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Is the Pope Catholic?

From the New York Times, one of those classic letters to the editor that lead one to wonder whether it's serious or meant to be a parody of New York-style liberalism (eighth letter down):

To the Editors:

While I am not a Catholic, I am disturbed that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, issued a Vatican document in 2000, "Dominus Jesus," which said the Roman Catholic Church was the only true path to salvation and declared that other faiths were "gravely deficient."

This is a divisive comment and one that will certainly give other religions considerable consternation.

While I am not a Catholic either, I am amused that someone would feel "consternation" -- correction, "considerable consternation" -- that the leader of a religion might actually have the temerity to insist that said religion is actually the correct one.

Does the author of this letter -- who, it should come as no surprise to learn, is from New York -- realize that Ratzinger was not a government official, but a church official? It seems as if liberals have gone from promoting the separation of church and state to promoting the separation of church and religion. It's apparently one thing for a religious tradition to hold that it is more valid than others -- but g-d forbid (pun intended) that the leaders of the church actually still hold to those religious traditions. Churches, are apparently there to promote New Age/Rodney King values of tolerance and understanding, not to teach truth.

Frankly, I'm not a big fan of religion -- but I don't understand why people who claim to be religious decry everything that makes up religion. If they want to be atheists, they should have the guts to say that they're atheists, rather than trying to turn religion into a lowest-common denominator self-help book.


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Comments (6)


David, there is a difference between saying that you feel "considerable consternation" by the pope's remarks, and saying that you are "disturbed" by a pope who would make remarks that will cause other religions "considerable consternation." The concern doesn't seem to be that the pope is too religious; it's that he isn't diplomatic enough.

Now, maybe that concern is misplaced, maybe nobody will really feel considerable consternation, but I don't think it's really a concern that needs to be mocked or is somehow emblematic of a great trend among liberals/New Yorkers.


I think what David is trying to say is he can't imagine that even a Jew, or a Moslem, or a Presbyterian would feel consternation at learning that another religion believed it was Right. After all, if the Pope said that Mohammad was Right, he wouldn't be Catholic - by definition! I agree, however, that the New Yorker stereotype was a low blow, though perhaps he meant it that way. In the end, I, as a Catholic, am nearly overcome by pride that this humble and unworthy man (Benedict XVI) has taken on such significance. He is no Christ, but I believe that by his stripes many will be healed.

The concern doesn't seem to be that the pope is too religious; it's that he isn't diplomatic enough.

Dave, that's not how I interpret it -- I think Peter's first two sentences encompass my interpretation -- but I think your interpretation would make the letter writer look almost as silly. Leaving aside that he wasn't Pope when he said it, the Pope is not a diplomat; he's the head of the church. How can he not say that the church is the only true path to salvation? It's a basic tenet of the church.

The New Yorker line wasn't meant as an insult ("Stupid New Yorker") so much as it was meant as an observation that a New Yorker would view religion in such a narrow fashion. It's not really limited to New York, of course. The discussion came up last year in the election campaign: in the Northeast, religion is more of a personal, individual matter; it's something one does (if at all) on Sundays, weddings, and funerals. It's okay to belong to a particular religion out of family tradition, or because one likes a particular minister -- but to really believe that this religion is right and the others are wrong? That's just not done.

Didn't you once talk about being the first Jewish pope on the Orioles mailing list?

Good memory.

March 7, 2001. I suggested that a .500 season for the Orioles in 2001 was about as likely as me being the first Jewish pope.

(For the record, they finished 63-98.)

Seriously though, your point is an excellent one. In any other discipline you'd be hard pressed to find people agitating for greater flexibility in including people who didn't believe in the tenets of that discipline. You wouldn't want to engage a doctor who didn't believe in the scientific method or a lawyer who rejected the constitution. (Maybe these aren't perfect analogies but I think they're close.) Yet in matters of faith so many are willing to demand greater flexibility of those who subscribe most persistently to that faith.


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