April 19, 2005


Cardinal Ratzinger's Challenge (E. J. Dionne Jr., April 19, 2005, Washington Post)

The words broke like a thunderclap inside St. Peter's Basilica. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, addressing the world's cardinals just hours before they sequestered themselves Monday to choose the next leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics, decided to define this conclave.

"We are moving," he declared, toward "a dictatorship of relativism . . . that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure."

The modern world, Ratzinger insisted, has jumped "from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, up to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and on and on."

Those are fighting words. They guaranteed that Ratzinger, who was Pope John Paul II's enforcer of orthodoxy, will either set the church's course -- or offer his fellow cardinals the ideas they choose to react against. Decades from now many conservative Catholics will see the war against the "dictatorship of relativism" as their central mission. It's not a line you forget.

What makes this papal election so unusual is not the normal disagreement over specific issues. The odd part is that the cardinals disagree fundamentally over what the election is really about because they differ in their judgments of what are the most important issues confronting the church.

Ratzinger, who is German, spoke for the conservative side of a culture-war argument that is of primary interest to Europe and North America. When Ratzinger said on Monday that "to have a clear faith according to the church's creed is today often labeled fundamentalism," his words were undoubtedly welcomed by religious conservatives far outside the ranks of the Catholic Church. One can also imagine that liberals of various stripes shuddered.

Lord, forgive us, but we do so love those shudders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2005 7:37 PM

E.J. and Andrew are both practicing Catholics, right?

Posted by: ghostcat at April 19, 2005 9:49 PM

I wonder if this is a message to Africa:

No homosexual Bishops in this Church. We are not going mushy like the Anglicans.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 19, 2005 9:54 PM

It's a message to Islam..."we know the truth, and the truth will blow you away!" I can almost hear the new pope humming Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God".

Posted by: Dave W. at April 21, 2005 2:55 PM