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Posts Tagged ‘Pope Benedict’

It has been about 2,000 years since the man we now call Jesus, but whose Jewish name was most likely Yehoshua or Yeshua, lived in the land of Judea (from which we derive the word Jew). There are an endless number of theology books that have been written about his teachings and a very large number of churches created, all of which profess to know his true message. The problem is that these churches tend to disagree, some almost completely, about exactly what he said and what he meant by the words he said. The issue is compounded by the fact that he wrote nothing himself and the major sources of information about his teachings , the Gospels, were written long after he died.

This much we do know: he lived and taught in the land of Judea. He ran afoul of both the Jewish leadership and the Roman leadership of the land and he was executed by the government of the Roman Empire for what we would today call treason. It seems that he had somehow acquired the title “King of the Jews” and, of course there could only be one king in the Roman Empire, and that was Caesar. He had also drawn the ire of the Jewish theocracy by teaching that the religious laws of the land were not the laws of God and need not be followed. Furthermore, he went around forgiving people who had broken the religious laws of Judea, thus robbing the priests and leaders of the Judea of their power over the people. For a theocracy, either Jewish or Roman, (and they were both theocracies) this was an unforgivable sin.

For centuries after his death his followers were persecuted by the Roman Empire in an attempt to quell the growth of the movement he had started. It was only when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared tolerance for Christians in the year 313 than the attitude of the Empire began to change. It wasn’t too long afterward that Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire and all the laws of the Roman Catholic Church were incorporated into the laws of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had become a worldwide theocracy. Over the centuries many of the old Judean theocracy laws were included in “Christian” teachings, and “Christian” theocracies eventually came to Europe, first as part of the Roman Empire and later as Protestant “Christian” theocracies, such as England. The mixing of public law and religious laws eventually followed the Puritans to America and became part of American life with Christian prayers being said in public schools at the start of the school day, Christian holidays becoming state holidays, and so forth. It was accepted as normal by the people. The question is this: is this what Jesus had in mind? Is this why he was willing to die by Roman torture? The answer, of course, is no.

At the core of the New Testament story is the continual adversarial relationship between the theocracy of Judea and the teaching of Jesus. The reason for this is the nature of theocracies: they impose their will upon the people under threat of punishment by God. All you have to do is convince the people that your government is in touch with God and you have total control of the people. This method of control has worked well for thousands of years, not only for the Christian countries, but for countries that espouse other religions too. The initial teaching of Jesus was simple – the government does not speak for God.

However, as time went on and Jesus fell under heavy criticism from the religious leaders of  Judea, he also rebuked their teachings. It wasn’t long before he was teaching that neither the government nor the priests speak for God. Well then, you might ask, who does? The response of Jesus  to this is what he told his followers: I will send a counselor to you, the Holy Spirit of God, who will advise you about what is right or wrong. When Jesus was gone there would be no priest or governor to interpret the will of God because each person will be informed directly by the Spirit of God. Or, as Jesus also stated, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.

The key message of Jesus was not that he was establishing a new religion, it was that men do not need the established religions in order to be in contact with God. His words were the words of treason against all theocracies. His words were the words of freedom for all individuals. His words were the rejection of the existence of any theocracy or priest – there was no need for an intermediary between you and God – in fact, this would be the only way you could ever experience God. You have to do it yourself. That was his message.

Now, 2,000 years later, as millions, perhaps billions celebrate Christmas, it is worth remembering that this man who gave his life for his message of defiance to theocracies was striking a blow for all of us to be free of religious leaders, like the present Pope, who say that pedophilia is OK, or other leaders of other religions who call for “Holy Wars”, or others who call for you to give 10% of your money to them because God wants you to, or those who say you must be a virgin, or those who say you must not eat this or you must not wear those clothes, or those who say you must not think this or say that. The list goes on and on of “religious” people who would control you, who tell you they speak for God, when of course they do not.

So why should we celebrate Christmas? Because in doing so we celebrate the life of a true hero of the world who 2,000 years ago stood up and defied the Roman Empire and the Jewish theocracy, and sacrificed his life, on behalf of every one of us. He  spoke out on behalf of freedom and the ability of each man to know God without the assistance of any other man.

We should celebrate the life of Jesus because he taught us that we are free of theocracies, because the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e. the Spirit of God, is already within all of us.

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It is not news that the Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in sex scandals for a good many years.  Most of these scandals seem to have involved priests taking sexual liberties with little boys and sometimes little girls.  There were major, and expensive, scandals in Boston, Los Angeles, Louisiana, in the U.S. and many others in many parts of the world. Recently, many cases of abuse were reported in Ireland going back many years. The problem now appears to be a worldwide issue for the Catholic Church.  Almost as horrific as the abuse itself was the systematic coverup of the cases by the Church. Now, the Church is facing accusations of coverup at the highest level.

Today, it was reported that a priest in Germany had been molesting little boys in the 1980’s. So why is that suddenly news? Isn’t this just one more of the countless cases of abuse and coverup by the Church? Yes, but there is a bit of a difference here. It turns out that the current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was the archbishop of Munich at the time and the abuse occurred in his archdiocese and on his watch.  It also appears that the priest who committed the abuse was returned to service after a stint of rehab while the Archbishop Ratzinger was still in Munich – before he became Pope.  Also, before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquistion).  It was during this time, in 2001, that he sent a letter to all Roman Catholic bishops, instructing them to send all cases concerning child sexual abuse to his office.

So, one must ask: what did he know and when did he know it? Actually, the world is about to ask this question. As countries with large Catholic populations come to grips with the extent of the scandal, and more and more previously repressed reports are made public, the Pope is facing a potential problem that could have an enormous impact on the Church.  Too many Catholics have already voted with their feet and left the Church in America and Ireland. It looks like Germany will be next.  At this time the Vatican appears to be in its normal take cover mode, determined to stonewall and tough it out.  Yet the secrets are already out. Who do they think they are kidding, except themselves?  In todays age of instant communications, the old coverup and stonewall tactics of the past are ineffective. How many of today’s politicians have been brought down by much lesser scandals using these same stalling tactics? The question now is this: Can the Pope survive? Or perhaps a more difficult question for the Church itself: “Should the Pope survive?”

These are difficult and dangerous times for the Roman Catholic Church.  Caesar’s wife, it was said, must be above reproach.  Shouldn’t the Pope be held to even a higher standard than the wife of Caesar?  Is it possible for someone to be one of the moral leaders of the world and also be under suspicion of a coverup of sexual abuse? No, it isn’t. It’s not even possible to be the moral leader of a troop of boy scouts with that hanging over you.

Today, the Vatican is claiming that there is a witch hunt directed against the Pope in Germany. Perhaps so. Maybe not. The facts are the facts and they will have to come out.  This is not the time for stonewalling. There is no longer anywhere to hide.  There can be no more coverups.  The Vatican and the Pope have to meet this mounting crisis head on with a full disclosure of what the Pope knew and when he knew it. A failure to do so can, and will, have disastrous consequences for the Church worldwide.

I wonder if they know?

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