19 April 2005

Habemus Papam

"Habemus Papam!" We have a pope, Benedict XVI, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. All the conservatism of John Paul II, and none of the charisma. Where will he lead the ship of the Church? I suspect he will keep her headed on the same course as his predecessor (whom he advised for 24 years). Other than that, I think he will have the crew swab the decks. I hope that will entail some house-cleaning, especially in the American Catholic Church. The American Catholic hierarchy has for too long tolerated (and in some cases protected) the breaking of the vow of celibacy, which, as long as celibacy is the rule, is the breaking of the office of the priesthood.

Benedict XVI, in his younger days, was instrumental in the suppression of Liberation Theology. This may sound like a bad thing, but Liberation Theology was essentially a syncretism of Catholicism with Communism. The two didn't go together well at all in Europe, and one could hardly expect a European pope, or his theological advisor, to be sympathetic. Liberation Theology, which was used as a tool by the Sandinista insurgency, is less popular now that most of the autocratic regimes in South America are no more. But it had the merit of raising social justice concerns that the Church must address if it is to do the Gospel and not just proclaim it.

So, may God help Benedict XVI. In his opening remarks as Pope, the Urbi et Orbi blessing, he pretty much said he's counting on it.

07 April 2005

Time of Ignorance, Culture of Death

Maybe there is some significance to the natural death of Pope John Paull II coming so soon after the killing by deliberate neglect of Terri Schiavo, who had been in a "Persistent Vegetative State" for 15 years. His Holiness accused Western Culture of becoming a Culture of Death in its willingness to practice abortion at the beginning of human life and euthanasia at its end.

But I would like to draw your attention to another killing and another culture of death. Hatun Surucu was a 23-year old woman of Turkish descent, living in Berlin. As WorldNet Daily put it, "Surucu had taken her 5-year-old son and run away from her husband of eight years, a cousin with whom she was united in an arranged marriage." Apparently she was killed by her brothers. It was the sixth "honor killing" in as many months, and the 45th in the last 8 years, among the 200,000 member Turkish community in Berlin. Surucu was killed because she dishonored her family by "living like a German."

In a related story, two other women, one who had married without her family's permission, and her sister who had run away from the same family to join her, were hacked to death by their axe-wielding brothers in Jordan for the same reason: to uphold the family honor. Jordan punishes such a crime with sentences as light as six months in prison.

Now, I've read the Qur'an and have no memory of any commandment in it to carry out such atrocities. Islamic clerics have also claimed as much. But many of the world's Muslims believe such "honor killings" are Islamic. They are not. Honor killings have been carried over into Islamic culture from the pre-Islamic Jahilliyah, or "Time of Ignorance."

In many Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East, the Jahilliyah is considered to be an impure and useless time, unworthy of scholarly study, unfit for retention in the popular imagination. However, if this period were better studied, and if the studies were published for a lay audience, more Muslims would realize how much of their religion is contaminated with ancient customs which the Prophet (peace be upon him) sought to reform. And Islamic culture would become less a Culture of Death for its women.

01 April 2005

Ioannes Paulus II, Karol Wojtyla

The College of Cardinals elected Karol Wojtyla to become Pope John Paul II the year that my wife and I got married. He has been Pope for my entire adult life. Now we face the imminent prospect of his dying.

His papacy has been at once both conservative and progressive. His writings are staunchly against abortion, birth control, euthanasia, and the death penalty. He drew the Church back from any consideration of non-celibate and female clergy. On the progressive side, he was such a strong champion of human rights that he was influential in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism. By formally pardoning Galileo and in many other ways he pulled the Church forward toward the acceptance of science and the glimpses of truth that it makes available. He no doubt influenced Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela when they chose to use the power of Confession and Forgiveness to achieve a peaceful and stable transition of South Africa to majority rule. He has strengthened Catholicism and Christianity in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, even as they have declined in Western Europe. He pulled the Church forward in its relations with people of other faiths. He was consistently against war.

Even if John Paul II dies in the near future, he will continue to be a potent force in human history for decades to come, and not only because he has appointed nearly all the present Cardinals during his long papacy. His passionate, carefully-reasoned, and well-researched statements in his encyclicals will serve as sea-anchors to stabilize traditional Catholicism and traditional Christianity generally. Those, who like myself, differ with John Paul II's opinions on a variety of subjects must now argue against a formidable intellectual body of work. The challenge will force us to search our traditions, beliefs, and what we can know of God's Will for us as human beings. We cannot help but benefit from rising to the challenge.

Indeed, the world would be not only a poorer place, but a more dangerous place, physically and spiritually, were we to prevail on the cheap, without having to surmount the obstacles that Pope John Paul II leaves before us. He has lived, written and preached an Evangelium Vitae, a Gospel of Life, that will not be silenced by his passing. He has not merely stated one side of a debate. He has established its ground.

Now may God bless and keep his servant John Paul II, in this world and the World to Come.