Never mind about Islamists who call America “The Great Satan” and seek to obliterate our nation and way of life. Never mind about Sharia law’s treatment of women, and the punishments meted out to those who challenge it by doing things like calling for girls to be educated.
No, the real threat to civilization and the American dream is Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Catholic Church for the past eight years, who announced his resignation this past week because he believes he can no longer carry out the duties of the office.
It offered another opportunity for the haters of Joseph Ratzinger, who they call “Ratzi the Nazi” or “God’s Rottweiler” to rail about how radically conservative he is, how inflexible, how out of touch with the modern world, how his mission in life is to control everybody’s sex life and how he wouldn’t even control or punish priests who abused children.
On the last point, they have part of a point. The abuse scandal, besides inflicting horrific wounds on young innocents, is a self-inflicted wound on the church. Those who took vows to set an example of purity and godliness did the opposite.
I don’t pretend to know how well Pope Benedict confronted it – he did more than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II – but it clearly was not enough.
But those who try to use that human failure to undermine every inconvenient (to them) principal the pope stands for are troubled souls who probably need the church much more than they realize.
First, and most important, is that nobody has to be a Catholic. Yes, some of us are brought up in a certain faith by our parents, but once we are of age, there is no law that says we have to continue. There is no state church. Those who remain Catholic do so by choice. If they cannot abide the pope or the teachings of the church, they are free to leave.
Instead, they demand that the church abandon its principles to suit them. No matter the issue – female priesthood, gay marriage, abortion – they declare that if the church will not endorse their point of view, it is a hate group.
I’d love to see them try that line of reasoning with NARAL – the National Abortion Rights Action League. Try becoming a member of NARAL, and then start demanding that it change its stand on its core principal – abortion rights – because you have become pro-life. You won’t have the choice to walk away voluntarily – you’ll be “excommunicated.”
Same for any gay rights group. You think they’ll tolerate anyone who opposes gay marriage in their group? You get with their program, or you’re gone.
Some years ago, I asked an advocate for female priests what he thought it meant to be a Catholic. “Anything you want,” he said.
That says it all – these critics want an organization that stands for anything, which means it stands for nothing.
This leads to what is their biggest problem with the pope – he is allegedly “obsessed” with controlling their sex lives.
No, he is not. It is those doing the complaining who are obsessed with their own sex lives. They can’t stand anybody telling them, even gently, that what they are doing might be wrong.
The pope’s views on sexuality are guided by the Bible – a prescriptive holy book that nobody is required to believe or obey. The pope, and the church in general, argue that it is much better, and healthier, for people and for societies to follow the teachings of the Scripture. The pope has personally decried what he has called, “the dictatorship of relativism,” and has argued that certain truths about what is best for humans are unchanging.
But that is what it is – an argument. It is not a law. Nobody gets fined or tossed in jail for failure to follow it. Again, there is no state church.
For those who think the pope is so awful, what’s the big deal if he tells you that you’ll go to Hell if you don’t believe or behave a certain way? What’s to fear from somebody you don’t respect? Do you really think the pope has any more personal control over your afterlife than whether you might get hit by a truck next week?
Perhaps, if you are fearful or uncomfortable, you have reason to be so.
Finally there is the charge that the church is run by old (mostly white) men.
True enough. But if you inserted “young, black women” into the same sentence, you’d be accused of bias, bigotry and discrimination.
I hope that those making that complaint are prepared to be dismissed when they grow old. By their reckoning, at about the time they think they’ve figured out a few things about life, they should be told that their opinion is worthless.
The reverse is true. Age brings limits – that is why the pope is resigning – but just because one no longer has supple skin, can’t run like an athlete or dance with the stars does not mean he has nothing to offer.
Age brings experience, and experience generally brings a level of wisdom that is worthy of a respectful hearing.
Pope Benedict deserved that much. The fact that he didn’t get it from far too many is a much sadder commentary on his critics than on him.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org