I’ve commented before about the Pope Benedict’s arch conservative background and the moderate position he seemed to assume after his election, but which soon began to be abandoned and his true conservative posture exposed. (See post 4/21/07) When he did say something that caused controversy, the Vatican would immediately offer a clarifying statement afterwords to mollify the protests. Time published an article about this entitled "Pope Benedict: "What I meant to say…" The mask regally began to slip on September 12, 2006 when Benedict caused a world wide uproar as a result of his speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany which was seen as an insult to Islam with his use of this quotation: :
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Then, In May of this year, Benedict was in South America when he caused another controversy when he talked about the "native populations who had been silently longing for the Christian faith brought to them by colonizers." In light of the violence and death Spaniards and other colonizers actually inflicted upon the native populations this understandably caused loud protests from the people of South America. As he exited South America he once again was the center of controversy as when he said he agreed with the Mexican bishops’ excommunication of pro choice Catholic politicians. Both of these remarks resulted in the Vatican offering clarifying statements.
Then, earlier this month, Pope Benedict issued a new decree authorizing the use of the old Latin Tridentine Mass which Vatican II had replaced with a new liturgy in English. Previously, the use of the liturgy in Latin with the priest standing with his back to the congregation had required permission to be used. Now it was authorized for use by the Pope. In announcing the change Benedict talked about how he had seen how Vatican II was an "arbitrary deformation of the liturgy which caused deep pain to individuals."
Next, the Pope, issued a paper that essentially asserted that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. The history of relationships between the various religious faiths of the world has not been a peaceful or tolerant one. The schism between religions of the East from religions of the West is well known. After all, Christians went on crusades to snatch the holy land away from "heathens" and convert the non Christians by the sword. The present world wide terrorism is in part a continuation of the conflict between Christian and non Christian faiths. The Protestant reformation in the 15th century was the start of a centuries old struggle between the Catholic and Protestant religions. In addition, the Christian attitude of anti Semitism persists and has for centuries. Within the Christian religions we have seen hate, intolerance and bigotry. Within non Christian religions we have seen world wide violence of one faith upon another. In short the world’s religions have not demonstrated love of neighbor that most profess are essential to their faith. Now we have a reassertion by the leader of the Catholic Church, that it is the sole source of salvation. This is not something new. It is instead a huge step backwards in Church relationships with other faiths.
Historically, the Catholic Church’s teaching was essentially that there is no salivation outside the Catholic Church. For example Pope Pius IX in an encyclical in 1854 said this:
"It must, of course, be held as a matter of faith that outside the apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved, that the Church is the only ark of salvation, and that whoever does not enter it will perish in the flood."
The Second Vatican Council in 1962 had, as its principal concern under Pope John 23rd, the restoration of unity among all Christians. It attempted to open dialogue with other faiths and soften the rhetoric of the liturgy regarding other religions. The session was closed with the hope of reconciliation and a more tolerant attitude towards other faiths. But, conservatives like Benedict, former Cardinal Ratzinger, disliked the pronouncements of the Council and he and other conservative Vatican leaders worked to undermine them. Now Benedict has re asserted the primacy of the Catholic Church by saying the only path to true salvation is in Catholicism. You can imagine the reaction of other faiths, both Christian and non Christian to that assertion.
As a cradle Catholic I struggle with the intolerance and insensitivity by the Vatican to the beliefs of other good and holy people around the world who are not Catholic. This Pope seems to want to lead us back in time to increased bigotry, anti Semitism and intolerance of people of other faiths. Given the fact that only 17.2% of the world population is Catholic, the Pope’s position seems to say about 83% of the world is condemned. I am reminded of the old joke about the Catholic who dies and goes to heaven to find a high wall. When he asks why there is a wall, he is told it is because on the other side are the Catholics who think they are the only ones here.