THE PAPALMANIA VIRUS (2005)

Now that John Paul II has passed on, and Pope Benedict XVI has been outfitted in ermine robes, a Da Vinci Code decoder ring, and the Melitta coffee filter chapeau, can we have allow ourselves a moment of doubt about the past few months of media-massaged Papalmania? I’m not the only one to have found the ecclesiastical cuddle party a turn-off. It seems most embedded newsproles, who have a habit of genuflecting to power, felt compelled to bow down and blow white smoke up our airwaves.

The ghoulish deathwatch for John Paul II (news divisions were camped out in St. Peter’s for months waiting for him to pop his clogs) was accompanied by the most sententious sermonizing ever displayed in print, television and radio. John Paul II, a figure who ensured the Catholic Church didn’t move with the times (unless the times were somewhere between the reign of Constantine and the War of the Roses), was rouged and puttied with all the embalming arts of revisionism. I recall a number of questionable claims for his stint as “God’s representative on Earth,” including toppling communism in Eastern Europe and Russia. I half-expected posthumous reports that JP2 defeated polio, split the atom, and rolled around the Sea of Tranquility in a lunar Popemobile.

Yes, he opposed the war on Iraq, we’ll give him that. He also opposed condoms and other forms of contraception as being against God’s will, condemning followers in Africa to war, famine, disease and abstention as alternative means of reducing population.

The guiding light behind Pope Paul’s doctrinal rigidity was Cardinal Ratzinger, the Vatican’s chief in-house theologian. So in selecting a hard-liner as JP2’s successor, the Holy See has made its recent historical trajectory clear – though it must be said, installing a former Hitler youth as High Primate is thinking WAY outside the box. Oh yes, I know, I know. The young Ratzinger entered the HY only when it was mandatory, and had no say in being drafted into an antiaircraft division of the German Army. What makes my head spin is that the College of Cardinals saw no public relations difficulties in this choice, when there were presumably other candidates with less problematic CVs.

The Vatican has sent a clear signal that it has no intent to critically examine past abuses within the Church. Quite the opposite. Cardinal Bernard Law has long been the focus of an ongoing scandal surrounding his handling of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal while he was archbishop of Boston. Well, lookee here: the controversial Law officiated at a mass of mourning for JP II at the Vatican. Talk about blowing smoke; what signal does this acrid puff of official endorsement send?

Critics also cite a sexual abuse case from Texas that names the Catholic Church and Ratzinger in a lawsuit. According to an article last week in The Observer, the signature of the former Cardinal is on a document dated from May, 2001, in which the church asserted the right to hold its inquiries “behind closed doors,” and keep any “evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood.”

Ratzinger summed up Peter’s founding tenet that there is the universal church when he declared that the Catholic Church is superior to all other religions. According to an article in the Asia Times, Cardinal Ratzinger called Buddhism “a religion for the self-indulgent.” But then again, when your name is appended with “Panzer,” “Rottweiller” and “the Rock,“ it’s probably because you’re thought more Soprano than Seraphim. Tissa Balasuriya is a Sri Lankan theologian who ran afoul of dogma when he challenged church teachings on original sin, salvation and Mariology. The Asia Times article reports that conservative churchmen in Sri Lanka ganged up with Cardinal Ratzinger, unsuccessfully, to make Balasuriya recant. On the eve of Pope Benedict’s election, the theologian spoke with the BBC. “I can’t accept that my forefathers and their forefathers are not worthy of salvation because they were not baptized. If this is so then the vast majority of people will be excluded from salvation. This can’t be the genuine teaching of Jesus. The Church is out of touch with the realities of the world. It is important to take the Church in the direction that Jesus wanted – the way of love and salvation to all.”

Not so fast, pal.
Aggiornamento (updating the Church) has been sidelined indefinitely, as the Vatican remakes and remodels itself into a rococo time machine, with the controls set for the Counter Reformation. Are observing Catholics up for the ride?

Geoff Olson