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Nazi Pope

Matt Margolis at Blogs for Bush quotes John Kerry's response to the election of the new Pope:

The election of a new pope is a great moment of hope, renewal and possibility for the Catholic church. Like all Catholics, Teresa and I pray for the Holy Father, extend our hopes for the Church, and hope that Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate will touch the world in the same way Pope John Paul II did, reaching out to all people everywhere to find common ground, and guiding the faithful in a time of challenge and change across the globe.

Margolis then points out that Ratzinger was behind the election-season order not to give communion to politicians who supported abortion rights, most prominently, of course, John Kerry. Matt says:

Just noting the irony.

What exactly is the irony here, Matt? The only irony I can see is that Kerry was gracious and respectful while the newly elected head of a major religious institution is willing to use what is supposed to be the Church's holiest sacrament for the purposes of petty politicking.

Is that what you meant, Matt?

In other Pope-related news, some conservatives are upset about the repeated references to Ratzinger's Nazi past. Dave Wissing says it is irrelevant:

And just remember, he lived in Germany during a time where you either became a member of Hitler Youth or were possibly killed as a traitor.

Is it unfair to criticize Ratzinger for his involvement with the Nazi regime? Maybe, if it was truly a choice between joining the Hitler Youth or being executed as a traitor, though it should be noted that this is exactly the same excuse used by nearly every person who served the Nazis in some capacity. But is it true that the only choice was cooperation or death? Some say it is not. The Socialist Swine, for example, questions this premise:

Unlike what some people might think, the Hitlerjungen [Hitler Youth] weren't some sort of boyscout group, they were amongst some of the most fanatical troops employed by the Nazis during the Second World War (indeed, at the battle of Caen a Hitlerjungen Panzer division fought the Canadians to the last man/boy) ... according to Ratzinger he was a conscript forced into combat and while, from what I've read, many of the Hitlerjungen were volunteers ... However, despite Georg Ratzinger's (Joseph's older brother) claims that "Resistance was truly impossible", there were conscientious objectors in Nazi Germany, for example the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Swine is willing to give Ratzinger the benefit of the doubt, though. Majikthise isn't:

It is perfectly legitimate to point out that Ratz cooperated in the day and made excuses after the fact. That's not the level of moral leadership one might expect from St. Peter's representative on earth.

She also points to the claim of some Germans that resistance was, in fact, possible:

Germans from his hometown of Traunstein told The Times of London ... "It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others," recalled Elizabeth Lohner, 84. "The Ratzingers were young — and they had made a different choice."

But Lohner does mention one possible mitigating factor: the fact that Ratzinger was very young at the time. Steve Gilliard, though he calls Ratzinger "the second worst possible choice" for Pope, thinks that his youth exonerates him from guilt with respect to his cooperation with the Nazis:

Nazi is the cheap word, he was a kid press ganged into the war and ran when he got a chance.

It should be pointed out, though, that while Ratzinger was indeed young at the time, he was by no means a small child: he was 14 years old. And while that probably lessens his degree of responsibility, I'm not sure it completely absolves him of any. If he had been 8 years old, it would be a no-brainer.

Plus, a 14-year-old in the 1940s wasn't the same as a 14-year-old today. Keep in mind that we live in an era of extended adolescence where it is not at all implausible that a given 14-year-old might very well be supported by his parents for another decade or even more. That was not the case, back in the day; more was expected from teenagers, and they were more mature and more like regular adults than the teenagers of today.

Also, it is worth pointing out that while conservatives seem to think that Ratzinger's age was a mitigating factor, they don't seem to have similar sentiments when it comes to executing minors.

Anyway, I'm not sure if Ratzinger's Nazi past should be held against him, and if it should, how much so. But so far, the excuses that have been given for it are less than convincing.

UPDATE: Majikthise makes another good point (in the comments section of the post linked to above) about the age issue, noting that 14 is the age at which Catholics are confirmed, which means that the Church views 14-year-olds as being old enough to possess the necessary autonomy to make the choice to join the Church for themselves.

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