And there arose a new Pharaoh over the land, who knew not Joseph...
Granted, the days of the Pope's worldly authority are long gone. Still, he has a lot of celestial authority, and he influences strongly the way a great many Catholics think about the world. Which is why I'm none too excited about the election of Joseph Ratzinger, or Benedict XVI, as the new pope.
Ratzinger is classified as being obsessed with the dangers of dissent in the Church. Of course, I come from a tradition where dissent is pretty much encouraged, so I don't see what the fuss is about. But Ratzinger's attempts to crush independent thought have already alienated North American Catholics, who are strongly influenced by Protestant ideas of personal religious experiences. If Ratzinger pushes too hard, it could get interesting.
But more worrisome are the following tidbits from the Post:
"It was Ratzinger who issued the church's forceful 2003 reminder to Catholic politicians that on the issues of marriage, abortion and euthanasia, there could be no compromise. He wrote a letter of advice to U.S. bishops on denying Communion to politicians who support abortion rights, which some observers viewed as a slam at Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.
He publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union and wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that stand on the grounds that the continent is essentially Christian in nature."
The first suggests that Ratzinger is trying to assert his authority over worldly leaders. Only bad things can happen when a religious leader goes on an ego trip.
The second is the most disturbing of all. Ratzinger is justifying discrimination against Muslims for daring to live on a "Christian continent." Should this line of thinking extend into Benedict XVI's papacy, all the work John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II did towards fostering peace between Christians and their Jewish and Muslim neighbors could be lost. I'm afraid Benedict XVI will tolerate discrimination against non-Christians in majority-Christian lands, and indeed encourage it. If so, it could make things very rough on European Muslims and Jews. (Not so much in America, where the pope has less influence over Catholics, and where Catholics are a lower percentage of the population.)
Or maybe not. A lot of European and American Catholics don't seem to revere the pope as the ultimate authority on all things anymore. If this is the case, Ratzinger's attempts to consolidate power might be transparent enough to backfire on these continents. And his lack of support for liberal political movements (compared to John Paul II, anyway) might lose him support in the Third World. Should this happen, Benedict XVI could accelerate the very trends he hopes to prevent.