19 April, 2005 15:00 PDT
quick first impressions from a recovering catholic.

Benedict XVI was in the Hitler Youth. You know, i could forgive him for that; he was 14 years old and in his totalitarian country, resistance was punished by death. And he supposedly deserted the Nazi army when they were still strong in 1944. However, i do hold him responsible for what he has done as an adult, and it appears that he actually learned from that youth experience.

Running the Inquisition, primary advisor and assistant to a extremist pope, thought police enforcer, tossing out bishops & priests for disagreeing with him, but coddling and defending abusers and haters, demanding un-questioning obedience from all, fundementalist with a hatred of all with differing opinions or religions, member of Opus Dei; this is not a gentle or caring man.

By all accounts Joey is very intelligent. He has practically run the papacy for at least the last few years -- certainly the second most powerful man in the Kremlin, i mean Vatican. Certainly he will rush the sainthood for Chuck, they are suggesting now that Chuck (JPII) will be a saint by October, and that will certinaly help Joey's popularity. However, most people know that the only reason for eliminating the 55 year waiting period is that in the future, Chuck, (or rather John Paul The Great as he is already officially to be know) will be seen as a bad pope and certainly not "saint" material. Imperial Vatican Flag

A crazy Machiavellian self-important fundamentalist succeeds a crazy Machiavellian self-important fundamentalist. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. In the papacy, as in all politics, it is the ambitious, not the skillful who advance.

It is, however, notable, i think, that he is only one of two voting cardinals not elevated by Chuck the Great himself. That may be part of the reason he was chosen. Perhaps there was a desire on the part of of the cardinals to suggest that they were not entirely controled by the recently dead most powerful pope of all time. If so, i don't think it worked.

Some of the extremist Catholics in the third world will certainly like him, but unless he makes a pretty serious about-face, Europe, USA & Brazil are lost to this church. Maybe not the worst thing, since i am not a Catholic -- however i do think that this particular throne has the ability to lead, to do good in the world and the ability to do harm as Chuck the Great did. I'm forever optimistic about people and, the world, and i had some high hopes for this conclave -- perhaps that was naive of me.

Considering how close Joey was to Chuck the Great , how powerful he has been for more than two decades, it certainly looks like a "chosen successor" situation -- something the Vatican tries to avoid, or avoid the apperance of. His election is pretty smelly too, considering the power he has wielded and the threats he has made in the last few weeks. Clearly he was a force to be reckoned with in conclave! It is certainly possible that he is that popular among the red hats -- after 26 years of Chuck the Great the college of cardinals is a scary lot... however, they did seem scared.

Another thing to consider: many Catholics in Europe, Brazil and the USA will be very upset about this. There is probably not a schism brewing, but there will be anger, disgust and at best, a loss of interest. And to make this worse for the church, it is worth noting that Joey is a bureaucrat with decades of work behind the scenes. And while behind the scenes Chuck the Great was supposedly a hardass, he was always lovable to the masses, despite the terrible things he did. Joey does not have the charisma that Chuck the Great had. Without that he could not have gotten away with the terrible things he did. And while Joey's lack of likeability won't cause people to hate him, it will hamper his ability to do extreme things, while if he was more likeable, that might cause people who don't like him to moderate their dislike, as they did with Chuck the Great. In that absence the disgust with Rome will only grow.

Although many people, Catholics & non-Catholics alike, are panicking at this extreme choice, the good news is that he has characteristics to be a classic "transitional" pope like those handful of old boring men between Breshnev & Gorbachav, with a short, quiet tenure as a reward for long, diligent, obedient service. There was little possibilty of anything different after such a long, powerful, long, popular, long, dominating, pontificate. Then when he's gone a more serious and significant (and hopefully better) course can be set with the next conclave. He is 78 years old... we can at least hope it will be a short tenure, although it's certainly not guaranteed in this era of technologically prolonged lives. However if you look at this election with historical focus, Joey as the transition seems a strong possibility.

And don't forget that Joey was pro-Vatican II in the 1960s and changed when the Vatican demanded it, just like Bernie Law, the priest who gave me first communion shortly before his forced conversion to the dark side. Chuck the Great insisted on unquestioning obedience -- so it is clear that if Joey had NOT towed the extreme party line, he wouldn't have even been in that conclave. It's not a good idea to expect a caring or even sane papacy, but it wouldn't be a shock.

What really made me sick, especially after all his political maneuvering and extreme retoric to assure his own elevation was Joey's disgustingly false humility in accepting the throne, acting as if he didn't expect it and wasn't worthy. I suppose the rituals of the Empire require such words, but from this man especially, they were quite hollow. And choosing the name Benedict -- that was also a shock, as it was considered to be the name a reformer would take. Was he sending the message that he isn't really as extreme as Chuck demanded he be, or was he just turning the knife?

In any case, i have to admit that i was absolutely shocked when i heard Joey's name live on the radio, my heart skipped a beat. I've been following this closely because i am fascinated by the political machinations of the whole spectacle. I don't have much or any faith in the leaders of this (or any) church to do the right thing, but i was truly shocked when i heard his name. (NPR was shocked too -- when they were playing the ceremony on the balcony live, and Ratzinger's name was spoken, the announcer said, "that must be a mistake, someone else said that, it can't be him."

At the moment the Cardinal announced Ratzinger's name, the Internet hiccuped, everything came to a stop for a moment. That's more than just the effect of a billion Catholics. Many people are interested in the pope, many non-Catholics. And many people are interested, unlike me, for more than just the spectacle. This is, in a very real way, the Roman Emperor, and a voice that could, rarely does, but could speak for great good in the world.

Finally, i think it's interesting that the two smallest countries in the world had absolute dictators die the same weekend with just MASSIVE news coverage. In contrast to this though, a gay billionaire succeeding to the throne of Monaco is certainly small potatoes. And the Monegasque people seem quite taken with their new Prince, unlike the rank and file Catholic's reaction to Joey's elevation.

There was lots of crazy news today... A new hardline pope, Lance Armstrong retires and Tyler Hamilton is suspended and Britany is pregnant. Big day for the networks… but at least it will continue to distract Americans from what W is doing to this country, and that's the real purpose of news, right?