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Monday, February 25, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI, the Pin Cushion

The Local Lens

Published• Wed, Feb 20, 2013

By Thom Nickels

News of Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication traveled fast, but it didn’t take the chorus of those who have always called him a "Nazi" to jump in with more insulting one-liners. Suddenly, the field was crowded with anti-pope energizer bunnies spinning round and round with theories and predictions for the future.

In the Philadelphia Daily News, a regular columnist (a self-described fallen away Catholic) took the opportunity to offer herself as a candidate for pope. The sassy column was marked with all the predictable asides: as pope she would rock and roll, ordain women priests, throw out clerical celibacy, and lift a hundred and one other restrictions. From my point of view, a response like this is childish and reminiscent of an old MAD magazine "satire". The thing is, ex-Catholics either need to chill or go out and find good psychotherapists to help them stop spending the rest of their lives obsessing and being bitter about all things Catholic. The Daily News columnist wasn’t the only one to go over the edge. Everywhere you turned, whether on, the Huffington Post, the UK Guardian comment site, or The New York Times, non-Catholics and ex-Catholics threw darts and arrows.

The publisher of Philadelphia Gay News weighed in with a blog on, in effect calling Benedict XVI a "dishonorable pontiff". What is strange here is that the publisher was never an altar boy or a Catholic as far as we know, but in fact seems to take great delight in calling himself "old, queer, and Jewish," all fine things to be sure, but certainly not resume qualifiers when it comes to dabbling in Catholic theology or Church history. In his blog, the publisher arrogantly calls for the Church to reform and get its act together regarding its views on women and nuns. He also mentioned that the Church needs to do something about LGBT discrimination, which would be a good thing, but for me this was too little too late. He had already crossed the line when he stated, "This Pope leaves in disgrace not because of his religion, but because he is the single person in the Vatican who has been personally in charge of the vast Vatican cover up of child abuse for the last decade."

Is that so? Most experts pinpoint an earlier pontificate as doing little or nothing to stem clergy sex abuse, yet these critics never used the word "disgrace" or "disgraced" to describe the pope in charge then. Something like editorial damage control surfaces when the blog goes on to call Catholicism "an honorable religion", a necessary journalistic safeguard to ward off charges of anti-Catholicism. If this blog proves anything it is the continued demise of The Philadelphia Inquirer and world into the murky world of B-grade tabloid journalism.

From another quarter came this comment: "He’s quitting because he’s afraid they’re going to come and get him when they finally see that all the clergy sex abuse cases are his doing." This is what the so-called Latin Tridentine ordained priestess Sinead O’ Connor had to say. Talk about an oxymoronic excursion into Harry Potter-ville! Then there are the people who have been calling this pope a "Nazi" since his election in 2008 because as a young boy, while living under the thumb of his parents (as children do), he was made to join a local branch of the German Boy Scouts which had a connection to the Nazi party. Does this make the pope a Nazi? The answer, I think, is obvious. Name calling is cheap and it does nothing to address real issues. It sort of reminds of some of the comedians of my parents’ era, insult humorists like Don Rickles, when the only way to get a laugh was to come up with clever ways to insult someone.

As a member of an Orthodox Christian parish in Northern Liberties, I still feel very much a part of western Christianity. I know that many other Orthodox do as well. Many Orthodox Christians, in fact, honor the pope of Rome as a leader in a "sister church". With that said, I am a bit mystified when I hear progressive Catholics talk about how Pope Benedict "isn’t as good as John Paul II" because he doesn’t have rock star charisma that makes people want to do jumping jacks. If John Paul II was all style, then Benedict is all substance, books and authorship rather than hand-waving and stage appearances.

One source chalks up the pope’s resignation to an accident he had while traveling in Mexico City last year. According to Turin’s La Stampa newspaper, the pope hit his head on a sink in Leon, Mexico when he got up in the middle of the night. The accident caused him to bleed profusely. The Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper claims that the pope decided to resign soon after the accident. In the same report, La Stampa reveals that Benedict has a pacemaker and underwent a recent operation to replace the pacemaker’s battery. Critics have diabolically twisted this news to posit that it proves that secrecy lives in the Vatican because the Vatican didn’t come out and broadcast this information. They went on to ally this secrecy to twisted theories about clergy sex abuse. But why is the pope under any obligation to tell the world that he fell in a Mexican bathroom and hit his head? And why is the Vatican obligated to confess to the world that the pope got a pacemaker?

Progressive Catholics hope the new pope will be liberal and transform the Church into a "feel good" cafeteria where the Church and the modern world will be as one, while conservatives, like writer Christopher A. Ferrara, maintain that Benedict may have resigned because this means he will "avoid the dubious canonization of John Paul II and the simply absurd beatification of Paul VI."

Wow. Ferrara continues: "The steamroller driving toward those vexatious events, sweeping aside all reasonable objections, has suddenly been stopped dead in its tracks. Did the Pope abdicate, at least in part, to slow down John Paul II’s saint-making machine, which was threatening to canonize the Council of which Benedict himself (in his more candid moments) has been so critical? We may be permitted to think so." In a final wallop, Ferrara states, "At this very moment, the trickle of traditionalist critiques is becoming a torrent of criticism by respectable theologians of the mainstream, as the ‘spirit’ of the Council wanes while its disastrous effects become too obvious to explain away any longer."

People on the street are talking about the papal prophecies of Saint Malachy, which some theologians call a forgery but which others say have been eerily accurate. This prophecy indicates that the next pope, Peter the Roman, will be the last pope. Italian journalist Antonio Socci, whose bestseller The Fourth Secret of Fatima captivated European reading audiences for years, believes that the message of the Virgin Mary at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 revolves around a future pope who will be assassinated.

This is tough stuff, a far cry from the cheap summations of the axe-grinding "Don Rickles" columnists and bloggers.