The amount of respect I give to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is so immense that I can’t put it into words. When I think about how the Catholic Church has, for the most part, defended apostolic succession to this day, I become overwhelmed with emotion. In a way, this might be one of Catholicism’s most powerful claims to legitimacy: the ability to link its current head, the 265th Pope, Benedict XVI, to its first Pope – the Vicar of Christ – Saint Peter. Any Christian denomination that is able to link itself through history to God’s intervention in human history and, incredibly, do a pretty damn good job at establishing that the link itself is inherently holy because God intervened in human history and left humanity to carry on His work in human history, is a denomination that is at least worthy of consideration.
This is Catholicism’s weapon: it is a tradition that has become so magnificently institutionalized and profoundly intelligent that it no longer requires apologists. The Catholic Church defends itself merely by the fact it continues to breathe 1.2 billion breaths every second from every corner of the globe, from every ethnic background, from every class, in every language, and in every profession. The community of believers are not only sustained by the Holy Spirit, they are the Holy Spirit. It is largely for this reason that I have yet to give up on Catholicism. The Catholic Church’s proof for Jesus of Nazareth being the Christ is both historical and contemporary: it embraces the historicity of Christ and through the community of believers, contemporizes His message.
Even as a soft-agnostic, I am haunted by how real the Holy Spirit feels when I walk into Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. There is no other religion on the planet that does this to me – I truly feel a transcendent force when I attend mass at Mary, Queen of the World. For me, there is something to Catholicism that is important; I have no idea if this is the sheer awesomeness of its buildings or the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the fact I don’t know keeps me up at night worrying, “What if it is true?” This is super fucked up and I don’t really talk about it because the Catholic Church is such a horrifying institution. I can’t shake Catholicism. lol, of all the things I can’t shake… Catholicism.
So it’s a huge bummer that the Catholic Church is run by a bunch of hacks who are more concerned with defending their own personal integrity, than the salvation of the community of believers. Oh my God! I am trying to think of a more repulsive crew of oppressors than the ragtag crew of bros that call the Vatican home… I can’t! If these d00ds are supposed to be all ‘Vicar-of-Christ’, I’ll take whatever Judas is pushing. It takes everything I have to differentiate the social policies of the Catholic Church and the theological might that is hidden inside of it. Sometimes I don’t know if I can do it. Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother to try.
Why should I bother trying? If the Catholic Church was any other organization, I would be standing at their head office, throwing Molotov cocktails at those pederast-defending-fucks in their gaudy robes. And yet, for whatever reason, I give a pass to the institution that only just (March, 2000) apologized for the following (Quoting Christopher Htichens):
“The crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of the Jewish people, injustice towards women, that’s half the human race right there, and the forced conversion of indigenous peoples, especially in South America, the African slave trade… and for silence during Hitler’s Final Solution or Shoah. And it doesn’t end there, there are smaller but significant—equally significant—avowals of a very bad conscience. These have included regret for the rape and torture of orphans and other children in church-run schools in almost every country on Earth, from Ireland to Australia. These are very serious matters, and they’re not to be laughed off by the references to the occasional work of Catholic charities. But I draw you attention not just to the apologies, ladies and gentlemen, but to the evasive and euphemistic form that they take.” Fuck. I won’t defend these hacks. I can’t defend these hacks.
And then, on a good day, when I don’t come across news of a child abuse scandal or how the Catholic Church actively shits over reproductive rights across the globe, I start to think about how Catholicism still clings to the increasingly fragile origin of the Christian claim. I might dig up the heartbreaking Per Corso Trilogy, written by Monsignor Luigi Giussani and, for a moment, I refuse to let myself believe that the Catholic Church is salvifically vacant. And then I put his beautiful theology back on the shelf and remind myself that, even if salvation was inside the Church, I wouldn’t want it. Even if I knew with absolute certainty that I could be saved by joining the community of believers, I would turn my back on the Holy Spirit and refuse His promises. I believe that God intervened in human history. I truly believe this (holy fuck, I can’t believe I am admitting to this absurdity)… but I wish He had left us alone. Not because His love isn’t perfect, it is; but because the people entrusted with His love used it to commit unimaginable evil.
But I will cry for Ratzinger…
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement last week, my heart split in two for the man. My heart didn’t split in two for Benedict XVI… that would be silly, lol, he’s terrible. No, my heart split in two for Joseph Ratzinger, the human who was blessed with one of the most beautiful minds of the 20th century. My heart split for the man who wrote the text (Introduction to Christianity) that changed the way I understood Christianity, the text that changed the way I loved others, the world and myself. This is perhaps where I can draw the distinction and defend Catholicism: the distinction between Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI.
If Joseph Ratzinger had been a Christian but had not been bound to the dogma of the Catholic Church, his ceiling would have been unlimited. One need only read his Habilitation on Saint Bonaventure to know that Ratzinger was an individual who could generate insights in places no one else could. This is what frustrates me so much, Ratzinger got Christianity in a way that few could – he was on Augustine’s level, he had the chops to reverse the horrors of Catholicism. Even in the days before his retirement, I clung to this really silly hope: that Ratzinger could save the Catholic Church from itself. In a way, I am glad that this silly hope is no longer possible. I can put my faith in Joseph Ratzinger away forever and see him for what he will forever be, Pope Benedict XVI.
Joseph Ratzinger and his faith were this perfect dynamism – a dialectic between the subject and the Absolute. His insights were a product of his own faith and his own experience. He had the ability to show us flickers of God’s love, he gave us hope. But Pope Benedict XVI is not Joseph Ratzinger… Ratzinger, along with his faith, died long ago.