Within minutes of the media announcement that Cardinal Ratizinger was selected Pope Benedict – I refuse to call a process whereby less than 1% of 1% can vote an election – I received an email asking if I was going to switch churches or wait to be excommunicated! My friends laughed and said “A progressive American Catholic is now a double oxymoron!”
The first Pope joke is already racing around Rome. When gregarious and generous Pope John XXIII was made pope, his first words were “Be not afraid!” Now when Pope Benedict is sworn in his first words will be “Be afraid! Be very afraid!”
For those of you who are not Catholic, selecting Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope is a lot like selecting Attorney General John Ashcroft as President. Ratzinger has been the enforcer of orthodoxy for years. No women priests. No gay unions. No questioning authority. Fall in line.
As a progressive American Catholic I feel uncomfortably out of place – both in country and in church. While the last Pope spoke passionately about poverty and peace and solidarity – these principles were undercut by the practices of protection of the all-male clerical hierarchy.
Likewise, we have a president who speaks boldly about freedom and democracy and opportunity – yet these same principles are undercut by practices of global military and economic domination and widespread denial of social and human rights at home and abroad.
Yet I, and millions of others, are not leaving – country or church. Millions refused to give up and go to Canada when our current fundamentalist president was elected.
And we millions are not leaving the catholic church just because the fundamentalists have assumed power there as well.
Our church and our country have wandered far away from the principles of respect and justice and equality that are supposed to be the foundations of each. Yet, we will not leave.
It is time to stand and struggle for the soul of church and country – and, I am afraid, more frequently than I would like, to struggle with both our church and country to force them to stand consistently for their principles.
If our country will not stand up for justice for civilians in Iraq, prisoners here and abroad, a living wage, racial justice, quality public schools, fair healthcare, and reigning in national and international corporate power – then it is up to us to do it. Our country is the one of Harriet Tubman, Patrick Henry, Eleanor Roosevelt, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King. They inspire us and they give us hope to push forward in these times.
If our church will not stand up for women leaders, accountability for abuses, democracy in our institutions, healthy sexuality, equality for people of all orientations, and real respect for all life – including the born – then it is up to us to do it. Our church is the one of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Joan of Arc, Philip Berrigan, Dorothy Day and Francis of Assisi. They inspire us and give us hope to push forward in these times.
Benedict and George – we are not leaving. It is our church and our country. We are going to stay and struggle for the soul of both, with love and justice for all.
BILL QUIGLEY is a lifelong Irish Catholic U.S.citizen who teaches at Loyola University New OrleansSchool of Law. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org