“Don’t judge a book by its cover” sounds….trite. It’s common. And overused. And a million other synonyms. Most parents, and every teacher I’ve had beats that idea into their children’s heads.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
– Mother Theresa
“Who are you to judge the life I live? I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be. But, before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean.”
– Bob Marley
And yet, we still fail at it.
Last week I ended up in a conversation with people. People who I love and deeply respect. And some how or another Pope Emeritus Benedict came up. And it was commented, and agreed upon that he was, in fact, evil.
And I was sort of caught off guard.
Evil? That is a big word to be tossing around.
From M-W.com: a : morally reprehensible
b : arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct
To say that to look in the eyes (via photos) of the head of the One True Church and to see a look of “pure evil” is a big claim. But, I suppose it isn’t hard to see how people feel that way (heck, if you had asked me any time between 2005-20013 I’d’ve probably made a similar claim)….I mean, look how he is portrayed:
A soul sucker, menacing towards children.
Evil Emperor Palpatine Pope
(Quick aside, I haaaaate Star Wars but I didn’t even have to Google which character that was. My besties should feel proud)
With photos like that, and the misconception that he was an evil hateful man who hated gays, who hate Jews (he was a Nazi, after all), did nothing about the sex abuse scandal, oppress everyone and is aloof and distant. I could see how the idea of him being evil would permeate when information like that is floating around. I wasn’t Catholic for the entirety of his papacy. I had no idea who this man was. I made jokes about him being terrifying, because he is kind of scary looking in the photos you commonly see.
But that is the problem isn’t it. Commonly see. If you don’t take the time to read (I support literacy, always) or research something than all you may have is misconceptions. Except for Hitler. Don’t bother Googling him. He is an evil bastard.
The same thing is happening with Pope Francis, but, to be fair, Pope Francis has been pretty good at making it really easy for people to misunderstand him. But it wasn’t the same with Pope Benedict. I’ve been reading his book Jesus of Nazareth: Part 2, Holy Week and I learned something about him.
He is really, really deliberate in his word choices. There can be no misunderstanding what he says. But the people who commonly report the Vatican’s goings on don’t care. They don’t care about context, they don’t care about translation. They know what they want (or don’t want) to hear and that is what they go with.
This is the problem with judging a book by its cover. You miss the underlying message.
You miss this: He was a Hitler Youth. Because he was a teenager in Nazi Germany and it was illegal to not be one. What they don’t tell you is that he was drafted to the Nazi Air Force and he deserted. He deserted the Nazi Party. You don’t do that if you believe in an ideology. (Source)
You miss this: “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs… The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in work, in action and in law.” (Source) (Which, incidentally is no different than what Pope Francis has said, and is directly taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
You miss this: Pope Benedict defrocks nearly 400 priests in the span of 2 years for abuse towards adolescents. (Source) You also miss the multiple apologies he made. The stringent rules he put in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. The background checks that lay people who work in churches must get before they can work with children. The fact that he made the Catholic church one of the safest places for children. (Nearly all of the abuse allegations are decades old). (Source, Source [pdf]).
You miss this: “It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity. Through Mary, and the other holy women, the feminine element stands at the heart of the Christian religion.” (Source)
You miss so much if all you see is a face. Especially if you aren’t seeing this face:
And most importantly, you miss this:
No Pope is perfect but the papacy is continuous. For almost 2000 years. Established is AD 33. No Pope is the same as a previous Pope. But in essence they are all the same. The head of the One True Church. The successor of Peter. The cornerstone of the Catholic Church. They are all different in style, but all the same in function.
But instead of judging a pope on his mainstream portrayal, our duty is to go beyond the spin and find the truth. Doing so we will find the Truth.
Saints John XXIII and John Paul II pray for us and for the Church.
PS. Do not take anything that SNAP or the National Catholic Reporter say at face value. Both are nothing but anti-Catholic garbage.