Thursday, February 14, 2013

Benedict … Arnold?

Benedict Arnold is famous in US History for originally fighting for the American Continental Army but defecting later to the British Army.  Pope Benedict’s announcement of his “retirement” puts him squarely in line with flip flopping.  Worse still has been the media – and the public’s seeming acceptance of the publicist driven story from the Vatican.
Pope John Paul II and John Ratzinger, his loyal lieutenant whose role was to enforce Catholic dogma – rewrote the rules and procedures for selecting future popes.  These new rules, had they been in place in 1979 would have never allowed John Paul II to ascend.  These rules permitted the enforcer to become the next Pope.  To claim that Ratzinger never wanted to be Pope is simply inconsistent with the reporting at the time that had plenty of coverage of the backstage maneuvering that allowed the unpopular Ratzinger to become Pope.  Why the same correspondents can’t even recall, let alone refer to their own reporting is further evidence of the decline of serious journalism.
I do not agree with many of the dogmatic interpretations that the Catholic Church has on issues of women and sexuality.  (My preferred liturgical tradition is Anglo-Catholic and I attend services weekly, so I’m not anti-religion or anti-Catholic.)  The Catholic Church’s participation and handling of the various scandals has been nothing less than appalling.  The sexual abuse issues predate the current Pope and while he’s made a number of efforts towards reconciliation, it’s been woefully inadequate. 
Pope Benedict is one of the foremost experts in the world on that interpretation and the consistency with which the Catholic Church should apply them.  It’s not like a Democratic or Republic convention where people get to vote on various social issues – the positions the Church take have a long history.  Others far more adept on this issue than I can (and do) argue effectively about how those positions should change and are supported theologically.
A fundamental value – and indeed a core principal of the Catholic Church is that there is one Pope through which God works (and he’s infallible).  It’s a lifetime gig.  You’re called by God and you serve until He takes you away.  Popes can be traced back through time to the Apostles – it is one of the most sacred and important rites that the Church has. You don’t just walk away from it because you’re tired.  And you certainly don’t just walk away from it if you’ve spent your entire life trying to convince the flock to stay true to the core principals of the Church. 
The spin-meisters say that the resignation proves strength…when in fact it shows deep and troubling hypocrisy.  The media coverage has taken the ‘reason’ for the resignation at face value.  This was a man who was supposed to be a transitional figure – between his friend John Paul II and the next generation. When John Paul II was dying of Parkinson’s – the world waited, watched and prayed for years.  All of a sudden the Pope can’t serve?
The truth lies somewhere between a Dan Brown novel of Vatican intrigue and the publicists spin.  I’m confident the next Pope will not change dogma – but will be more media savvy and a better fiscal manager.  This fundamental betrayal of Pope Benedict’s lifelong work is a faith-challenging turn of events.  My own faith in the media’s ability to take information and decipher it rather than regurgitate it diminishes even faster.

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