It would be hard to over-state the radicalism of this decision. It’s not simply a continuation of John Paul II. It’s a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church. The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct. And the attack on individual political freedom is just beginning.
There is simply no other figure more extreme than the new Pope on the issues that divide the Church. No one. He raised the stakes even further by his extraordinarily bold homily at the beginning of the conclave, where he all but declared a war on modernity, liberalism (meaning modern liberal democracy of all stripes) and freedom of thought and conscience. And the speed of the decision must be interpreted as an enthusiastic endoprsement of his views. What this says to American Catholics is quite striking: it’s not just a disagreement, it’s a full-scale assault. This new Pope has no pastoral experience as such. He is a creature of theological discourse, a man of books and treatises and arguments. He proclaims his version of the truth as God-given and therefore unalterable and undebatable. His theology is indeed distinguished, if somewhat esoteric and at times a little odd. But his response to dialogue within the church is to silence those who disagree with him. He has no experience dealing with people en masse, no hands-on experience of the challenges of the church in the developing world, and complete contempt for dissent in the West. His views on the subordinate role of women in the Church and society, the marginalization of homosexuals (he once argued that violence against them was predictable if they kept pushing for rights), the impermissibility of any sexual act that does not involve the depositing of semen in a fertile uterus, and the inadmissability of any open discourse with other faiths reveal him as even more hardline than the previous pope. I expected continuity. I didn’t expect intensification of the fundamentalism and insularity of the current hierarchy. I expect an imminent ban on all gay seminarians, celibate or otherwise. And I expect the Church’s immersion in the culture wars in the West – on every imaginable issue. For American Catholics, I foresee an accelerating exodus. But that, remember, is the plan. The Ratzingerians want to empty the pews in America and start over. They will, in that sense, be successful.
Eamonn rounds up lots of other quotes from around the blogosphere.