Juvenalian Judgments: Catholics Caught Changing

It’s not your parent’s church anymore. No no no. The Inquisitions haven’t been around for a while. They don’t Crusade anymore (except on college campuses, since, ya know, the Crusades were such a pleasant time in history. Why not name a club after it?). And, unfortunately for Dan Brown, there is no more mortification of the flesh. In the last decade or so, it’s been clear that there has been a slow change in the Catholic church to become a more liberal, accepting church. Or, at least that’s what they want you to think.

March 7, 2003: Pope Benedict, then still Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, writes a three sentence letter saying that Harry Potter is “dissolving the soul of Christianity.” Sounds pretty open-minded to me.

April 19, 2005: In a weird twist of fate, a former Nazi Youth is voted to papacy. He changes his name to Pope Benedict XVI, presumably to try and cover up his Holocaust-y past.

March, 2009: Benedict XVI removes the excommunication orders from the far-right, extremist, anti-Semitic Catholic group known as Society of St. Pius X. Jews everywhere are saying. “We told you he was going to do this!”

October, 2011: Pope Benedict XVI gives a hint at what he’s all about when he declines an invitation to pray with Hindus, Muslims or Jews. He later goes on to talk about how all religions should be equally loved and respected … just not around him.

November 27, 2011: The Catholic Church approves drastic changes to the traditional missal. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, Catholic Mass would be changed forever. While the changes seem small, minor translations such as Jesus not being “born of the Virgin Mary” anymore could have drastic effects on fundamental Catholic beliefs. Even traditional responses in prayers such as the famous “Peace be with you” “and with you” will be changed. Catholics everywhere were confused and frustrated. The term priests gave it was “religious whiplash.”

March 12, 2012: In response to four decades of Catholic sex abuse, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), one of the largest victim support organizations, came out to say that the Church has declared a holy war on their group. In the last few months, SNAP has already been subpoenaed five times to turn over decades worth of letters and emails between victims, prosecutors, the police and whistleblowers. While SNAP is peaceful, and only spends it’s days detailing the sex abuse scandal(s) within the Catholic Church, Benedict XVI and his boys have declared the group “a menace to the Catholic Church.” Is the group even threatening to release information? No. But the Church deems it necessary to seize all evidence of their foul play anyways.

What’s interesting is that Benedict XVI, while seemingly moving the Church in a more liberal direction, is significantly more traditionalist than his predecessor, John Paul II. Paul II wrote extensively about progressive issues. In his primary encyclical, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” he says that women are great, should be respected and should have equal roles in life. It’s a term he called “neo-feminism” (or the belief that men and women have different, but equally important roles to play). While Benedict has been heard a few times mumbling things about women’s rights in Africa to himself, he still shows strong opposition to things that actually matter to women: the right to choose what they do with their body. And let’s not forget that Benedict has yet to approve of any female priests in the Church due to his dogmatic belief that women are … well … sinful creatures that aren’t worthy.

So is Benny Boy really that progressive? Sure, he has supported a few “progressive” issues here and there, like the abolition of body scanners at airports, but that’s just because he thinks it’s wrong to see someone in their underwear. On the flip side, he has also shown strong support of what many consider the most controversial cult-like sect in Catholicism, Opus Dei. A group known as being one of the most traditionalist sects in Catholicism. They make Roman Catholics look like Unitarians.

So what does he believe in? Well, for starters, as soon as Benedict XVI took office, he declared that he was in strong support of papal infallibility, which is a fancy way of saying that he is physically incapable of ever being wrong. Ever. Catholics and critics alike think it’s a joke. Hans Krung, a well-known theologian, notes that Benedict’s belief in a more literal meaning of the Bible doesn’t align with the rest of the Catholic Church, or with what the congregation feels comfortable with.

He certainly doesn’t support any sort of gay rights. Many LGBT groups have claimed the pope is homophobic, which is sort of like saying Santorum doesn’t want you to get a BJ; it goes without saying.

After things like the Vatican astronomer saying that life on other planets could exist, the Church accepting the Big Bang, and even Vatican officials going so far as making the claim that the theory of evolution is not only probable, but doesn’t conflict with any religious beliefs, nothing should really come as a surprise anymore. However, when Benedict XVI makes claims that not using condoms would somehow prevent AIDS from spreading, it boggles the mind. While I understand that, as a Catholic, he believes that chastity is the best way to not get an STD or pregnant, I do think that he should acknowledge that, according to his beliefs, abstinence is only effective 99.99% of the time.

He also called Buddhists “the greatest threat to the Catholic Church.” No one is really sure why. It’s kind of surprising. Then again, all of this is coming from someone who still defends the Church’s position against Galileo. Some of his views are so extreme, that entire sects of Catholics, like Sedevacantics, don’t even acknowledge his papacy.

So what does Benedict mean for the Church? It seems as though he is changing the entire structure into a more traditionalist Church. One that consists of Biblical maximalists, and xeno/homophobics. So, yes, the Church is morphing into something else entirely. And there is a lot of criticism. Rightly so. I, for one, can understand why people are so shocked when they catch Jesus’ wife changing.

Justin Huft is a third year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at jhuft@uci.edu for questions, comments, concerns, or pleasant conversations.