San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Pope is a Missed Opportunity

The ascension of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to thepost of spiritual leader of 416.4 million Latin American andCaribbean Catholics, nearly half of the world’s believers,nudged the Catholic Church closer toward irrelevance, a chasm ithas inched toward throughout the past several decades.In a country in which 85% identify themselves as Catholic, butabout 20% practice regularly, and in which youth are more proneto sing along to Enrique Iglesias than the organ, the religion hasmade no concession to shifting cultural currents.With Ratzinger’s election as pope, the leaders of the churchreacted to fears of the loss of traditional Christian values in thewake of the cultural upheaval of the last century by handing thereins to a hard-nosed disciplinarian. His dusty worldview is moreantique even than his years could account for, evinced by unremittingattacks on modernity, the latest when he presided over themass for electing the pope two weeks ago before the conclave satto vote.Ratzinger called rock music a “vehicle of anti-religion,” at theEighth International Church Music Congress in Rome in 1986.His cultural radar is so rusty, Christian rock bands aren’t evenblips on the screen.His election cast a pall over the 1,850 AIDS patients receivingtreatment in Costa Rica, and the families of the 1,664 who havedied since 1983. As the standard bearer for the church’s reactionaryrefusal to permit the use of condoms, he and his cohortshave buried hundreds of Costa Rican Catholics and influenced asex-education policy that, if not in print then often in practice,irremediably adheres to the church’s standards.In this country where 20% of all pregnancies occur amongteenagers, and where a recent poll showed more than half of childrenunder 16 are sexually active, abstinence as a method of birthcontrol and AIDS prevention is as inappropriate as a papacy historicallydevoid of non-Europeans.Judging by Ratzinger’s comments and the contents of his nearly200 books, the decision to make him pope condemned thechurch to irrelevance to the youth, made it an enemy to its homosexualbelievers, and continued its alienation of the half a billionCatholic women, none of whom can stand behind a pulpit.The church needs a fresh voice, one that, next time, should beculled from the cardinals in the developing world, whereCatholicism is yet ingrained in daily life, where youth outnumberthe aging, and issues such as women’s equality, AIDS and overpopulationneed practical responses.

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