An Old, White, European Pope – Go Figure!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

  • Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI

    Ratzinger - Pope Benedict XVI

Written by Kyle Lambert

I start this little rant out with a disclaimer: I am not Catholic, nor do I practice any form of organized Christianity. While I was raised under the Christian banner (and I argue that I live my life according to the most vital teachings of the faith), I whole-heartedly reject organized religion in its current form.

The above notice brings me to my main argument here, that the recent election of former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope, now named Benedict XVI, is so disgustingly typical of the Catholic institution that I believe my cynicism has been unfortunately justified.

Saturday’s National Post noted that “the German cardinal’s hard-line approach, his nationality and his age are al handicaps to him becoming the new pope, according to many Vatican watchers, but what cannot be doubted is his power and influence in the choice of the man who will lead the Catholic faith.”

Well, apparently Ratzinger’s influence did play a role. The man widely considered to have been the conservative voice of John Paul II is the new pope. While some would say that he has been elected despite his age, nationality and hard-line beliefs, I argue that all of those traits likely played a massive role in his election.

First, Ratzinger is 78. Many have noted that the establishment wished to choose a Pope that is older and thus would simply toe the line until his death, when a younger Pope could be appointed. However, Ratzinger will not toe the line, he is the line – or better yet, he is now the massive roadblock that stops that line from moving in a direction that will help save and better the lives of millions of Catholics around the world, particularly those stricken with HIV/AIDS.

Second, Ratzinger is European. Why anyone is surprised that a European was chosen as Pope is bloody-well beyond me. Yes, the vast majority of Catholics live in South America and Africa. However, to assume that numbers qualify a Pope is foolish. The European (add-in North America to that mix) supremacist views which have dominated discourse for centuries and continue well into the post-colonial era have not disappeared and don’t appear to be fading at any kind of a significant rate. One would hope that such a snub, particularly to South and Central American Catholics, could create a backlash strong enough to have an impact of the Catholic institution, but asking religious authorities to break from their spot in line is likely far too great a demand.

Finally, Ratzinger’s hard-line beliefs do not represent the extreme right wing of Catholicism, they represent the norm. By that, I mean that the new Pope’s conservative leanings – including his rejection of all methods of birth control and his discriminatory views on women – are the norm among those in power in the Vatican. It would be nice if average Catholics and their worldviews had a real impact on the views of their human leader, but such has never been the case and it won’t be for as long as Benedict XVI is Pope.

Perhaps my beliefs are completely off-base. Perhaps Benedict XVI will make a Lyndon Jonhson-esque turn and fool even his closest supporters (Johnson shocked the world by proving to be a firm supporter of black civil rights). Perhaps the former Cardinal Ratzinger will prove to be a vital ally in the fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty in the developing world.

However, I have my doubts. The only optimistic thought I have about what looks to be a debacle is that maybe Ratzinger’s extreme conservative leanings will force Catholics around the world to realize that their beloved institution is in need of change and that expecting old, white social conservatives to help young, black and poor people around the world is a little far-fetched.

For now, I simply feel bad for all the Catholics that really believe that the suffering endured by so many around the world can be stopped. The one institution that could play such a vital role in helping so many has just taken a step away from doing precisely what a whole lot of its followers believe is really needed.


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