No Honeymoon for Benedict XVI

It seems a shame, really. The man hadn’t been pope for two hours when the lefty blogs went (literally) profane and disgraceful (and – of course – adolescent) and the press was hardlining their memes and caricatures of him.

Benedict XVI, it seems, is a relentless and remorseless hard-ass who takes-no-prisoners and wields a clumsy and undiplomatic sword, cutting a path of hard-hearted destruction no matter where he goes, and he will be a disaster for the church, and oppressor of women, gays, people of girth, people of mirth, people with brains, and people without, little puppies, small furry rodents and children he doesn’t like.

Or, something like that.

I have one thing to say to all of this – to all of the breathless ranting from the left and the grim, woe-is-us prognostications of SOME members of the press. It is this:

Fer cryin’ out loud, CHILL OUT.


Take a pill, take a breather, take a belt of tequila and consider that maybe, just maybe, the same people who thought they knew everything about John XXIII and were wrong, will think they know everything about Benedict XVI, and they will be wrong, again.

Because for all that we humans dig our little heels in and believe our puny intellects and opinions and stereotypes and memes matter, the truth is this: the Holy Spirit has a way of confounding everyone. All the time. And most people – unless they have personality disorders – do not remain stagnant. They have a way of growing into their jobs, their new life-situations, as circumstances arise.

Remember what my son Buster said: There is nothing you can learn that a smack in the face won’t teach you faster.

I have said several times, and do believe it in my heart, that Ratzinger had such a moment during John Paul the Great’s funeral, when the crowd’s passion and energy spoke to the College of Cardinals. I think it was a smack for the whole College, but Ratzinger’s face was especially poignant and it has remained in my head.

And now, the liberals who are beside themselves have had their own sort of smack in the face. They have been told in no uncertain terms that – for now, and the foreseeable future – their desire to bring the theory of de-construction further into the church, has been stymied.

I don’t know what they actually expected. It has always seemed very odd to me that people would think the Catholic church will suddenly put a finger to the chin and say, “you know, we’ve been all wrong about this stuff, all this time! Abortion is okay! Jesus didn’t really mean it about divorce! That whole thing about marriage being between a man and a woman, why that was just written in by some homophobe or other!”

The Catholic church has a job to do. As the taproot of Christianity, it must be the centering pole of the Big-Tent-Circus-of-Faith that comprises all of the churches. No matter what the mainline Protestant churches do, no matter how they decide to bend with the times and trends, the job of the Catholic church is to keep that centering pole in place. What is true is true, and no amount of spin and euphemism can change very simple facts: Babies are HUMAN LIFE from the moment of conception. A sacramental marriage is one made by mature, sensible people who make VOWS before God, meaning you have to take marriage seriously – as seriously as you can. In order to be a theologian representing the church, you DO have to believe in things like the Resurrection!

To suddenly swerve away from those truths would be like snatching the centering pole from the tent. The whole thing collapses.

The other part of the Church’s job, and the means by which it can help that centering pole stay erect, is to issue an invitation to all people to “open wide the doors to Christ,” to “cast your nets into the deep,” and to “be not afraid.”

Yes, I know, those are three things JPtG is famous for saying, as he fished and attempted to reel in those who were simply following slipstreams and currents. He was a wonderful fisherman.

But John Paul understood, as does this new pope, that it’s not enough to simply invite. Once you invite in, you have to explain what the club is about, and what the rules are. The Church has a duty to make the invitation to people, “come, and meet Christ…” but it also has a duty to preach the Gospel in full, which means that you can’t simply tell the part about Jesus loving you and forgiving you, without also telling the part where he says, “go and sin no more,” or when he says, “go and show yourself to the priest and cleanse yourself as Moses prescribed.”

Jesus was pretty clear: it’s in the rubrics and liturgy, and yes, authority does matter – go do it. And sin no more.

To invite people into a Church, to meet Christ, without telling them what is expected of them is incredibly unfair – sinfully unfair and wrong and irresponsible. To tell that Christ is Merciful without mentioning that He is also Just – that’s half the story, and it’s like selling someone a new car without an engine. The pope MUST, in fairness, tell people the whole story, or he is not doing his job.

And so it is the job of the Church to invite, to instruct, to create boundaries and guidelines, to admonish and to enforce and to discipline and to love. It is the job of the pope to see to all of this.

Rather like trying to parent a billion or so kids in various stages of development.

It is an enormous job, one that (as with all parenting) cannot be done well without supernatural help. The help will come, and if the pope is faithful, the job will get done.

John Paul II was a remarkable man, but the John Paul that ended his pontificate was not the John Paul who began it. And that will be true of Benedict XVI, as well.

This is an interesting article by the tireless John Allen. An excerpt:

Ratzinger has also said on many occasions that the church of the future may have to be smaller to remain faithful, referring to Christianity’s short-term destiny as constituting a “creative minority.” He has also used the image of the “mustard seed,” suggesting a smaller presence that nevertheless carries the capacity for future growth as long as it remains true to itself.

In a world full of capitalists who think only bigger is better, and other people who think that the most important thing in the world is “to be liked,” that is an incomprehensible idea. A smaller church? Isn’t that going backward? You mean, like, a schism?

Well, yes. Possibly. A larger church that has its heat diluted until it is lukewarm is not pleasing to God. Christ says in Revelation “because you are lukewarm, I vomit you from my mouth…”

It is entirely possible that Benedict’s papacy will be one of surprising and unexpected healing – as I said, the Holy Spirit is not done working on the new pope, and he is a man of considerable gifts, which means he has considerable potential. And by all accounts he is a man who listens and prays.

Laurie Goodstein, a very good writer with the NY Times, gives us this:

In recent years, as John Paul grew more and more debilitated by Parkinson’s disease and old age, Cardinal Ratzinger increasingly became the power behind the throne. Bishops from every country who visit the Vatican on their regular visits spent more time with him than they did with the pope, according to cardinals and Vatican staff.

It may have been this familiarity that led the cardinals to turn to Cardinal Ratzinger as their anchor in this time of transition. The Rev. Joseph Augustine Di Noia, an American priest who serves as under secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told reporters last week that he often observed the cardinal listening intently to bishops on their visits presenting him with all kinds of conundrums on how to apply the faith in their countries. Cardinal Ratzinger would respond with “remarkable profundity” and “distinctions that are immediately illuminating,” Father Di Noia said.

Hmmmm…doesn’t sound too rabid, irrational, unreasonable and destructive to me.

Joseph Ratzinger has taken the name of Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism, Abbot and a Patron Saint of Europe, and a powerful intercessor against evil and malice. Benedict as Abbot, was a “father,” a writer and a teacher. It is possible, that Benedict XVI will bring many people back into the church, just as Benedict brought so many to prayer and service.

But that first Benedict was not one to put up with unreasonable or unmoveable dissent, either. Such monks would not stay forever in his community.

It may be the same with this Benedict. Perhaps he will preside over the church in a time of schism, where the progressive factions, fed up with waiting for Rome to do what it demands, finally break away, taking all of its boomer-aged dissenters and a good number of poorly-catechised and/or disgruntled Catholics with them. Those folks, seeing no difference in sacramentals and ignorant of other distinctions, will shrug their shoulders and say, “this church is EASIER,” or “more tolerant,” or “less narrow.”

Jesus did say the path was a narrow one, but we’ll put that aside for now.

In this schism scenario, you might even see a few bishops – men who are flattered by the praise of the press and happy to be thought of as mavericks or visionaries, or who sincerely believe in the progressive ideas, or who simply want to be on the cover of TIME, leave and take their properties with them.

And then you’d see the Roman church smaller, but more fervent, more on fire, less diluted, no longer lukewarm.

My point is: no one KNOWS what the Holy Spirit is up to. All of this breathless carrying on by the press is unseemly.

The Holy Spirit is working. Let it work. Relax. Say a few prayers and have a glass of wine. Go take a walk. Go pet the dog.

And maybe consider giving Benedict XVI at LEAST the same benefit of a doubt you would want for yourself, were you put into a job for which others thought you unsuited.

In other words: take Jesus’ advice and apply a little Golden Rule to the bruised ideologies and egos, folks.

Or, if you’d rather, take Atticus Finch’s advice and try walking a mile in his papal slippers.

James Lileks is also wondering what people actually expected:

Choose a cardinal who issues a homily titled “On the Need to Gas Grandpa When He Starts Crapping Himself” – I’m sure it would sound better in Latin – and this might have an impact on the society where I hope to find myself in 30 years. The selection of Ratzinger was initially heartening, simply because he made the right people apoplectic. I’m still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As Pope? How could this be? As if there this was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who’s about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacreligious: it’s the Catholic Church, for Christ’s sake! You’re not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter’s and replace them with IKEA wine racks, okay?

UPDATE: Captain Ed is taking particular issue with the Washington Posts disingenuous editorial this morning.

WELCOME Instapundit, CQ and other new readers! I thank you for stopping by and invite you to nose around my categories and see what else we talk about here besides the new pope or the old! :-)

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  • Dave

    a relentless and remorseless hard-ass who takes-no-prisoners and wields a clumsy and undiplomatic sword, cutting a path of hard-hearted destruction no matter where he goes, and he will be a disaster for the church, and oppressor of women, gays, people of girth, people of mirth, people with brains, and people without, little puppies, small furry rodents and children he doesn’t like.

    Gosh, sounds like the MSM thinks he’s a hybrid clone of JP2 and George W. Bush.

  • Jim

    Nice post. I’m not Catholic, but I am a Christian. People don’t like it when they hear that they can’t always have it their way, that the rules will not be bent for them or for society, that there are consequences for actions. Basically, people don’t like the truth when it doesn’t fit THEIR version of what the “truth” is.

  • isidro beccar varela

    Thank you for the wonderful post.

  • travis

    Someone beat me to the Anglican – Catholic Swap idea. I know a lot of African Anglicans would be happier with this Pope.

    But I always wonder… How come no one mentions the Eastern Churches? There is more than one Apostolic tradition people!!

  • Kyrill

    As an Eastern Orthodox, I obviously have differences from the Church of Rome. However, none of us should forget that the Church of Rome was once universally honored and esteemed for its doctrinal orthodoxy and, for a long time, purity. That, and not the fact that it was the capital of the empire for a relatively short time, was the reason for the Pope to have been considered “First among Equals,” the remaining prelates being the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch (Asia), Alexandria (Africa) and Constantinople (Asia Minor and Eastern Europe).

    I applaud the selection of Benedict XVI to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II. It shows the Catholic Churche’s determination to proclaim Christ and not to deviate from the central tenets of His salvific message.

    Bravi and God bless!

  • Denise

    Great post, Anchoress!

    Cardinal Ratzinger was not my personal first choice for Pope, but–judging by who has their collars in a twist over his election–once again the Holy Spirit is much wiser than I! :)

  • Neo

    I think the best analogy is to imagine that Jesus Christ is the owner of a great sheep range (Church), the Pope is his trustee that manages the land (but doesn’t own it), the Bishops are the shepherds that work various flocks (communities) within the great sheep range governed by the policies set down by the Pope, the trustee.
    The Pope speaks for the owner, but doesn’t think for him. Every possible change in procedures or beliefs of the Church (sheep range) must fit within the “teachings” of Jesus Christ (the owner). This makes changes very difficult. And make no mistake, the Catholic Church belongs to Jesus Christ.

    I project that if a Cardinal with “progressive tendencies” had been selected Pope, it would have taken 3 years to see anything change. Unfortunately, for those with “progressive tendencies,” there were no Cardinals like that, so their hoped outcome was never possible.

  • olympias

    An excellent post, with interesting comments. For those Catholics considering defecting to Canterbury — well, you’ll like the liturgy and the music, although the theology is rather hopelessly muddled. (Andrew Sullivan would be happy and welcome there, and the switch might bring his blood pressure back down to normal levels.)

    Personally, this Anglican has been thinking for a year now of crossing the Tiber and going Roman…

  • Paul Stukel


    Sorry, didn’t see your response to my post.

    Again, The Anchoress is being reactive, not proactive, in terms of her apparent acceptance of schism. I don’t think you responded to the original point. The “rage” that some folks have over the selection of Cardinal Ratzigner has lead them to – yet again – suggest that they and gazillions of other American Catholics are going to bolt. This is what Anchoress is responding to, not leading. (Anchoress, if I am wrong, please correct me.)

    And by the way, your comment to Karen is pretty greasy: “Is a Dean sticker on a catholic car more of a contadiction than a W sticker? The church teaches that capital punishment and unjust wars are a sin too.”

    The former assertion (regarding capital punishment – the Church’s position allows for capital punishment in certain circumstances)is not completely accurate, and the latter presupposes that the Iraq war was unjust, which is an enormous supposition. I don’t think St. Augustine would agree, frankly.



  • TheAnchoress

    I wasn’t planning to get into this fight, but let me just say this, to be clear.

    I am not endorsing or proposing schism.

    I am merely reading the various reactions to the election of Benedict, and may I say that some – not all but some – seem very “reactionary,” indeed, and I am looking a bit down the road and wondering if a sort of schism will occur.

    That’s all. I’m neither championing a schism nor fretting about one. I am merely suggesting – the whole BASIS of this essay suggests that the HOly Spirit is not DONE, here, and that the HS tends to move as it will, and confound pretty much everyone.

    I am saying that all of the voices of “certainty,” on both sides, (and possibly including my own) may be in for surprises.

    And that’s really all I am saying. I’m paying props to the mystery of the Holy Spirit!

  • Melanie


    I’ve only skimmed your article, but, as you seem to be dismissing all liberals in one fell swoop, I hope you’ll remember that John Paul II, while upholding traditional Catholic teachings on sex and gender, reached out to Jews and Protestants, cared about the poor, elevated non-clerics and nonwhites (like Juan Diego of Mexico) to sainthood, and–most impressive–PLEADED with George W. Bush NOT to go to war in Iraq! I’m afraid John Paul never fit in totally with the American “Conservative Christian” agenda. Neither should his successor.

    As a liberal born-again Christian, I’d love to see the Catholic church correct itself where it’s Biblically wrong, and allow priests to marry. Also, in following the NT idea that “we’re all one in Christ Jesus” and there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”, to have women priests. No, I don’t think homosexuality should be approved by the church, but nor should they, as ultraconservative “Christian” Americans have done, seek to persecute homosexuals.

    More importantly, I’d like to see the Church and its priests follow an Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King style of Christianity in speaking up for the poor and defenseless (that’s more than just babies in the womb, people!), and speaking up to the rich and powerful. John Paul II did that. I hope that Ratzinger–Pope Ben–does that, too.

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  • kristin

    My husband and I are both Catholic and conservative politically. We were disappointed with the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger because we feel strongly about the issue of priests being able to marry. We see the lack of qualified, thoughtful and godly candidates available to the priesthood, and worry for the future of the Church. If this makes us liberal, that is news to us. As for the other issues – abortion, gay marriage, divorce – of course the Church won’t change, nor should it. However, it should be open to re-examining its stance on birth control and fertility treatments. I think that many of the people who are disappointed may be like my husband and myself – not looking for a change in the fundamental creed of the Church but rather in how it can keep alive and vibrant. Remember, in the distant past, priests were married until the finances of the Church could no longer support this practice.

  • David Vu

    Pope Jerry Seinfeld, Cardinal George Costanza, Father Cosmo Kramer, and Sister Elaine Benice. That’s really a “church about nothing”!

  • Christine

    I’m a 21 year old Roman Catholic girl who strongly supports ALL that the Holy Father stands for. His doctrine is not only Biblically-correct but also logically sound. For instance, it’s well-known that married priests lead to financial corruption (a fact the Ancient Church learnt the hard way when priests started giving away Church assets to their kids for free). Also, a married man isn’t as fully involved with serving Jesus if he has to also take care of the needs of a family. As for a lack of new priests, I think it stems from a lack of support and encouragement for boys who do get the Call to priesthood. I know a guy who had a VERY hard time persuading his parents to let him become a priest. They felt he was sending his life down the drain. And he wasn’t the only son or child in the family. In the end, he did join the Redemptorist Order, but only after a lot of struggle.

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