Embrace plurality, evoke sanctity of humanity

Editorial, The Buddhist Channel, April 25, 2005

In an age of cultural and religious diversity, the 265th elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church must be seen to embrace values and views that promote universal understanding and tolerance

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (Latin: Benedictus PP. XVI), born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on April 16, Holy Saturday, 1927 in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, Germany, was elected the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on April 19, 2005.

<< Pope Benedict XVI

By virtue of his office, he is not only Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, but also the Sovereign of the Vatican City State. He is styled either as His Holiness or the Holy Father. He was formally installed during the Mass of Papal Installation on April 24, 2005, although he officially attained the complete papal authority when he accepted his election in the conclave.

The choice of the name Benedict (Latin "the blessed") is significant. The new pope's birthday is on 16 April and that day is the feast of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre (26 March 1748 ? 16 April 1783), also known as the Holy Pilgrim. In addition, the previous Pope Benedict XV (1914 to 1922) was seen as a conciliator who calmed the disputes between modernist and anti-modernist factions with the Church, and the adoption of the name Benedict has been seen as a sign that Ratzinger has similar goals. Additionally, Der Spiegel reports on an interview with Joachim Cardinal Meisner, usually regarded as close to Ratzinger, stating that he chose Benedict because of Benedict XV who "did much for peace in the world". Ratzinger has not yet made specific public comments on why he chose the name, or if he had considered the issue of choosing a name prior to entering the conclave.

Theology professor Susan Roll of the University of Ottawa speculates in the Globe and Mail, however, that the new Pope's name may be taken from St. Benedict, who founded the Benedictine Order and is credited by Catholics for preserving Christian civilization during the Great Migration in the Early Middle Ages. St. Benedict is also one of the patron saints of Europe. Ratzinger has always been concerned that Europe should do its utmost not to lose its Christian heritage. Some have speculated that the choice of the name of Europe's patron signals an intention to reclaim Europe for Christ.

A Controversial Pope?

Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was a well-known and quite controversial figure inside and outside the Catholic Church, for a number of outspoken pronouncements. Many find the controversy around Ratzinger's statements puzzling as his views tended to be very close to the views of Pope John Paul II who has not been subject to criticisms on the same scale as Ratzinger.

In 1987, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that Jewish history and scripture reach fulfillment only in Christ ? a position critics denounced as "theological anti-Semitism," although it is very much in the general tradition of Christian views of the Old Testament and the Jews. Other religious groups took offense to a 2000 document entitled Dominus Iesus in which he stated that, "Only in the Catholic Church is there eternal salvation".

The document also condemned "relativistic theories" of religious pluralism and described other faiths as "gravely deficient." The document was primarily aimed at reining in liberal Catholic theologians like Jacques Dupuis, who argued that other religions could also lead to salvation, but it offended many religious leaders. Jewish religious leaders boycotted several interfaith meetings in protest. However, groups such as the World Jewish Congress commended his election as Pope as "welcome" and extolled his "great sensitivity".

Though his advent was congratulated by Buddhist leaders around the world, critics remembered that in March 1997 Cardinal Ratzinger called Buddhism an "autoerotic" spirituality that offered "transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations" and threatened the Catholic Church. The quotation was first published in a French Catholic journal, where Ratzinger warned against the allure of the Eastern faith.

"If Buddhism is attractive, it's only because it suggests that by belonging to it you can touch the infinite, and you can have joy without concrete religious obligations. It's spiritually self-indulgent eroticism.''  - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI)

"If Buddhism is attractive, it's only because it suggests that by belonging to it you can touch the infinite, and you can have joy without concrete religious obligations,'' Ratzinger said. ``It's spiritually self-indulgent eroticism.'' Ratzinger also rebuffed the concept of reincarnation as "morally cruel.''

In a report from the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) dated March 1, 2002, a German Benedictine who is also a Zen master was ordered by Ratzinger, then the Vatican?s top doctrinal official, to cease all public activities, including lectures, courses and publications.

The action against Benedictine Fr. Willigis Jäger, 76, also known by his Zen name of Ko-un Roshi, was made public February 5 by the Würzburg diocese, where Jäger?s Münsterschwarzach Abbey is located. Benedictine Fr. Nokter Wolf, the abbot primate of the Benedictine order, confirmed in response to an NCR query that the decision came from Ratzinger.

Jäger has been faulted for playing down the Christian concept of God as a person in his work as a spiritual guide, and for stressing mystical experience above doctrinal truths. The move against Jäger builds on longstanding concerns expressed by Ratzinger about the doctrinal consequences of dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism.

In a December 14, 1989, document, ?Some aspects of Christian Meditation,? the doctrinal congregation urged caution in the use of techniques of prayer and meditation drawn from Eastern religions. Such methods, the document says, must be ?subjected to a thoroughgoing examination so as to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism.?

In an interview in 2004 for Le Figaro Magazine, Ratzinger said Turkey, a country Muslim by heritage and staunchly Secularist by its state constitution, should seek its future in an association of Islamic nations rather than the EU, which has Christian roots. He said Turkey had always been "in permanent contrast to Europe" and that linking it to Europe would be a mistake.

Benedict's defenders argue that it is to be expected that a leader within the Catholic Church would forcefully and explicitly argue in favor of the superiority of Catholicism over other religions, as it is central dogma of Catholic theology that there is no salvation outside the church (see extra ecclesiam nulla salus). Others also maintain that single quotes from Dominus Iesus are not indicative of intolerance or an unwillingness to engage in dialogue with other faiths, and this is clear from a reading of the entire document. They point out that Ratzinger has been very active in promoting inter-faith dialogue. Specifically, they argue that Ratzinger has been instrumental at encouraging reconciliation with Lutherans. In defending Dominus Iesus, Benedict himself has stated that his belief is that inter-faith dialogue should take place on the basis of equal human dignity, but that equality of human dignity should not imply that each side is equally correct.

Pope Benedict on homosexuality

Gay rights advocates widely criticized his 1986 letter to the Bishops of the Church, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, in which he stated that "although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." In an earlier letter dated September 30, 1985, Ratzinger reprimanded Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen for his unorthodox views on women, gays, and doctrinal issues, stating, "The Archdiocese should withdraw all support from any group, which does not unequivocally accept the teaching of the Magisterium concerning the intrinsic evil of homosexual activity." Archbishop Hunthausen was temporarily relieved of his authority


In 1988 a debate within the Catholic Church over the use of condoms to prevent AIDS sparked controversy again. The Church in 1968 had already stated in Humanae Vitae that chemical and barrier methods of contraception went against Church teachings. The debate was over the different issue of whether or not condoms could be used, not as contraceptives, but as a means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In 1987, the U. S. Conference of Bishops issued a document suggesting that education on the use of condoms could be an acceptable part of an anti-AIDS program.

In response, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that such an approach "would result in at least the facilitation of evil" ? not merely its toleration. For the full text of the letter, see: On "The Many Faces of AIDS". Critics argue that Ratzinger's approach would lead to increases in the frequency of HIV/AIDS infections, while many Catholics dispute this and emphasize the value of faithful relationships or chastity.

The position is not arbitrary nor moralistic, but possesses a rigorous philosophical basis. It seems that considerable weight can be given to this position, as abstinence promoted in the country of Uganda has reduced an AIDS population of 29% to roughly 6%, as opposed to other countries where condoms are promoted and the infection levels have either remained stable or increased.

The benefit of doubt

While non-Christians view the Pope's sense of dogmatism with certain trepidation, given a history of harsh comments on other belief systems, it is hoped that, as Noble laureate Desmond Tutu observed, the Holy Spirit will move him to realize that there is a world out there waiting to hear the good news that "God" is there for the downtrodden and the poor.

"God is not a Christian," Tutu boldly declared, and said that "truth is not encapsulated only in the Christian faith." As head of the Vatican, Pope Benedict must continue the work of his predecessor Pope John Paul II in promoting interfaith dialogue. It is only through the framework of mutual understanding that the seed of peace can be planted.

In an age of cultural and religious diversity, the 265th elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church must be seen to embrace values and views that promote universal understanding and tolerance, while holding true to their faith. The wise leadership of Pope John Paul II has clearly demonstrated that actions motivated by wisdom and compassion need not carry any religious connotations. The act itself emboldens the process of healing, and with that, a hope for a better future. By nature, Buddhists are a forgiving lot. As long as any future remarks or actions are delivered towards respecting the sensitivities of other cultures and beliefs, we should move on.

It is in this respect that Buddhist world welcomes the new Pope, that His Holiness takes his position to protect not only the Roman Catholic Church, but to also cultivate a sense of respect for the spirituality of humanity, regardless of faith, culture and beliefs. - BC

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XVI, National Catholic Reporter, March 1, 2002 and USA Today, March 24, 1997)

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