Published on Thursday, April 21, 2005 by the LA Weekly
The Vatican goes with its chief inquisitor
by Marc Cooper
This just in from the Vatican Politburo, ending two days of closed-door meetings.
The red-velvet curtains of the secret lodge open onto St. Peter’s plaza. The following
communiqué is read to the assembled masses: |
“Comrades! The forces of degenerate humanism, of decadent individualism, of lascivious homosexuality, of opportunist feminism and of debased critical thinking were all dealt a death blow today when the Presidium of People’s Cardinals selected Comrade Joseph Ratzinger as the new Vatican Premier and supreme leader of the World’s Peoples.
“Resisting all winds and tides of change, Premier Ratzinger has served as our dauntless Great Helmsman, keeping our ship of faith on a course of absolute ideological clarity and purity, employing his iron discipline to avoid the treacherous waters of both right and left opportunism. Long Live the People’s Pope!”
Two weeks ago, it was Christopher Hitchens, to give proper credit, who wrote that the current state of the Vatican resembles not the Mafia so much as it does the Soviet Union of 50 years ago — right after Stalin’s death. After the prolonged reign of its rigid patriarch, an ossified, obsolete and authoritarian regime struggles to hold the line against encroaching reality and almost certain future collapse. To reform or not to reform? Or better just to buck up the hard line and hang on? Moscow or the Vatican?
In the Soviet case, immediately after Stalin’s death, his chief enforcer — the head of the bloody secret police, Lavrenty Beria — made a direct play for power. Promising to be more Stalinist than Stalin, he briefly had the upper hand. That is, until six months later, when the “liberal reformers” — Khrushchev and Molotov — had Beria executed.
But the Vatican state has fewer responsibilities than the Soviets and therefore even less reason to contemplate the flexibilities of dogma. The pope must administer primarily an ideological apparatus — there are no messy worries about how to actually feed a couple of hundred million peasants, or how to make the factories actually produce something (in any case, the Vatican investment brokers have long been on the cutting edge of the global markets). Nope, all the Vatican really has to do is enforce dogma.
No surprise for me, then, that the dinosaurs who populate the College of Cardinals picked their own homegrown version of Lavrenty Beria. German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known literally as the previous Pope’s chief inquisitor on doctrine. His garrulous misanthropy has also earned him the nicknames of Cardinal Rottweiler and Cardinal No — no to everything and anything new. No to change.
Ratzinger cinched his election with the fulminatory rant he unleashed disguised as the opening blessing of the secret conclave. Denouncing individualism, liberalism and what he called the “dictatorship of relativism” that would permit Catholics to make up their own minds on matters of faith, he called for a permanent defense of “clear faith.” Beria reincarnated, he gave the cardinals an easy way out: total continuity of the current regime at least for the few years probably left in the 78-year-old. Even thinking about reform could be postponed maybe five or 10 years.
The crowning of Ratzinger on Tuesday morning put an abrupt end to all the silly chatter of the previous weeks that somehow the church was going to modernize and go for a . . . fill-in-the-blank pope, that is, a black pope, a brown pope, a Third World pope, a progressive pope, a decentralizing pope — whatever.
As if any of those fanciful choices would have made a real difference in anyone’s life. All the above were but psychological projections by disappointed Catholic constituencies naive enough to believe that the church somehow belongs to its worshippers.
Time to learn that the Vatican is no more theirs than a Siberian coal mine belonged to its workers. There was no way to be a liberal Communist. Liberal Catholics, well, that’s a different thing. In the privacy of your home or among a few friends, no problem. Just don’t try to cart any of your heretical ideas past the church door. You and how many divisions?
The church is a fundamentally totalitarian institution, and, like all such top-down dictatorships, it is virtually immune from internal reform. Not just authoritarian in its political structure but, more importantly, in the mode of thought it imposes. Once we’re talking about God’s Vicar on Earth, the discussion is sort of over, I would think — no matter what his color.
Joseph Ratzinger was the perfect choice to replace and replicate the profoundly reactionary John Paul II. He embodies the very essence of his church and reaffirms its studied detachment from the real world. Long Live the New Pope! Long Live the Leader of All the World’s Peoples!
© 2005 LA Weekly