Via Lindsay: Benedict XVI’s comments about Islam (“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”) brought furor, naturally. Now Revere explains how Ratzinger is like Bush:
What interests me more is how maladroit this Pope is in negotiating the treacherous waters of international relations. Sort of like George Bush. For most of the first half of the twentieth century Popes worked hard and successfully to consolidate power in the Vatican at the expense of local dioceses and national hierarchies. Pope Pius XII did this even though it meant cozying up to Mussolini and Hitler. The overriding issue wasn’t Pius’s anti-Semitism (which was real but probably not very virulent). It was the protection of Vatican power, independence and influence. By the 1960s the Church was probably at its zenith and its conservative nature fitted in well with the Cold War.
Then came the social upheavals of the 1960s which produced tectonic cultural shifts around the world and brought us the sweetness of Pope John XXIII and the reforms of Vatican II. The changes were deep and fundamental but produced a backlash, in US politics with the Reagan administration and in the Church with Pope John Paul II, a Reaganesque and deeply conservative Pope who managed to undo much of the atmosphere of Catholic renascence of the 1960s while still retaining a relatively benign face. Reagan similarly destroyed the movement for openness and community in US politics and government, but did it in a way that still had a human face, despite its inhuman soul.
Now we have Pope Benedict and George Bush. Neither of them seem to care anymore about putting a human face on their policies, or, for that matter, know or anticipate what the rest of the world will think. Both “play to their base” and are intent on purifying the Church or their party. Neither of them can put the genie back in the bottle, either the change of the sixties or Vatican II. In both cases the objects of their attentions will shrink and wind up the refuge of the True Believers.
The important thing is not just that Ratzinger is as blatant as Bush, but also that both follow policies that are no different from their predecessors’ except in their vehemence. The differences between Bush and Clinton on most issues are trivial to nonexistent. And yet the world liked Clinton because he understood diplomacy and didn’t come off as an American idiot.
Similarly, Wojtyla was a conservative who became Pope because of a Cold War power game and presided over the destruction of liberation theology, involving breaking several hitherto-inviolable Jesuit traditions. He was considered a reformer hailing the arrival of a new Catholic Church because he had the tact to apologize for past horrors while continuing to commit present ones, and because he promoted interfaith coalitions against reason, modernity, and social progress.
In both cases, the rise of the blatant leaders was due to internal politics, but is ultimately a sign foreshadowing decline. Bush’s militancy turned anti-Americanism into a mainstream position in every country but the US; Benedict’s rise is causing many non-Catholics to consider the Catholic Church an enemy rather than an ally.