Nazis and Catholics

Some of the criticism directed at the German Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has touched a raw nerve in Germany. Some have referred to him as the ‘panzer pope,’ for his hardline views on church discipline and doctrine. This is unfortunate, for though the new pope’s views are unlikely to be constructive, Nazi epithets only provoke a backlash. Matthew Schoolfield wrote Deutschewelle, “I think it is only expected that the secular media would demonize Benedict XVI, a non-progressive pope. Traditionalists are no longer welcome in the mainstream media, even if they are the head of a traditional institution, such as the Catholic Church. Also, the media wants to sell papers.”

Schoolfield plainly has an excuse. Being from the United States, he has obviously accepted the right-wing claim that the mainstream press in this country is guilty of a left-wing bias, a claim which has been proven through repetition, rather than through logic. But these characterizations were published in British papers; so Schoolfield, wrong in his premise, then overgeneralizes to Britain. These newspapers don’t acquit themselves well, either; they are tabloids, known for sensationalist coverage, though not on the scale of a tabloid better known to Americans: The Enquirer.

The new pope, who having been compelled to join the Hitler Youth, “was drafted into the army in December 1944 and stationed near Traunstein. With the end of the war just days away, he deserted in the spring of 1945.” Depicting this man as if he were an enthusiastic Nazi can only have help to rationalize the views of those on the right who already feel they’re being treated unfairly.

Germany’s top-selling newspaper Bild was furious on Thursday at the coverage of the new pope by British newspapers, which had accentuated Benedict XVI’s past as a teenager in Nazi Germany.

“English insult the German pope,” said the front-page headline, below the words “Hitler Youth.”

Britain’s Sun tabloid, like Bild the highest-selling daily newspaper in its market, had headlined its coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday with the words “From Hitler Youth to… Papa Ratzi.”

“It is impertinent to reduce the German pope to a Hitler Youth on the day after his election,” Bild fumed.

One real problem here is that Germans are understandably sensitive about being stereotyped as Nazis. And that’s wrong. And to characterize Ratzinger as a Nazi incorrectly implies his participation was voluntary:

Eighty to 90 per cent of Germans in the right age bracket joined the Hitler Youth. Refusing to sign up could mean being sent to a youth “re-education camp,” akin to a concentration camp, said Volker Dahm, director of Nazi-era research for Munich’s Institute for Contemporary History.

But there is another problem. The Catholic Church has failed to respond adequately to some family-oriented concerns in the West. Consider this abstract for a New York Times article written prior to the funeral for John Paul II:

Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in disgrace as archbishop of Boston for protecting sexually abusive priests, will be one of nine prelates to preside over funeral Masses for Pope John Paul II; Vatican officials consider Law powerful kingmaker; after stepping down in Boston in 2003 he was given prestigious although honorary post in Rome as archpriest of Basilica of St Mary Major; Vatican watchers will parse his funeral homily for clues about cardinals’ thinking on who should be next pope; by permitting him to take limelight at this time, cardinals have reminded American Catholics that their most painful recent chapter barely registered in Vatican.

This church, which speaks so highly of sexual morality, stands out among a number of religious and “family values” oriented organizations first for a sheer volume of pedophilia cases and second for a bureaucratic instinct to cover up offenses and reassign abusers rather than to discipline them. It is hard for many in the West to comprehend how the Catholic choice to be so repressive of a fundamental human need can have had any other result. Yet this new pope, along with his predecessor, adhered rigidly to a rigid and unworkable doctrine which at least some argue is unjustified even with a literal reading of the Bible.

In no way is the Bible the prudish book that so many of us think it is who have been reared in the Catholic and Protestant traditions. The quite plain speaking in the Scriptures (as shown in the original languages) would probably cause a lot of “Sunday School” teachers to blush at many of the instances.

There is no reason for this but a lust for power, as Wim Rietdijk argues:

[S]exual “censorship”, qualitative “famine”, anxiety generation, incoherence of unawakened wants and emotions, and poor experiment, markets, average attractiveness and catharsis make this domain one of primitivism, dependence in a climate of uncertainty, projection and manipulation in general. Not merely Medieval Church and Victorian morals manipulated frustrated people into the collective neuroses that fundamentalist religion, nationalism and more or less oppresive ideologies will be. Far more generally, other-directedness, anxious conformism and/or dependence on “the others”, idols and cult figures – from dictators to pop stars – go with censorship of emotion as well as that of reason.

Thinking of a German Cardinal as a Nazi is a mistake, but make no mistake about the cruelty of the Catholic Church imposed upon over a billion people.

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