Saturday, March 2, 2013

My obligatory pre-conclave ramble

Catholics have had their traditional period of grief for the passing of the Pope — which is, in a sense, what just happened — and have moved on to the next stage: waiting in uneasy anticipation for the conclave to begin and end.

Once upon a time, I'm told, when the Bishop of Rome was selected by the priests and deacons of Rome, the ritual of showing the newly-elected Pontiff to the crowd was serious business: if the Romans booed their choice, they'd turn right around and elect a different person.

Nor was the conclave born of secrecy; in fact, the point of it was to get the electors to make their choice speedily.  Up until the 2005 conclave, the electors were housed inside the Apostolic Palace on rented cots that, as Fr. Andrew Greeley noted in The Making of the Popes 1978: The Politics of Intrigue in the Vatican, were almost as uncomfortable as the beds at his seminary.  For the 2005 election the Domus Sanctae Marthae was open; although it has a dining room and conference rooms like any two-star hotel, the bedrooms themselves are as modestly furnished as the cell of a modern convent or monastery.

No one wants to make the conclave a prolonged affair, especially not the cardinals themselves.


A Facebook friend of mine, who's a parishioner of Msgr. Charles Pope, pointed me towards the "election" posters of Cdl. Peter Turkson above, which are now festooning various areas of Rome around Vatican City.  I'm not going to indulge in speculation over which of the 115 or so cardinals will emerge in white; I would just be parroting what I read elsewhere, and John R. Allen, Jr. and Rocco Palma know the players much better than I do.  (If only the former didn't work for the schismatics at the Fishwrap!)  I have to wonder, though: are there really that many +Turkson supporters there in Rome?  And if someone else is elected, would the crowd boo?

Reminds me of an exchange Fr. Greeley had with an Italian when the name "Carolus Cardinalem Wojtyła" was announced:

Man: "Padre! Padre! É papa negro?
Greeley: "No."
Man: "Asiatico?"
Greeley: "No. Il papa é polacco!"
Man: (thumps his head in disbelief)
I'm reminded of this story because, while the election of a cardinal from the Third World is a distinct possibility this time around, no one in the First World really expects it — we've just gotten used to the pope being a non-Italian, after all.  And I suspect that The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named is right: no one would be more surprised or dismayed by the election of +Turkson than the multi-culties of the left.

The notion that the West is, in any serious way, “multicultural” is a complete, smug, self-congratulating fiction.  We are a culture that is not only profoundly intolerant of ideas outside a narrow bandwidth and ready, at the drop of a hat, to sneer at those ignorant primitives who think differently from our middle class suburban enlightened selves, but we are also a people ready, willing, and able to go to war to impose our “values” on backward peoples in the name of spreading hedonistic democratic capitalism.  And if that means the extermination or exile of, say, the Chaldean Christians in our quest for Enduring Freedom, well hey!  You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.
Gandhi is hip and cool as a picture on a T shirt or a Barnes and Noble bag for our cultured despisers.  But *listen* to him when he says things that would not play on “All Things Considered”?  Fuggedaboudit.
[For context, this rant was prompted by Salon reprinting a piece written by Gandhi against birth control, which has gotten a lot of negative comments from Salon's progressive readership base.—TL]
... When we get one (as I presume we will sooner or later, though I think not this time) there will be a few days of wonder that an African or Asian is doing the job, and then the hand-wringing will start about the Pope suffering from post-colonial false consciousness (meaning “he believes the Catholic faith”), outdated “tribal” sexism (and by “tribal” we think you catch our drift, hint, hint), “backward” superstitions and so forth.  This will come far more from racists on the Left than on the Right. ... A Pope who says, well, what the Church says and what Gandhi says will not be received like some new Nelson Mandela by the Western press.  He will be derided as an emissary from backward lands who need enlightened Westerners to teach them shallow atheism and cull their numbers with the blessings of birth control.

At the time I was going to college, the hot topic was affirmative action.  It was as difficult then for conservatives to argue against it as gay marriage is today, for much the same reason: Anyone who did oppose affirmative action was slandered and ostracized into silence by the predominant culture of Tolerance and Inclusiveness.

It was about that time that I noticed — prodded along by Stephen Carter's Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education — that college progressives didn't lack for racism themselves; they'd simply turned the most common negative stereotypes into positive virtues.  To hear them talk or read their writings, you'd think that anyone not raised a white, straight, Christian male American was automatically possessed of a morality more refined, more sensitive and more progressive, exactly 180 degrees opposed to the WASP ideal — but all moral systems are equal, don'cha know.  This was especially and implicitly true of anyone born someplace other than North America or Europe ... except for the morally and culturally superior Native Americans.

Such people were quick to decry our exportation of Christian missionaries and McDonald's franchises as "cultural imperialism", and equally studious to ignore Planned Barrenhood's efforts to take up the white man's burden of enlightening the savages.  Now, as The Blogger implies, they've pretty much conceded that we Westerners are morally superior and must impose our culture on the Third World even if we need to resort to armed force to do it.

Should I quote Santayana here?  After all, neither the Romans of the second and first centuries BC nor the British Empire of the 19th century CE had F-16s, carriers or Predator drones.

Given my druthers, I'd prefer a pope with the bureaucratic savvy to clean house in the Vatican and the intestinal fortitude to encourage his brother bishops to do the same in their sees.  If +Turkson could bring that to the party, along with doctrinal orthodoxy — for the main business of the Church is passing down intact the teachings of Christ — we'd have three-fourths of everything we need of B16's successor.  For the other quarter, the "job description" Fr. Greeley came up with for the first '78 conclave still holds: "A hopeful holy man who smiles".  And I'm told that +Turkson fits that bill pretty well.


But the part of me that enjoys the discomfiture of my opponents definitely wants a pope who teaches the Faith boldly and unapologetically.  And just about anyone the conclave is likely to elect is going to be well to the right of Hans Küng, to say nothing of Andrew Sullivan and Garry Wills.  If that man is from Asia or Africa, so much the better.

Because at the end of the day, American Catholics represents only 7% of the household of the Faith, and half of them are "cultural Catholics" who show up at Mass at Christmas and Easter and spend the rest of the year living like functional secularists.  Why the opinions of muppets like Sr. Donna Quinn, Jason Berry and Thomas Fox should weigh more than the apostolic tradition, no one has explained to me yet.

Thus endeth my pre-conclave speculations.