Marcus, They Don’t Want Us Back

So I was at home this morning, getting dressed to my usual KCRW soundtrack, when the station cut away to CNN’s audio feed, covering the announcement of the new pope. I turned on the television and sat rivetted, watching every ruffle of the curtains as St. Peter’s filled to over-capacity and those gathered there and around their sets worldwide waited for the interregnum to come to an end.

And so it did, with the announcement of the accession of Benedict XVI. And I sat and cried in front of my television set, watching my relationship with the Church be severed once again.

This is a man who as cardinal often dissented from Pope John Paul II’s positions — but dissented to the right. Ratzinger disapproved of the Pope’s ecumenism, and particularly his praying for peace with the leaders of other faiths, because he felt that this sent a message that there wasn’t one true faith, that maybe many faiths could be right and good.

This is not a pope who can create the more inclusive Church I was hoping for; in fact, he has as his stated goal not opening the Church to many around the world who long for acceptance and inclusion, but instead shoring up the European Church against apostasy through the reintroduction of rigid doctrine.

I don’t find myself quite so upset, right now, as to be motivated to join the Unitarian Jihad, but I will confess that the Anglicans are starting to look mighty good to me.

[UPDATE, 4.19.05, 12.37 pm: I am stunned to find myself linking supportively to an opinion expressed by Andrew Sullivan. A coming civil war, indeed.]

18 thoughts on “Marcus, They Don’t Want Us Back

  1. CNN was all over that. Particularly given the choice of “Benedict”: apparently Benedict XV was mighty short-lived. I don’t want to console myself with thoughts of somebody else’s death — that seems enormously counter-productive, given the context — but the idea of a short papacy has its merits.

  2. We were waiting by the radio, having heard that the smoke was white over the Vatican. When I heard Ratzinger’s name I felt almost liberated, as if this choice for the pope means the church is moving from me as much as I have been moving from it.

    I’m thinking I might want to join a coven.

    Luckily there was a dinner out planned with friends in town from scotland —do you remember the restaurant I took you to with the really good crème br?ªlée ? Nothing like a good meal with conversation and wine to make a scary pope seem that much more remote !

  3. He’s gotta — gotta — be thinking of Benedict of Nursia, rather than Benedict XV. B-15 was second only to Pius XII in appeasing the Yermans, and he considered mustard gas an “instrument of peace.”

    Mark my days, we’re going to look back fondly on the warm fuzzy regime of JP2.

  4. I’m getting that distinct impression. But one can still hope for a little JP1 action. As they say, after a thin pope, a fat one.

  5. Does that mean that you’re hoping for a Vatican banking scandal too?

    (Under JP2, we had a Vatican archive scandal — involving digitization, no less, and financial misbehavior — but I expect only medievalists kept up with it.)

  6. Well, mostly I was thinking of brevity. But clearly the most heinous form of sex scandal hasn’t made the college of cardinals consider that perhaps reform could be a good thing. I’m beginning to think that the only way to hurt a conservative movement is to hit ‘em in the financials. So maybe.

  7. My very first reaction was to say to Joan, “The church will never ever get any more money from me. That man is too hatefull.” If only the tiny contributions I might make actually made a difference!

    I believe Ratzinger was involved in the writing of the Ex Corde document, – which schools that are Catholic or Catholic-affiliated are supposed to sign on to- and since I’m at a college with affiliations with the Catholic Church, that has been an issue here. It’s a horrible piece of work, quite stunning, really, for its insistence on teaching Truth.

    A sad day here, though not unexpected. I have found myself, like some others, almost liberated by this election because, based on the extremity and hard-heartedness of this man’s political and ideological positions, now I don’t have to feel guilt for my own choices. And god knows, guilt is such a determining factor in my life, as for many other Catholics.

    Why feel guilty now? Where’s the moral authority that should make me feel low?


  8. Why are lapsed Catholics so concerned with the direction of ‘The Church’?

    People seem to lose faith in Catholicism because of some ideological argument — usually stemming from a realized inconsistency between two teachings or having read about its sordid and rather un-christian past.

    I fail to see how, or why, people can’t admit that they aren’t really Catholic — that instead, they believe in some other flavor of Christianity, probably one that Jesus would find far less appalling, and possibly even respectable.

    Considering that one of the basic tenets of the RC church is Papal Infallibility I think its pretty safe to say, KF , that your connection to the Church wasn’t severed once again, as it wasn’t there to begin with.

    Good news though, you might not have to join the Anglicans as you might technically be a protestant already.


  9. The weird-ass thing about papal infallibility is that it’s so damned recent — 1854 or 1857 (I forget which). Likewise the Immaculate Conception. As a nonCatholic atheist theologian-type, I never fail to get a kick out of that.

    Wacky Catlicks!

  10. But, Jonathan, when you say that you “fail to see how, or why, people can’t admit that they aren’t really Catholic,” you fail to understand the old joke about how Catholics are like alcoholics: there’s no such thing as a former Catholic, only a recovering one.

    Or, as somebody somewhere once told me, asking me why I don’t stop being Catholic is like asking me why I don’t stop being Italian. I don’t really have a choice.

    There’s something about Catholicism — and I insist it has to do with the bizarre beauty of the ritual — that gets into the blood of those raised in the Church, that makes it all but impossible to leave it without leaving Christianity altogether. (The same phenomenon makes it impossible for me to write about “the Church” without capitalizing it. It’s on the level of reflex.) Though I may technically have been, as you point out, a small-p protestant (in the sense of one who protests), the idea of becoming a Protestant with a capital P is weirdly unthinkable. I’ve attended several other churches — from high Anglican to Southern Baptist — and, with all due respect to those who believe differently, none of their services have done a blessed thing for me. They all seem so flatly literal, where the Catholic mass is theater. Or poetry. It’s metaphorical, in any case — which is why the intrusions of the literal, in the form of “you must believe x in order to be a Catholic” are so profoundly upsetting. Because like the more hermeneutical forms of Judaism, I don’t so much believe as interpret.

    I shoulda been a Jesuit, I think.

    That’s (a). (B) is that papal infallibility (pretty much invented by Vatican I in 1870) is massively misunderstood. The pope is only considered to be infallible when he’s speaking ex cathedra, which is only invoked either to reiterate articles of faith that have always been taught (the Universal Magisterium) or to state solemn definitions (the Extraordinary Magisterium). The latter has only been invoked once in history — in 1950, regarding the Assumption of Mary. The former is more expansive, but the “always” part of it excludes any one pope’s wacky ideas. Papal statements that don’t invoke either the Universal or Extraordinary Magisterium are not thought to be infallible.

    That’s your catechism for the day.

  11. It’s only recent in terms of explicit doctrine / dogma. The edict was in 1870 , but was justified on long held beliefs suggesting such. Whats even more odd that its new, is that the rationale behind it is that the Vatican is infallible — ie, the pope is infallibe because the church he heads says so.

    A lot of people focus on the weird RC things like the wars/bribes/inquisitions/etc — what I find way more interesting is all the pagaenty and details of the rituals and beliefs – it has such a black magic voodoo feel to it.. Aside from the pope’s infallibility, think of his title… ‘Pope’ is just the informal name. Formally, he’s “”Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God”

    I need better things to do than write on former professors blogs while things compile at 3am.

  12. KF –you really summed up my feelings on the identity part of being Catholic in your last comment. I can always calculate the distance I feel from the church (sidenote–I’ve been deliberately NOT capitalizing that word, and having to work against the same sort of reflex) but that doesn’t mean the church isn’t still part of how I define myself.

    I too have tried other services and wasn’t touched. If I wanted to be a practicing something, it’d have to be non-christian, I suspect. There is something about the ceremony : I’ve never been able to shake the sensation that other christian services were some sort of nice prayer service, without the real whammy of the Mass. (sorry, I’ve used up my resistance to capitalization). And no amount of intellectual ecumenical openness touches a core feeling that the other traditions are somehow derivative.

    Stupid, I know–maybe it’s just the early indoctrination talking ?

    Another weird thing, and I think it has to do with the identity/family part of being Catholic, is that if I were to become pagan I’d have to be a closeted on, at least in relation to my parents. It’s one thing to have been able to tell then that I wasn’t straight or that I was leaving the US, but pagan, nope, can’t imagine telling them about that. Isn’t that funny ?

  13. K-Fitz writes: …papal infallibility (pretty much invented by Vatican I in 1870) is massively misunderstood. The pope is only considered to be infallible when he’s speaking ex cathedra, which is only invoked either to reiterate articles of faith that have always been taught (the Universal Magisterium) or to state solemn definitions (the Extraordinary Magisterium).

    I know that, silly. And you know I know that. Now that I have rejected any implied or inferred accusations of ignernce, yes, of course you’re right. But I take my entertainment where I can, and the doctrinal reforms under Pius IX are generous in that regard.

    The divide between Cath and Prot these days seems to come down to doctrine vs. ritual. I fail to understand how the Prots can discard (or should I say ignore?) the commanding power of rite in favor of mere right[1].

    [1]By which I mean NOT that the Prots have it right and the Caths have it wrong, but that the Prots seem to think that getting it right is all there is to it. But don’t mind me.

  14. Actually, my comment was aimed at Jonathan’s assertion at comment 10 — that given the notion of papal infallibility, my connection to the Church had long since been severed. My point was basically that I was willing to go along with Mary having been assumed bodily into heaven, because why the heck not. And that on every other point covered by the Universal Magisterium — well, I read those as I would any other literary text.* In fact, I tend to think of any priestly or popely dicta as being spoken by folks like my students, saying “literally” when they mean “figuratively”: “I was literally laughing my ass off,” or “Jesus is literally the one and only son of god.” Same same. This may make me a bad Catholic, but it doesn’t make me a Protestant, fer sure.

    *In this regard, papal infallibility, like fundamentalist intepretations of the Bible, seems to me to smack of the intentional fallacy. But this may be a subject for another comment.

  15. This is where I’m a bit shaky…

    Referring to the terms above, we all agree that according to the Church, since some Vatican Council in 1870, the Pope is ‘literally’ infallible when talking about faith, morals, and the Church ex cathedra.

    ‘Figuratively’, however, he’s always had some sort of infallibility simply by being the head of the church. Pope’s have long contended this politically, by excommunicating or executing dissidents.

    The church has historically been not just dogmatic, but all or nothing , often claiming that If you’re not 100% with them, you’re 100% against them.

    In past centuries, not agreeing/believing in the papacy wholehearedly could get you killed. Today, people have a more liberal approach to this, and the church more restrained one. Today’s “recovering catholics’ are the same types of people who would have been excommunicated and burned for heresey a few hundred years ago.

  16. Can one occupy the position that without belonging to the Church one can make use of its resources? What I have in mind is somewhat akin to the world framed by the fiction of Herman Hesse, especially in the novel Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game) a Bildungsroman where the protagonist’s relation to the cultural institutions that shaped his youth is very much caught up in the essential question of living a life authentically. The ex-lapsed Catholic (the one never going back to the Church) can “visit” with those that remain in and of the Church. Take for example the work of Elizabeth Liebert of the San Francisco Theological Seminary on reclaiming the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola.

    It is work I would never have discovered if if were not for KF’s reference to the Jesuit mind set. And knowing that KF is a runner, it gives a certain figural resonnance in reading the First Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises this phrase “For as strolling, walking and running are bodily exercises, so every way of preparing and disposing the soul […]”

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