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rigidity revisited

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 26, 2006

"A Tumultuous World Tests a Rigid Pope" reads a Wall Street Journal headline. Well, we've got prelates a-plenty who bend. A little rigidity won't come amiss, especially where the truth is at stake. The article ends on an encouraging note:

Last month several dozen top Catholic theologians crowded into a Vatican chapel for 7:30 a.m. mass with Benedict. The pontiff gave pointed marching orders:

"Speaking just to find applause or to tell people what they want to hear ... is like prostitution," he told the theologians, according to a transcript. "Don't look for applause, but look to obey the truth."

Bull's eye, boss. I've read no small amount of comment about Joseph Ratzinger suggesting that he was traumatized by the student unrest at the University of Tübingen in the late 1960s and that this resulted in a profound temperamental change toward conservatism. There is not one crumb of evidence for this thesis -- beyond the fact that Ratzinger didn't follow the trajectory common to his generation of academics, viz., by giving in to pressure and becoming a squishy Leftist. Compare Ratzinger's writing with that of his contemporaries, pre- and post-1968, and the conclusion is pure Kipling: it was Ratzinger who kept his head when all about him were losing theirs.

Some men of the time (including clergyman-scholars) did become true reactionaries; they were psychologically overwhelmed by the turmoil of those years and so retreated into cloisters or rectories to lick their wounds. They typically developed strange crotchets in dress and mannerism. They ceased any patient engagement with their contemporaries, either withdrawing entirely from the academy or lurching into violent polemics. To put Ratzinger in this category is stupid.

I don't believe, though, that the people who claim Ratzinger to be reactionary are themselves stupid. Most are, or were, harlots -- harlots precisely in the sense that Pope Benedict describes above: they made careers for themselves by seeking applause and telling people what they wanted to hear, and in so doing they put up for sale what ought not to be sold. Those who are conspicuously successful don't like to be reminded of the way they got started ("I was young and needed the money...") and their distinguished professorships make them forgetful of the metaphorical Hershey bars for which they first swapped their virtue. For such persons the existence of a Ratzinger is like a slap on a sunburned back. Small wonder if stung pride tries to make him out to be the weakling.

Jesus displayed forbearance and mercy toward prostitutes, however, and his present vicar has likewise shown a remarkable clemency in this regard. Doubtless he remembers how fierce were the pressures to succumb. Nor, to be honest, can your Uncle Di acquit himself of a strain of pharisaism here ("This man welcomes Swiss theologians and eats with them!"). Yet Pope Benedict is not a controversialist out to do down his adversaries, but a pastor of souls. It's easy to get impatient with the sheep that won't hear his voice, but there's not much doubt about whom Benedict is listening to.

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  • Posted by: richardols3892 - Aug. 21, 2010 1:26 AM ET USA

    Fr. McNally didn't put down "the product." He apologized for the bigwigs in "Detroit," who come across as insensitive to the "buyers." Good for him!

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Aug. 19, 2010 9:17 PM ET USA

    Father McNally owes me no aplogy for the Vatican. I am deeply grateful for the wisdom and support for women that flows from our Holy Father and those around him. He should apologize to the Vatican for his insensitive and publically demeaning words... I look to our priests to lift up our church, not tear it down and divide us. I pray for Father O'Mally to foster love and peace - not discontent and strife.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 19, 2010 6:29 PM ET USA

    You would think that Father McNally is a very disloyal salesman when in fact, he's not, because the product is the wonderfully warm, modern, inclusively diverse, multicultural male feminist and beloved pastor, Larry McNally. Wouldn't you just love to hug the guy if you were a "wonderful and virtuous" female parishioner? I bet he keeps his smile when he sleeps!

  • Posted by: usalis549414 - Aug. 19, 2010 6:10 PM ET USA

    If Father Larry paid any money for his priestly training, I think he should go back to the seminary and ask for his money back.