The white smoke yesterday signaled that the Vatican thinks what it needs to bring it into modernity is the oldest pope since the 18th century: Joseph Ratzinger, a 78-year-old hidebound archconservative who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belonged to Hitler Youth. For American Catholics - especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols - the cafeteria is officially closed. After all, Cardinal Ratzinger, nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" and "the Enforcer," helped deny Communion rights to John Kerry and other Catholic politicians in the 2004 election.
Well, uh, NO. For one thing, B-16 is only a few months older John XXIII when he started the Second Vatican Council, at which Joseph Ratzinger was so instrumental. For another, the Inquisition began in the days when heresy was considered treasonous. Kings unable to rid themselves of troublesome enemies found it quite easy to accuse their enemies of heresy and kill them "legitimately." The Inquisition steped in and stopped this. In effect, it served as an early dry run of the separation of church and state. I don't expect that to impress Maureen Dowd - only Dowd herself is capable of such a mighty deed - but at the very least, she could notice that the Inquisition (vernacular sense) ended before the United States even began, and it was other denominations burning witches domestically. Time to move on?
That's not all she can't notice. She saw the Hitler Youth thing, but not the rest of the story - Joseph Ratzinger was a conscript, not a volunteer, and risked his life to desert the Wermacht. He became a prisoner of war instead. And John Paul II, who spent his entire life fighting the National Socialists and the Communists, trusted him as his right-hand man. Hell, I taught a class at a YMCA, does that make me one of the Village People?
The obsession over American Catholics is also quite fun. Jonah Goldberg, the NRO mensch, gets this better than many of my fellow Papists - certainly better than many of his fellow pundits. Andrew Sullivan, for example, is palpably spluttering. Scroll up from the link (and keep going!). The poor man can't stop himself.
We tend to mistake representative democracy as a model for all things, and not just for politics. It's analogous to mistaking all things for political, and thus thinking of political motivations for everything: "front-runners," "impact among demographics," and such else. The College of Cardinals didn't talk about how this selection would play in the Times; they prayed and decided that Ratzinger was the right man to be Pope. When he speaks (here is the English text of his first public address) he isn't thinking about ebbing support in Midwestern dioceses; he prays and speaks the truth as he sees it. The Church doesn't want to accomodate pro-choice Democratic Catholics - it wants to correct them.
So when MoDo hits her mighty conclusion, she winds up facing 180° from reality. There is no such thing as Communion rights - not in the US Constitution, not in the Catechism, nowhere except in her own fever-swamp emissions. If you are in grave sin and unrepentant, the Bible is quite clear on the consequences. Ratzinger spoke on this, not to engineer a particular political outcome, but to admonish Catholic prelates about what their own faith meant. That's his job as a Cardinal. John Kerry falls under this admonition by his own choice. He wasn't publicly excommunicated; nobody wrote a papal bull entitled "Contra Johannes Kerrius."
And now, months after the election, he still falls under this admonition. He still shouldn't be receiving if he hasn't changed his position on abortion. The media stopped thinking about the health of John Kerry's soul the moment Ohio closed the polls. So, who do you think cares about Kerry's welfare more, Cardinal Ratzinger or Maureen Dowd?