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Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Washington last week against a macabre backdrop featuring reports of torture, execution, and war. He chose not to notice.
Torture: Fresh reporting by ABC from inside sources depicted George W. Bush’s most senior aides (Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice, and Tenet) meeting dozens of times in the White House during 2002/03 to sort out the most efficient mix of torture techniques for captured “terrorists.”
When initially ABC attempted to insulate the president from this sordid activity, Bush abruptly bragged that he knew all about it and approved. That comment and the action memorandum Bush signed on Feb. 7, 2002] dispelled any lingering doubt regarding his personal responsibility for authorizing torture.
Execution: Meanwhile, the Supreme Court with a majority of judges calling themselves Catholic, was openly deliberating on whether one gram, or two, or perhaps three of this or that chemical would be the preferred way to execute people. Always colorful prominent Catholic layman Antonin Scalia complained impatiently, “Where does it say in the Constitution that executions have to be painless?”
It was enough to bring this student of German history (and five-year resident there) vivid memories of frequenting those places where precisely these kinds of torture and execution policies were conducted at similarly high levels by Hitler’s inner circle—yes, including judges.
War: Can the pope possibly be so suffused with his peculiar brand of theology that he is oblivious to what happened when he was a young man during the Third Reich.
For this Catholic, it was a profoundly sad spectacle—profoundly sad. Not since WW II, when the Reich’s bishops swore personal oaths of allegiance to Hitler (as did the German Supreme Court and army generals) have the papacy and bishops acted in such a fawning, un-Christ-like way.
During the Thirties, with very few exceptions, the bishops (Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran) collaborated with the Nazis. Meanwhile, Hamlet-like Pius XII kept trying to make up his mind as to whether he should put the Catholic Church at some risk, while Jews were being murdered by the thousands.
In 1948, in the shadow of that monstrous world war, the French author/philosopher Albert Camus accepted an invitation from the Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg. To their credit, the Dominicans wanted to know what an “unbeliever” thought about Christians in the light of their behavior during the Thirties and Forties. Camus’ words seem so terribly relevant today that it is difficult to trim them:
“For a long time during those frightful years I waited for a great voice to speak up in Rome. I, an unbeliever? Precisely. For I knew that the spirit would be lost if it did not utter a cry of condemnation.
“It has been explained to me since, that the condemnation was indeed voiced. But that it was in the style of the encyclicals, which is not all that clear. The condemnation was voiced and it was not understood. Who could fail to feel where the true condemnation lies in this case?
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today. (emphasis added)
“It may be… that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise, or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago.