"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is B16 nasty enough?

I raise that question in an ironic spirit because, after this pontificate's first year, the consensus among aggressively orthodox Catholics—of whom some consider me one—is that Benedict is not kicking enough butt. In his anniversarial summary, NCR's Vatican correspondent John Allen speaks as wisely as usual, and speaks well of the Pope; but he notes that the Right is somewhat uneasy.

Needless to say, the butt that such Catholics want to see kicked is progressive butt, and progs are generally relieved that they have not felt the boot—at least not nearly enough to propel them out the door. But the progs also think the Pope too accommodating toward the traditionalists, who want a "universal indult" for Roman Catholics to worship according to the Tridentine Rite. Though they have not got that—at least not yet—negotiations with the SSPX are earnest and ongoing. And of course he has repudiated none of the moral and ecclesiological teachings that so outraged the progs while he headed the CDF. Clearly this pope is nobody's ideological hatchet man. But neither can he be said to pull punches when punches are called for.

On the question of Islam, for example, he has taken a harder line than his predecessor. While by no means giving up on respect and interreligious dialogue, he insists on "reciprocity." That means that if Muslims expect and enjoy the right to practice their religion freely and openly in non-Muslim lands, then Christians and others should enjoy, even if they do not expect, the same right for themselves in Muslim lands. Needless to say, such reciprocity is not forthcoming in most Muslim lands and probably won't be for a very long time, if ever. That is a clear violation of the UN Charter—not to mention the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights—to which most such lands ostensibly subscribe. And that very disparity affords the Church and the West a moral high ground that secularist "tolerance" of other cultures does not. A very smart move.

Then there's the question of Western decadence, about which Muslims often have uncomfortably accurate things to say. In his Passion (Palm) Sunday homily, B16 addressed himself especially to young people thus:

The cross speaks of sacrifice, it was said, the cross is a sign of the negation of life. We, however, want a full life, without restrictions and renunciations. We want to live, we just want to live. We do not let ourselves be limited by precepts and prohibitions -- it was said, and continues to be said -- we want wealth and plentitude. All this seems convincing and attractive; it is the language of the serpent that says to us: "Do not be fearful. Eat calmly from all the trees of the garden!"

You just can't get more explicit than that. Then, on Good Friday, there was this meditation on the Seventh Station of the Cross:
Our arrogance, our violence, our injustices all press down upon the body of Christ. They weigh upon him ... and he falls a second time,to show us the unbearable burden of our sins. But what is it that today, in particular, strikes at Christ’s holy body?

Surely God is deeply pained by the attack on the family. Today we seem to be witnessing a kind of anti-Genesis,a counter-plan, a diabolical pride aimed at eliminating the family. There is a move to reinvent mankind, to modify the very grammar of life as planned and willed by God.

But, to take God’s place, without being God,is insane arrogance, a risky and dangerous venture. May Christ’s fall open our eyesto see once more the beautiful face, the true face, the holy face of the family.The face of the family which all of us need.
I suppose one could get even more explicit than that, but why bother once more? Everybody knows what's being referred to.

The Pope appears unlikely to clean house by showing the door to unruly family members. As I've often suggested before, demographics are at least as likely to winnow the chaff as juridical measures and would be far less costly. Instead, Benedict proposes the true, the good, and the beautiful; he calls the false, the evil, and the ugly by their right names; and he invites all, by example as well as word, to conversion of heart. Unlike some of my fellow conservative Catholics, I've come to believe that, for the moment at least, that's about as nasty as he needs to be.
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