To the dictators of relativism and their allies in the chattering class, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is seen as an occasion for celebration and a chance to lobby the Church for a liberal successor. The mischief is already underway, as seen in such headlines as: “New Pope should not condemn contraception, says cardinal.”
Other media outlets have been only slightly less subtle in their distaste for Benedict’s pontificate. They considered it newsworthy to report that he didn’t “change” Church teaching, as if that fell within the range of plausible choices before him.
That the Church persists in naming believing Catholics to the chair of St. Peter is somehow “controversial” in the eyes of the media. “Benedict’s eight-year reign will be appraised intensively and, I expect, unkindly. He will be described as a diehard traditionalist, a reactionary in a time of revolutionary yearnings,” wrote Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times. (Author Thomas Cahill, after John Paul II’s death, took a similar line in the pages of the Times, writing that historians may conclude that his conservatism “destroyed” the Church.)
Such judgments on Benedict’s pontificate are wholly predictable, given the hostility with which the media greeted his elevation and its equation of liberalism with “reform.” Leading newspapers billed Benedict at the time of his election as “God’s Rottweiler” (though later they would cast him as a lap dog during the abuse scandal). He “never had a chance” with the media, as an executive at Fox News put it.
But Benedict was never as rigid as the media claimed. If anything, he approached non-doctrinal matters with great flexibility, a style that explains his willingness to buck 600 years of history and resign from office. That’s quite a departure from tradition for the “diehard traditionalist” of Keller’s fevered imagination.
The media’s obsessional interest in the papacy is a tacit acknowledgment of its power. Journalists may claim the papacy has “weakened” under Benedict, but the very fact that they cover it with such intensity belies that description. What the media treats as the papacy’s greatest weakness—adherence to orthodoxy—is in fact the source of its prestige.
The media’s frenetic lobbying for a “more progressive” successor to Benedict, as the Washington Post editorialized, is also a measure of the papacy’s enduring power and influence. Why should liberals care so much about the direction of a religion to which they don’t belong? The answer is that they envy its immense power and wish to harness that power for their own ideological purposes. Out of this envy they pose as “reformers” who know what is best for the Church. Yet their unsolicited advice, if taken, would only weaken her.
They regard the papacy as a relic of “absolutism” and the last great obstacle to the triumph of their ideology. Consequently, they expend great energy in trying to neutralize or co-opt it. A liberal pope, in their eyes, would be an even greater propaganda coup than a liberal president. They think that if they could somehow cow the Church into naming a “progressive” to bless their various revolutions—from socialism to same-sex marriage—those revolutions would spread everywhere.
In the past, the Church’s enemies sought to eliminate the power of the papacy by force, even to the point of throwing popes in prison. And a few of her modern enemies harbor the same thoughts, as Pope Benedict found out. “Arrest the Pope? I rather think we should,” ran a headline on a column in the British press in 2010. “Put the Pope in the Dock,” read another headline. United Nations jurist Geoffrey Robertson, joined by atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, wanted Pope Benedict prosecuted for “crimes against humanity.”
But since imprisoning popes is unrealistic the Church’s enemies seek to control the papacy through alternative means. Through the manipulation of popular opinion and media pressure, they clamor for a liberal pope who will confirm the world in all its errors and surrender the Church’s institutions to the dictatorship of relativism.
The faithful, however, can take solace in the promise of Jesus Christ that that day will never come. The gates of Hell may clank against the Church, but they will never crush her.
Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome George Neumayr as a weekly contributor to Crisis Magazine and anticipate that his timely columns will keep the conversation lively, as do the writings of our other fine contributors.