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The Grand Inquisitor Takes the Throne

  

Naturally, the media treats the selection of the new pope, Benedict XVI, as a blessed event. Unlike me, they want to be polite. I find I cannot regard Joseph Ratzinger's elevation to the Cathedra of Peter as a benevolent thing. Among the nonsense fogging the airwaves like sweet-smelling frankincense from a swinging censer was the assurance of one Vatican spokesman that the selection process would be no mere election among professionals recognizing the gifts of one of their own. No, the Holy Spirit would make his will known (though it might take him a few rounds of voting to make his choice clear to the cardinals)! I find the idea fully as silly as if he had said that the Holy Spirit would make his will known in the choice of the next actor to play James Bond. Can they really be so simpleminded? Or are such statements strictly for the consumption of the masses to make them think they dare not disagree with the new pope? Well, obviously. The classic statement about institutional religion and the favor it seeks to do us by saving us the trouble of independent thinking is Dostoyevsky's "Parable of the Grand Inquisitor" (part of his massive novel The Brothers Karamazov but often printed by itself). In it, Jesus reappears on the earth in medieval Spain and begins to heal the sick and help the poor. Not for long though, because the Grand Inquisitor hears of it and dispatches a goon squad to clap Jesus in a local dungeon. The Inquisitor visits Jesus in prison to explain why his ostensible successors have offered him so cold a shoulder. It seems that they cannot forgive him for rocking the boat in those far-off days of the first century. He had sought to burden the masses with the terrible freedom/responsibility to think for themselves, not to allow the authorities to cow them by the trickery of mystery, miracle, and authority. But who wants such freedom? Who is equal to bearing such a burden? After the Sanhedrin got rid of Jesus, its successors, the Lords of the Catholic Church, continued its work by keeping the faithful in a peaceful, dogmatic slumber, all answers provided, no troublesome thinking to do, and of course, threats of hell for daring to choose one's own conclusions (which is what heresy literally means: "choice"). Well, the Holy Office of the Inquisition is not about to allow Jesus to stir up trouble all over again. So he must be burnt at the stake on the morrow as the greatest heretic of all. Finally, for the sake of nostalgia, the Grand Inquisitor lets Jesus go free into the night with a warning to get out of town. What do you know? The Holy Office of the Inquisition still exists (in 1965, it was renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and it has rather famously set about silencing Catholic mavericks like Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckx, though it no longer has the power to put them to death. Guess who has filled the role of the Grand Inquisitor for the last twenty-four years? None other than the new pope, Joe Ratzinger, hard-line conservative and enforcer of Catholic dogma. People have the right to swallow oppressive dogmas if they want to, if they have been gulled all their lives by Ratzinger and his ilk. But why do they do it? It is safe to say that each of them has not made a conscious decision to trade in his or her intellectual autonomy for unthinking submission to a party line. Few even realize that this is what is at stake. But you'd think that, after a while, believers would realize the cruelty of their ecclesiastical masters and revolt. Mother Church tells them not to have sex without having kids. No, no to birth control. This is cruel enough. But then some poor couple wants nothing more than to have kids, whom they fully intend to baptize, doing their duty to refill the ranks. And they want to try artificial insemination. But what does the Church tell them? Too bad! Can't use those newfangled methods! It's almost as if the curia were trying to figure out how best to frustrate their hapless minions at every turn. And the child-molestation scandal! Even Father Bruce Ritter, founder of Covenant House, turned out to be a molester. The Church has done little, and that only when forced by media attention, to discipline pederast priests. Top church leaders never cared and still don't. Consider Cardinal Bernard Law, finally pried loose from his Boston episcopate for conducting an elaborate shell game, moving priestly predators to new and unsuspecting sheepfolds instead of, say, turning them over to the cops. What did his Vatican superiors do to him? They kicked him upstairs to a higher position. They rubbed it in by having Law celebrate a very public funeral mass for John Paul II (who, like Ratzinger, dismissed the molestation scandal as media anti-Catholicism). Further, his position gave him a major voice in choosing John Paul's successor. This is an institution tolerating child abuse by its representatives. And as long as the laity tolerate their leaders' laxity, they are complicit in it. In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan, he who spins the parable of the Inquisitor, says he cannot in good conscience be a Christian as long as it requires him to rubber-stamp God's administration of the world, especially including the suffering of innocent children. How can the poor Catholics retain any respect for their leaders' "moral authority" at all? Why do they not simply abandon this wicked and totalitarian institution? They are like the self-imposed inmates of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. I make it a case of the Stockholm Syndrome. This is what happens to prisoners who eventually come to sympathize with their captors, not as a ruse to curry favor and ease their torment but actually internalizing the oppressor's claims for authority. You come to think you deserve what you're getting. As one character says in Monty Python's Life of Brian: "Crucifixion? Best thing the Romans ever did for us!" The Grand Inquisitor becomes pope? Best thing the Roman Catholics ever did for us!

 By Robert M. Price

 


 

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