He spent many years as Pope John Paul II’s enforcer–the head of the Congregation Of The Doctine Of The Faith, the part of the Vatican that sniffs out apostates, disbelievers and heretics. He gave a rousing speech immediately before the Cardinals gathered to elect a new Pope on the evils of modern society’s tendency toward moral relativism (damn kids these days think that judging people is wrong, but some things are just not right dammit!) His first policy since being elected Pope is to try to root gays out of seminaries in America. He is, of course, Pope Benedict XXVI, or as I refer to him–Mad Benny.
I was born and raised an Episcopalian, but I have never been a devout churchgoer. My wife’s family is all Catholic, so if I go to any services they tend to be Catholic masses. My nuclear family has all passed away, so my in-laws are my family. They emigrated from Poland and were inspired by John Paul II. The Catholic Church kept the idea of a Polish nation alive and the Pope’s inspiration helped free millions of people from oppression. (I know, it wasn’t the same in Latin America and I’ve never understood the anti-condom thing.) This was enough to get me thinking I was a Catholic by proxy.
Mad Benny changed all that. I note to people now that I am an Episcopalian and that our church not only tolerates gays, we make them Bishops. (At least for now–we’re kind of upset about the whole thing. Many congregations have stormed out of the living room and slammed their bedroom doors behind them. But we’re WASP’s. We don’t really talk about those things. Everything’s fine. . .really.)
But now Mad Benny has thrown us a curve ball. His first major theological statement is his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”) One part “All You Need Is Love” and one part, government and politics isn’t in our job description. The encyclical is readable–well written and only about seventy pages, but I didn’t make it all the way through (American Idol was on, and I had to clean the bathroom and there’s this report due at work. . .)
God is love, there are other valid religions, work out your politics for yourself (just keep in mid a few of our teachings)–sounds like the kind of squishy thinking he’s been railing about for awhile. Sounds suspicious–Mad Benny was the guy who got the American Bishops to stop coddling pederast priests long enough to tell their parishioners that John Kerry wasn’t moral enough to be President.
However, this encyclical touches at the problems I have with both Catholicism and organized religion. 1) As an American, my first response to most people telling me what to do is “Who died and made you Pope?” 2) Why do religions fight so much over silly doctrines and who’s the one true way? Why can’t there be a multiplicity of ways? So Mad Benny is keeping the Catholics in play for me. . .at least for the moment.