Like John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI is pretty much a mixed bag. I guess when you try to apply the religion of bronze age nomadic shepherds to the 21st century, the results are predictably iffy. While the former Cardinal Ratzinger is somewhat more conservative that his predecessor, Benedict's pretty much a 50/50. Sure, he's as homophobic as any previous pope; anti-abortion, anti-birth control, and anti-embryonic stem cell research to boot. He's also committed to expanding the use of exorcism in the world, a development that has mental health experts more than a little alarmed.
But he's also committed to world peace, fighting poverty, and leading on climate change -- under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican will become the world's first carbon neutral state. I guess, when you're dealing with old wizards, you get your good and you get your bad. So yay for the good and boo for the bad. Can you start to see the roots of my ambivalence here?
Another person who thinks the pope is a mixed bag is President Bush. With the possible exception of the expanded exorcism thing, what Bush sees as the good and the bad of Benedict is exactly the opposite of what I do. The anti-war, anti-poverty, environmentalist pope is a problem, while the anti-abortion, anti-stem cell, and anti-gay pope is an ally. But Bush, with approval ratings in the tank and his party's '08 candidate getting a big bear hug from an anti-Catholic demagogue, needs the ally pope more than the problematic pope.
So Bush is pushing the idea that he's more Catholic than John F. Kennedy -- literally. A puff piece put out by the Religion News Service shows us just how high the administration is shoveling it. The headline; "NEWS ANALYSIS: Is George Bush leading America's first truly Catholic presidency?"
Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's election three years ago, President Bush huddled with a small circle of advisers and speechwriters in the Oval Office. As talk briefly turned to religion, the president mentioned reading one of the new pontiff's books about faith and culture in Western Europe.
Save one other soul, Bush was the only non-Catholic in the room, and it did not go unnoticed. Even the president laughed at the thought.
"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe William McGurn, a Catholic who was part of the meeting.
"In fact, with all due respect to John F. Kennedy, the nation's first and only Catholic president," we're informed, "Some have begun to call the Bush White House the first truly Catholic presidency."
And, in case that comparison didn't sink in, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum pounds the point in with a sledgehammer. "I don't think there's any question about it," he says. "That's why I called him the first Catholic president; he's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."
Even Laura's jumping in on this one. "There really was a warm relationship that developed very quickly with the president, Mrs. Bush, and Pope Benedict," says the First Lady's Chief of Staff Anita McBride. "He’s a very warm and kind person." Why, the pope's practically part of the family.
One Catholic isn't falling for this BS. That'd be some guy named Benedict XVI. While Benedict was picked up at the airport by Bush and will meet with him today, the White House is throwing a big dinner in his honor that the pontiff won't attend. The pope cites a scheduling conflict, but it's widely seen as a statement. The pope and his staff aren't idiots; they know what it looks like. It's hard to believe it's not a statement. The recent news that Bush personally OK'd meetings to find legal loopholes in torture bans couldn't have helped any, either.
So much for the "warm relationship."
Bush's problem is the good half of Benedict's 50/50. If you look at his schedule, you see he'll attend an "Interreligious Gathering at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center" in D.C. with the theme "Peace Our Hope." He'll be presented with symbols of peace by five kids of different religions; Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. "A greeting of interreligious leaders will be followed by a song: 'Peace Prayer,' attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, sung by a schola cantorum," we're told.
Sounds more like Cindy Sheehan's crowd than Dubya's, doesn't it?
Bush's big problem here is that this is one of the few leaders in the world with no reason to either kiss up to him or to fear him. Bush literally has nothing to offer this man and poses no threat to him. The Imperial President finds himself in a completely unfamiliar situation -- that of having almost zero influence. Benedict can pretty much take him or leave him.
And Benedict chose "leave him" a long time ago.
The Capital Times:
[Benedict XVI] has bluntly said that Bush's pre-emptive attack on Iraq and the subsequent occupation of that country does not follow the Catholic doctrine of a "just war."
Before the invasion, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked whether the attack might be considered morally justified under the just-war standard. "Certainly not," he replied, explaining that "the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save."
Rejecting arguments made by the president and many of his supporters that the United States needed to take the lead, this pope argued, "It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world."
"There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq," Benedict said. "To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.' "
Bush can't like the idea that there may not be any such thing as a "just war." Not the least because he claims to be prosecuting one. And whether or not any war can be just anymore is a conversation that this country and the world at large would benefit from. It's also a conversation this "war president" would dearly love to avoid.
So that's the news as I see it; an old wizard came over from Rome and metaphorically slapped a propaganda-addicted warlord right upside his fool head.
Yay for the good.
Technorati tags: politics; war ;Iraq; abortion; gay; homophobia; religion; JFK; propaganda; For those of you keeping score, Pope Benedict's Catholic, Bush is just pretending to be