Thursday, April 21, 2005

I Love My Little Joe

They have elcted the Grand Inquisitor pope! Let me tell you, it is a great time to be a medievalist.

Without going into a rif on celebrity funerals, cults of personality, or conservative politics, I got to say I have loved this past week. Not only did I finish writing my dissertaion (all that's left now is cleaning up the footnotes) but I got to witness the election of a pope. What I loved most was not the debate over the future of the church (I mean, how much has it actually changed in the past 2000 years, really?) as watching the media spectacle. THe cables, led by Fox (natch) practically got down on their knees to kiss the popes...well, ok, ring...while the networks treated it like a superbowl broadcast they all had rights to. THe New York Times was one of the few American outlets that seemd to strike a negative tone toward Benidict's election, harping on his conservativism and focusing on how liberal American catholics were likely to recieve the upcoming bitch-slap that is headed their way, but nobody struck the tone of the French or Italian rags, which called him inflexible and doctrinal and compared him with a panzer tank and, (my favorite) "John Paul's Rotweiler." But even more beautiful then this was watching the Vatican spin doctors in action. It was just like looking intot he press room after the first Bush/Kerry debate. Suddenly the rotweiler was "shy," "contemplative," "compassionate," and "spiritual." He was a uniter, not a divider, wven though he had been a divider for twenty years. We started hearing that at the beginning of his career Ratzinger was a liberal theologian, and that as head of the College of Doctronial Faith he had just been doing his job (and where before have we heard a German say "I was only following orders?"). Apparently, in contrast to what he said just three days ago, Pope Benedict XVI no longer thinks other religions are inferior to catholicism, or that catholicism is the only way to salvation, or that Islam represents a threat to Catholicism, or, well, anything he's said recently. Mind you, this is coming mostly from the cardinals who, despite their vow of secrecy (First rule fo conclave is you don't talk about conclave) imediatly went out and held press conferences to tell people about the conclave. We heard that there really wasn't much opposition to Cardinal Ratzinger, that when the ballots from the fourth round of voting were being counted and it became clear that Ratzinger was going to win, there were ghasps and spontaneous bursts of aplause. Soon we saw him on television declaring his humility, promising to unite the church, and walking through the papal apartments in his vestments, the vision of a kindly old grandfather. The spin machine was working overtime, and it was beautiful. Karl Rove himself couldn't have done better. The church really ahs a hold on this media thing after almost thirty years of the MTV pope.

All that interested me. But what interests me most is this: the Grand Inquisitor is now pope. Until Tuesday, Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the College of Doctrinal Faith, which is better known by its older title, the Holy Inquisition. Sure, they no longer tortured people or burned them at the stake, their job is not to force conversions or execute heretics anymore, but it is still the inquisition. Ratzinger's job as inquisitor was to discipline wayward priests and to maintain a hardline fundamentalist dogma. He approved of denying comunion to Amreican politicians who support abortion rights and censured priests who expressed libveral theology. Homosexuals, femenists, deconstructivists, and for some strange reason Dan Brown and Dario Fo as heretics. Can racks, iron maidens and bruning stakes be far behind?

I'm being unfair. A bit. THis pope has declared himself to be an enemy of modernity, of deconstruction, of liberalism--in short, of me and *my* beliefs. I'm not scared or frightened but I am intrigued. I have no sympathy for catholics who say they are catholics and then whine when the Pope tells them what the true way is--that's his job as pope and if you don't like it do what Martin Luter did and leave. I slightly worry about his effect on American politics. For all I know he could turn out to be a very liberal pope once he gets rolling. I don't know.

I just love the fact that the Grand Inquisitor is now pope. I've been humming Mel Brooks for two days now. :)


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