Monday, March 4, 2013

Thank You and Good Night: The Pope no longer exists, although only as Pope: one Catholic's perspective

Those were Pope Benedict's concluding words in his final address to the people. (Wasn't that also a title to a 90's documentary about aging?)  The former Pope may have spoken the words in either German or Italian, though, lessening any significance of any connection to the entertainment industry.  I certainly hope a screenwriter did not author the former Pope's final message to the faithful, nor that the former Pope consciously plagiarized Jan Oxenberg.

I was not among the faithful to make the pilgrimage to the Vatican City for obvious reasons. For one thing, I'm not even allowed to attend class in person. I doubt my professors would be happy to learn that I was skyping classes from a third of the way around the world. For another matter, though I consider myself a believer, I'm not that faithful.  I can see the speech or read about it on the Internet. I don't need to be physically present and in the moment to grasp the significance or the historicity of the event..

In a sense, despite the flagrant break from tradition in a pope resigning rather than waiting for the Grim Reaper to make that resignation for him,  there's something altogether  fitting and proper (words borrowed out of context from Abraham Lincoln) for an eighty-five year-old man to retire because he's no longer physically or mentally capable of keeping up with the rigors of  a demanding job. The LDS church would be wise to take  note of Pope Benedict's resignation, retirement, or whatever one would care to call it.  If a church wishes not to be seen as being run by a figurehead, at some point a man needs to know when his limitations have been maximized and would do well for both himself and his church to bow out gracefully.

On the other hand, I'm not entirely convinced this was a case of  anyone bowing out gracefully. The Roman Catholic church has been plagued with scandal since long before the onset of Pope Benedict's reign. (At one point, supposedly a person killed the Pope, dressed himself in the papal vestments, and lived out the remainder of his natural life as Pope; then agai, maybe this is an urban legend.)  Much of the recent controversy has involved sexual impropriety between clergy and minors and the ensuing cover-up. Lately  finances -- perhaps connected to the sexual impropriety or perhaps not -- have been at the forefront. Investigation at the request of Pope Benedict  by three cardinals has taken place, resulting in a roughly 300-page dossier.  Additionally, various leaks about matters such as a Velvet Mafia (essentially homosexual in orientation and in nature of activity) and about blackmail concerning both the Velvet Mafia and financial impropriety  from inside sources have been made to the public in general and, specifically, to those authoring books on the topic.

No public accusations thus far made have implicated Pope Benedict of  guilt of  anything  more serious than the inability to put a stop to the corruption that has been alleged. [Much has yet to be disclosed, though.]  Nonetheless,  I never bought hook, line, and sinker into Pope Benedict's papacy, both for his religious conservatism and for reasons related to his rather severe health issues. Early in his ecclesiastical career, he had been seen as something of a reformist who downplayed the centrality of the papacy. Gradual developments led him to a staunchly conservative position.

Named Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger at birth, Cardinal Ratzinger had requested at the age of seventy (there is no maximum age of retirement for cardinals,but seventy is the minimum barring highly unusual health circumstances) to retire from his position as cardinal in order to focus on his writings without the day-to-day hassles inevitable in the life of a cardinal. He had blood pressure and heart problems.  He was implanted with an artificial pacemaker. He suffered strokes in his official reign as pope. People with less grave health issues have succumbed to the Grim Reaper under less harsh conditions.

The Ratzinger family, and in particular Pope Benedict's father,  was extremely hostile toward the Nazi party.  The future pope's cousin, who was born with Down Syndrome, had been taken and killed by the Nazi forces under the auspices of the Nazi eugenics movement, an action entirely unnecessary for the purposes of eugenics, as males with Down Syndrome are sterile and therefore incapable of passing any defective traits along to future generations. Though the Ratzinger family's deploration of the Nazi party predated the killing of the disabled cousin,  the action likely heightened the family's feelings of animosity toward the Nazi party and toward Adolf  Hitler in particular.

Pope Benedict was conscripted at the age of fourteen, as mandated by law, into the Hitler Youth movement, but was, by all accounts, a reluctant and unenthusiastic  member who refused to attend meetings. At the age of sixteen, after having entered seminary, Joesph Ratzinger was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps, and later trained in the German infantry. As Allied forces neared his military station, he deserted the German Army and returned to his family's home. Meanwhile, American troops had set up military operations in the Ratzinger family home.  He was incarcerated in a prisoner of War camp because of having been a German soldier, but was released shortly. He reentered seminary shortly thereafter.

Would Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, have done the world any great favors by refusing his conscription into the Nazi Youth Movement or  dodging his draft into the German Army, thereby forfeiting his liberty and possibly his life? Noble as such an action might have appeared, who would have benefited by such actions? No evidence exists that he directly or indirectly interfered with the well-being of any prisoners captured by the German Army. (I suspect it's safe to assume the Catholic Church did at least as thorough a job of vetting potential cardinal candidates, much less those in line for the papacy, as did the Republican party in the 2008 vetting of potential vice-presidential nominees.)  Any disagreements I have with the former pope ( former as of 8:00 p.m. in whatever time zone he was when he made his official announcement),  would pertain to his stances on birth control, homosexuality, and related issues, but not with his mandatory participation in Hitler's regime. 

Were health reasons the real impetus to Pope Benedict's resignation?  While he had more than his share of health concerns, neither am I convinced that those in the upper echelons of leadership of the Catholic Church had sufficiently cleans hands for me to believe in the impossibility of something scandalous or corrupt contributing to the resignation of Pope Benedict. Whether he personally knew more of the molestations and remained complicit, or whether he was more aware of financial improprieties than he and his supporters would like us to believe, conspiracy theories abound, and few are entirely beyond feasibility.

Emeritus Pope Benedict, as he has chosen to be referred, will spend the next few months in a villa typically used by the active Pope in summer months. (If this stay extends into actual summer months, the new future Pope will presumably have to rough it out in his rest-of-the-year Vatican digs.) During this interval, a building that formerly housed nuns is undergoing renovation for Emeritus Pope Benedict; he will presumably spend his final days there. Pardon me as I momentarily engage in a round of venial sin with the violation of  Matthew 7:1-2  [1. Stop judging,  that you may not be judged 2.For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which measure will be meted out to you.]   While I wouldn't expect or wish for Emeritus Pope Benedict to live out his remaining days in  a prison cellblock or even a college dorm room, it seems a little inconsistent with vows of poverty  he would have taken at the time of his initial ordination to need an entire convent to be renovated for his comfort.  Pardon my ignorance if I've missed something,  as God and everyone else knows I certainly am not the Biebtard equivalent of all that is Popedom,  but I'm unaware of any vows popes take upon becoming Pope that negate their earlier vows of poverty.  A modest dwelling, whether in the Vatican City or elsewhere, might have been more in keeping with vows of poverty. This situation is virtually without precedence, so expectations  are being made up as we proceed, and I doubt any reasonable person  seriously expects Emeritus Pope Benedict to  make his way to Chile and bargain his way into a hut in the side of a hill squarely in the epicenter of earthquake territory, but a home somewhere along the lines of the one my parents own would have done very nicely for him, and as he lives essentially as single-member family,  there would have been ample bedrooms for the few live-in servants he should require in his retirement. Furthermore, those of us who contribute to his support could have done so less grudgingly, knowing he wasn't living so much "higher on the hog" than are those of us financing his lifestyle. (It's a choice to contribute, I know, so I need not  play the martyr card with such virtuosity.)

In spite of it all, I commend Emeritus Pope Benedict, who chose to give up the power before his mind and body ceased to function. The Mormons'  selection process of their highest leader depends even more strongly than that of the Catholics' on seniority, and hence age. We can hope for the Mormons'  own benefit and for that of those of us who live in states where the Mormons choose to financially back legislation that affects our friends and relatives, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as did at least one Catholic,  eventually reaches the realization/revelation that gerontocracy is no way to run a religion.


                                           The three men I admire the most, 
                                           The Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
                                           All caught the last train for the coast
                                           The day the music died.
                                                                           -- Don McLean



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