After choosing the new Pope, the Cardinals filed past in single file and kneeled before Ratzinger. But then again, this was just formalizing a state of affairs which has existed for the past 20 or so years.
Much will be made of Ratzinger, or Benedict XVI, and his past. His youthful and naive indiscretion of belonging briefly to the infamous Hitler Youth has already been publicly exposed. But a much more alarming history will need to be glossed over. And indeed, the spin doctors have already began to work furiously.
Ratzinger was the Dean of the College of Cardinals but he held another much more important office. He was the head of the ‘Congregation for the Docrine of Faith’ – the institution which was entrusted with the responsability and authority to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy and protect the Catholic Church. Ratzinger was the head of this institution for 24 years. But before he came onto the scene – much earlier in fact – it was known by another name: the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
While occupuying this important position, Ratzinger held true to the legacy of his predecessors. Although he didn’t resort to thumbscrews and burnings at the stake, Ratzinger still got his way and anyone who disagreed with him was bullied into silence or excommunicated.
He was a polarizing figure. One who was most at ease in combat and debate – using his highly sharpened skills of rhetoric to plow through opponents. In his now infamous essay, “Dominus Iesus” he set out in no uncertain terms his belief that the only true path was the Catholic Church. In it, he also assailed the pluralism and moderation that so many other Cardinals had embraced. He also railed against what he called “cafeteria Catholics” who chose to use birth-control and homosexuals whom he said were an “intrinsic, moral evil”.
Ratzinger was, plainly put, the enforcer of the Vatican. While Pope John Paul II went around in public looking as soft and pink as a puppy, he was behind the curtains ripping apart anyone who strayed from ‘doctrine’. During his years as the enforcer, he gained a nickname which he no doubt accepted with pride; that of ‘God’s Rottweiler’. It was given to him quite deservingly as he worked diligently to bully, browbeat, and pressure any and all internal sources of pluralism and liberalism. He used all the tools at his disposal: financial incentives (both given and taken away), appointing or moving around high ranking clergy, and threatening ex-communication (as well as carrying it out on several occasions). He was also the pointman when it came for the Vatican to defuse the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, his response was to viciously attack the victims and the media on charges of sensationalism and exaggeration.
On his watch the voices of dissent, liberalism and pluralism either retreated into self-imposed silence, capitulated into accepting Ratzinger’s position or were excommunicated. Yet his actions shook up the Catholic Church and left it divided and many times at odds with itself.
I find it a bit tragic that someone so extremist and close-minded is now occupying such an important position. And yet, I’m not surprised at all by this turn of events. It has been my experience that the persons who gain higher and higher offices, those who are either appointed or elected to positions of authority, usually tend to have rather aggressive personalities and a somewhat extremist bent.
You simply do not find someone who is meek and gentle (those that pause to make sure that everyone has their say in a meeting, for example) going up the ladder, as it were – other than the Unitarian Jihadists, that is. Instead, it is almost always the person whose forceful character steamrolls over other’s and bullies them into either silence or reluctant acceptance of their position – if for nothing other than to just keep the peace and unity of the group. I’ve personally seen this in many organizations. And unfortunately the Baha’i administration is no exception.
The ascent and past of Ratzinger is all to familiar because it parallels the ascent and past of ITC members and Counsellors who see their duty the ‘protection’ of the Faith. I’m not sure by what feats of logic they convince themselves that they can hold such a position or to keep secret files on individual Baha’is. But somehow they do. And not surprisingly it is these same individuals who are becoming members of the Universal House of Justice.
I also see many parallels between the voices in the Catholic Church that Ratzinger worked so hard to silence, and the marginalized voices within the Baha’i Faith. Perhaps there is a lesson we can learn here.