I haven’t been following the ins and outs, but suddenly Joseph Ratzinger, the ultra-orthodox-sounding German cardinal who under JP2 was officially in charge of putting the fear of (G)god into the faithful, is suddenly looking like a serious pope candidate. In fact, he’s moved up to the No. 2 position on the PaddyPower betting site, listed at 9-2 to become next pope after Nigeria’s Francis Arinze, the persistent favorite at 3-1. That’s great news for church onlookers because no matter what name Ratzinger might take as pope, he’ll be known as Pope Ratzo the First (or maybe it should be “Ratso,” to conform with the name of the Dustin Hoffman character in “Midnight Cowboy”; that’s a matter for higher religious authorities than myself).
What I like about Ratzinger is his return to an old way of Roman Catholic thinking: If you want to be drinking Slurpees and playing videogames and driving Boxsters in the afterlife — or doing anything besides wading eternally in a lake of molten lead, for that matter — The Church is your only choice. It reminds me of the nun who told me in second grade that it would be a sin for me, as a Catholic, to attend services at a Lutheran church — the church in which my dad was raised and in which my grandfather was a minister. That’s one way to keep your customer base: Tell your customers they’ll go to hell if they switch brands and warn them they’re at risk if they even look at the label.
Ratzinger gave the homily at this morning’s pre-conclave Mass at St. Peter’s. Here’s how The New York Times summarizes it:
“In his writings and public statements, he has often sought to uphold the primacy of Catholicism, saying no other religion offered a path to salvation. ‘Relativism,’ he has said, implies that other faiths are equally – and wrongly – valid. The idea was strongly expressed in a document the congregation issued in 2000, Dominus Iesus, which provoked angry responses from other religious leaders.
In his homily, Cardinal Ratzinger said that Christians were tossed on the waves of Marxism, liberalism and even ‘libertinism;’ of radical individualism, atheism and vague mysticism. He also decried the creation of ‘sects’ and how people are seduced into them, using a term church leaders often employ to refer to Protestant evangelical movements.
” ‘Having a clear faith, according to the Credo of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism,’ he said. ‘Yet relativism, that is, letting oneself being carried “here and there by any wind of doctrine,” appears as the sole attitude good enough for modern times.’
“Many of the cardinals, draped in bright-red vestments and wearing white mitres, watched intently as Cardinal Ratzinger spoke on a platform underneath Bernini’s bronze baldacchino. Several others among them – two thirds of the cardinals voting for pope are septuagenarians – appeared to doze.”
The Times notes one other aspect of the performance that might suggest Ratzinger is not the shoo-in some think:
“Cardinal Ratzinger spoke Italian in heavily accented German, his voice creaky at times and interrupted by coughs. Several church officials said he has been suffering from a cold.”
The Catholic world just got done watching a pope go through a long, painful decline. Are the cardinals really going to elect somebody who sounds like he’s hacking up a lung at his coming-out party? (The bettors are asking this question, too: Ratzinger’s post-homily odds have dropped to 5-1).