Thursday, November 15, 2007

Los Angeles Times: "During his visit to the U.S. in April, Benedict XVI could learn the value of separation of church and state."

The Los Angeles Times' editorial begins at the height of condescension:
Pope Benedict XVI will be preaching on his visit to Washington and New York next April, his first trip to the United States as pope. That's part of a pope's job description. But many American Catholics hope that the papal visit will double as what politicians in this country call a "listening tour." They know that, erudite as this former theology professor may be, he still might be able to learn something from their experience in a pluralistic country where the Catholic faith has flourished despite -- or because of -- the separation of church and state. . . .

Earlier this year, Benedict seemed to endorse the hard-line view, answering "yes" when asked if he agreed with the idea that Mexican legislators who voted to legalize abortion should be excommunicated. But a spokesman later issued a clarification that, while reasserting church teaching against abortion, left unclear whether the pope would deny Communion to pro-choice politicians.

When Benedict comes to the United States, he is likely to be importuned by conservative Catholics to side with the hard-liners. He would be wiser to listen to other Catholics, laypeople as well as clergy, who know what mischief would be caused by a decree that would seem to force some Catholic officials to choose between their responsibility to their constituents or the Constitution and their standing in the church. These American Catholics believe, as President Kennedy said in 1960, in "an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote."

Give me a break. After all, we are talking about the same Pope Benedict XVI who once remarked:

The modern idea of freedom is thus a legitimate product of the Christian environment; it could not have developed anywhere else. Indeed, one must add that it cannot be separated from this Christian environment and transplanted into any other system, as is shown very clearly today in the renaissance of Islam; the attempt to graft on to Islamic societies what are termed western standards cut loose from their Christian foundations misunderstands the internal logic of Islam as well as the historical logic to which these western standards belong, and hence this attempt was condemned to fail in this form. The construction of society in Islam is theocratic, and therefore monist and not dualist; dualism, which is the precondition for freedom, presupposes for its part the logic of the Christian thing. In practice this means that it is only where the duality of Church and state, of the sacral and the political authority, remains maintained in some form or another that the fundamental pre-condition exists for freedom.

Where the Church itself becomes the state freedom becomes lost. But also when the Church is done away with as a public and publicly relevant authority, then too freedom is extinguished, because there the state once again claims completely for itself the justification of morality; in the profane post-Christian world it does not admittedly do this in the form of a sacral authority but as an ideological authority – that means that the state becomes the party, and since there can no longer be any other authority of the same rank it once again becomes total itself. The ideological state is totalitarian; it must become ideological if it is not balanced by a free but publicly recognized authority of conscience. When this kind of duality does not exist the totalitarian system is unavoidable.

(Excerpted from "Theology and the Church’s Political Stance" in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology (NY: Crossroad, 1988).

Perhaps the Los Angeles Times should consider whether the Church should remain "a public and publicly relevant authority" to those who profess the Catholic faith and yet obstinately and publicly repudiate her very teaching by their legislative actions?

Here's an introductory primer on what the Pope thinks about issues of Church and State.

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