Saturday, July 29, 2006

Where "Ratzinger" was a Swear Word

Those educated in Catholic institutions know of what I speak and not a few converts have been surprised to encounter someone in a parish who was less than enthusiastic about the faith...all of this contempt seemed to reach its zenith with the mention of one name "Ratzinger."

As I tell people I'm planning to write a book "Where Ratzinger Was a Swear Word" they share with me their own experiences, and I'd like to start sharing them here. I'd also invite readers to email me their own experiences with the caveat that in doing so they are giving me permission to use them in the book insuring of course their anonymity.

From a Campus Minister who is faithful, charismatic and was shocked the first time he attended a national conference of campus ministers and at Mass witnessed a priest shadowed by a woman who repeated everything he said as he said Mass. He wasn't terribly thrilled when Sister Minus Mary got up and invoked the four winds in imitation of the Native Americans she was sent as a missionary to and they evidently succeeded in converting her. But the relevant point to my story came when the campus ministers: clerical, religious and lay gathered for a small group session and brainstormed what they would do if they could be pope for one day.

My friend said that in his group there was a nun, two priests and himself. The nun spoke up first and she had only three words to say as to what she would do if she were the Supreme Pontiff and she said them loud enough for the adjacent groups to hear, "I'd fire Ratzinger." The two priests nodded approvingly. One of the priests spoke up next, "I'd make the church more gay-friendly, more inclusive." My friend wondered what he had gotten himself into.


  1. Michael:

    Gashwin Gomes posted on April 19 of this year his experiences the day that B16's election was announced.

    Worth a read, and maybe expansion for inclusion in your collection. The difference between the deflated, depressed, defeated reactions of the "middle aged" church workers and the ecstatic, enthusiastic, elated reactions of the youth is striking.

    apparently feeling a bit alliterative today.

  2. While watching the white smoke on the computer stream (thanks to MSNBC, among others, for streaming live video) preceding the announcement of the election of the new pontiff I enjoyed the looks of expectation on everyone's faces. As all but one of the 12 or so people huddled around the computer monitor, in a cramped office of the Newman Center cheered, we were silenced as the then acting director of the Newman Center actually cursed "sh*t" and walked out of the room when Benedict XVI walked onto the balcony.

    Literally, Ratzinger was a swear word to this particular Catholic.

    It was mind-blowing to sit with this respected woman who has dedicated her life to working with young Catholics and see her express dismay at the election of our new Pope. I sometimes find it incredible that any Catholics escape the student centers at our universities with any hint of orthodoxy.

  3. I was very excited when I heard the news of Pope Benedict's election, and my first thought was to run and find someone to celebrate with. I knew two students who worked in the campus ministry office, so I decided to go there. I walked in and saw my friend grinning as she pasted a picture of the new pope onto a posterboard. I started jumping up and down and said, "Isn't it great?" She put her finger over her lips. "I know how you feel. I'm thrilled! But not everyone here is so happy. Sister X stormed into her office an hour ago and slammed the door. The only time she's come out since was to tell some people who were out here celebrating to be quiet."

  4. Not about Ratzinger either, but maybe of interest:

    Recently I heard a priest from a prominent American archdiocese comment privately about a meeting he had attended of priests of that archdiocese and their Cardinal Archbishop during the papacy of John Paul II.

    One of the priests at that meeting said that he expected
    things would become more to his liking "when that old Pope dies".

    What surprised the priest who related this story most was that the Cardinal Archbishop
    remained completely silent after one of his priests spoke of John Paul II in that disrespectful tone, allowing the comment to stand unchallenged.

  5. Thanks for the article. This isn't directly about Ratzinger. Feel free to use this:

    As a young man I attended my diocesan young-adult leadership retreat. I was assigned to a small sharing group that consisted of a middle-aged relativist nun, her young, amazingly unfeminine special friend, and a milquetoast fellow who strove hard to be inoffensive. It was my first encounter with heresy among the clergy; I and the nun quarrelled constantly. Her disciple just drew pictures of herself as a priest offering mass. Towards the end of the retreat, I sought to find common ground… to start over. I explained my pupose to the sister, and looking for a point of agreement, I started with, “For instance, I believe in God”. “Don’t you believe in the Church?”, she said. My jaw dropped. It was then I knew her as an atheist. I’ve since discovered that putting faith in the Church in opposition to or in place of faith in God, is a very old modernist ploy.

    I don't recall the sister saying anything ill about then-Cardinal Ratzinger. She seemed to regard the entire Church heirarchy and doctrine as largely irrelevant.

  6. I came across this when reading someone's blog. I should not be shocked, but I am. I am a 28 yr old and all I want to say to this guy's accusation about Ratzinger's "sins" is "DUH!" Isn't that the job of the Church?!

    "For those of you who are not Catholic, selecting Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope is a lot like selecting Attorney General John Ashcroft as President. Ratzinger has been the enforcer of orthodoxy for years. No women priests. No gay unions. No questioning authority. Fall in line."

  7. Aloha from Hawaii ...
    Well, it's not exactly a moment, more of a journey ...

    In the 1980's at the height of liberation theology, gay rights, etc .. I was in the HUB of what must have been the CDF hunting grounds - In the Pacific Northwest, in a Jesuit University with many professors in the graduate theology program who worked in Latin America (even with Gustavo Gutierrez).Our dear Archbishop was under investigation by CDF. We were very unfriendly towards the "Wuerl-wind" co-adjutor ... and did I mention that the Gay Pride parade passed right by my dorm and we would all rush to open the dorm windows to wave hello to some of our classmates who were participating?!!

    The name "Ratzinger" was always pronounced with a bit of a snarl, for sure.

    Naturally, on April 19 when he was elected, my first words were - "Oh, God ... I'm so disgusted!!!" I felt like all my hopes had gone down the sinkhole.

    But today, after I finally decided that I couldn't spend the next years being disgusted about my Vicar of Christ, I decided to actually READ something he wrote! What a grace to pick "Milestones" and "Salt of the Earth." I discovered a PERSON. A holy, gracious, humble person - brilliant in mind and spirit.

    So today, the name "Ratzinger" is, at least on my lips, pronouced Papa Bear and my friends in the parish say "She's fallen in love with the Holy Father." I share his book titles and thoughts as much as possible with my catechumenate and CORE Team and with my pastors. What a grace ...


  8. I might never have heard of Cardinal Ratzinger until he became Pope, except that at one point Father Greeley started talking about how bad he was. I also remember seeing 60 Minutes or something like that do a story where they made this cardinal look bad. They got in his face with a camera and he looked very annoyed.

  9. In a conversation with another church musician, I was startled when she suddenly interjected, "I don't see why God would cure Cardinal Ratzinger's cancer. We'd be so much better off if he were dead." Since this was literally "a propos of nothing," as my mother used to say, I could think of no response.

  10. I was at our Provincial Assembly the day after the election, and as people were looking at the headlines on the newspaper they were making many disparaging remarks, but the one I remember came from our Secretary General. "Oh God, where was the Holy Spirit?"

  11. Nothing profound, but two of my best friends from college in the early 60s considered Cardinal Ratzinger to be a "traitor" because he had been a "liberal" they say, and they don't understand how he could have changed.

    One friend spent five years in a seminary and the other has a PhD in theology after having studied at the Universities of Muenster and Munich while then Father Ratzinger was a shining light in Germany (and probably was in the process of changing after experiencing the student unrest there in 1968.

  12. A minor incident. At dinner with a friend (liberal, Christian, not Catholic) we mentioned the upcoming Papal election, and he instantly snapped, "I hope it's not that fascist!"

    One didn't need to ask who he meant.

  13. I was at a wedding about 5 or 6 months after the papal election and trying to make conversation at the table with the parents of an old friend, I brought up the fact that we have a new pope in a 'how 'bout that' sort of way. I then followed by saying that I really thought they had made the right choice in electing Ratzinger/Benedict.

    The reaction I got was so strange. He just shook his head and started ranting about how he was too old, they should have term limits, age limits, time for new ideas, blah blah blah....

    I gave him all the (incredibly good) reasons I knew for why they don't have these things.

    He then went on about how that it was bad because if people don't like it, they will go to the Anglican church down the road blah blah blah.

    I thought, "Oh no. What have I started here?" and I tried to change the subject.

  14. I've gotten a good share of hate-mail from self-styled "progressives" since the founding of the (originating in part as a reaction to the ridiculous caricature of Ratzinger as the "Grand Inquisitor"). The following from a reader expresses the typical "liberal" feeling towards Ratzinger:

    ". . . Anyone in this wonderful chuch of our who lives and ministers in the vision of Vatican II knows full well that this man has done absolutely nothing but destroy the Church and the laity throughout his powerful reign. Wonder how he will answer when asked by God, why did you continually close your ears to the voice of my Spirit. [email from a reader in Newark, DE

    At the same time, it is interesting that whereas liberals fault Ratzinger for his orthodoxy and doctrinal rigidity, the fringe right ("radtrads") denounce him as a heretic and modernist. And so it wasn't at all suprising that his election in 2005 was greeted by reactions of horror from the right as well as he left.

  15. A friend who teaches in a Catholic primary school rang me the day after the election and told me that she had cried all day, so much so that her children became worried.

  16. Dear Michael,

    I was at an inter-congregational formation workshop when a sister at the convent rang the bell at lunch and said "We have a new Pope!" Well, naturally we wolfed our lunches and raced to the nearest t.v. and waited. When "Iosephum" was said, I remember this big grin whereas the remainder, especially the women, were as obvious in their displeasure. One of the women, the presenter, I believe, said, "Women, get your habits!" or something to that effect. I thoroughly enjoyed that session because I finally understood Schadenfreude. Upon returning to the novitiate, the brothers were not pleased. Other brothers in other communties were, but noot man of the brothers with whom I lived.

  17. I was thrilled -- I had read a great deal about Ratzinger, and by him, and I thought the Holy Spirit had done a bang up job.
    I thought I caught a glimpse of all that white hair when the portieres fluttered just before the announcement, and said "It's Ratzinger!"
    A fellow "liberal" with whom I was watching TV asked, you're happy? and I said, yeah, he's wise, learned and good, what's not to like? It turned out that he knew nothing about him, except 3rd hand criticism, so I read him some things and he saw my point.

    Like a dope, I assumed eveyone who didn't know much about him would do the same, give him an honest hearing instead of jumping to conclusions.

    An internet board I read, RPINet, was full of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the ignorant and uneducated (a Lutheran on the board tried to explain that if they though Ratzinger would set back the cause of ecumenism, they couldn't be more wrong, but they wouldn't hear it.)
    I don't know if the nay-sayers persisted in their ignorance.

    The Sunday after the election my pastor gave a very subdued sermon about how we should all trust in the Holy Spirit and wait.

    I admit, I was shocked. He is a really good man, and fair-minded.

    Since then, I've met other priests from his order (I'll tell you the order if you want,) and realized he was WAAAAAAY more open to a Ratzinger papacy than most of his brothers; and I guess he was also reacting to parishioners who had already expressed their misgivings to him.

    I think the ultra right-wing RadTrads who are expressing anger that B16 has not instituted (I quote,) a "smack-down" on abuse are equally silly.

    What a surprise, as your wife said, the New Pope Is CATHOLIC !!!!!! Not conservative, not liberal, not heretic, not inquisitor, CATHOLIC.

    (And I think the Holy Spirit has a badasssss sense of humor.)

  18. Christopher, if you are responsible for the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club, I thank you! I have both the (rather large) coffee mug and the beer stein. We used his Introduction to Christianity as a text in the seminary. It certainly provides a different perspective on the man than that which one gets from what dissidents say "about" Ratzinger. On a more personal note, I had the blessed opportunity to meet His Eminence (ever so briefly) and I remember being struck by his cordial and grandfatherly demeanor.

    Now, onto my white smoke story: It was April 19th and I was well into my first year as a priest and the associate pastor at a medium-sized urban blue collar parish. I heard the rectory door slam (they always did that! Drove me nuts!) and I heard one woman (a staffer at the pre-school) yell out, "it's not Ratzinger!" so the whole rectory (offices) could hear. I stopped and increased the volume on my computer which was streaming EWTN - no news there, no pope as far as they (Arroyo and Neuhaus) knew. I guess she was just being defiant - she was just parroting the pontifications of Richard McBrien over on ABC.

    About thirty minutes later, the bells began ringing and the pundits (even Arroyo and Neuhaus) were announcing white smoke. I ran down the steps and we fired up the television in what was once the living room of the rectory. We all gathered around and awaited the announcement. In the waiting McBrien comes on and begins to speculate about what name he may choose - he did specifically mention Benedict XVI in a positive way - Ben 15 being a "peace pope," a "very conciliatory figure." Well, the same woman who had earlier said: "it's not Ratzinger" got really excited about the prospect of a B-16 "wouldn't it be wonderful if he chose Benedict?" she asked.

    Medina Estevez (wasn't it?) comes out on the loggia and he begins by addressing all the language groups. The same lady is offended that the English "dear brothers and sisters" was not offered until the tail end of that impromptu flourish on "the script"
    "...eminentissimum ac reverendissimum dominum...dominum Iosephum-" Unable to hide my excitement, I didn't wait for the rest and excitedly announced "it's Ratzinger! it's Ratzinger" When I stopped, I realized I was the only one in the room so excited. The woman was so disappointed she didn't wait for the name. Some watched the whole thing with a certain unattached disinterest while others were obviously upset. Imagine MY surprise when they said he had chosen the name "Benedict XVI" At this point, I don't know whether the same lady would be pleased or not!

  19. As a diocesan priest in the Midwest, I have several religious priests surrounding me who are as well pastors. I will never forget my shock upon visiting with a neighboring pastor during the interregnum while the Holy See was sede vacante. You have to realize, too, that this pastor was no wild-eyed liberal and from what I have gathered being his neighbor and hearing about him for several years, certainly he would be considered a pastor in the "conservative to moderate" camp by most anyone's standards. The pastor, with words coming from out of nowhere, while discussing the upcoming conclave, swore in these exact words to me: "If they elect Ratzinger, I'm leaving the Church!" This retired abbot of a distinguished abbey did not make good on his threat. In the last month, I asked him what he thought of Benedict XVI's papacy to date. There was complete silence and he never answered.

  20. This isn't all that much of an anecdote, but, at my parish, in the rectory right above where you return keys to all the various rooms on the parish grounds, there is a picture of Pope Benedict XVI in his official regelia with the caption "The Pope is afraid the "Da Vinci Code" will make the Roman Catholic Church look foolish."

    I didn't think that was very nice.

  21. I never knew the name Ratzinger until the interregnum and more specifically at the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II. First I was surprised that the reportedly fearsome Cardinal Ratzinger looked so mild and professorial. Then I was shocked at his very soft voice. Then I was struck
    by his complete command of the ceremony- it seemed as if he held it all together with his strength of spirit, a profound serenity that you can only call holiness,
    and finally bowled over by the homily. Wow, I said to myself, this guy looks like he is the Pope already. Imagine my surprise when I was chatting with a non-Catholic friend of mine who said, "anyone would be better than that Polish guy, oh, and that Nazi." I was shocked because she is very widely read: The New York Times, Time Magazine, The New Yorker, etc. etc.

  22. Michael, I could probably think of a few stories (personally I was thrilled with the election of Pope Benedict XVI).

    However, could you explain what the purpose is in writing a book that highlights the divisiveness in the Church?

  23. I had a dream Fr. McBrien was elected pope, and I left the Church. I cried when the election of Cardinal Ratzinger finally put my fears to rest.

  24. Everyone should read Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. It doesn't get better than this. Also, I've met a number of people who've met him personally and the constant comment is how very much impressed they were with his humility. In the long run, it's the authenticity of the person that counts. I just think he is terific and wish he were 20 years younger. This is the Catholic Church we're talking about. It takes a very long time to change and it's not on American time. I can live with this.

  25. Sometime during the academic year 1998-99 Cardinal Ratzinger came to my seminary to give a talk. There was much moaning and complaining about the Grand Inquisitor coming but when he actually came he gave an interesting talk (well, it was more interesting to read than listen to in a warm chapel with the cardinal's soft voice) with his characteristic profundity.

    Afterwards everybody had the opportunity to have pictures with him-- and surprisingly, most did. He left the seminary with many new-found admirers. In any case, when I saw the long line awaiting photos thought to myself, "I'm not going to stand in that line for a picture with a cardinal nobody is going to know 10 years from now."

    Not one of my better prognostications.