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New Pope bad news for liberal Catholicism

The selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope is bad news for the liberal currents within global Catholicism. Unless Benedict XVI (as Ratzinger has named himself as Pope) executes a 360 degree turn from his past, those who are developing and practicing so-called "dissident" movements within the Church will find little-to-no traction for official support or recognition from the Vatican.

Especially unsupported, in all likelihood, will be Liberation Theology. This is disappointing, since Liberation Theology is a philosophy that is action-oriented in its advocacy of the poor and its opposition to Capitalism, and which could inspire admiration not only among non-Catholics but even non-Christians (to say nothing of its many Catholic adherents).

Despite the frequent slurs common on this website and within Left circles in general, the world's billion-plus "Christians" cannot be painted with a broad brush as univerally close-minded, conservative, and authoritarian. In the Catholic spectrum, Liberation Theology offers a radical political analysis and prescribes a life based on fundamental change of The System and The Self. Unfortunately, Ratzinger's record reveals his contempt for such concepts.

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.

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...

[emphasis added]

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.

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

You meant a 180-degree turn, yes? 19.Apr.2005 14:28


If you execute a 360-degree turn, you wind up going in the direction you were originally going. A 180 takes you in the opposite direction.

"slurs"? 19.Apr.2005 14:44

who exactly made the Dark Ages dark again?

It's not a "slur" to point out the impacts of specific creed-based organizations on public policy and human lives. The election of the Hitler Youth Pope is a pretty good indication of how relevant "dissident movements" are in the Catholic Church. This institution has hardly been above the use of violence and superstitious fear when it found those things useful.

Today I cry 19.Apr.2005 15:01


Today I cry. For myself, I cry, because it is a major set back to way I want my church to go. For the poor, I cry, for the new pope knows nothing of social justice or poverty, For the world, I cry, for this decision will with out question leave a million more dead. For God, I cry.

get it right 19.Apr.2005 15:12


By the end of the 30's participation in the Hitler Youth was compulsory for all
young boys and girls living in Nazi Germany. This did not mean someone was
a Nazi or would automatically become a member of the Nazi party when they
became an adult. Really, try reading some history.

Terms like "Hitler Youth Pope" and this entire post are not only juvenile
attempts to smear the new pope's character but clearly show the
Catholic-hating bias of the author.

replies 19.Apr.2005 15:48

former Catholic

To "twopintscreamer": uh, yeah, you're right. i meant 180 degrees. thanks!

To "who exactly made the Dark Ages dark again?": No, "It's not a "slur" to point out the impacts of specific creed-based organizations on public policy and human lives." I agree with that. My paragraph was clearly in reference to the billion plus people who self-identify as Christians, not to Christian institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. Think about it this way: Anyone from outside the USA who broadly characterizes all US citizens as pro-Iraq War because the government happens to be, is missing the point that the majority of US citizens now consider it to be a mistake and want out. In much the same way, although the current leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is staunchly anti-birth control, it is widely known that millions of Catholics use birth control anyway. Forest, trees.

And another thing 19.Apr.2005 15:52

former Catholic

I'd like to give a shout-out to "padre" who points out the unfairness of the "Hitler Youth Pope" label. The point of the article I posted here was to point out that there are truly legitimate reasons, from the viewpoint of people seeking justice in the world, to oppose this Pope, and that we need not stoop to slams like that. This Pope is a much worse person for the job because of what he did AFTER he was in Hitler Youth, when he was an autonomous adult who could make his own decisions. That is, calling him "Hitler Youth Pope" distracts attention from his real crimes.

Charming Name 19.Apr.2005 16:08

Den Mark, Vancouver

It's a mark of authoritarianism to cynically play with words. "Benedict", indeed! "Bene-" means good, "-dict" means speak, more or less. Outrageous propagandizing, from the first moment. It really is time for people to shed authority figures & to grow up as a species. Any hope for that?

Anyway, by picking ratzinger, roman hierarchs defined themselves, which is a good thing in one way, for it should make easy for Roman Catholics the decision to stay or to leave. One does NOT need a pope or other daddy figure to lead a spiritual life & find the Creator without & within.

Hitler Youth 19.Apr.2005 16:41


Ratzinger got out of the Hitler Youth movement by age 14. He was forced to join at age 12. How self-possessed and brave he was to have the wisdom and courage to get away from the nazis.

In re: Liberation Theology. That has never been supported by John Paul II. He did what he could to quash liberation theology because of the ways that he and his fellow Poles suffered under Communism. He distrusted Marxism, and anything that had the whiff of Marxism for good reason. John Paul II and the Vatican spoke out forcefully against what he called "the excesses" of capitalism. The former pope, and current pope's views on political and economic systems were that neither of them were totally good or bad except where they put the individual ahead of God. Liberation theology especially in Latin America fell into that "danger zone" and John Paul II did not want the Catholic Church to become synonymous with Marxism.

Don't worry about Pope Benedictus XVI. He has shaped many of the themes of the Vatican for some time, and not much will change with him as pope.

Other aspects of the new Pope's conservatism 19.Apr.2005 16:43

Ken, Manitoba

The new pope is reactionary with respect to issues such as gay marriage; women in the priesthood; abortion, and many other issues beyond liberation theology. While some Catholics no doubt welcome this the net result will probably be a decline in membership. The best that one can hope that as with the last pope he might on occasion speak out forcefully against US foreign policy. Whatever the sins of the last Pope he was steadfast in speaking out against the war in Iraq.

Daddy figure 19.Apr.2005 16:46

c m schaefer

Some people do need a daddy figure, and it's not for others to say whether that's right or wrong. Faith is a personal choice.

What IS important is that as an adult, in a position where his words and deeds could have an effect, he chose silence at times and worse at others, thus dooming people like Romero.

As for names, well, given a choice between a name which means something positive and one that has ick-some conotations, which would you choose? BY THEIR **DEEDS** shall ye know them (if I'm quoting correctly). His adult deeds are at the very least worrisome.

Someone brought up a very good point which is: Painting everyone who call themselves "Christian" with the same (usually negative) brush is not so hot and leads to divisiveness. There are a lot of Christians who are genuinely striving for progressive change.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr comes to mind. Romero is definately another.

The Pope is Dead; Long Live the Pope 19.Apr.2005 17:04


The guy is 78 years old. He'll be dead soon enough & we can all go through this nonsense yet one more time.

Read 19.Apr.2005 17:08

Den Mark

I said that people do not "need" a daddy figure. And it IS for me to say that clinging to a daddy figure is bad. The crowds in Peter's Square today were disgusting, cheering & crying for their daddy. The panoramic scene today into the square from behind "benedict" looked like Berlin, circa 1935. The words of announcement were "Habemus popa" or something. "We have a father." What kind of infantilism is that. It turned my stomach. We are into this new millennium with the same abysmal ignorance which has plagued the species for millennia before. It is time to grow up!

a humanist weighs in 19.Apr.2005 17:46


I don't see the new Pope as a problem. People that are superstitious can believe what they want. Even Catholics. I think the media coverage of this is bizarre though

Mi sadness 19.Apr.2005 17:54

El Hombre de Palo

I mourn for humanity, I mourn for the inevitable suffering of the poor of all nations, I mourn for the vicious moral demise that is galloping toward us....-
Please God allmighty, make my thoughts be wrong.-

With tears: El Hombre de Palo.-

The new, old pope is good! 19.Apr.2005 18:40

martino atheistopholous nimfm@nimfm.org

Electing such a sportsbagtosser is great. It will accelerate the demise of the Vatican, and divide the catholic relgiomongers even further. Good riddance! Bravo Vatican, drink more coca cola!

Nimbin New South Wales 2480, Australia

Habemus photo in nazi uniform - for immediate release, by the illuminati 19.Apr.2005 18:53

Matt Simmons

Habemus photo in nazi uniform - for immediate release, by the illuminati
The "nazi Pope", last planned Pope as "from the glory of the olive"  http://www.godlikeproductions.com/bbs/message.php?message=100000
Habemus photo in nazi uniform - for immediate release, by the illuminati
Habemus photo in nazi uniform - for immediate release, by the illuminati

Clarification of announcment 19.Apr.2005 18:55


Just to be clear, the announcement was "Habemus papam," Latin for "We have a Pope." And I don't remember my high school Latin that well, but I'm fairly certain than "Popa" isn't and declension of the word for "father" anyway.

New Pope is Already Dead and I'm Glad 19.Apr.2005 20:53

why am I not surprised?

who cares what the Catholic Church is / does?

what matters is what BushCo. and the Blood-Oil-Torture-Occupation mob is up to - that's what predominantly influences the welfare of non-First Worlders.

I go along with "Ubu" - the dude's 78 and pretty soon we get the entire shenanigan over again (anyone remember Sept. 1978 . . . ? ;-)

"bad news for liberal Catholicism" - HUH?

yes, there are many hard-core peace & justice activists who may consider themselves nominal 'Catholics' (and I'll be entertained to see what the National Catholic Reporter has to say about The Rat),

but it's time for them to convert, switch denominations/religions or become fully human altogether.

plus it's great fodder for illuminatist/conspiracist psychos like "Matt Simmons" . . .

Pappas 19.Apr.2005 21:47

Den Mark

American Heritage Dictionary, College Edition, states that "pope" derived from "pappas", which means "father". I like it when i'm right, ..... or, rather, left, actually.

haven't you heard? there's two kinds of Americans: 19.Apr.2005 23:52

warmongers and traitors ... coming soon: IRAN

> Anyone from outside the USA who broadly characterizes all
> US citizens as pro-Iraq War because the government happens
> to be, is missing the point that the majority of US citizens
> now consider it to be a mistake and want out.

Gee, I seem to remember that, when it MATTERED, that is, before the war started, the majority of U.S. citizens bought the official government lies about Iraq and the horrible "threat" it posed to puny little us, and they agreed with the official nationalist values that say killing American civilians is evil but killing foreign civilians is so what. That hasn't changed any. The clock is counting down to our upcoming invasion of Iran based on similar lies. The majority of U.S. citizens have a responsibility to skeptically and critically engage the real world, and they're not doing it. The PREPONDERANCE of Americans are pro-war whenever it matters, that is, whenever they're told to be, and that's all those silly foreigners need to know about us. They're right.

more on "habemus papam" 19.Apr.2005 23:55

linguistic nerd

To Matt and Den Mark:

This is more complex that it appears at first. (BTW, an _English_ dictionary is not the place to look for the best explanation of what a Latin word means.)

Check out this article, which I've summarized below:  http://caelestis.info/sauvagenoble/2005/04/pontifex-papa.html

The Latin word for "father" is "pater". In that case it would have to be "habemus patrum" to literally be "we have a father".

But, in Latin the word for "pope" is "pontifex", so "we have a pope" would be "habemus pontificem". "Pontifex" was "originally the title of the chief of the ancient pre-Christian Roman high-priests". (It's an old Catholic tradition to shapeshifting by absorbing the beliefs/traditions of others religions/cultures.)

The Latin "papa" is borrowed from Greek, where it was a child's term for "father"; in English perhaps we'd say "daddy" for the Greek "papa". It's unknown why this happened, since there's already a word for "daddy" in Latin: "tata". (As a side note, words in Latin that end in "a" are almost always of the feminine gender. Strange that both "papa" and "tata" are like that.)

In English we call him the "pope", which indeed comes from the same source. We also use the word "pontiff" with its pre-Christian roots, though, and that has some intrigue.

In any case, "habemus papam" definitely is an expression of a parent/child relationship, and that deserves some examination.

Latin 20.Apr.2005 14:17

YumiChan kitties

"Pontiff" means "bridge" as in, say, the "Pont Neuf" in Paris (French is a romance language), deriving from the Pope's position as an intermediate between the World and the Kingdom of Christ.

Bridge to Rome 20.Apr.2005 23:36

Fr. Spinner

Chairman Bob (of the sub-genius) says, "Get the picture?"
Bridge to Rome
Bridge to Rome

Hey Vancuver and Martino 21.Apr.2005 08:53


First off I would like to say that I am a Catholic Pasifist socialist Anarchist. I can see where vancuver is coming from. But you have to see where I am coming from. THe Pope is not so much the Leader of the church but the spokesman, servant, and posterboy for it. Therefore I am not upset because "I am so sad about my new daddy not being just like me." I upset because what does it tell if someone like this is elected. Questions like how will he serve the poor? What will he spend his time on? How far back will he try and take us? These are questions that have been runing through my mind since "it" happend. And the answers to these questions are what make me cry, and posible also the ones in St. Peters square. As for Martino what the hell is wrong with you. You care more for your own beliefs than you do for the poor and the workers. You need to get your prioritys straight, and if you believe they are straight right now then get in line with the capitalist and all the others who dont give a sh!t about anyone but themselves. For you are just like them.

So freakin what? 21.Apr.2005 10:14

Pope Colby

Some dude in a dress in another country says, "birth control is bad," but does the average Catholic actually go without it? Hell NO, they do what they need to do for their family, if that includes birth control, so be it, it's not like the Pope's in their bedroom listening for the crinkle of a condom wrapper now is he? How many gays have "gone straight" since the Pope said "Gay is bad?" Um, how about ZERO? And hell, JP2 criticized the war in Iraq, but Bush, for all his 'reverence' for the guy, didn't listen to him either.

These people only have as much importance as we give 'em, you know.

As a genuine and authorized Pope of Discordia, I excommunicate Pope "Eggs" Benedict XVI, from here and now, in perpetuity, no backsies!

As you were, Catholics - just carry on like he doesn't exist, just like you always did. You are free if you want to be.

-Pope Colby

systems of patriarchy 22.Apr.2005 12:03

nobody important

Leaders and figureheads don't create movements. Movements create leaders and figureheads.

Benedict XVI, like Bush, is just a symptom of the larger problem. Conservative religious institutions and governments created these goons, not the other way around.

However, all systems of dominance have inherent mechanisms to preserve and perpetuate themselves. The stronger the resistance, the more reactionary and drastic the messures of those "in charge" become.

Thats how we know we got 'em on the ropes. ;-)

der Panzer Pope of the Religious Riech! 22.Apr.2005 12:34

Joe Ratzinger

Thankyou so much for this excellent article, and the debate. There are plenty of former Catholics, recovering Catholics and real-live Catholics who feel sick at this Pope's "election" (not a real election unless you happen to have become a voting Cardinal recently). Here is a Pope who swang the Catholic vote behind Bush, by coming out against Kerry, who is a mysoginist, homophobe, who has covered up child abuse, what a guy! The discussion about whether he WAS a fascist is irrelevant, the important thing is that we discern that is IS a fascist and treat him with the contempt he deserves. There is an excellent collection of resources at "Catholics Against The Pope" that says it is "irreverently blogged by a few of the millions of Catholics who disagree with Pope Benedict XVI on contraception, condoms and HIV/Aids, homosexuality, married priesthood, women priests, and covering up sexual abuse by priests..." - the situation is just so bad you've got to laugh at it:  http://catholicsagainstthepope.blogspot.com

Something on Liberation Theology 02.May.2005 06:46

Grillo N

Some have been said here about LT, and I'd just like to clear up things. Ratzinger, long before becoming Benedictum XVI, issued this document smashing the Liberation Theology movement:
 link to www.vatican.va
Besides, the movement leader in Brasil, Leonardo Boff, was silenced a couple times by official decisions in Vatican. Afterwards, Boff decided to leave the catholic church and keep his work.
By reading the document, we can see how misoriented Ratzinger was (is?) about LT:

1.He starts trying to prove that LT is a marxist movement. Falacy, LT is not a marxist movement. Is it surely left-wing oriented, and does have influence from marxism, as far as equality of opportunities and social inclusion go. But that's it, you can't say an individual or institution belongs to a philosofy or other just because he/it agrees with part of it. But this is emphasised at the beginning of the attack.
2.By wrongly judging LT as marxsist, the document alleges the movement then agrees with and reproduces every single thought and action of marxism. Stupid, most (I mean, MOST) people that belong to a movement or philosofy or so have, at very least, one or another point of question. But this way the document blames LT for everything wrong done by marxists and sucessors, and this makes the unprepared reader ready to the next point.
3.A widely known sucessor of marxism is Stalin, for whose actions the last pope Karol did suffer himself. So the document spreads in criticizing marxism, but using Stalin as a reference. Historical error, because although Staling was the most important guy for "marxism" in century XX, he is far of being a model or a central reference of it. Stalin was a dictator, an emperor, a guy who only wanted power, no matter by which means, and it is at least lack of historical knowledge to blame a man's behaviour exclusively in one philosofy he alleges to follow. The document makes Stalin the unique self-explanatory marxist model.
4.The document fails to observe the important achievements of LT in the sake of social inclusion and so on.
5.The document briefly goes trough the "moral obtuseness" of LT because of their liberal (in the good sense of this word) tendencies.

In few words, Ratzinger, with full support of the former pope, put an end to a catholic organization that was indeed getting some hope to the people in need, with a completely misunderstanding of what the organization really was, using weak comparisons instead. It is said that, in the past few years, the last pope started to realize the mistake, but now I don't see a point of return. With Ratzinger in place, I see less.

There is obviously the moral content of the document, which lightly condemns LT by the liberal behaviour, mainly in their position agains gay and women prejudice and other aspects. Though I don't agree with Ratzinger position in any sense, I see this as catholic business, not mine, so I won't get into that. I just want to restore the truth and discuss the fairness of the catholic church attitude against the liberation theology. I don't want to say what catholics should think or not regarding their own faith.

Hope to have made a contribution.
Best regards,
Grillo N

Bad Pope 11.Jun.2005 14:44

G. Draper

I think it is one of the many great tragedies of our time that Ratzinger was appointed Pope. I have been a very devout Liberal Catholic for a long time. IT has always been difficult to ignore the facism and abuse that is inherent in the church, but now I feel like my heart is breaking because evil men have taken over the Vatican. As a gay, poor, Native American, Liberal Catholic, I feel absolutely no support for or from the Vatican and the office of the Pope. Though I will continue my whole life to fervently seek Christ through the prayers and sacraments of the church, I will never call Ratzinger my pope and I will never contribute a single penny to his filthy name. Burn in hell you Nazi bastard!

Ratzinger the Rotweeler 03.Aug.2005 03:59


Im glad im not a catholic

HA 16.Oct.2005 04:17


The new Pope rocks!

I'm serious