The Smearing of Assisi

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 11, 2011 — 52 Comments

Every year since 1986 the Franciscans in Assisi, Italy hold an interfaith gathering. At that first gathering Pope John Paul II met and prayed with representatives of several faith traditions, spurring vocal criticism from then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

“This cannot be the model!” an indignant Ratzinger told a German newspaper at the time. A year later he said the meeting left the impression that all religions are equally valid, which is “the definitive rejection of truth.” [...] Ratzinger, along with many conservatives, laid much of the blame for John Paul’s splashy 1986 interfaith meeting at Assisi at the feet of the Franciscans, who they considered too liberal politically as well as ecumenically.”

The event has become something of a political football within Catholicism, loved by the Catholic left, and often reviled by the Catholic right. In 2005, Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, most likely spurred by false rumors spread by an Italian journalist saying the Franciscans allowed African animists to slaughter chickens on the altar of the basilica of Santa Chiara, and American redskins to dance in the church,” (a rumor shamelessly repeated by Rod Dreherremoved autonomy from the Franciscans of Assisi. This is unfortunate since rumors of horrendous desecrations were unfounded.

“In the interview, [Rev. Vincenzo] Coli acknowledged the criticism but defended the meetings. He denied Messori’s assertion that African animists sacrificed chickens on the altar near the tomb of Saint Clare, a contemporary of Saint Francis. Criticism of the Franciscans’ activities is a way of indirectly criticizing John Paul, he added…He said that meetings with members of other religions were not a sign of weakened faith, but a mark of mature, confident belief. “We can therefore be open to communication. Clashes are not necessary,” he said.”

But the outrage of Catholic traditionalists overcame reason all the same. Now, with the 25th anniversary of the gathering approaching, Benedict says he’ll be attending “as a pilgrim” and is calling for “all men of good will” to attend. This includes atheists. However, trying to avoid controversy, Vatican spokesmen have noted that the Pope will not be praying with non-Catholics, and indeed is doing his praying at a safe distance away.

“Pope Benedict XVI and representatives of the world’s major religions will make speeches and sign a common commitment to peace when they meet in Assisi in October, but they will not pray together, the Vatican said. In fact, Pope Benedict’s formal prayer service will be held at the Vatican the evening before the encounter Oct. 27 in Assisi with leaders of other Christian communities and representatives of the world’s main religions.”

This prayer firewall, which wasn’t initially noted, was very likely announced after traditionalist groups like the Society of St Pius X (who lack of canonical status) lashed out in criticism. Defenders of the Pope find themselves dealing with harsh criticisms, and are now trying to bolster the case for ecumenical relations between Catholics and non-Christians.

“The point is that to recognise that men and women of other religions should be respected, and that their spiritual search for a God they have not fully apprehended should be recognised, is in no way to deny the ultimate need for their conversion. Nearly everyone who becomes a Catholic is converted from some other religion, which has been for them a stepping-stone to the fullness of faith which is to be found only in the Catholic Church.”

The problem is that Benedict painted himself into this corner, he was vocal in his opposition to these meetings, he removed autonomy from the Franciscans in Assisi, and he has spent much of his reign bad-mouthing non-Christian faiths. Benedict is a Pope who predicted that Buddhism would replace Marxism as the Catholic Church’s main enemy this century, that native populations were “silently longing” for conversion, and has repeatedly shown his scorn for modern Paganism. During his Papacy the practice of exorcism has boomed once more, a practice that explicitly lists adherence to other faiths as a sign of demon possession. To paraphrase Boromir, one does not simply walk into Assisi “as a pilgrim” after all that and not expect your right flank (which he has been wooing for years) to have conniptions.

The last 25 years have seen Catholicism’s theological conservatives smear the goals and initiatives of the Assisi interfaith meetings, setting back progress on relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian faiths (incidents like this don’t happen in a vacuum). Meanwhile, the rest of the world’s religions have moved on, the Parliament of the World’s Religions openly welcoming all faiths without worry over who does and doesn’t pray together. Its 35 Trustees boasting three American Indians, four individuals in Hindu or Hindu-derived traditions, two Buddhists, and three modern Pagans (Andras Corban-ArthenPhyllis Curott, and Angie Buchanan). If anything, this Benedict-approved Assisi meeting could be interpreted as an attempt to regain relevancy for the Catholic Church within the world of interfaith dialog. As for claims of “desecration” or “syncretism” in Assisi, I think Italian Pagans have an earlier claim for that particular outrage.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://erynn999.livejournal.com Erynn

    Your quote under the youtube link is repeated. The first instance has Ratzinger misspelled.

    His whole "all you other people are deluded and must be converted" mixed with a liberal (sic) dose of racism, sexism, and probably any other -ism you want to cram in there, really makes me shudder.

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I've got it fixed now, thanks for the heads-up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rheana-Powers/100000387813389 Rheana Powers

    Should we expect anything less from a man who was a Nazi Youth and the head of the Inquisition Office?

    The one who's possessed is him. Look at how black his aura is! He spreads hate. What better face for evil to hide behind?

    • thehouseofvines

      I certainly have no love for Emperor Palpatine … err I mean Pope Benedict, especially in light of the way he's handled the whole child-molesting priest scandal but it's seriously unfair to hold the fact that he was a Hitlerjugend against him. So was pretty much every other German boy at the time – except for the ones shipped off to the gas chambers, of course – and many had no choice in the matter. Do you honestly expect a child to stand up against an evil totalitarian regime, risking not only his own life but that of everyone he knows and loves too? Had he done so he wouldn't be pope but a saint and likely a martyr as well. But the fact is children are weak and stupid and no one expects much of them. That's why we don't grant them privileges like voting, drinking, driving, etc. So judge the man by his actions today – or even in the recent past – not what he was forced to do as a child. Besides, what atrocities is he alleged to have committed as a Hitlerjugend? Wearing some snazzy outfits, marching and chanting, giving long, boring speeches and that sort of thing? Let's be totally honest here – not every German during WW2 – and not even every Nazi – was the devil.

      • Don

        Agreed. There's lots to criticize Benedict over, but being a Nazi or even Nazi sympathizer is not one of them. If I recall correctly he had a mentally disabled cousin who was taken away and "euthenized" by the Nazis.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

        And, besides, the Catholic Church was a bastion of genocidal anti-Semitism long before Adolf & Co. came along. They had already gotten the ball rolling by ethnically cleansing most of Western Europe centuries before:

        "The first country of Christendom whence the Jews were expelled, without hope of return, was our Country of England, whence they were banished, Anno 1290 by Kind Edward the first. Not long after they were likewise banished from France An. 1307 by Philippus Pulcher: Onely of all the Countries of France, in the jurisdiction of Avignon (the Pope’s state) some are remaining. Out of Spain, An. 1492 by Ferdinand and shortly out of Portugal, An. 1497 by Emanuel. Out of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, Anno 1539 by Charles the Fifth. In other Regions of Europe they are found, and in some of them in great numbers, as in Germany, Boheme, Polonia, Lituania, Russia, and part of Italy, specially Venice and Rome. In Greece also a great multitude, wherein two Cities (beside all them of other places) Constantinople and Thessalonica are esteemed to be about 160000 Jews."

        [Edward Brerewood in his Enquiries touching the diversity of languages and religions through the chief parts of the world, first published in 1614. The quote is from the 1674 edition, p. 113]

        • Fire

          You said it.

          The Nazis: the inevitable final result of centuries of Antisemitic Catholic poison being force fed to the Europeans as a steady diet.

          Apuleius wrote:

          "And, besides, the Catholic Church was a bastion of genocidal anti-Semitism long before Adolf & Co. came along. They had already gotten the ball rolling by ethnically cleansing most of Western Europe centuries before."

          • Don

            European Protestantism also had its strain of anti-Semitism. Luther himself was a raging anti-Semite. It's not the work of Catholics alone, and it is more likely that that negative strain of Protestantism had a more direct influence on Hitler and the Nazis than did Catholicism. Hitler's "positive Christianity" was far more dilly-dally Protestant than Catholic.

          • Meg

            Hitler was a Catholic-raised Austrian, but ultimately favored Protestantism. Even with that, he stressed that the Third Reich was to be totally secular. A lot of higher-up Nazis adopted and promoted a bastardized form of Germanic paganism as a way of propagating an emotional and spiritual attachment to Germany and German heritage. (Swastikas were described as "Pagan sun-wheels," for example.) Hitler himself, however, discouraged this. He didn't want his authority to be based in religion and continually stressed that his empire was secular. The genocide in Nazi Germany was more a racial thing than anything else.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Meg: "The genocide in Nazi Germany was more a racial thing than anything else. "

            The racist ideology of the Nazis was formulated in explicitly Christian terms. The three primary texts of Nazi racial theory were (1) Mein Kampf (of course), (2) Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the 20th Century, and (3) Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Foundations of the 20th Century.

            Chamberlain's book was praised in the official Nazi press as the "Gospel of National Socialism". Rosenberg's book was modeled directly on Chamberlain's, and it was the second most widely circulated book during the Third Reich after Mein Kampf.

            All three books are unambiguously Christian. Both Hitler and Rosenberg not only explicitly and repeatedly praise Christianity, but they also explicitly rejected "Wotanism" or any notion of returning to the Paganism of the past.

            As far as promoting a "bastardized form of Germanic paganism" goes, well, the rituals, symbols and even the terminology and theology of Christianity are all arguably bastardizations from Paganism to start with. When Christians appropriate and bastardize elements of Paganism in this way, this does not result in even a "bastardized paganism", for it is just more of the same of what Christianity has always been from the start, and there is nothing "pagan" about it.

      • Bookhousegal

        Frankly, it may be off-base to claim his heart was on the Nazis' *side,* but from kind of a psychohistorical perspective, I do have some real reservations about how much of his idea of how the world works he may have internalized from there, from some of the things he says and how he operates, and, quite honestly, if he's transferred his ideas of 'evil in the world' (and blame *for* the Nazis) onto everyone non-Catholic, non-Christian, non-orthodox, and non-Abrahamic, in about that order.

        Which of course isn't exactly a paradigm *unprecedented* in Catholic dogma, even if it's one most Catholics don't identify with, or at least not to these extents, but it'd sure explain all the rhetorical reachings toward reviving the Inquisition and devil-fears, rolling back progressive attitudes toward other religions, etc, etc, etc…

        It's not about him 'being a Nazi,' but one does wonder what he's got going on in his shadow-side, and who's he projecting it on.

        Oh, right, likely *us,* among others.

        *That's* what worries me, there.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rheana-Powers/100000387813389 Rheana Powers

          If you research him, he joined voluntarily, much to the chagrin of his father, who tried earnestly to keep him out. I would think seeing the Nazi's haul away his cousin to kill him would dissuade him, but no, he joined after that incident.

          My point is what kind of a person does that? And what kind of a person later leads the Office of Inquisition? It comes as no surprise to me that he is still pursuing ways to be rid of people he doesn't like today. It all seems like the same motive to me in each of those scenarios.

          • chuck_cosimano

            What kind of person? How many 14 year olds can you think of that can resist that kind of peer pressure. The nazi argument is foolish and won't fly.

        • thehouseofvines

          Yes, but bringing up his Nazi past is a total red herring. That kind of dualistic thinking is endemic in Christianity – there's scarcely a Christian in a leadership position who hasn't slipped up in that way at least once – so it does the argument no good to lay the blame on Benedict's upbringing, which can be explained away in numerous ways.

      • Fire

        Many young Germans found a way not to participate in Hitlerjugend. It is well documented that Ratzinger in his own words, joined primarily because not to join meant higher tuition fees.

        thehouseofgrapes wrote:

        "it's seriously unfair to hold the fact that he was a Hitlerjugend against him. So was pretty much every other German boy at the time"

        He participated as a Luftwaffenhelfer in a Luftwaffe anti aircraft unit. Therefore he is responsible for causing deaths of Allied flight crews.

        thehouseofgrapes wrote:

        "what atrocities is he alleged to have committed as a Hitlerjugend?"

        • thehouseofvines

          Water writes:

          Many young Germans found a way not to participate in Hitlerjugend. It is well documented that Ratzinger in his own words, joined primarily because not to join meant higher tuition fees.

          Actually, membership in the Hitlerjugend was mandatory by 1936 – even against objections by the child's parents – with an estimated 90% of German boys aged 10-14 enrolled. So no, "many" children did not find a way out of it.

          And I'm not sure why you even brought that up. Had he joined because he wanted to be part of a sinister plot to take over the world or eradicate the Jews, that'd be one thing. But a desire for reduced tuition and upward mobility is hardly a way to besmirch his character.

          Water writes:

          He participated as a Luftwaffenhelfer in a Luftwaffe anti aircraft unit. Therefore he is responsible for causing deaths of Allied flight crews.

          Yes, Allied forces that were attacking his country. I hardly think patriotism and military service are ways to discredit the man.

          Really, you people should just stop if you've got nothing worth contributing to the discussion. You embarrass yourselves, shame the rest of us, and do your argument no justice. The truth of the matter is Pope Ratty is a right bastard. He's done a lot of horrible things both on his way to the throne of Saint Peter and since taking over. So, by all means, focus on that stuff not the stuff he wasn't responsible for or that is nothing more than ignorant anti-German propaganda.

          • Fire

            The facts are that Ratzinger's behavior ever since has been consistent with Nazi ideals and philosophy. For someone who didn't want to be a part of the Hitlerjugend, he's sure taken a lot out of it.

            As for your asinine comments on anti German propaganda, my grandfather was a member of the elite Garde Du Corps during WW I and took his family out of Germany in the early 1930s to escape the Nazis and what they were doing to Germany.

          • thehouseofvines

            Focus on what he's done as an adult, not as a child, and you'll see no argument from me.

          • Rombald

            No, thehouseofvines, it's your comments that are asinine. To the extent that Ratzinger was participating in the Luftwafferhelfer, he was an honourable soldier. Actually, the RAF at that time were committing war cimes in Germany, and that's from someone whose grandfather was a navigator there.

            Personally, I find being involved in the Inquisition much more objectionable than being a member of the Hitlerjugend. That's just me, though.

          • thehouseofvines

            Rombald – what do you find asinine about my comments? Especially since you just said exactly what I've been arguing.

        • Don

          "Many young Germans found a way not to participate in Hitlerjugend"

          I doubt "many" did. But Ratzinger also actively worked to find ways not to participate. In fact I think he had a math teacher cover for him so that he didn't have to attend Youth meetings and activities.

    • Rheana

      You know, when he was first elected, I read a bio on him from Wikipedia that stated he joined the Nazi Youth at 14 against his father's strong objections. This was after seeing his cousin taken away to be killed for having down's syndrome. Now when I research it, every single source has been changed saying he was forced to join against his will.

      So either the truth has been changed to protect him publicly, or it was a real correction. So my apologies if I misspoke on this detail.

      He did still join the Office of Inquisition on his own, willfully, as an adult. I view the Inquisition as the judging force behind hatred and stamping out others who don't share his opinion. In my view, it seems he is still continuing to do that in various ways through is present office.

      My point was that spreading hatred and stamping out anyone with a different view than his own seems to be a common pattern for him.

      • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com NorseAlchemist

        You know, if he did join willingly after his cousin's death, it didn't have to mean he agreed with the Nazi's. It could have been the first step in a young man's plan of revenge of rising as high as he could to take down those that killed his relative. The Epics and Plays are filled with such stories.

        • thehouseofvines

          Absolutely. We don't really know why Pope Ratty did what he did. All we've got to go on is what he's said, and even then that's what he said long after so who knows what his actual motivations were at the time.

          Besides, it's easy to get up on the high horse and condemn him for being a Nazi sympathizer in his youth, because the Nazis are so obviously the embodiment of all that is evil in our culture. But what we don't realize is that that judgement is apparent only in hindsight. Most of us can't even conceive of what the situation was like for the average German in the 1920s-1940s. We forget their humiliation at Versailles, the rampant inflation and unemployment, how their country was falling apart at the seams and all the other shit that was going on. The Nazis turned things around, pulled Germany out of the gutter and made them an important economic and military world super power. That is what most people saw, and they either didn't notice or didn't bother to ask how it was happening and at what cost. Maybe they should have – but you know, maybe we should do the same with regard to what our country is currently doing in the name of its citizens. I no more support the atrocities committed in Iraq and Afghanistan than I imagine the average German would have been okay with what his government was doing to the Jews at that time. And yet if a hostile force started invading the U.S. and bombing it's major cities into oblivion I'd sure as hell do my part to help out. Just like most of the Germans who fought in WWII did, regardless of their personal beliefs on race and politics.

          Situations are rarely as black and white as we'd like to make them.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Over at GetReligion, defenders of Catholicism are periodically up in arms over how the press misrepresents the Vatican. Now we have the Vatican acting fecklessly, yanking Franciscan autonomy, over tabloid misrepresentations of a Catholic religious order. What goes around comes around.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Pagans really shouldn't be taken in by this text-book "hard-cop/soft-cop" routine.

    • Rombald

      I'm with Apuleius here, and I'm not even as anti-Christian as he is.

      Why on earth does anyone want to go to high-level inter-faith meetings like this, where they can be, at best, patronised?

      I'm all for quiet discussion with individual Catholics, and for academic debate, but I can't see the point of this kind of diversity-fest.

      The only formal, high-level inter-faith activity should be campaigns against special treatment, in law or the media, for any one religion (usually an Abrahamic one) – to work for a level playing field.

      • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com NorseAlchemist

        I would want to go, but then I'd bring a dragon boat and some guys and leave with as much wealth as i could carry.

        • Jennifer Parsons

          I don't know about just that…bring enough libations, and you might foster goodwill for years to come (not to mention make departing with said wealth a lot easier, should it come to that).

        • Thelettuceman

          "Dear Diary, Lindsfarne trip – SO AMAZING".

          • Thelettuceman

            Lindisfarne, damned editing reserved for people with accounts. :O

      • Crystal7431

        I don't have a problem with "diversity-fests" but I certainly wouldn't want anything to do with the patronization of the Church. They can keep to themselves. That's fine. To steal a qoute from the feminist movement, the wolrd needs the Vatican like a fish needs a bicycle. On another note, I have a close friend who is a secular Franciscan. He is an absolutely lovely person. He hangs with the local Pagan group. Apparently, we are the only ones who will put up with him. : ) He joins in ritual and always brings such lovely incense.

  • Kelly Dugery

    "Nearly everyone who becomes a Catholic is converted from some other religion"

    Ummm…. Is it just me or does that sound an awful lot like the Necromongers from the Chronicles of Riddick?

    • Crystal7431

      I suppose they are saying the largest percentage of those who choose Catholicism are converts as opposed to a smaller percentage who are raised Catholic and keep with it. However, when I first read it it came across as implying every convert comes from another religion which struck me as rather redundant. Reading comprehension for the win. And, yes, it does sound like the Necromongers. I believe the storywriters modelled them after the Church.

      • Pagan Puff Pieces

        Really? I never got the impression that the vast amount of Catholics these days are converted. In fact, it still strikes me as odd that people would willingly convert to Catholicism. It always felt like something you were born and kind of stuck with as family tradition.

        I'm guessing he means they came from another religion as opposed to having no religion.

  • kenneth

    Why anyone would still attempt "interfaith dialogue" with this church is beyond me. They are about as interested in "dialogue" with us as the conquistadors were with the natives. I grew up Catholic, and in the 70s and early-mid 80s, it was an organization which was at least trying, in its own clumsy way, to come into the 20th Century. Now, it's an outfit of wingnut extremist clawing their way back to the 14th Century.

    I spent more than a year debating this crowd over at Catholic Answers Forum. It was a total waste of time in the end. These people are vicious, angry spiteful people and they were very representative of the church's leadership these days. This is a church which has and does thrive only in times and places where they can silence all other forms of spiritual inquiry. They would revive the Inquisitions by the close of business tomorrow if they could. Some of their proxies in Congress are right now as we speak determined to bring down the entire government in order to fight abortion. "Dialogue" with these people is utterly pointless and dangerous. Dialogue requires that the parties involved acknowledge some base of mutual respect and good will. The RCC believes that we, and essentially all non-Catholics are misguided and/or evil and a threat to their way of life, period. To the extent we can productively engage individual Catholics in dialogue, that's great. But we have nothing to discuss with the church proper, and we will learn that the easy way or the hard way.

    • Andras Corban-Arthen

      Except that Catholics are not a homogeneous population, particularly these days. I, too, was raised Catholic, and I agree that it’s pretty fruitless to engage in interfaith dialogue with hard-line conservatives bent on upholding the “one true faith” at all costs (though, sometimes, going through the motions of such a dialogue can serve as a useful means to a desired end). But there are lots of liberal, even radical, Catholics who are far more reasonable & open to other religions, including paganism. Many of them are actively engaged in a struggle to liberalize their church, such as Sister Joan Chittister, who took part in a panel on the Divine Feminine at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (along with a Wiccan, a Buddhist and a Hindu), speaks of Mary as a Catholic goddess and is pushing hard for the ordination of women. Some of them are even part of the hierarchy, such as the Mexican bishop I met at the 2007 World Interreligious Encounter in Monterrey, who refused to call the then newly-elected pope by name, but would only (and openly) refer to him as “The Grand Inquisitor.” FWIW, the Catholics I tend to meet at the Parliament & other interreligious events tend to be much closer to these two examples than to the inflexible right-wingers.

      • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

        Thank you, Andras. The anti-interfaith element of this thread is deeply disturbing, as is the all-too-common Pagan practice of generalizing the behavior of the worst representatives of any non-Pagan religion, across all of history, to smear the individual practitioners of those religions today.

        This intolerance infuriates us when directed at us. Hell if I understand why we don't see the similarity when our community directs it outward.

        Despite the few cranky malcontents, I know that I am grateful to those in the Pagan community, like yourself, who do more to aid indigenous religions and Paganism worldwide through your interfaith work and bridge building than will ever be accomplished by sitting on the sidelines and hurling insults at Catholics or anyone else.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

          Paganism would have died out long ago had it not been for a "few cranky malcontents." Besides, swimming against the stream is far better exercise (and the water is always cleaner upstream).

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

            Do you think you've done more to protect and preserve Paganism than folks like Andras Corban-Arthen, Don Frew, or M. Macha Nightmare? Because it is my impression that these Pagans, who have been very active in international interfaith work, have contributed a great deal.

            Exercise is fine, but it's good to be for something from time to time. Being loudly and frequently against things doesn't always accomplish as much.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            I wasn't aware we were in a contest. I also wasn't aware that there is a certain group of High And Mighty Pagans whose actions must not be criticized by us peons.

            My intention is not to compare myself to others, but only speak up for The Few, The Cranky, and The Malcontented. I will leave it to The Many, The Cheerful, and The Complacent speak for Themselves.

            And since you didn't notice, Jason's original post is itself highly critical in its tone. Your only problem, Cat, is not with criticism per se, but with criticism of things you think shouldn't be criticized.

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

            Wait…so, let me get this right, Ap–you are criticizing me as being critical of criticisms when I think the criticisms are worthy of criticism?

            Really? *huge grin*

            It's like something out of a Danny Kaye film! "The Vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true."

            How do you keep track of which criticisms are in-bounds, and which are out?

          • kenneth

            I don't fault anyone for trying interfaith work, but I think it's easy to delude ourselves into assigning it too much value. It's great that groups of people with different theologies can co-exist and talk, but all the participants are, by definition, open minded spiritual seekers. If we can grow some understanding and mutual respect with some liberal and New-Agey Catholics, that's great, but we're fooling ourselves if we think that means we're "finding common ground" with the Catholic Church per se.

      • kenneth

        It's nice that there are such Catholics, but they're a distinct minority and they have virtually no power in the official structures of the church. They've been waning demographically and politically within the church since the mid 80s at least. The handful that remain have been marginalized in every way – often defrocked or excommunicated etc. I see little chance for a comeback movement. Organizationally, the church is about as democratic as North Korea. It's not like the liberals can win an election coming up. Even most of their "people power" base is gone, as far as I can tell. I see two kinds of Catholics these days: former and ultra conservative. The one value I see in engaging individual Christians in dialogue is that it can help the street level person see us just as people. It's a strategy that has helped the gay community sway many ordinary people away from the lunatic fringe politics of some of their political and religious leaders.

        • Andras Corban-Arthen

          I don't think liberal Catholics are waning at all, just the opposite. Yes, liberal (and, of course, radical) Catholics are a definitely small minority when viewed in the context of world-wide Catholic membership. At this time of crisis for the church, however, its strongest numbers are found primarily in Third World countries, but they are rapidly being eroded in its main power base, which is Europe & North America, and it is in those two continents that the liberal wing of the church is proportionately stronger. Interreligious convocations (independent ones, not like the Assisi gatherings which are controlled by the church) tend to bring together the more liberal elements of the various religious traditions, for obvious reasons, and, while I don't have actual figures to offer, my sense is that the great majority of Catholics — whether clergy or laity — who attend such events are pretty liberal-minded. As dozens of them have told me, those events provide them with invaluable support and inspiration in their efforts toward liberalizing their religion. No, the Catholic church is not a democracy, and in response to the current crisis, Benedict is trying to drag it kicking and screaming back to its glory days of the 15th century, and that includes taking draconian measures to curb dissent and limit meaningful reforms. That doesn't at all mean that the liberals have disbanded — their public voices may be somewhat muted at the moment in self-preservation, but their work continues to take place in their parishes, in their religious orders, in their universities, etc. They can read the writing on the wall, and I think they're just biding their time.

    • grimmorrigan

      I love the Inquisition. What a show!

    • Anna Helvie

      I feel very sorry for the liberal Catholics who are really the ones having to make hard choices, whether to stay in faithful convenant with this Church that is atavistically embracing the the bad old times of its past, or whether to convert out of it.

    • sarenth

      Interfaith dialogue has brought a lot of peace to my family. At first there were deep disagreements over it; I wasn't allowed to even wear my jewelry in the house. Now? I can bring items sacred to me into the home, and they are letting me set up an outside shrine on their property. It has taken years of coming face-to-face, and simply disagreeing on some issues and letting them fall aside in the name of peace, but I have neither lost anything, nor have they lost anything, in letting these issues lie. These are issues like disagreements on the Church being the 'right way', disagreements on articles of faith (i.e. their belief in sin and my lack of it), and similar issues.

      Yes, there are parts of our faiths that are intractable, and wholly needed in our faiths. They won't eliminate my polytheistic sensibilities any more than I will eliminate their Trinitarian doctrine. The point is not coming out on top, it is developing a deeper, better dialogue and spiritual dialogue. I am now able to talk about my spiritual experiences without scoffs, but instead, get questions. So many Pagans have moved away from the monotheistic traditions, yet much of our families are still Christian for one reason or another. If we truly do not seek converts to establish peace in our families, perhaps dialogue can do. It certainly has worked wonders for my family and I.

      As to interfaith conferences…if you're invited and you decline, you are wasting an opportunity to develop better understanding in other religions and faiths for your own faith community. If you have the opportunity and means to go to an interfaith conference and you don't, or if you go and do not communicate in good faith, you are robbing Pagans the world over from a fruitful, developing dialogue. The problems that we are encountering worldwide in recognition of Pagan paths will not end in a single conference. The problems that we are encountering in our own communities, and between our diverse communities in the Pagan community, will not be solved by a single conference, convention, moot, or other meeting. What will help us develop better relationships between our communities is civil, engaged, respectful dialogue. We can have that, if we choose to reach out for it. We can have that, if we respond to the engagement when offered.

  • Jennifer Parsons

    Hm. Something may be up with my Wild Hunt feed; this article didn't show up in my Google Reader account.

    I can only shake my head to think that this is the same institution– one of the first mainstream Christian churches!– that embraced Dual Covenant Theology and encouraged exploration of the Divine Feminine.

    My liberal Catholic kid brother has his work cut out for him.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Wow! That is still wild to me!

    I mean, I grew up Catholic, and even without hard feelings, I don't think I ever figured that people would actually convert to Catholicism.

  • http://xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    Every time I see Pope Ratzinger, it makes me think of the Monty Python song, "Henry Kissinger", with "Henry Kissinger" being replaced by "Mister Ratzinger" (the rhyming works perfectly).

  • Meg

    As someone who has a lot of liberal Catholic family and friends, I find Pope Benedict so embarrassing. It's like being an American abroad during the Bush administration. Let me just say, in their defense, that not all Catholics buy into papal infallibility.