I’ve spent this day cycling through many of the classic stages of grief, after hearing that Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. When I heard the news, I was stunned. I honestly didn’t think Ratzinger was going to be chosen. Yes, I knew he was a frontrunner, but I really didn’t think the Conclave would choose someone so divisive and controversial. I spent the next hour or so in numb shock, trying to make sense of what was happening. I got a phone call from a close friend, also a progressive Catholic but not as familiar with Ratzinger, asking me “Did they really just elect a fundamentalist to be our next Pope?” I started to explain more about this man and what he represented to me, and the anger kicked in. I started with his document on homosexuality, a letter so dehumanizing and lacking in compassion it may as well have been called “On the Care and Feeding of Homosexuals” [it’s actually called “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”], a document that (among other harmful statements) said in so many words that if hate crimes occur, well, yes, that’s not nice, but just maybe gay people are asking for it by acting so, well, gay. His blindness to the Church’s sexism has also been a huge problem, and for a man so highly educated, he’s written some very ignorant pieces about feminism. And then there’s his most recent homily before the Conclave began on Monday, a tirade against all ideas and discourse that fall outside of his narrow definition of Truth with a big capital “T”. This is now the man I am to look to for moral guidance?
I was happy to find a safe haven to meet a friend for lunch. The owner is a political progressive and we got to talking about the big news of the day. I was glad for a chance to vent some more and to even find some humor. At one point Ron, in a mock authoritarian tone, told me “You’re going to stay right where you are!” referring to Ratzinger’s sexist views on women’s inferior status. I’m taking those words to heart, but I’m changing the meaning of the phrase. Because he’s right, I’m not going anywhere: I’m not leaving this Church. I’m not going to leave and allow people like Ratzinger to be the only ones representing what the Catholic Church is all about. I’m Catholic too, and I’m going to keep speaking up and fighting for a renewed Church, one of radical love, compassion, and justice. I’ll fight until they silence me, too. [Many theologians I admire and respect have been silenced by Ratzinger in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Ivone Gebara, Matthew Fox, Leonardo Boff are just a few.]
By the end of the day the sadness crept in, and it’s still with me as I write this. I read emails and blog posts of people heartbroken and angry, of people so disappointed and feeling even further alienated from the Church. What do we do now? How much more will we be hurt by this institution that fails to represent the unconditional love of Christ?
The Big Question I’m left with: Where is the Holy Spirit in all this? I knew that the Conclave was stacked with conservative cardinals and that there wasn’t a chance for any real change to happen this time around. But I still had hope, hope in a God bigger than all of our human failings, bigger than all of the oppression and exclusion of that male-only meeting. Surely the Holy Spirit would be present in those meetings, the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of She who was present at the creation of the universe. Surely She would intercede!
Was the Holy Spirit present in the Conclave? My faith teaches me yes, of course. I want to believe that’s true. True with a capital “T”.