Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is the senior religion editor for the Huffington Post and a minister in the American Baptist church, a theologically liberal mainline denomination. In a February 11 article he reflects on the papacy of Benedict XVI, whom he doesn’t much approve of.
From the first, Raushenbush says, he knew that Benedict “was going to continue the more conservative course charted by John Paul II. Nowhere has this been more true and distressing than in Pope Benedict’s seemingly continuous attacks on the LGBT community and in the crackdown on the American nuns.” Raushenbush, himself gay, is upset that the Vatican came out against adoptions by homosexuals and against same-sex marriage: “The head of the Catholic Church and many of his American bishops have become more entrenched in harmful anti-gay rhetoric and leaving the LGBT community feeling that our lives are devalued by this supposedly pro-life Vatican.”
As for the Vatican’s investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Raushenbush says, “The attack on the nuns further alienated American Catholics as well as many of us non-Catholics who had looked to these justice-seeking nuns as role models and mentors.” He goes on to list other complaints about Benedict and the Church, but it is not his complaints that caught my attention so much as the comments to his article.
We’ve always known that the Church has opponents, some innocent and some not, some well-intentioned and some not, but only with the advent of blogging have the most vicious and ignorant opponents been able to spread their opinions beyond their immediate acquaintances. Here are a few of the roughly 300 comments to Raushenbush’s article. I have fixed spelling and orthography and in a few places have added a comment.
1. “Do you honestly think he [Benedict] is horrified [about the abuse scandal]? That is hadn’t had a part in what transpired for decades? That he wasn't a part of covering it up both before and after he was Pope?”
2. “Can we talk about that time he went to Africa and told the people that condoms help spread AIDS? Good riddance!”
3. “He fought in the German army so his ideology is perhaps stuck in the 1930s–1940s and may explain his positions on many issues.” (Joseph Ratzinger was only 12 years old when World War II began. He involuntarily was enrolled in the Hitler Youth but, clearly, was too young to have been drafted into the German army.)
4. “The papal resignation is the sensible decision of an elderly CEO of an international tax-exempt real estate holding conglomerate. It is also an indirect teaching on the spiritual bankruptcy of the Roman church.”
5. “One quibble [adds the next commenter]: the Catholic Church is not spiritually bankrupt. It was never more than a political and commercial organization.”
6. “New boss same as the old boss. He’s just another footnote on a long and ugly story of persecutions against minorities.”
7. “I have become more and more disgusted with the Catholic church over the years. The nuns seem to be the only bright spot and they are being oppressed by the church hierarchy.”
8. “Good riddance to this relic from the Middle Ages. If only the dough-heads in the big hats could be counted on to bring this church up to, say, the middle of the last century. They won't. The decay will continue.”
9. “I consider Catholicism to be one of the most irrational religions. Now, all religions are irrational, but Catholicism is one of the few that is not apologetic about it. Most of the others claim some sort of rationality, but can only maintain that argument by calling their opponents phobic or ignorant. Ratzinger exemplified a church that knew it was based on faith only.” (A few hours with the Summa Theologiae or reading Arnold Lunn would disabuse anyone of the notion that the Church doesn’t rely on reason.)
I haven’t read all of the comments to Raushenbush’s article. Some of them are from faithful and knowledgeable Catholics, but most are along the lines of the nine excerpts above. Even if we make “negative allowances” for the Internet, acknowledging that it attracts a disproportionate number of cranks, misfits, and secularist hotheads (I’m being redundant here), comments such as these suggest a deep well of animosity toward religion in general and the Church in particular.
So many people have perceptions of Catholic teachings and history that are so far off the mark that one is tempted to despair. How can such a deficit of intellect and imagination be overcome? What can be done in the face of seemingly insurmountable spite and ill will?
These questions bring to mind lines from T. S. Eliot’s Choruses from “The Rock”:
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?