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.