I am nearly beyond words in my fury about Joseph Ratzinger being the new pope. I don't even know where to start explaining why I'm so angry: with Opus Dei?1 with his doctrinal conservatism, which makes him describe homosexuality as an "objective disorder?" with his membership in the Hitler Youth?
And here is where people will say, as they have already, that he was required to join, that he was not enthusiastic about it, that he was never a member of a combat unit in the Nazi military. All these things are true. He probably wasn't a serious Nazi, he was probably just trying to get by, he was 14. I know. I know. It was a long time ago. I'm as sick as anyone of Jews talking about the Holocaust like it was the only bad thing that ever happened in the world.2
But he's the pope. And if you're going to be the pope, you have to expect to be better. Maybe it would be ok that he was in the Hitler Youth, if he had spent a lot of time repenting and praying and wishing he'd been a member of the resistance. This is a man whom God calls to the priesthood, and he never returns to that part of his past in pain and anguish, wishing he had done less to serve the machinery of genocide and more to save at least one of the Dachau slaves he worked beside? He dismisses it as just something he was required to do?
All the pretense that there was no way around it diminishes the great sacrifices made by other Germans in the name of resistance and human decency. It also diminishes the papacy. There are certain offices - the papacy, the presidency, a few others - that are so important that I don't really acknowledge the right of people to hold them and be imperfect. I think that if you're going to be pope, or president, you should be willing to give up just about anything - your life, your free time, your wandering eye, the innocent fiction that there was nothing more you could have done - to hold them. You are responsible for so many people and so much of history that whatever your own personal problems are, you should just deal. Skip that vacation, stay up late, don't have a dog, take whatever rest you need to make it possible to do your job, but no more. If you don't want to make those sacrifices, someone else will. We only need one.
The President of the United States, as the Venezuelan with whom I used to wash restaurant dishes pointed out,3 is responsible for the whole world. I have zero sympathy with Bush as a president, but it's not just the appalling policy his administration makes: it's the fact that he doesn't seem to care. That faced with the enormous responsibility of being one of the most powerful people on the planet, he goes to his ranch, he goes to bed early, he slacks off. I disagreed with a lot of Clinton's policy decisions, but at least I knew he took it seriously. He was up nights worrying and studying and being responsible. 4
I'm not Catholic, but the pope can affect my life, directly and indirectly, and he is the spiritual leader of a billion people. I know that people are people, and fallible. I know that people get to do stupid things and not be sorry for them and still be good people. I'd be ok if someone with Ratzinger's record were a member of the German parliament, and I'm sort of ok with people who used to be hardcore racists being senators (hello, Robert Byrd). I'm ok with members of Congress taking vacations like ordinary people and not being available because they have to raise their kids. There's a feminist argument - most recently applied to high-powered science professors - that not acknowledging workers as people with obligations hits women hardest, because we are more likely to have no one to give our obligations to. Yes. People need time and money and accommodations, and are imperfect. People don't always take things as seriously as they should. It's ok.
But not for the pope. And not for the president.
1. It's a cultish, fundamentalist "personal prelature" with an incredibly undemocratic governance structure. There's an official site, a "source of information," and the Opus Dei Awareness Network.
2. I'm Jewish, people, back off. I get to say it.
3. He was super-cool.
4. I actually find this really painful, because I would love to be able to affect policy that way. Seeing Bush have the opportunity and not caring is like watching someone destroy da Vinci sketches or something.