aired February 16th, 2013 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/H3KYHpwGAFs
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of February 17th, 2013.
Big news for goyim this week when Joseph Ratzinger – aka Pope Benedict the 16th – announced that he would be stepping down from his Popery at the end of the month. It’s an unusual step, since most Popes either die in office or quit to take on consulting work in the fashion industry. But Pope Benedict felt that both his mind and body were starting to go, so rather than decline into a senile figurehead, he’s gracefully bowing out so the cardinals can groom someone else for the most important job in all Christendom. Well, apart from being CEO of Hobby Lobby.
In his eight years of Popeing, Benedict has racked up a decidedly mixed record. To be fair, he had a hard act to follow. In 2005, he succeeded Pope John Paul II, who not only traveled extensively but won the Miss Congeniality pageant four out of the seven years he entered. Following Pope JPII is like coming after Jimi Hendrix at Monterey; you can either burn two guitars and play a third with your shmeckel, or you go the other way, hang back, do your thing, and try to make your own little contribution while half the crowd is stumbling to the concession stands.
Let us also not forget that Pope Benedict did not exactly have the saintliest early life. He was a German. In the `30s. So when he was 14 years old, he was forced to join the Hitler Youth. He wasn’t crazy about it, but he didn’t exactly take a martyr’s stand against it, either. Two years later, he was a soldier in the German air force and then the infantry. Again, he wasn’t thrilled to be there, but tell that to any western allies he flew over or shot at. Then, when the war was all but over, he deserts and runs home. Interesting qualifications for being the holiest man in the world and spiritual guide to millions: be part of the most racist, homicidal regime in history, fight and be ready to kill for that country, and when the going gets rough, escape and be a traitor. In the same shoes, would I have had the moral fiber to be any different? Probably not, but I’m not Pope.
Nor am I likely to be. My application for the open position has already been rejected, they say because I don’t have Quark Express, but ehhh… I think it’s anti-Semitism.
Anyhoo, once he became Pope, no question, Benedict had the courage of his convictions. He was a conservative who believed in sticking with time-honored traditions and pulling Catholicism back from what he perceived to be a hastening secularized decay. When a religion is 2000 years old, there’s a comfort in that – hearing the Latin, upholding the old guard, knowing that the geezer charge has more in common with a monk from the 1200s than with a slacker from 2012. I compare it to the ultra-Orthodox Jews you see at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem every day. They’re incredibly insular and right wing, and they believe the bible word for word, and anything new you throw at them is so terrifying, they shrink into their black coats like potato bugs curling up into a ball. But they’re also a link to the past that would be really sad to lose. They’re out there being perfect so the rest of us don’t have to.
Except, nobody’s perfect. And Pope Benedict’s back-to-the-dark-ages position on certain issues isn’t even close. Women priests? No way. Abortion? No, but no surprise there. Same-sex marriage? He likened it to anarchy and called it “contrary to human love.” Because a celibate ex-Nazi is certainly my go-to expert on love and matrimony.
He did better, much better, on Jewish matters, making sure to renounce the whole “Jews killed Jesus” thing and visiting Auschwitz in 2012 – and not just to reminisce with old classmates and relatives. He did restore to the liturgy a Latin prayer that had a part in it about making sure to convert the Jews. But they cut that line years ago. I think they replaced it with some lyrics from Led Zeppelin IV. And when it’s come to Israel and the Arabs, Benedict has tried to be even-handed and a champion of peace, which is exactly what you’d want and expect from the Pope. He also pissed off the Arabs when he audaciously mentioned that Islam doesn’t exactly have a peaceful reputation. That’s about as self-evident as saying Paulie Shore movies don’t reach the level of high art – but when the Pope says it, it’s news.
Did Benedict do too little, too laity about all those pedophile priests? Of course! Heck, as a Cardinal, he was as guilty as anyone of hushing things up and making sure all the horrors stayed inside the church. Heaven forbid they should get in the clutches of such pesky outsiders as police and courts and the public’s right to know. But ultimately, the biggest disappointment about Pope Benedict is the hypocrisy that I’m sure he doesn’t even see. He’s willing to leap into the modern era with a Facebook page and Twitter tweets, and he’s the first Pope in 600 years to step down instead of drop dead. So why is he willing to break those traditions, yet making the church evolve in its stance on women and gays and embryos – that would be heresy.
When all is said and done, the real story of Pope Benedict is that he’s a smart guy whose career was spent either saving his skin or salvaging the status quo. If the Nazis come, salute; if they put you in a uniform, fight; if they lose, run; if your colleagues are shtupping little boys, juggle; if you say something risky, backpedal; but if the world turns forward, stand still.
The Vatican has an opportunity now to turn the corner. They can get a Pope from Africa, or Latin America, or Passaic. They can elect a guy who’ll separate important moral principles from stuff that’s been done just because it’s always been done. I’m not expecting to see Catholicism suddenly embrace pro-choice rallies, lady priests and gay honeymoons – but why not? If a black man can become president, and a Hitler Youth can be Pope, and Honey BooBoo can be a TV star, anything can happen.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York. Dominus vobiscum, zie gezundt.
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