I smell a rat

Last Tuesday, April 19, my son celebrated his fifth birthday. Other than that, it’s not exactly the most auspicious of days, being the anniversary both of the Waco massacre and its “commemoration” by Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City two years later. I’d always felt fortunate that he hadn’t been born a day later, on Hitler’s birthday, but I’m not so sure the 19th is any better anymore, as it now shares the indignity of being the day of the installation of the new pope, Joseph Ratzinger.

Our new pope has made his name by avoiding difficult issues like starvation or AIDS, whose solutions might require selling a cathedral or slipping on a condom. Instead, in typical Vatican fashion, he has made his name worrying about the fine points of dogma and the evils of rock ‘n’ roll, calling it “a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship.” Sigh.

By choosing a hard liner, the Church has blown a monumental opportunity to revivify itself. Nowadays, this morbidly obese shit-pile outside of Rome has far more in common with Jabba the Hut than the Jewish carpenter rumored to have founded it.

How can anyone having a passing familiarity with Christian scripture think that Jesus could possibly sponsor, or be effectively represented by, the cesspool of graft, nepotism and opulent wealth that is the Vatican?

When confronted by seemingly crystal-clear sayings like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter into the reign of God,” gilded bishops idly caress 3-pound ruby stones on their pinkies and mutter something like, “The ways of God are not the ways of man,” or some gummed-over version of “ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die,” and return to their foie gras.

I should be clear here that I am not attacking Catholics in any way. Much of my family is Catholic, and beyond them I have known scores of intelligent, compassionate, well-adjusted people who also subscribe to that faith. One’s relationship with God is inarguably one’s own, and it’s certainly not my place to call that into question.

What disgusts me is the Church as temporal authority, the Church as the world’s largest property holder, the Church that has tacitly condoned genocide for centuries, and now, with the election of Pope Rat, a Church turning a blind eye on the millions of poor Catholics whom they say will go to hell if they practice birth control or jerk off. Better a starving child than dried-up semen, I guess.

The potential for good in a body so influential is almost incalculable. With the death of a pope widely considered as relatively progressive, the Church had a chance to strike a resounding blow on the side of tolerance, compassion and right. Instead, the blow has fallen squarely upon those laudable goals, and another ossified old cop has been given the reins.

Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth, and later fought with the Nazi army. Was he compelled to do so? Almost definitely. Did he land in a concentration camp for desertion? Historical fact. To call him a Nazi now is to deny the possibility of rehabilitation, whether mental or physical, and the Christian faith is ostensibly one of forgiveness.

However, a general symptom of the decadence of the Church is its tendency to confuse forgiveness with accountability. Of course B-one-six isn’t a Nazi today, but the fact remains that, however unwilling, he was one.

What kind of message does this send to the rest of the world? Are we to believe that there were no other equal candidates? John Paul actively resisted the Nazi occupiers of his native Poland as a youth; Joseph joined up with them. The difference is clear. One who would be Pope must make the truly agonizing decisions, and make them rightly. Enlisting with the Devil out of fear isn’t very Christ-like – and we’re to trust this guy as His mouthpiece?

Far from a reflection of the effort on behalf of the spiritual wellbeing of the planet, what we’ve seen here are the sickening machinations that go on behind the scenes in the Vatican. It’s clear that the Church does not expect the papacy of B16, a 78-year-old man, to be a lengthy one. Why not take the time to make a good choice, choose a younger man, and one who never wore the swastika? What would be its purpose in this?

Simple: a vibrant, vigorous, young pope, presumably of a progressive bent, would surely shake things up under those rusty old domes. But who wants change when you’re draped in ermine and you get to look down the dresses of Italian girls when they kiss your ring?

If this were a government with no religious trappings it would be an awful situation, but when it’s a Church, who purports to have a monopoly on Divine Truth, who claims the authority to dictate on matters of life and death, it crosses the line into the grotesque. How can the Vatican hold court on human rights – or any legal or spiritual matter – when they are obviously rife with corruption and drunk on the liquor of wealth and obsequiousness?

So much for saving souls. With the election of Benedict XVI, the Vatican has sent a clear message to the world: Go fuck yourselves.

Riggs Fulmer can be reached at [email protected].