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Martin LeFevre: The Last Pope?

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

The Last Pope?

First published April, 2005

So now we (the ‘we’ in this case is most problematic) have a new pope whose diffident exterior masks a doctrinaire interior. The Catholic Church could have embraced worldwide ecumenism. Instead it is, in Pope Benedict XVI, reasserting its medieval claim to supremacy over all faiths.

At a time when humankind is facing unprecedented challenges, and the world is undergoing unparalleled change, upholding the primacy of any faith, even with a velvet glove, feeds global conflict. Catholicism has a greasy history of giving lip service to cherishing the whole of the human race, while actually viewing other faiths as “gravely deficient.”

That was according to Joseph Ratzinger in 2000. He was the intellectual anchor of the Catholic Church and alter ego of Pope John Paul during a time when the church was complicit in the genocide in Rwanda, and when its priesthood was forever stained with pedophilia in America and elsewhere.

Ratzinger has often been described as the power behind the throne, the purifier of the church’s doctrine. One can only deduce that in him the world is getting exactly what the instantly canonized John Paul wanted. This new pope decries “the dictatorship of relativism,” but exalts in the decrepitude of dogmatism.

The issues go far beyond the Catholic Church, and its billion-plus practicing or nominal members. In a chaotic, colliding world where all the old faiths and forms have become, at best, extraneous, everyone is faced with what it means to be a good human being. It looks like religions can only get in the way of the awakening of the human mind.

A non-Catholic friend who taught literature in a Catholic high school once invited me to speak to his class about writing. One of the nuns, who still wore a habit (an all but extinct species in America), spotted the “fallen away Catholic” in the halls (they have some special radar), and approached me.

“You’re Catholic,” she said. “No, I’m too spiritual to be Catholic,” I replied. She laughed, as only those on the inside that see what Ratzinger has called the “filth in the Church” do. “We’ll get you back,” she retorted. “No you won’t sister,” I answered, holding her gaze.

Even as a boy in the days when Latin was spoken during Mass, as a boy who believed priests were Jesus’ emissaries on earth and nuns were also sisters of Mary, I had a hard time swallowing the line that anyone who wasn’t a Catholic was going to hell, or at best, to some kind of infinitely long holding pen where they could never get into heaven. What about all the people who never even heard of Jesus, I wondered?

Later I saw that the life and teachings of Jesus had nothing to do with the wealth and power of the Catholic Church. Of course, the reaction of Protestantism in the Middle Ages was based on essentially the same insight. Now we have two streams of the same muddy river still fighting over fleeing Catholics in Africa and Latin America.

The new pope, who many scholars think is trying to position himself as the savior of Europe, believes that Christ (the fictional image of Jesus) is the only way. He decries what he calls “vague religious mysticism.” In giving his first speech in Latin, he demonstrates that he is as backward looking as they come.

It all boils down to one’s orientation to truth (including whether one even feels there is such a thing). Truth is a living movement that emerges with the unforced stillness of the mind. Truth therefore cannot and does not lie in any doctrine or dogma, and is indiscernible when people are anchored in texts rather than in the insight that comes from self-knowing.

The truth is neither relative, nor a doctrine that can be laid down, much less accreted for two thousand years. To understand what Jesus, or any other true religious teacher is talking about, one has to inwardly negate everything, including what he and other teachers have said.

That does not mean everything is personally subjective. Asserting objective truth and indulging in pure subjectivism are actually two sides of the same coin. Nor is the truth ‘somewhere in between.’ It’s not on that silly scale at all.

Because the truth cannot be captured and articulated does not mean it doesn’t exist, and everything is subjective. On the other hand, taking the name of the founder of Christian monasticism has about as much relevance for this world as speaking a dead language.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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