25 Apr 2008 |
Posted by Lama Surya Das | 2 Comments.
I happened to be driving into Manhattan Friday for our traditional tristate-area Miller family Passover weekend, when my motorcade ran into the Pope’s. (Mine was a lot smaller, Buddhist-style.) When did religion start to need all the pomp and circumstance, I wonder? Was it or is it when we lose sight of the spirit and need the worldly trappings to remember to experience the spiritual splendor and magnificence which is never far from us?
I didn’t mind, having read that Benedict was, for the first time in history, visiting a synagogue in the New York — the first time for any Pontiff in the New World. Not bad for someone who has, in the last several years, managed to seriously offend Turkish Moslems, Catholics, Buddhists, abuse victims, gays, women, and others during his decades at the very highest echelons of his churchвs hierarchy. His heavy doctrinal hand has been obvious in papal pronouncements of recent decades including that yoga is the devil’s work; that other religions, and even other Christian denominations, are gravely deficient in their hopes for salvation; and that Buddhism is atheistic and life-denying, much to the chagrin of Catholics of interfaith appreciation throughout the world.
I was a fan of the late saintly Pope John Paul, despite his anachronistic views about contraception, abortion, and female priests. But for far too long this Catholic leader now known as Benedict XVI has had a big mouth and no ears, not unlike the aged autocratic leaders of Communist China. Listening could be the one skill we all need to learn better if this century is to become and era of dialogue rather than another century of violence and bloodshed. If the conservative new Pope wants to understand the poor and abused he could learn to empathize by walking a mile in their shoes. I believe that God’s church is all of the people, all of the time, not just some of them sometimes. Religion should be a uniting rather than dividing force in this fleeting world of ours.
Pope Benedict is not known for flexibility, inclusiveness, warmth, or tolerance. A scholar and administrator, in his previous incarnation as the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was the long time head of the ultraconservative Opus Dei, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition) and Dean of the College of Cardinals. Dubbed by his many critics as The Grand Inquisitor, he famously squashed dissenting views in the church–most notably among Catholic Liberation Theologians and priests dedicated to the poorest people of South America, as well as the far-seeing, eminent Swiss churchman Dr. Hans Kung who is among Europe’s preeminent intellectuals. Ratzinger was dubbed “the battle tank Cardinal” for his heavy-handedness in dealing with dissent and debate.
We in Boston were not happy to hear the recent news that, fully six years since the sexual abuse scandal erupted among Bostonвs Catholic community, the Pope again ignored Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s repeated urgent invitations imploring him to visit our fair city and address victims of sexual abuse. Perhaps the Pope was perhaps diplomatically correct in avoiding our traditionally Catholic city, the epicenter of the pedophile priest crisis, but his actions and policies must, and inevitably will, will speak louder than mere placating words and carefully crafted public statements during visits abroad. In his United Nations address, he stressed the necessity of human rights, including freedom of religion, and how people of faith will lead the way in the direction of peace today. This is a nice thought, but extreme religious beliefs and dogmatic views among some religionists seem to be having quite the opposite effect in our time. I believe that if the Pope is interested in peace and reconciliation, he ought to seriously support genuine interfaith dialogue and cooperation beyond public performances, appearances which too often smack more of public relations. Moreover, although he did meet with five victims of sexual abuse from Boston in New York City Saturday, he still needs to clean up his own house by disciplining the bishops who helped cover up the criminal acts of their perpetrator priests. (Child abuse? Lord, save us!) Unfortunately, this he seems loathe to do.
I hope that the huge trust the Church has placed in Pope Benedict will help him grow wiser and more inclusive, broader and deeper, to become what Robert Greenleaf called a servant leader, a selfless service-oriented good shepherd dedicated to the greatest good for the greater number. Personally, I try to remember that the word catholic with a small “c” means universal, and to include all beings great and small in my prayers and altruistic actions.