John Paul II and Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI--until today Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger--has been long known as a fierce advocate of repression within the Roman Catholic Church. I was not aware of his Nazi past--he was a member of the Hitler Youth--but the New York Times assures us his membership was "unenthusiastic." Also, he deserted the Greman army after two years, as the Reich tumbled down around him in 1945--which the Times half-heartedly tries to depict as a matter of principle. All in all, not encouraging.
According to John Allen, who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter, the effect of his Nazi experiences was profound on the new pope:
"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism. In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes." (Id.)
Under John Paul II, Benedict XVI held the position of prefect of the re-named Holy Office--the Inquisition, which it administered, rather embarrassed the Church in recent years, causing the change in name to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ratzinger ran it in the spirit of the Inquisition, suppressing liberation theology, censuring American theologians who disputed the hard-line conservatism of John Paul II. With the late Pope, Benedict XVI worked diligently to roll back the decentralization impulse of Vatican II, and suppressed discussion of women as priests and priestly celibacy. The chill he imported into the Church undid the spring of Vatican II, in the name of traditions that have no root in the teachings of Christ--whose apostles were mostly married and whose most loyal followers were women. The social conditions of Biblical Palestine under Roman Rule and of Europe in the Middle Ages were raised to theological dimension without scriptural warrant. Questioning these new doctrines became in itself a sin.
Worse awaits. In 2001, Ratzinger issued a letter reaffirming a recently publicized 1962 edict instructing bishops and priests who receive complaints about sexually predatory priests that they must handle such cases "in the most secretive way... restrained by a perpetual silence... and everyone... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office... under the penalty of excommunication".
(Kudos to Alanesq for pointing me to this story). The Church has not denied the authenticity of the documents,it has rather stated its purpose was to ensure a fair judicial trial to the priest in question. This is patently false. If the allegations are suppressed--as was the case under this policy--there would be no court case--as was the custom until the thunderstorm broke in 2002.
Note that excommunication is the most severe penalty the Church has; it is a declaration that the soul of the individual cut off is no longer a member of the body of Christ and is subject to eternal damnation.
I am in a state of shock by this story, and Ratzinger's complicity in this abhorrent practice. For 40 years, the Church has used its ultimate penalty to enforce silence to protect sexual molesters in priestly garb. Ratzinger reaffirmed this policy. He is now pope. The last of my respect for the faith I was brought up in has just died.
It's appalling on a human level, but not inconsistent with John Paul II's and Ratzinger's animating principles--elevating tradition and the power and prestige of the Church over the words of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in a statement that apparently the entire hierarchy feels free to disregard: "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt. 18: 5-6).
See also my newweblog: Pope Benedict XVI-Ratzinger: God's Rottweiler http://pope-ratz.blogspot.com/