by Helen and Harry Highwater
April 26, 2005
We've hesitated to write what follows, because we're not very good
Christians. We're political, not religious, activists, and we try to
be respectful and tolerant of other people's religious beliefs. But
something has to be said.
Over the week since Joseph Alois Ratzinger was chosen as Pope, we've
read many articles and researched some aspects of his background,
and we have yet to find much of anything in Ratzinger's résumé
that's worth respecting.
Growing up in Germany, Ratzinger was a
member of the Nazi Youth.
When we first heard that, we immediately started Googling around to
see whether he would have had any choice in the matter, growing up
in Germany. And near as we can tell, if you were youth in Germany
and not Jewish, you were in the Hitler Youth. It was required by law,
and resisting was not really an option, unless you were looking for
early martyr-hood. He was 14 when he joined.
Some reports say Ratzinger "resisted" the Nazis, but in reading past
the headlines it seems it was his father who resisted. Young
Ratzinger's "resistance" involved little more than listening to
Allied radio broadcasts with the volume turned low, when listening
was forbidden. Sorry, that's not resistance.
At 16, Ratzinger's seminary class was ordered to work in anti-aircraft
batteries, defending a BMW plant. They were later ordered to defend
an aircraft factory at Oberpfaffenhofen, where German jet fighters
were produced. He served in the German Army, drafted in December
1944 and stationed near Traunstein. He helped dig anti-tank ditches
on the Austrian-Hungarian border. And he deserted in the spring of
1945, as the end of the war was approaching.
When it's required by law and/or national hysteria, people will do
strange things. Ratzinger never joined the Nazi Party, and he gets
points for desertion, so we won't call him "The Nazi Pope." We're
more worried about what he's said and done in the many years since
World War II.
As the AIDS epidemic swept across America and the world, and more
and more scientific experts recommended the use of condoms,
Ratzinger reiterated long-standing church doctrine against the use
There are more than a billion Catholics in the world. Assuming that
some of them obey what the Vatican says, then people have died
because of Ratzinger's statements.
Church and state:
Ratzinger strongly believes the church should be involved in
"The church must make claims and demands on public law,"
he wrote in 1988, "and cannot simply retreat into the private
So we can expect Pope Ratzinger to be an
activist Pope, not
just a religious figure but a political leader.
And he has already taken political stands. Abortion? He's against
it. Birth control: He's against it. Equal rights for everyone? He's
Anyone who knows the Catholic Church's loooong history of torture
and inquisition should support the separation of church and state.
And for those who believe in a separation of church and state, it's
infuriating, and way, way out of line, for the Vatican to try
swinging an American election.
That's what Ratzinger did.
In his pre-Pope Vatican position, he was
responsible for enforcing church doctrine for the entire world. In
this authority, he wrote a July 2004 memo reminding American bishops
-- and only American bishops, as the U.S. election was heating up --
that communion should not be allowed for any politicians who support
abortion rights, and that any Catholic who votes for a candidate who
supports abortion rights is "guilty of formal cooperation in evil,"
and should not be eligible for communion.
It was a very
thinly-veiled endorsement of
George Bush in the 2004 election, and
an eternal threat to Catholics who might have voted for John Kerry.
Put as simply but fairly as possible, the new Pope thinks gay people
don't deserve human rights. As a friend (Mr. Cieciel) said in an
"If this Pope has his way, the only gays in the Catholic
Church will be the priests. Ba-dum-bump."
In a 1986 letter to bishops, Ratzinger said homosexuality was an
"intrinsic moral evil." In 1992, he wrote that civil liberties for
gays and lesbians should be "legitimately limited." Most
startlingly, he wrote that when homosexuals demand civil rights,
"neither the Church nor society should be surprised when...
irrational and violent reactions increase." If Ratzinger is Pope,
why can't Fred Phelps be a cardinal?
Until his recent promotion, Ratzinger ran the Vatican's
for the Doctrine of the Faith. Commonly called the Holy Office, it
went by a different, more familiar name until 1965: The Office of
the Inquisition. Yes, seriously.
In this office, Ratzinger routinely sent edicts ordering priests,
bishops, and nuns to be "silenced" -- to stop outreach to gays and
lesbians, to stop questioning church positions on condoms, abortion,
and AIDS, etc.
Ratzinger argued that Turkey should not be allowed to join the
European Union. Why? Because it has too many Muslims, which would
"dilute the Christian nature" of Europe. Are those the words of a
man of God? It sounds more like something Archie Bunker said in an
old episode of All In the Family.
"We wait for the instant in which Israel will say yes to
We're not Jewish and not particularly thin-skinned, but we wouldn't
be surprised if Jewish people found that statement pretty damned
Pedophile priests scandal:
Ratzinger's office was responsible for handling the ongoing sex
scandal, involving hundreds of priests who molested children under
the cover of their clerical collars.
So what did Ratzinger do?
In 2001, as the decades-long pattern of priests' abuse first started
to be reported, he wrote a letter to bishops reminding them that
church policy since 1962 mandated that the church itself would
investigate, bypassing worldly police authorities, and required
victims of priestly abuse to take an oath of secrecy.
In effect, Ratzinger ordered a cover-up.
an article in Britain's Observer, the letter, signed by
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "asserted the church's right to hold its
inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for
up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood." What the hell
would you call that, if not a plain and obvious obstruction of
In 2002, Ratzinger publicly stated that "less than 1% of priests are
guilty of acts of this type," which sounds curiously dismissive of
the problem. More reliable sources indicate that about 4% of U.S.
priests have been accused, but even that statistic begs the question
of how many more cases might have been reported if the church had
been cooperative in such investigations, instead of defensive.
He described American news coverage of the sex scandal had been
"exaggerated," as "a campaign against the church" -- which, to my
mind, is a remarkably obvious and quite uncaring way to somehow make
the Catholic Church the victim in the pedophile priests scandal. In
our opinion, apparently disputed by Pope Ratzinger, the victims were
the children, and the perpetrators were the priests -- with the
support of the church hierarchy all the way to the Vatican, which
knew what was happening and did all they could do to cover it up.
On seemingly every issue that has come to his desk, Ratzinger has
been responsible for enforcing the orthodoxy, and sweeping problems
under the rug. It was Ratzinger, as Pope John Paul II's
arch-right-hand man, who argued in John Paul's ear for the oldest of
old-fashioned church doctrine.
And God knows, we were never big fans of Pope John Paul II. There
were things to respect about the man, and whatever his faults he had
moments of courage and offered occasional inspiration. But he
usually echoed a dusty dogma indistinguishable from Catholicism of
eons past, which never much appealed to us.
And this new pope was where the old Pope's dust came from.
In our church, we were taught that the notion behind Christianity is
to try to be Christ-like. If that's the point, then Ratzinger is a
Benny Hinn, or
Jerry Falwell, but there's more of
the spirit of Christ in any sincere Christian, any average Methodist
or Catholic or Seventh Day Adventist who reads his Bible and tries
to understand the will of God, than there will ever be in Joe Ratzinger.
He now calls himself Pope Benedict XVI, but Ratzinger just isn't
Pope material. He's an embarrassment to Christianity, and he has no
business leading any religious meeting where a cross isn't burning
in the background.
In Ratzinger's travels, we hope this Pope is greeted with protests,
not with praise. We hope he is seen for what he is -- a mean old man
in a funny-looking hat, whose life work proves that the Pope is as
fallible as anyone else, perhaps more so. As he makes his Papal
pronouncements, our sincere prayer is that Catholics and Christians
who give a damn about the teachings of Christ won't be listening.