It's been an interesting couple of weeks in the news for the Vatican.
First, there was a question about how much the Pope's brother, Gerog Ratzinger, knew about the abuse of boys in the choir that he led for years. His first impuse was to deny and later Ratzinger eventually admitted to, and apologized for, slapping around a few boys.
Then there was the whole explosion of media attention around the sexual abuse of children that ran rampant in the Irish Catholic Church for years and then Benedict's letter of "apology", that condemned the abuse but dodged accepting responsibility.
And over the past week, we learned that the Pope himself apparently stopped the prosecution of U.S. priest who had systematically abused children over many years and was moved from diocese to diocese without consequence into positions that gave him continued access to children.
What seems surprising to me is the continued shock that people seem to have that (a) sexual abuse is rampant in the Catholic Church and (b) the hierarchy continues to deny that there was any organizational responsibility for these crimes despite losing huge court battles and paying out major settlements to victims The incredible, award-winning documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, does an amazing job of exposing the chilling callousness with which the case of a specific serial molester was handled by those in authority, even when he admitted his crimes and at some level wished for someone to stop him.
What I've really been thinking about however is less about the abuse itself, or even making judgment about the church's decision-making when these accusations arose, but more about the man himself, Joseph Ratzinger known now as Pope Benedict XVI.
He is a curious man, born in Germany in 1927 and as the official story goes, he was "forced" to join the Hitler Youth at 14, although he an "unenthusiastic member and refused to attend meetings" according to his Wikipedia bio. He had a long career in academia, as a professor of theology before working his way into higher and higher posts within the church until he reached the pinacle on April 19th, 2005, when he was elected to succede John Paul II.
He has spent much of his tenure fighting for conservative values and a return to the belief in absolute, rather than relative truth within the church, ironically paralleling the rigid dogma he supposedly was so opposed to in the Nazi era.
Here's where I have to admit what may already be clear: what I know of the man I do not like.
From my perspective, he has been irresponsible in the way that he speaks and teaches about homosexuality. His words have provided the foundation for hate crimes and violence against people who either are gay, or are perceived to be gay. It was Hitler's goal to dehumanize Jews. It is Ratzinger's goal to pathologize gays. His words and his actions speak for themselves.
I remember when things began coming out about the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse within the U.S. church, the first public response (after finally being forced to admit that there was even a problem) was to blur the issue of pedophilia with homosexuality. I would like to believe that this strategy was just a vestige of ignorance about homosexuals within an aging hierarchy and not just a cynical, way to distract attention away from the failings of the church itself.
Of course raising the old "all homosexuals are pedophiles" slur goes way back. Although studies have shown that the majority of pedophiles identify as heterosexual and that pedophilia is a disorder separate from one's sexual identity, iit is still a favorite of right wing politicians, and others, who need to raise money or distract from the real issues.
In fact, one could explain the Pope's homophobia in three major ways.
First, he is deeply ignorant about the current and overwhelming scientific evidence about gay people that do not support his opinion that homosexuality in and of itself is a disorder. This however, is hard to believe, given his long tenure in the academic world, surrounded by scholars and scientists who have long recognized the errors of the church's teachings.
Second, if he is therefore aware of the disconnect between science and his tortured dogma regarding sexuality, then his homophobia may be symptomatic of his own deep-seated psychosexual confusion. As I have explored before in my posts, the same sad and irrational fears that drives the Larry Craigs of the world into denial may be responsible for the inept handling of sexuality by this Pope and on a larger scale the issue of sexuality within the priesthood.
Third, and hopefully least likely, he has risen to the peak of authority within the hierarchy not because of random chance or divine inspiration, but through hard work and ambition, much like the CEO of any large organization or the President of a country. That means then, that to maintain your authority, sometimes you have to tow the line, talk the talk and protect the company. This is the most cynical of the three I realize, and may have components from the first two mixed in like some fancy cocktail.
But, for whatever reason, I want to dislike him as a person VERY, VERY much.
And then I realized that I do not know the person, I only know the image.
I know Joseph Ratzinger only through his words and his actions (and sometimes inaction as in the case of the Uganda situation), not from real life conversation or connection.
It hit me that by judging him, based only what I have read or heard, which most certainly could be biased, I am doing to him what he does to me.
The Pope does not know me.
He in fact, may not know any healthy gay people.
He may only know the closeted men in robes who also struggle with their secrets and who advise him from their own biased lives as well.
Like me, much of the time he probably avoids what he doesn't want to feel and focuses on what he believes is truth.
I'm imaging the pressure that he must be under to hold together a large organization that appears fractured to the core on the precipice of breaking apart.
Compassion for one's "enemies" is central to Christianity I've heard. I feel sorry for him, despite whatever wrong choices I believe he has made.
I wish Benedict would do the same for me.