Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Pope Benedict XVI’s Perplexing Logic [Political Affairs Archives}
By Thomas Riggins

What can progressives expect from the new pope? Not much I’m afraid. The New York Times ran an article on Sunday (4/24/05), "Turbulence on Campus in 60’s Hardened Views of Future Pope," which gives those of us who are not seasoned Vatican watchers some glimpse of how the former head of the Inquisition (previous name for the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith) thinks.

The article reveals some perplexing logical jumps in the reasoning of the pope while he was still just Joseph Ratzinger. He was supposedly a moderate liberal until he encountered feisty student protesters at Tubingin University.

We know what caused the protests. Students wanted more democratic control of the campus, plus they were against the Vietnam War and US bases in Germany. In other words they were demanding peace and freedom. This reminded Ratzinger (a former member of the Hitler Youth) of the Nazis despite the fact that "peace and freedom" was not a slogan usually associated with Hitler and the Nazis.

He didn’t really like the Nazis the article says. He grew up in Bavaria, a very Catholic area in Germany and also home to the Nazi Party. These were the good old days when being a German Catholic and anti-Semetic were almost coterminous. Having seen the local Catholic population going nuts for Hitler he "became convinced that the moral authority based in Catholic teachings was the sole reliable bulwark against human barbarism." Well, Catholic moral teachings had been around in Bavaria for a long time – so where did all these Nazis come from? Catholic moral teachings, and Protestant as well, did not seem to be much of a bulwark.

Nevertheless, Ratzinger’s "deep reading" of history, philosophy and theology allowed him to connect student peaceniks with the Nazis. He decided the way to fight the student movement that he saw as "an echo of the Nazi totalitarianism" (which he "loathed") was to insist upon "unquestioned obedience" to Rome (i.e., the Pope). That’s right folks – the way to fight Nazi totalitarianism was with Papal totalitarianism. It seems to me that the Nazis also had a leader what advocated "unquestioned obedience." You might think that the young Ratzinger, with all his deep reading, would have concluded that "unquestioned obedience" was probably not a good idea, but you would be wrong.

He was tipped off that there were big problems in the Church by his experiences in Vatican Two (the council called by John XXIII in the 60’s). The article quotes his autobiography: "Very clearly, resentment was growing against Rome and against the Curia, which appeared to be the real enemy of everything that was new and progressive." Well, he was certainly right about that!

He became "deeply troubled" by "the idea of an ecclesiastical sovereignty of the people in which the people itself determined what it wants to understand by church." What a shocking notion. The people must be protected from itself by "unquestioning obedience" to the leader. I wonder where he got those ideas from?

To top off what he saw at Vatican Two, he then had to put up with those over zealous student demonstrations on his college campus.

"Marxist revolution kindled the whole university with its fervor, shaking it to its very foundations." Good! That just what it needed. Nevertheless, the notion that a Marxist "revolution" had broken out in Tubingen is a bit of a stretch. He should have to moved to Paris in ‘68!

Ratzinger fled to Regensburg University where he was remembered by Gustav Obermair, the university president: "People of his age and background [the Hitler youth?] panicked at the thought that a new, radical, dictatorial and totalitarian regime might come out of the ‘68 uprising. Of course, this was a complete misreading of the ‘68 movement. But that is what they thought."

It doesn’t bode well for the Church that its new leader has a tendency to "completely misread" what is going on about him in society. His ideas are said to have been shaped by St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, and Plato. I don’t think Plato should be blamed for Ratzinger’s ideas. Plato subjected all ideas to the test of argument and debate, maintaining that you had to follow the argument wherever it led. The idea of "unquestioning obedience" would have been anathema to him.

Here is a great argument from Ratzinger – given at an anti-abortion meeting in 1986. "It is force that establishes right and thus, inadvertently for the many, the very bases of any authentic democracy are threatened." If you think this sounds like mumbo jumbo you are correct. In the 1985 "Ratzinger Report" the good cardinal "condemned abortion, contraception, homosexual relations, sex without marriage, ‘radical feminism’ and transsexuality." A real party pooper!

But what are his "reasons." He condemns the above because those ideas and practices, according to him, come about when people unlink sex from motherhood and marriage. This leads to activities that "uncouples man from nature." It seems homosexuality is not natural, nor is sex without marriage, but life long celibacy is ok.

Vaticanistas say he is open-minded: "He is willing to go with the best idea." But this can not be true. "Going with the best idea" is not compatible with "unquestioning obedience." What should be said is that he supports instrumentally those ideas, which further his preconceived prejudices and beliefs.

Ratzinger is quoted as having said, "I have to obey the pope. The pope told me that it is my biggest religious obligation not to have my own opinions." How anyone can have a "deep" understanding of philosophy and say such things is incomprehensible. Now that he is Benedict XVI will he demand that Catholics not have their own opinions? Anyway, how is it even possible not to have your own opinions?

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net.

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