The reaction by many religious progressives to the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI has been tempered by either their faith to keep hope alive or by an apologetic acceptance in deference to Pope John Paul II.
However, if the world was looking for a humble religious leader who embraces all of humanity by engaging in the world — as it is today — from an involved and committed stance in light of a faith that does justice, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is not that person.
Frankly, Ratzinger is the quintessential antithesis of a peacemaker.
His venomous attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people have been unrelenting. And when it comes to LGBTQ people, Ratzinger doesn’t equivocate his stance with the theological qualifier to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Instead, Ratzinger takes his commentary to a level that invites gay-bashing justified in the name of God.
“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is more or less a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,” Cardinal Ratzinger stated in a 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.
[I]f the world was looking for a humble religious leader who embraces all of humanity by engaging in the world — as it is today — from an involved and committed stance in light of a faith that does justice, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is not that person.
On the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith website, directed by Ratzinger, he wrote: “Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
Ratzinger believes that evil is born into a person and that it is part of their ontological makeup; therefore, when you remove the bad seed, you ostensibly remove the evil. And many religious conservatives feel that since you cannot remove LGBTQ people from society, then society must either restrain or deny them their civil rights.
One clear way to do that is to call that group of people “evil” or state that they contribute to, if not create, evil in the world.
St. Augustine argued that evil arose from the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. And St. Thomas Aquinas said that evil derives from man’s abuse of God giving us the choice of free will. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated that evil was not an intrinsic nature found in man, but instead it was caused by the corruption and constraints of a society.
Therefore, evil exists in its various machinations because of systems, regimes, presidencies, and, yes, the Vatican, which allow it to give birth unchecked. As a system whose wheels churn on the absence of goodness, evil reduces people to objects of sin and targets of hatred, thus denying them their basic human needs. And its strength to maintain human suffering is proportionate not only to its political and capital clout, but also to the strength of its religious ideological underpinning.
[E]vil exists in its various machinations because of systems, regimes, presidencies, and, yes, the Vatican, which allow it to give birth unchecked. . . And its strength to maintain human suffering is proportionate not only to its political and capital clout, but also to the strength of its religious ideological underpinning.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, noted:
As a long-time Catholic from a staunchly Catholic family, I know that the history of the church is full of shameful, centuries-long chapters involving vilification, persecution, and violence against others. Someday, the church will apologize to gay people as it has to others it has oppressed in the past. I very much doubt that this day will come during this Pope’s reign. In fact, it seems inevitable that this Pope will cause even more pain and give his successor even more for which to seek atonement.
The problem with evil is not only how it diminishes human life, but also how it denies the suffering it causes. And because it denies the suffering it exacts on people’s lives, Ratzinger knows firsthand how an ideology of evil works.
As a mandatory requirement after high school, Ratzinger was a Hitler Youth in the Nazi Party from 1941 to 1942. While no one blames Ratzinger for the evil time he grew up in, some do question how strong was his faith then and how objectionable was it for him to be a Hitler Youth.
Olaf Blaschke, a specialist on modern church history from Germany’s University of Trier, told The New York Times, “Everybody was in the Hitler Youth. [But] some very strong Catholics didn’t go to the Hitler youths, that’s true.” The Times also reported, “As archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Ratzinger said very little about the war or the Jews, and he does not seem to have uttered ringing public denunciations of anti-Semitism.”
However, the indoctrination Ratzinger received as a Hitler Youth shaped not only his authoritarian and “Rottweiler” persona on church doctrine, but also his strong iron-willed determination to maintain an ecclesiastical hierarchy that subjugates LBGTQ people and all women.
His selection as pope maintains the hegemony of European Catholicism that is not only racist down to the color of its smoke bellowing from the Sistine Chapel — whereby black smoke denotes no decision of a pope has been made (black = bad) and white smoke denoting that a pope has been chosen (white = good).
His selection as pope maintains the hegemony of European Catholicism that is not only racist down to the color of its smoke bellowing from the Sistine Chapel — whereby black smoke denotes no decision of a pope has been made (black = bad) and white smoke denoting that a pope has been chosen (white = good). But European Catholicism is also racist in how it turns a blind eye to the needed race and class analyses in order to understand and minister to Catholics in the Third World.
The numbers of priests and nuns, as well as the levels of church attendance, have fallen in Europe and North America. Where Catholicism is flourishing is in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
However, Ratzinger suppressed the growth of liberation theologies in Third World countries for their supposedly Marxist leanings that exposed classism. However, liberation theologies combined Christian theology with political activism on issues dealing with human rights and social justice. Liberation theologies emphasize the biblical themes that God’s actions on behalf of the enslaved, the poor, the outcasts like women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are a central paradigm for a faith that embraces all of humanity by looking and engaging in the world — as it is today — from an involved and committed stance that does justice.
It is liberation theologies that have given women, people of color and queers a voice. It is liberation theologies that allow us all — churched and unchurched, believer as well as atheist — to stand in the truth of who we are.
However, with Ratzinger as pope, not only will our voices not be heard, but our presence may very well be exterminated.