Friday, August 31, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI: Grace Under Fire

Cross-post from Against The Grain]

The Pope is scheduled to visit the U.N. in New York City next year. From the blog of the New York Times, a post recalling When Ratzinger Last Visited New York:

The A.P. reported that on Jan. 26, 1988, “several prominent rabbis refused to attend a meeting with Ratzinger because he maintains that Judaism finds its fulfillment in Christianity.” The following day, gay demonstrators, angered by Cardinal Ratzinger’s contention that homosexuality is a “moral disorder,” heckled him during his talk at the Saint Peter’s Church, a Lutheran congregation in Midtown.

The demonstrators — some shouting “He’s no man of God,” “inquisitor” and “Nazi” — interrupted a talk by Cardinal Ratzinger for about 10 minutes. The A.P. reported that Cardinal John J. O’Connor, the archbishop of New York at the time (he died in 2000), “sat somberly beside him during the disruption at the presentation.” Six demonstrators were arrested.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s talk, and a closed-door conference on Jan. 28, 1988, were organized by the Center on Religion and Society at the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal foundation based in Charlottesville, Va.

It was actually Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus (at that time still a Lutheran pastor) who coordinated then-Cardinal Ratzinger's visit to the United States. The text of Ratzinger's address: Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today; the proceedings of the conference were published in Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church. Eerdmans Pub Co (May 1989).

'Vatican Biggy'In an interview with, Fr. Neuhaus recalled Ratzinger's encounter with obnoxious protestors intent on disrupting the Cardinal's speech:

. . . Throughout, the cardinal was the very picture of tranquility. When he got a chance to speak he prefaced his lecture, which was on the subject of biblical interpretation, with a moving reflection on the 1968 student rebellion in Europe that helped him to understand more deeply the indispensability of civility in human relations.

On this and other occasions, it was obvious to me that his tranquility is rooted in a tried and tested faith. The next day the tabloid headlines blazoned, "Gays Protest Vatican Biggy." He chuckled at his new title of Vatican Biggy.

From the perspective of a protestor, demonstrating typical liberal support for freedom of speech and the civil exchange of ideas:

... Ratzinger took the podium and began to speak. As soon as he finished his first sentence, a group of about eight people to the left of the crowd leaped to their feet and began chanting "Stop the Inquisition!" They chanted feverishly and loudly, their voices echoing throughout the building. The entire room was fixated on them. Activists suddenly appeared in the back of the church and began giving out fliers explaining the action. Two men on the other side of the room jumped up and, pointing at Ratzinger, began to scream, "Antichrist!" Another man jumped up, in one of the first few rows near the prelate, and yelled, "Nazi!" All over the church, angry people began to shout down the protestors who were near them; chaotic yelling matches broke out. . . .

Suddenly, I jumped up on one of the marble platforms and, looking down, I addressed the entire congregation in the loudest voice I could. My voice rang out as if it were amplified. I pointed at Ratzinger and shouted: "He is no man of God!" The shocked faces of the assembled Catholics turned to the back of the room to look at me as I continued: "He is no man of God -- he is the Devil!"

In an article at the dawn of Benedict XVI's pontificate, Alice von Hildebrand recalled the visit to New York as well (No Prophet In His Own Land: Reflections on Benedict XVI Crisis June 2005):
My Latin blood started boiling. Before I knew it, I got up and said at the top of my voice, “Shame on you!” The police were called and they forced the dissidents to leave the Church; they went outside and continued screaming. The cardinal stood quietly on the podium with a grieved but gentle expression on his face. I could not help but have the feeling that he was praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Peace was finally reestablished, and once again, His Eminence proceeded with his text as if nothing had happened. He was clearly deeply recollected. But it was not the end of this ugly affair. After some ten minutes, other protesters seated in the back of the Church started spitting their gall once again and giving expression to their unholy rage. The same scenario was repeated; but this time, the police were nearby, and the speaker could complete his talk.

His attitude throughout was admirable—peaceful, calm, loving, no bitterness, no resentment. He accepted their insults and, in doing so, gave testimony to the teaching of Christ: Love those who hate you.

Let's hope our Papa will receive a kinder, warmer welcome on his next visit to the Big Apple.