The Sunday London Times Online described Ratzinger as someone "whose strong defence of Catholic orthodoxy has earned him a variety of sobriquets ? including 'the enforcer', 'the panzer cardinal' and 'God's rottweiler'"(1). Indeed, John Paul II had made Ratzinger head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the 'modern' version of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. His job in this position was "chief interpreter of the Vatican's official policy" (UK Indymedia), that is, to enforce doctrine. Basically, a cop job. In 1984, he "issued a critique of liberation theology" (Bill Doskoch blog) at the behest of JPII, who disapproved of the movement's growth in Latin America. |
In Latin America in the 60's through the early 90's, bishops and priests of the Liberation Theology stripe were active in organizing communities of the poor, in criticizing the (US-sponsored) regimes of their countries, and calling out Capitalism for being immoral and unjust. The movement was so strong that some were killed, among them nuns and Jesuit priests. The most famour martyr of this period is Archbishop Romero, who was killed by a School of the Americas-trained assasin in 1980. One famous quotation from Romero: "When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises."
That people made the ultimate personal sacrifice -- death -- for doing good work in the world as inspired by their religious beliefs, and that their Church then rejected them, is tragic. That this rejection made (and makes) other Liberation Theologians even more vulnerable is criminal. Ratzinger was central to the official rejection, and so is -- in my mind anyway -- partially responsible for the deaths that happened after the 1984 statement. Here is a criticism of Ratzinger that is based not on anti-Christian bias but on a simple sense of justice that we can all comprehend, regardless of our religious beliefs.
Ratzinger was also "the first church leader to rebuke Father [Hans] Kung publicly for increasingly liberal writings, and Father Kung was eventually banned from teaching at Catholic universities." (In Search of Lost Time) Hans Kung (6) is a liberal Catholic theologian whose questioning of Papal Infalibillity led to an official rebuke from the Vatican. I grew up in a Catholic household where one of Kung's books was on the shelf; Kung was rejected by the Pope, but not by all Catholics.
No discussion of Ratzinger is complete without mentioning his Nazi past. Here is what the Sunday London Times Online has to say:
In 1937 Ratzinger's father retired and the family moved to Traunstein, a staunchly Catholic town in Bavaria close to the F?hrer's mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden. He joined the Hitler Youth aged 14, shortly after membership was made compulsory in 1941. Now, the London Times is corporate media, so we should take it with a grain of salt, obviously. But I will put forward that I can understand how someone living in a fascist dictatorship would end up doing things they don't want to do. His joining of Hitler Youth, for example, is understandable since it was compulsory. He did desert the army, a year before the end of the war. Here in the U.S., we don't know what it was like to live in Germany then, under such a despotic government. Certainly, we are moving that way here now and should pay attention. But until things get that bad here and we are able to pass the test and do no wrong ourselves, we should be careful in judging those who took the wrong path in previous times. That is to say, Ratzinger's crimes in WWII (joining the military at all, not taking action to stop the carting away of Jews, etc.) could be considered forgiveable in retrospect if his actions since have been marked by the opposite -- by doing the right thing. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. In Church language, he hasn't yet "done penance" for those sins because he hasn't cleaned up his act enough since then.
He quickly won a dispensation on account of his training at a seminary. "Ratzinger was only briefly a member of the Hitler Youth and not an enthusiastic one," concluded John Allen, his biographer.
Two years later Ratzinger was enrolled in an anti-aircraft unit that protected a BMW factory making aircraft engines. The workforce included slaves from Dachau concentration camp.
Ratzinger has insisted he never took part in combat or fired a shot ? adding that his gun was not even loaded ? because of a badly infected finger. He was sent to Hungary, where he set up tank traps and saw Jews being herded to death camps. He deserted in April 1944 and spent a few weeks in a prisoner of war camp.
He has since said that although he was opposed to the Nazi regime, any open resistance would have been futile...
To me, it is worse that Ratzinger made the choice to denounce Liberation Theology in Latin America at a time when he was no longer living under a dictatorship and could make his own decisions as an adult. That's where he has blood on his hands.
All this is without even touching on Ratzinger's membership in Opus Dei, which is described in Wikipedia as "a secretive, authoritarian organization or even a cult and have highlighted its links to right-wing and fascistic organizations worldwide. It is also controversial for its practices of mortification of the flesh." I expect more information about that organization and Ratzinger's connections to it will be posted to this site.
More background, in this critique of Mother Teresa: "The Mother of All Myths" Chapter 10: The Politics of Mother Teresa