The Pontiff has landed.
It’s April 15.
Taxes are due.
Having been raised a Catholic, and having taken it seriously through most of my youth, I’ve been intrigued by various articles, editorials, and op-ed pieces that have appeared lately written by Catholics and former Catholics in anticipation of Pope Benedict’s visit. Almost all of them express some degree of discomfort with their religion, either now or in the past. American Catholicism has had a troubled history from the beginning when Catholics were known as mackerel-snappers for not eating meat on Fridays, to being more or less unpatriotic for following a religion ruled from Italy by a Pontiff, to being too Irish (or too much like the Irish) and hence feckless and unruly lawbreakers by nature, to never being trustworthy enough to become President until John Kennedy showed otherwise, and in general, to always being viewed as out-of-step with the modern world.
Now the current Pontiff is in Washington D.C.
He too is a troublesome figure to think about. As a teenager Benedict XVI was part of the Hitler youth movement. As cardinal in the church, he headed the office that until a few generations ago was called the Inquisition. I suppose we can be tolerant and compassionate about his Nazi experience. It was exciting for many Germans to be part of the Hitler movement. Not many teenagers in the early Hitler years saw what was coming. Not many old people saw what was coming. They were all dreaming about a brighter future.
As for sitting in the chair of the Grand Inquisitor, the current Pope never came to terms with the reforms that were inspired by John XXIII around 1960 during the Vatican Council that he called together to energize the church with much needed changes. Benedict was one of the reformers. But later he became disgruntled over where those reforms were headed. He never dreamed they would go so far. Some insiders say he was “horrified” by them. He hadn’t seen what was coming when he championed reforms in the 1960s. And so he turned conservative, and became the perfect candidate for John XXIII’s conservative successors who needed someone bright and intelligent, as Benedict is, to squelch radical or heretical priests who wanted to carry out Vatican Council reforms to their logical conclusions. And he did squelch some, even though his title was no longer Grand Inquisitor and the wayward priests were not put to death as heretics.
Judging from the articles I’ve been reading, many of those writers, like myself, thought the Vatican Council changes had not gone far enough. We thought that someday—not too far in the future—there would be women priests and married priests and lots of other changes to put the church more in tune with modern life. Back in the heady 60s no one dreamed that the progressive movement into the future that we were part of would ever end, or be turned around. Everything would continue to get better, both inside religion and out. We dreamed of a future bright and glorious. Even music–we thought–would just get better and better. Little did we know. We didn’t see disco coming.
Jack and I put photos and postcards on our mantel and light a candle in front of them to commemorate people and events that are important to us. We toast them at happy hour. Today we have a postcard of the Titanic. It was over the night of April 14-15 in 1912 that the so-called unsinkable ocean liner hit an iceberg and sank. “Ship of dreams,” as a lyric from the Broadway musical about that tragedy puts it. Rich people in the luxury suites living the life most people only dream about. Poor immigrants below deck in steerage dreaming of America. No one saw what was coming.
There’s an old saying that the only two things you can count on in life are death and taxes.