Benedict XVI is our new Pope.
Well, he’s not our Pope, in the same sense that he is the Papal leader of a billion Catholics; but he’s the one we’ll be influenced by, however indirectly, and for however long he’s able to stay alive–an uncertain time for all of us.
When speaking on matters of faith, he is said to be infallible, which doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong. It simply means that he holds all the ecclesiastical cards. He’s the boss. The enforcer. Those who disagree have to be quiet, especially with this particular man. He won’t tolerate the dissident voices within the Church.
To most American and European Catholics he’s wrong about birth control and other issues with which they disagree. Most of those who disagree with his opinions will remain in the Church. Some will leave. Some who may have entered the priesthood will decide against it, because they don’t want to follow this leader. Some voices will be silenced. Some simply reprimanded.
It’s a little unnerving, however. He’s cut from the same cloth as some political leaders in our own nation—a President who is willing to impose his personal religious ideas on the rest of us; members of Congress, like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, who see no need to respect a woman’s right to decide to carry an unplanned or life-threatening pregnancy to term, and so forth.
I say unnerving. I could have said scary. But I refuse to be afraid of them. I have enough confidence in the people of this nation—just barely enough—to believe that their tactics are being seen for what they are, and they will backfire.
The Pope says that all religions except Roman Catholicism are deficient. Defective. Wrong.
If you are the supreme ruler of a billion followers, you’re entitled to hold that view. If you are the President, Senator or Congressman in a free and democratic country, you’re not entitled to that view. We don’t grant infallibility to our elected servants, even if they sometimes forget they are there to serve all the people, whether they happen to hold your personal religious beliefs or not.
Some Catholic clergy denied communion to John Kerry, effectively ex-communicating him for his publicly stated views on a woman’s right to choose. Some of us remember the concern that was expressed regarding the possible election of John F. Kennedy, a Catholic. Some said he would be dictated to by the infallible Pope, or others in the hierarchy. They were wrong.
But times have changed. The political stadium in our country has been systematically invaded by politicians on the religious right. They’re trying to turn it into a tent revival meeting. It’s a reckless venture. We see what they’re doing and our voices will be heard. There’s a growing concern among peoples of all faiths in this country, a concern that cuts across all the religious lines. I believe this shared concern will unite us, and their effort to divide us will fail.
Maybe the elevation of the new Pope will remind us of the difference between a religious dictatorship and a secular democracy. We share faith in that outcome.