides of the Pope---the good, the bad, and the ugly (no I'm not talking about his hats and shoes). Are there any redeeming quality in this man who is hated by so many?

Looking at Pope Benedict's recent whirlwind visit of the United States, he made a speech to the UN and emphasized the need for the world community to protect human rights everywhere and for religious leaders to appeal to the common sense of truth rather than dogma as a basis for cooperation. Ok...what part of that is offensive to Americans, Catholic or otherwise?

Pope Benedict called for immigration reform. He renounced emphatically the war in Iraq and Afghanistan should end. He gave a speech to the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities and reaffirmed the primacy of free intellectual inquiry and academic freedom as protected by the faith. What part of that is controversial? Isn't this what academia have been crying for?

The issue of the clerical sexual abuse cases, of course, is the prime target for many and Pope Benedict was also blamed for that. I heard many say that they would bet that the Pope wouldn't touch that subject with a ten foot pole when he comes to the U.S. While driving my son to school in the morning, I heard two radio personalities, Don and Roma, talking about how they "hadn't heard" anything about the Pope apologizing for that travesty and how "out of touch" with humanity he was. However, the reality is that Pope Benedict did discuss this more than once, and in very clear terms while he was here. On the Papal plane he met with reporters and said, "We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future." He repeatedly engaged the sexual abuse crisis during his trip here.

Benedict said that efforts to address this crisis would have to unfold on three levels: The legal and judicial, the pastoral, and programs of prevention to ensure that the future priests are "sound". He added that "it's more important to have good priests than to have many."

The pope also admitted that the crisis was handled very badly. In his address to the American bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, he again addressed this issue. He devoted five full paragraphs to sexual abuse of children, referring to it as 'evil' and 'sin".

But that's not all...he also addressed this during his Mass at Washington's National Park. He said, "I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," "No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse." This doesn't sound to me like a man who is hiding or ignoring the problems of clerical sexual abuse within the Church.

I'm always confused by those who call for the Pope...or anyone to apologize, and when they do with all sincerity, they are told "it's not good enough". If no apology is enough, why call for one?

Regarding women's roles within the church, I agree, I think they should be able to have more of a role. I do think, that women who are crying out for this change, should remember that the RCC moves at a snails pace. I think many who jumped up with excitement with the installation of Vatican II were getting a bit ahead of themselves. They thought that once there was a crack in the virtual dam which held women back, was going to crack wide open and there would be a gush of changes for women within the Church. It didn't happen. There were big changes in how we received the Eucharist and who could give out the Eucharist. Now, any man or woman can be a Eucharistic Minister (one who distributes the Holy Eucharist to those in hospitals, nursing homes, homebound, or at Mass).

Just to give you an idea of how this Pope is put under the microscope even within the Catholic community, I remember a flurry of angst and anger coming from Catholics when there was an announcement that the Pope was going to allow the comeback of the Latin Mass. There were cries that he was bringing us back to 18th century. When I heard this, I too became a little worried. But then, I did what I always do, I researched what this was all about. I found that Pope Benedict wasn't forcing anyone to go to a Latin Mass, what he did was lift the restrictions on celebrating the old form of the Latin Mass. In a decree titled "Summorum Pontificum", he helped to cut the red tape that was put in place during Vatican II, which said that in order for a parish to have a Latin Mass, they had to seek permission by the Bishop to do so. Now a group of Catholic parishioners can ask their local priest to celebrate Mass in Latin and even get baptized or married according to the old Latin rite. This will not require the approval of a bishop. Mass will also continue to be celebrated in local languages, as it is now. The reason he did this is because the Latin Mass was considered sacred in earlier generations and remains sacred and great for us, too. See? He was only trying to give traditional catholics the freedom to attend a Mass where they feel comfortable. Many traditional catholics don't like attending the new churches that don't provide kneeler's to used during the Consecration of the Eucharist, and they're not particularly fond of some of the music that is used during those services. The Pope was doing what a leader is supposed to do, be fair to all his flock and not favor one over the other.

The Vatican isn't any different than any other governmental institution. Along with the good and the mundane day to day work of the Church, there is bureaucracy, dissent and even corruption. But is it wise to tear down whoever leads it because they don't meet with the views of everyone within its membership? Is it possible to please everyone? For Benedict, God is Truth with a capital T and exists before and outside humans and institutions. That Truth is the only authority, and that authority requires obedience. Benedict's fans say he is at his most eloquent and inspiring when teaching about that Truth. His theology is hardly radical, but it is orthodox. It's not that he doesn't care about people, it's that he wants people to care more about Jesus.



Candace said...

Hey, Mary Ellen - just came over to see what it's all about at the new site. As an atheist, I'm sort of, eh, pope/schmope about it all :) but as always, I'm open to your perspective on things. You make a good point about the RCC moving at a snail's pace (I'm also a former RCC), so it amazes me that people were actually expecting some sort of breakthrough with the election of this new pope. The church hasn't even authorized birth control (despite John XXIII's commission's findings), and they thought THIS would be the time to open the door to women in the clergy? Hahahhaaha! Ahem. Anyway, as to the personality of this particular pope, eh - he's not such a big surprise in the larger, catholic, scheme of things.

Great post!

Mary Ellen said...

Hi Candace- Thanks for stopping by. I've came to the conclusion a long time ago that the changes that some women are hoping for in the RCC will never happen. I do wonder, however, if at some point in the near future, if some people who split from the Roman Catholic Church and form an American Catholic Church that will allow women to have a stronger role, dump the celibacy laws for priests, and allow for birth control, divorce without having to get an annulment, and other such matters. I'm not sure how they can do this and still be able to have a Consecrated Eucharist...I'm not fully sure how that works.

two crows said...

hey, Mary Ellen-- Great post!
not being Catholic, I'm a bit reluctant to address this but -- hey -- when have I let a little reluctance shut me up? :)
'The pope also admitted that the crisis [sex abuse scandal] was handled very badly.'

I think that, from the Protestant view at least, this was much of the crux of the matter:
Just as one parent's blaming of the child for abuse by the other parent or the
downright refusal to believe the child--
the refusal by the hierarchy to validate the cries of the victims made things even worse for them and for their families.

I, for one, am glad Pope Benedict addressed that issue -- and I hope he creates an atmosphere in which such victimizing of the victims won't happen again.

dguzman said...

I'm kinda like Candace--a former catholic who doesn't much care about the pope, and who doesn't expect ANY kind of change to be sweeping the RCC any millennium soon. That's how it always seemed to me back when I went to mass, anyway.

I did enjoy your objective look at him, though--not just another "he's a nazi!" post. (And I kinda dug the red shoes, but the hat HAS to go.)

Mary Ellen said...

dguzman- thanks, I like to look at both sides of an issue and like I said, it's a good idea to do some research when you hear something like the "he's a nazi" thing.

You're right, though, the RCC is not going to have any sweeping drastic changes any time soon. Personally, I think that if they don't want to dump the celibacy issue, they should at least consider a compromise and make it voluntary. There are convents that differ greatly in what they do, som are just for prayer, some for teaching, some for missionary work. Why not have an order of priests who are allowed to be married and orders that don't? Not to mention, until they get the celibacy issue taken care of, women will never be considered "worthy" of the priesthood. Maybe if some of the priests or Bishops were married, they would learn enough respect for women that they will help to allow them to play a stronger role in the church.

Randal Graves said...

You guys are all nuts. That hat is stylin'! Future judge on American Idol, he is.

What the hell, were all us atheists raised Roman Catholic? Weirdness!

Mary Ellen said...

Randal- The hat goes with the red shoes, but I don't know what "bag" he's carrying...shoulder or just a clutch purse.

To be honest, I run into an awful lot of former Catholics turned atheist. Not a darned thing I could do about it because I'm the worst evangelizer on the planet. In fact,if I tried to evangelize anyone, I'd probably produce even more atheists.

My best weapon for getting the kids I taught religion to listen to the lesson plan was to bribe them with donuts, bagels and juice boxes. This also attracted one of the new priests who used to drop into my class just as I happened to be putting the food out. I think there was a surveillance camera in that classroom.

Mary Ellen said...

Ooops...I forgot to answer two crows! Sorry!

I think the church is doing a lot more to try to stop this. At least I can see it with those who work with the church youth groups and other volunteer work that involves kids. I think one of the things that was needed was to make parents aware that this was happening. Many kids never told their parents and the parents were under the impression that they were safe with the priests. Now, not only are the parents not going to allow their kids to have any "private" time with Father So and So, but the priests are making an effort never to be in a position where there is even a question about what they are doing. They don't spend time alone with the kids, they are always seen with adults. Everything is in the open.

We had an incident in our church with a new priest who was sent to our parish for his 2 to 4 yr. stint and he was sooooo nasty! The guy didn't go into the priesthood until he was in his early 40's. He was never married. I guess just as he was going to go into the seminary his mother had passed away and his father had already passed away, so he stayed behind to raise a younger sibling. Anyway, the guy was just nasty to adults and kids. I guess the final straw was he was celebrating Mass on a weekday morning and the two children who were to be the altar servers were excused from classes during that time. After Mass, one went back to class but the other one didn't. When the teacher asked where she was, the student told her that Father Novak made her stay behind because he didn't like the way she rang the bells during the Consecration so he was going to teach her to do it the right way. I guess the teacher just freaked, got someone to watch her class and RAN right to the church (she was afraid the child was being sexually molested or something). It turned out the priest had this poor crying girl, kneeling on the hard marble floor, ringing the bells over and over again as he shouted at her that it wasn't loud enough or she didn't do it long enough.

The teacher immediately took the child by the hand, told the priest that he had better return to the Parish office and wait there until she came with the Pastor. That was one very pissed off teacher! She then got the Pastor, and called the child's parents to come down to talk about what happened. The priest was immediately removed from the Parish and they took immediate steps to have him de-frocked. I'm not sure if the parents pressed charges against him, but he will no longer be a priest.

They don't take any more chances, from what I can see.

Ghost Dansing said...

religion is about God (maybe gods), and a church is about governance.....

the Holy Catholic Church is like the prototype Christian Church. it is like a Harley Davidson versus all other motorcycles.....

schisms are all about nit picking particulars of faith and governance.....

i think it goes something like this ME.....

the Holy Catholic Church basis its authority on apostolic succession (traceable to Jesus inaugurating Peter as "The Rock" and symbolic ancestry going back to the Twelve Apostles......

the Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation..... Jesus's body and blood are REALLY present at the Holy Eucharist.

many (if not all) Protestant schisms sorta kinda into the "symbolic" nature of the sacrament.....

interestingly..... the Lutherans don't actually see themselves as split from the RCC..... consider themselves a "confession".....

i think they believe in transubstantiation too, and of course Martin Luther was a Priest so, I guess Apostolic Succession applies.....

and I guess Apostolic succession applies to the Eastern Orthodox too, because it was all one Church back then, and they believe in Apostolic Succession too I think...

so, an "American Catholic Church"? with real Priests and everything?

why not?

but i'm almost positive Pope Benedict would disagree with me.....

two crows said...

hi, ME--
the story you told was heartening in 2 ways:
1] they took his behavior seriously enough to dismiss him before he could do any more damage -- and that little girl got the message that she mattered enough to be rescued
2] this guy never married and didn't have kids he could terrorize in the privacy of his own home.

and bravo to the RCC for having the courage to get rid of him!!!

thanx for sharing that.

Mary Ellen said...

ghost dansing- I agree with everything you say regarding the governance of the Church.

As far as whether the Lutheran Church believes in transubstantiation, they actually believe in consubstantiation which holds that Christ is present along with the unchanged reality of the bead and wine, to the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist as a simple memorial of Christ's death.

In transubstantiation, the Catholic Church believes the Eucharist, the bread and wine to be administered become, upon consecration, the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, even though the external manifestations of the bread and wine - shape, color, flavor, and odor - remain. The Catholic Church opposes other doctrines, such as the Lutheran doctrine that the body and blood of Christ coexist in and with the bread and wine, which remain unchanged.

It seems rather nit-picky to those who don't get into this, but there is a difference. If I recall, Luther did believe in transubstantiation who he broke away from the Catholic Church but was pressured to change to the current belief of consubstantiation. I could be wrong about that, though. Maybe there's a Lutheran out there lurking who can correct me.

Mary Ellen said...

two crows- I was very happy the way our church handled this and especially gratified that the teacher took such quick action and got to that little girl before she was punished further by that asshole.

No one in our parish liked the guy from day one. The power of the collar went to his head and his sermons were not only boring as hell, but he talked down to the parishioners .

In fact, while he was there one of the priests had his chalice extremely damaged, as if someone threw it on the ground and stomped on it. It was all dented and ruined. The priests all have their own chalice, which is usually given to them by a family member as a gift when they are ordained. This is something that never happens in that church and it had to be someone who had access to the key to the cabinet that these chalices are locked. They are not only a special gift, they are quite expensive. I have the feeling that the priest who was dismissed did this. It happened right after the incident and right before he left the parish. It seems awfully coincidental. The guy seemed to have some real problems with rage.

FranIAm said...

What a fantastic post. I wish it were not so late or I would say more.

You have really found your voice on this one - brilliant.

He is a curious one and I am (unexpectedly & surprised)glad that he addressed the abuse scandal.

I still think he is backwards when it comes to women and other matters. I know you will understand me ME, when I say he is such a damn Augustinian.

Thank you so much for this post!

okjimm said...

Pope on a Rope? Sounds like something to use in the shower to was away sins.

Gees, kidddddooo....that was more religion that I have ingested since 8th grade.

Mary Ellen said...

okjimm- I know, I get a little carried away when I talk about religion.

okjimm said...

Gees, ME, I went looking for a place to buy soap on a rope and all I found was this

The breath spray looked interesting....

I gotta go repent now.

okjimm said...

//I get a little carried away when I talk about religion.///


and I get a little carried away when talking about beer!

And there is a way to combine the topics!!

Like, if Jesus drank beer instead of wine would he choose a Lager or and Ale?


Would he root for the Packers or the Bears?

If these kinda topics were addressed in theological discussion I may pay more attention!


Mary Ellen said...

okjimm- Who knows, maybe the story in the bible about the wedding in Cana was wrong. Could be that he did turn the water into beer instead of wine. I'm not sure, though, because I didn't hear about any spigots on the jugs. Maybe something got lost in the translation.

Ghost Dansing said...



very close concepts indeed....... it looks like wiki is associating Duns Scotus vice Luther with consubstantiation...... the concepts look to be close enough to be kissing cousins.......

fascinated (and this has to do with the Protestant error of Sola Scriptura) was the basic difference between the Catholics (and near schisms) and what has evolved as the modern Fundamentalist Evangelical..... specifically the difference between the literal versu allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures.

glossing over the fact that the Catholic Church is the only authority on the Scriptures because they compiled the Bible under Contstantine, and also thereby claim authority beyond that which is found in the Bible, and authority to interpret the meaning of the Bible as a tool for teaching, they also claim much allegory in the Bible...... parables...... lessons to be learned from stories that may or may not be factually accurate.

YET, on the item of transubstantiation they are rigid...... literal and i think it is an article of faith...... in other words if you do not believe in transubstantiation it would be difficult for you do consider yourself a Catholic......

YET, the Protestants, on the other hand..... spawning the most virulent Fundamentalist Evangelical denominations rejecting anything but the most literal interpretation of the Bible, were able to see the breaking of the bread at the Last Supper as a cause for symbolic remembering and all really quite optional rather than an actual transubstantiation.


i think the Catholics and Lutherans have some kind of ecumenical agreement to have members receive communion at each other's services.

Diane said...

I like this ME!

I think that since becoming Pope, Benedict has become more pastoral, which is a good thing.

I am sad, though, about women's roles. As much as I liked John Paul II, he was really conservative on that as well.

I was in Denver when the last pope was there, and was so impressed at the turn-out of youth!

The other interesting thing was that an ecumenical group of women held some alternative events "for Catholic women seeking ordination." There were a couple of special church services that week, that I participated in. That was moving for me too.

Keep up the good work, ME!

Diane said...

oh, and by the way (whew! it's hard to get through the good comments), ghost dansing is in error. There is no agreement between Catholics and Lutherans over Eucharist. I believe that our understanding is closest to Catholic among PRotestants, but ME is right, we do NOT believe in Transubstantiation. Luther was adamant against Zwingli and other reformers, this IS the body of Christ, it is NOT just a symbol. But neither did Luther think that the bread and wine ceased being bread and wine. Bread and Wine AND Body and Blood. Both/And. He said, (not a quote) "I don't understand it. I believe it."

Ghost Dansing said...

good catch on the error Diane.

Mauigirl said...

Great post, Mary Ellen. I haven't been able to figure out quite why so many people are critical of this pope. You did a great job of putting the facts out there.

TomCat said...

Although I am not Catholic, I was familiar with his stance against Liberation Theology, which I favor, before his election. I was not happy at all.

Mary Ellen said...

maui girl-Thanks!

tomcat- I don't quite understand what you are saying. You were in favor of his Liberation Theology but you were not happy with his election? I might be missing something in the way this is written, or maybe I can't read...yikes! Could you clarify?

The Future Was Yesterday said...

I think "hatred" in this case is born from one of two things:

Previous knowledge of the subject and their actions/beliefs, or

Fear of the unknown.

"The Vatican was ready to elect a new Pope. Italian Cardinal Sicola was the runaway favorite, by a landslide. Yet when the Vatican made it's choice. it wasn't him. Their explanation?

They couldn't bear the sound of Pope Sicola!