Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A few words for and against the Pope
Looking around Left Blogistan yesterday, I discovered that I was not the only one dismayed over Cardinal Ratzinger's big job promotion. Two points were regularly brought up in the posts. One is that he had been a member of the Hitler Youth and the other is that he had been the head of the Inquisition in its latest incarnation.

Ratzinger's Hitler Youth membership is fairly meaningless by itself. Most young boys in Germany were members. It was required during the last years of the Reich. True, he could have avoided it as some did. But the fact that a 14 year-old failed to commit a criminally punishable act of defying his government during wartime, is not a fair criticism. Millions of perfectly honorable boys signed up as required, went on the hikes, and slept through the indoctrination meetings. If he was an enthusiastic joiner and leader, it might mean something. But I haven’t seen any evidence that he was. So as far as this criticism goes, he is only guilty of being German and growing up at a bad time.

The Inquisition is a different matter. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has gone through many changes over the years since it was the Holy Inquisition. Having been the head of that body does not mean that Benedict will set up a torture chamber in his anteroom and start pitching Jews on the barbeque any time soon. And yet there is plenty to worry about.

As head of the Sacred Congregation for twenty years, Cardinal Ratzinger's job was to enforce purity of doctrine and dogmatic obedience within the church. He is not a friend of change, free thinking, or open dialog. For years he was an opponent of John-Paul's ecumenical outreach. Now he is promising to continue those programs he opposed. Will he really? Can he? Without accusing him of dishonesty, I wonder how changeable he is at his age. I suspect that his ecumenism will be strongly tainted with a Bushian "I'll let you follow me."

I could be wrong and he could surprise us. But I'm not counting on it.

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