Good Pope, Bad Pope

The Hatred of Benedict and Francis, Measured in Books

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In his brief time as Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger dressed ostentatiously. He wore fancy red shoes and golden robes and otherwise aspired to resemble a monarch from a time before democracy. His wardrobe was a "fuck you" to millions of poor Catholics around the world who revered him, and yet his daring fashion may be his most admirable quality.

Framed as a biography of Ratzinger, Daniel Gawthrop's The Trial of Pope Benedict lists the erstwhile pope's multitude of faults with passion and conviction. Besides the more commonly known complaints about Ratzinger's public ambivalence about the Catholic Church's pedophilia problem (and his behind-the-scenes work to cover up the scandal), he also loathed the forward-thinking changes brought to the church after the Vatican II conference of the mid-1960s, and his very public snubs of Islam during a visit to Turkey may have been an attempt to incite religious violence.

Gawthrop's understanding of Ratzinger's biography and writings allow him to make some assumptions about the man's character that are, at the very least, fun to entertain. (Of the Turkish visit, Gawthrop theorizes that Ratzinger appreciates Islam's conservatism: "It's quite possible that Ratzinger was coming out of the closet here as a moderate Islamophile, a Catholic suffering the ecclesial equivalent of that old Freudian canard, penis envy.") While the book's framing sequence, which imagines Ratzinger on trial at the Hague, is a step too far toward the dramatic, the rest of The Trial is an informative and damning account of a hateful mind that ascended to the global stage.

Ratzinger's successor is making a splash on bookshelves, too. Quickly translated into English and published in the United States in those heady days immediately after Pope Francis was confirmed, On Heaven and Earth is a pleasure to read. The book, originally published in Argentina in 1995, is a dialogue between then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka about faith, other religions, fundamentalism, and guilt. It's a conversation between two men of great intellect and great faith.

While at certain points some readers will part ways with Bergoglio, there are plenty of human revelations that will charm anyone with a pulse. Bergoglio admits that as a young seminarian, he nearly gave up his calling after becoming "enchanted by a young woman at my uncle's wedding." It's a refreshingly un-Benedict-like admission of humanity, but ultimately it's to illustrate his affirmation that celibacy is important for priests. (In the same paragraph where he admits celibacy didn't become a clerical law until 1100, Bergoglio affirms: "Tradition has weight and validity. Catholic priests chose celibacy little by little.")

Just when you start to believe that Bergoglio will make a wholly different kind of pope than Benedict—he's practically a different species—you come to the more bruising passages. Near the end, his opinions on gay marriage spring not from his typical amiable thoughtfulness, but from pure-cut bigotry. Bergoglio fumbles toward the sciences to make his case, calling gay marriage "anthropologic regression," and saying that while he doesn't hate gay people, "every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity." After so many decent statements delivered throughout On Heaven and Earth, this Ratzingerian retreat from logic and from love is more than just uncomfortable—it's disappointing. recommended


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I am sick and tired of the "Good Pope Bad Pope" rubbish of the Gawthrop sort that has been propagated -- in the worst possible taste, after Pope Benedict retired. Pope Francis has different gifts, and, I am sure, the passionate pope-bashers will eventually find his shortcomings as well, probably also after he has retired or died. With the slightest inclination to truthfulness as well as decency, it would be more appropriate to dwell on Benedict's introverted personality, modesty and humility, reverence for tradition and outstanding scholarship, which is at least as important for the Church as Francis' jovial popularity and genuine pastoral concern. It is absolutely repulsive to keep kicking an honest and humble man who has already resigned, perhaps partly in recognition of the fact that additional gifts to his own were required for the changing challenges of the day. To be commenting on his shoes, for crying out loud, is idiotic and infantile. There are more important things to judge a man by.

Ernest Skublics
Posted by Ernest on June 26, 2013 at 9:04 PM · Report this
@1 Well, we both agree that Benedict's retirement was the correct decision.

If you're looking for Francis' faults, you're not going to have to wait very long. (Hint: Read the last paragraph of the article.)
Posted by Ruke on July 1, 2013 at 4:41 PM · Report this
We want ENTERTAINMENT news, not your ideas about religions that hate you because you are a faggot. Whine whine whine and fucking whine some more.
Posted by razer on July 1, 2013 at 6:35 PM · Report this
@1, People (even popes) who collude and collaborate with child rapists do not deserve the dignified retirement you want for him. Crucify him (figuratively).
Posted by ohthetrees on July 1, 2013 at 6:37 PM · Report this
Let's be realistic here: the Catholic Church will not tolerate any priest or bishop who endorses same-sex marriage (or married priests or female priests, etc.). Such a man would never become pope. The rest of the College of Cardinals would never go along with it.

So setting the hot-button social issues aside, let's look at what we have here.

We have an apparently genuinely humble man, who is very concerned with reforming the Church and dragging the Curia kicking and screaming out of the 16th century, and who displays real and genuine affection for the poor, those who struggle on a daily basis for the basics of life. This is a pope who would rather be washing the feet of incarcerated drug addicts and offering a chance at redemption than sitting in a cushy golden throne at a fancy concert.

Of all the Christians in the media today, this Pope strikes me as the one who is working hardest to be Christ-like himself.

Perhaps he does harbour some hatred of gays and lesbians in his heart. Who knows? But my impression is that he would like to be as welcoming as he can, within the parameters he's got to work with.
Posted by Corydon on July 2, 2013 at 2:14 AM · Report this

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