Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Papal Visit to America

This current backwash on Pope Benedict XVI's few days in America keeps urging me to throw out my own prejudices against the man, as I did against his predecessor, whose sandbox was the papacy. But I demurred on the realization that my opinion is a simple dislike of both of them, as well as of so many in the long line of 280 or so since St. Peter died. McBrien's History of the Popes is well thumbed, a bit tattered, as is O'Malley's The First Jesuits. When those two are side by side with MacCulloch's The Reformation, I see. And what I see is history. For us alive today, we are making more history for the future, not only in the popes given us by Conclaves, but also presidents by what is sometimes referred to as the vote of the people, except that is not necessarily so. I often wonder why so many reformers insist on we the people electing bishops and popes, when we take a gander at what we have elected in our own beloved America for presidents: Bush, Nixon, Coolidge. Like popes, only a few of our presidents stand out enough to make us proud and grateful that we have the vote.

Cynics say that we get what we deserve. High-minded, impartial, intelligent ones – like us? – have always preceded us and made popes and presidents for good or for bad. Those skilled in politics have usually gotten their own elevated to kingships of sorts and dynasties have ruled, for good or for worse. Where in between those two we are right now is answered by those who like Pope Benedict XVI, and liking him, approve of how he comports himself, as well as by those who do not like him. Same for Nixon and more likely than not for Bush with a W. Used to be the same for Reagan, but apparently he wore well after he died and we forget his bad days. Poor Jimmy Carter has regressed from commanding submarines to peanut farming and is now being called a "bigot." Were Lincoln alive, he'd probably be shot again, as was Kennedy, both brothers, and their friend Martin Luther King. So, we should be careful in talking about those we like and those we dislike. 

Then again, I wonder whether it is Ratzinger a/k/a Benedict we like or dislike, or is it the papacy itself, regardless of the man who is dressed in white?

For those who like history, scan McBrien's History of the Popes; there weren't too many outstanding ones and precious few good ones, according to him. If loyalty is your thing, along with a partiality for Jesuit scholarship, read John O'Malley, The First Jesuits, Chapter 8, "The Jesuits and the Church at Large," beginning at page 284, The first two sections of that chapter are "Bishops and Theologians," and "The Papacy and the Popes."  St. Ignatius and his young companions had a very tough time with some hierarchs. Paul III gave the Jesuits their charter in 1540. Julius III gave them the German College in Rome, later the "Greg."The good Pope Marcellus" lasted just 21 days, a brief but welcomed interlude in the early struggles just to stay alive. And then came the bugaboo of them all, Gian Pietro Carafa, who hated St. Ignatius and all he stood for, and compounded that hatred as Paul IV. He was so well known for nepotism and harshness that he was despised in Rome.

So, the Jesuits rode it out, kept their heads down, rallied friendly hierarchs around themselves, and waited for Pius IV and Pius V, who pushed through the Council of Trent. The 16th century ended with four popes taking the papal throne in an astoundingly short period of 16 months, and the Jesuits were still alive and well when the 17th century began.

The 16th was a tough century in which to found a new exempt order of men, which now faces another uncertain future, it being hard to determine whether Ratzinger/Benedict XVI will be ruthless, as usual, or smiling all the while.

There's an awful lot of politics in the Roman Catholic Church and an awful lot of it is dirty, down and dirty, somehow unbecoming an institution claiming to be a Church, "one, holy, Catholic and apostolic."

Too often I see the Church in the New Testament, not among Jesus and his apostle and disciples, but entrenched in the Pharisees and Sanhedrin, the High Priests of the 1st century, so like unto so many of our own hierarchs of this third millennium. 

Read the Sermon on the Mount and take a look at Rome. Power corrupts, as the saying goes . . .


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