Thursday, April 21, 2005

The George W. Bush Papacy

by Kyle Michaelis
I have read many alternately troubling and insulting articles about Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in recent weeks. None, however, has been more unsettling to the stomach than today's Omaha World-Herald editorial proclaiming the new Pope's many similarities with President Bush. Most insultingly, as both Catholic and critic, they meant this as a good thing:
Conservatives of all faiths praised John Paul's stand on moral issues. Liberals liked his identification with the poor. Both sought to mute their respective discomforts about what he upheld as timeless truth.

As prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it fell to Ratzinger to reinforce that truth against all comers. He rarely minced words in doing so, which explains why voices on the left are reacting to his election in apocalyptic tones last heard after our current president's re-election.

Like George W. Bush, Benedict XVI says what he believes...He reinforced it on the eve of the conclave. "To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the church, comes frequently to be labeled as fundamentalism," he said. But such a faith "opens us to all that is good and gives us the criteria to discern between true and false, between trickery and truth."

And yet in his first papal homily, Benedict renewed John Paul's call for "open and sincere dialogue" with all people. He declared reunion of Christians his No. 1 goal, seeking "concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences" to bring it about.

Such talk recalls Bush's "compassionate conservatism," which the president's critics have derided as an oxymoron. Catholics who dislike Ratzinger's energetic enforcement of the faith likely will follow suit.
What the World-Herald so willfully fails to state is the obviously deep and unfathomable chasm between Bush's pretensions of piety and his actual actions.

The failure of Bush's "Compassionate conservatism" has not been its supposed contradiction but rather that it has been nothing more than a campaign slogan. There is no compassion in endless tax cuts for the rich while cutting Medicaid. There is no conservatism in trillion dollar defecits and wars of choice. Furthermore, Bush's record of deceit and total lack of humility have been affronts to the United Nations and the whole of humanity, embodying the very hypocrisy against which John Paul II railed most and against which I have little doubt Benedict XVI shall do the same, no matter his opposition to abortion.

It's amazing watching the right-wing's opportunistic attempts to pervert Catholicism and its faithful for purely political gain. Each day, it becomes more obvious how their machinations have nothing at all to do with morality but as a means to power.

The only "clarity" in Bush's much-ballyhooed faith is its unthinking beholdence to the wealthy and the convenient along with its total lack of concern for the powerless and the truth. His is a faith of empty soundbytes, the ultimate enemy to the thoughful and reasoned faith espoused by Catholic Church doctrine and millenia of human progress. It is all the worst in fundamentalism as the words, example, and love of Jesus Christ are forgotten in a haze of rules and strictures for their own sake.

So, yes, Catholics can and will debate the course upon which Benedict XVI directs the Church. The Omaha World-Herald can't stop that and should not try. There will be disagreements about reform of the priesthood as well as the role of religious doctrine in democratic societies. I pray, however, such debate will remain healthy and civil, and I won't soon be hearing any further comparisons of this Pope to President Bush, whose Christianity makes mockery of its own truth.


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