Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fear the wrath

There are several reasons the official Catholic Church gives me heartburn, the main ones being that:

1. They have defined homosexuality as a “disorder” and would limit sexuality to reproduction, if people didn’t tell them to fuck off;
2. They have structured the world so that men come out on top, and women on the bottom;
3. Their arrogant insistence they are the sole arbiters of truth seems to know no bounds;
4. They have made sexual behavior, not compassion or justice, the central focus of morality.

The pope is planning a state visit to Germany next month. If the pope were not such a dick, nobody would give a damn about his comings and goings. But as his letter telling every bishop in the world to hide all knowledge of priest abuse made evident, he can, from time to time, and right before your eyes, turn into a complete dick.

And as was demonstrated when his representative in San Francisco, Bishop Niederauer, acting on the pope’s orders, talked his Mormon friends in Utah into helping him launch Prop. 8 to remove civil rights from Californians, it’s clear the man can do great harm well beyond what should be the limits of his reach. The man can really ruin your day. He bears watching.

Although this is his third trip to Germany as pope, it’s only his first official state visit. For that reason, he will start in Berlin, on Thursday, the 22nd, where he will shake hands with its gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, with Germany’s Protestant Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and with the federal republic’s Catholic but divorced and remarried president, Christian Wulff. All folks on their way to hell, in other words.

He will say mass at the Olympia Stadium, which lives on in infamy since Hitler was embarrassed there by the African-American sprinter Jesse Owens in 1936. From there, the former head of the Inquisition (the institution was renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1965) will travel to Erfurt, the capital of the state of Thüringen (Thuringia, if you prefer it in English), where he will cost the taxpayers half a million euros per hour for the eleven hours he’s in town. Because this pisses some Erfurters off, they have organized into a group known as Heidenspaß statt Höllenangst (Having a ball beats the fear of hell) and applied to authorities in Erfurt for permission to protest the pope’s visit on the 23rd and the 24th.

I used to get Thüringen and Tübingen mixed up. Tübingen is in the West and it is where Catholic theologian and thorn-in-the-side to Ratzinger, Hans Küng, once invited Ratzinger to come teach with him at the university there. Since then, Ratzinger has forbidden Küng to teach any more because of his tendency to want to open up the church and let too many people and ideas in. Küng landed on his feet and has now devoted himself even more earnestly to ecumenical efforts, working to bring all Christian folk back under one roof. Ratzinger holds out that that’s not possible unless they all swear loyalty to him and the Roman hierarchy and accept its teachings as the sole path to heaven. So imagine my surprise to read that in Erfurt Ratzinger is scheduled to participate in an ecumenical service with other Christians. Assuming it’s not already too late, with the church on the skids in Germany, Erfurt would seem to be a good place for that. It’s the seat of a great Catholic cathedral, the one where Martin Luther was ordained, and it’s also the place where he went to university. Ecumenism is definitely not one of this pope’s goals, though, and it’s likely this is just one more lip sync number he does to show good will.

The diplomats are hard at work. He is meeting with Jews on the first day and with Muslims on the second day (he’s got his priorities straight, in other words) and you can be sure he has been warned not to repeat the mistake of a previous visit, when he described Islam as a violent religion.

From Erfurt, the pope will go to Etzelsbach, Lahr and Freiburg im Breisgau, that wonderful part of the country with names like Dingling, Kippenheim (kippen = tip over), Schlauch (garden hose), Sulz (cured meat in gelatin), and Kappel-Grafenhausen.

Relative to the number who will turn out for these large-scale circus events, where the pageantry will no doubt be interpreted by the media as an outporing of affection for this German pontiff on his first official visit to his Heimatland, the number of protesters is likely to be pretty small. But the number of the pope’s fans, whatever it is, will not be able to mask some important facts about the disillusionment inside the church and the ever increasing opposition externally. From inside the church, polls show trust in the pope is at a new low of 29%, and faith in the church is even lower, at 21%. 180,000 German catholics left the church in 2010, 40% more than in 2009. 80% of the church is clamoring for reforms, and so far Ratzinger has shown himself to be a hardliner holdout against change.

That’s actually understated. Benedict is head of a hierarchy working full time to try to undo many of the reforms of Vatican II, which sought to spread the authority of the church more evenly among the “ecclesia,” another word for the “body of believers,” or the church at large.

Many of those 80% inside the church have banded together for more effective action, often with links to catholic organizations internationally such as Call to Action , which an American conservative catholic website calls “the mother of all dissenting groups,” or Voice of the Faithful , an organization of over 30,000 started in response to the child abuse scandals, or We Are Church. Nor are these faithful entirely lay folk. The German organization, Nackte Sohlen (Bare Feet), calling for real changes, is headed by members of religious orders.

Because the pope is officially the head of a theocratic state, many troubled by official religion are downright hostile to the pope’s visit. Volker Beck, head of the Green Party, is protesting his visit to the Bundestag. And he’s not the only one.

Since 1875, Germany has had a church tax, deducted from one’s income along with taxes to the state. For years, most people went along with it, even if they stopped going to church, because it seemed like too aggressive an anti-church statement to de-register, and it required active steps to take your name off the rolls. Since around 1990, however, groups such as Der Internationale Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten (International League of Non-Religious and Atheists): have become more visible, and a campaign was launched in November of last year, named the Kirchen (Year of Leaving the Church) campaign, sponsored by the Giordano Bruno Foundation, a group of outspoken secular humanists, and the Bund für Geistesfreiheit Bayern (Union of Free Thinkers of Bavaria). Then there’s the Bündnis gegen die menschenfeindliche Geschlechter- und Sexualpolitik des Papstes (Alliance against the misanthropic sex and gender policies of the pope) abound. They have a rather neutral sounding website,, (the pope is coming), compared to the organization mentioned previously, Heidenspaß statt Höllenangst (Having a ball beats the fear of hell) with the website (Get rid of the pope).

Have a look at their website, actually. Scroll down and you’ll see two videos. I’d skip the first one, and just watch the second one on YouTube. It features the pink Spaghetti Monster. The message at the end, by the way, “Fürchtet den Zorn des rosa Spaghettimonsters (Fear the wrath of the pink spaghetti monster)” is more my cup of tea.


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