Today's Note From a Madman

Thursday, April 21, 2005



Benedict XVI

From an interview with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, published by Zenit, Rome, May 2, 2003

Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."

-As fowarded by Brian Terrell, Executive Director, Catholic Peace Ministry

This is MUCH more than I expected. We may have another John XXIII on our hands. The Holy Spirit strikes again!
-Steven J. Spiro


The new Pope is anti-war, that's good. Of course Bush will ignore him too, just like he ignored Pope John Paul II and every other religious leader (including his own Methodist Church) who repeatedly told him not to invade Iraq.

And if the new Pope speaks out too much, maybe Bush will book him a flight on Paul Wellstone Airlines.

-David Harten

Yes, concerning the President you are probably right. But the question is how can we make it more and more difficult for the majority of American Catholics (and other Christians) to ignore this aspect of Papal teaching. If enough of us can challenge enough of our fellow parishioners so that more and more of us begin to distinguish between "I believe in one holy catholic Church" and "I pledge allegiance to the United States of America" and then put our primary allegiance to where our faith says we should, then you can be sure that our president and those behind him will begin to take a bit more seriously what Benedict and the magisterium in general is saying in regard to this question. And when we are done dialoging with our fellow Catholics and neighbors about war then we can begin talking to them about what economic justice is.

John-Otto Liljenstolpe


I realize, as a non-Catholic (Marxist, Homosexual, Gandhian, etc.) my views will be far off on the left for this list serve. But . . .

On the issue of homosexuality, this affects in a serious way only perhaps 5% of Roman Catholics. I know, in ways straight Catholics can never understand, how terribly brutal the Catholic position on homosexuality is, the suicides, alcoholism, etc., which this position has triggered. I have felt that the Catholic position works well for most people, that it answers most questions of life and death, that the confessional is a brilliant institution, the cult of Mary an equally brilliant effort (which Protestants can't match) to give believers a female deity. But for those - homosexuals - who don't fit the mold, it is a mold which breaks people.

And on the issue of abortion, I think everyone is troubled by this, we just don't want laws passed which make a free choice impossible. To be "pro-choice" is not the same as being "pro-abortion" - it is a way of saying that women must have the right to make this decision without laws passed by one side.

Even on the issue of the abuse of children by the clergy, this is more complex than it seems. It is not a case (for the most part) of priests in their fifties brutalizing children under ten. It has tended to be a case where gay priests (and I do have to assume that all Catholics realize how inevitable it is that a celibate clergy will appeal to homosexuals and provide a haven for them) have been caught up in the sexuality that exists between older adolescents and young priests. It doesn't make it right, but it does suggest that some of these relationships were consensual. However the approach of the Catholic Church has been genuinely horrendous - the effort to deny, to hide, the shield, etc., has been shocking.

On three (actually four) issues I think the new Pope is going to face very grave problems which are part of orthodox Catholic belief.

One, the celibate clergy. This is a pretty indefensible position theologically, it was not part of the early teachings, appears nowhere in the words of Jesus, and while Paul, who had all kinds of sexual hang ups, had problems with marriage, it hardly justifies the institution of a celibate priesthood which I find, simply put, weird and cultist. A remnant of other centuries.

Two, the issue of women and their role in the church. Unlike homosexuals, which account for only 5 to 10% of Catholics, women are half the population. The new Pope may be happy to see dissenting Catholics leave, and his theology may be accepted by the all-male Cardinals, but it is nothing but a reflection of the patriarchal tradition shared by Muslims, Jews, and Catholics. It is indefensible.

Three, the matter of birth control. Here the position of both Pope John Paul II and the new Pope is, simply put, murderous. It makes it much harder to deal with AIDS in the third world. It condemns devout, believing Catholics (except in Europe and the US where the official positions are simply ignored by most practicing Catholics) to families they cannot support, it condemns women to having more children than they can care for, it condemns the world to a population growth that is risky. I would understand if this irrational position was maintained by some small schism of the Church - but for it to the accepted doctrine is worse than appalling.

Fourth, I'd be much more persuaded of the Pope's depth of opposition to the war in Iraq (though I appreciate it, and appreciated John Paul II's position) if the Pope declared that pracitising Catholics could not actively take part in the war.

I'm not interested in the Pope's history under the Nazis - he was very very young at the time, and every person has a right to redefine themselves with the passage of time. I join in hoping Pope Benedict surprises us (and himself). I am more concerned with his long history under Pope John Paul II (a charming but relentlessly reactionary figure) of suppression of dissent.

In listening to commentary yesterday I heard one priest lecture on the dangers of trying to change the world without having Christ at the center, the dangers of "relativism". I am perhaps as unclear on "relativism" as I am on words such as "post modern", but I know two things. One is that the Nordic countries (and Holland) have succeeded in building humane societies
without "Christ at the center". (I neither applaud nor regret this - simply note it). And in this context I note the historic friendship the Catholic church has had with murderous regimes, such as that of Franco, and those in Mexico, Central and Latin America, which very much claimed "Christ at their center".

When we discuss "relativism", it this means that our understanding (for those who are religious) of absolute values is unchanging, this would leave us with slavery, etc. I personally believe in absolute truth - but also believe it is absolutely impossible for finite creatures such as ourselves to know, absolutely, what that truth is. Thus, with Gandhi, I support all
experiments in social change which put the risks on us, not on others. But to argue, seriously, that the Catholic Church has always understood what absolute values are, is in the same league as the nonsense that the Pope can't make a mistake. I think Pope John Paul II, in dealing with anti-Semitism, went a long way to suggest that even Catholics need to recognize historic mistakes - that is, new truths emerge to us. Surely, for those of you who are religious, the role of Jesus in history is a case of profound changes occurring within our religious history. The Jesus we know as a rabbi, teaching in the traditions of Judaism, is a very different rabbi than those who had come before him. Were his truths new, or simply a reflection of how, with the passage of time and the changing of society, it became possible to see truth in new ways?

-David McReynolds

Dear David,

Thank you for your very much for your very thoughtful comments.

On the Church positions on Abortion and Homosexuality, there will (probably never) not be any change: The Church teaches that abortion is the murder of a human being, and homosexuality is, at the least, and objective disorder.

Birth control, surprisingly to most Catholics, is really still an open issue. Most American and Northern European priests and theologians take the view than a marriage MUST be open to having children, but that does not mean, as the "conservatives" would have it, that each sex act must be open to procreation. It is may be like "usury" in the Renaissance: Church
leaders finally noticed that Catholic merchants and bankers in good conscience had been charging interest for hundreds of years, and reconsidered exactly what was the meaning of "usury".

Celibacy in the priesthood is a matter of discipline, not dogma, not doctrine. The Eastern Uniate Churches ordain married men, and even in the West, non-Catholic married clergymen who convert, and who can otherwise qualify for the Catholic priesthood, are ordained and allowed to continue in their marriages.

There are practical reasons for a celibate priesthood: You may remember Bob Berk, the New York Socialist/Pacifist who became a Baptist and was later ordained as a Baptist minister. He pointed out to me that, in his Church, and many others, wives are interviewed along with their husbands, and are expected to fill a number of roles in the church, WITHOUT pay. Every once in a while, they get surprised, but then the minister doesn't last long.

The shortage of unmarried priests may be the deciding factor, ultimately. On the other hand, the United States has always depended on foreign priests, mostly Irish and Italian, to cover the shortfall in American vocations. Right now, the places with a "surplus" of vocations are Africa and South Asia. We already get a lot of priests from India, Ceylon and the Philippines. Twenty years of African priests should put an end to racism in the Catholic community. :-)

I surely hope Benedict surprises us all on Peace!

-Stephen J Spiro



"I seem to feel his strong hand holding mine, I feel I can see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment particularly directed at me: 'Be not afraid,'"
- Pope Benedict XVI

I don't know what to say about the new Pope. As a Jew, certainly I am troubled about his past as a hitler youth, then as a nazi soldier (although it is rumored that he deserted right before the war ended). On the other hand, it's good to know that his father had politically opposed hitler and the nazi party before it was impossible not to do so.

The thing to do is clear to me: Wait and see. Very few men could have accomplished all that John Paul II had in 100 years, let alone 26. These are big shoes to fill. I realize that John Paul didn't accomplish everything to everyone's liking, but, if you weigh it all, his leadership was a great success not only to Catholics, but to the world as a whole.

I would settle for Benedict XVI continuing the good works of John Paul II. That would satisfy me.


"We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goals one's own ego and one's own desires."

- Pope Benedict XVI


Translate this statement to the United States. We need to help those who really need the help. Large tax breaks for the rich; allowing large corporations to "purchase" rights to "pollute more"; a bankruptcy bill that protects the rich and large corporations but won't allow a family a "clean slate" seem to fly in the face of Pope Benedict XVI's statement. I know many have read this and thought relativism to mean a "regression" to the past. I read it as advice to the "haves" not to mistreat the "have-nots."

-Noah Greenberg

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-Noah Greenberg