Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae is the name of a Papal encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, issued in 1899. The encyclical concerned the then burning issue of something called Americanism or American particularism, which grew from a movement of ninteenth century American Catholics who felt they were a special case that needed greater latitude in order to assimilate to the dominant Protestant ethos of the nation. The encyclical rejected the idea as a heresy before acknowledging that Catholicism could accommodate to American norms when they did not conflict with doctrinal or moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
If the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times reviewed the encyclical before their recent editorial, "Teaching [!] the pope" then they willfully ignored it. But of course they probably never heard of it. To the learned editors of the LA Times, no doubt, the history of the Church consists entirely of Latin gibberish, bad popes, abusive nuns, and the Inquisition.
When the decline of newspaper readership and influence is chronicled, an enterprising author could do little better than to use this editorial as a lodestone revealing the direction of oblivion. It evinces the fulsome idiocy that drove newspapers out of business. "Teaching the pope" brings a new low to the meaning of the word nonsense.
Where to start? The condescending tone? The distorted political bias? The abject ignorance of basic facts? The beginning...
Pope Benedict XVI will be preaching on his visit to Washington and New York next April, his first trip to the United States as pope. That's part of a pope's job description.
But many American Catholics hope that the papal visit will double as what politicians in this country call a "listening tour."
"Many?" ...as in... editorial writers.
They know that, erudite as this former theology professor may be, he still might be able to learn something from their experience in a pluralistic country where the Catholic faith has flourished despite -- or because of -- the separation of church and state.
Aside from the suggested thickness of one, "former theology professor" and the absurd idea that the Catholic faith has flourished because of our political system, the "many" "know that" they can teach the old boy, "erudite" to be sure, some new tricks.
Benedict's visit, announced this week, will coincide with a presidential campaign.
Ah! But of course, politics is the secular religion, the opiate of the LA Times. Everything must have a political connotation. And you know that old German priest is bound to interfere.
During the 2004 campaign, America's Catholic hierarchy was divided on whether pro-choice Catholic politicians -- including Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry -- should be denied Holy Communion. Some bishops, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, believed that pro-choice politicians should search their conscience before deciding whether to approach the Communion rail. Others took a more confrontational line, warning that they would deny the sacrament to pro-choice politicians.
Don't want that pope to be "confrontational" now, do we? He could nuance his approach, after all. Like "some bishops."
When Benedict comes to the United States, he is likely to be importuned by conservative Catholics to side with the hard-liners. He would be wiser to listen to other Catholics, laypeople as well as clergy, who know what mischief would be caused by a decree that would seem to force some Catholic officials to choose between their responsibility to their constituents or the Constitution and their standing in the church.
Lecturing the Pope on Catholic practices, doctrine, or dogma is insane enough, but for the editorial board of the LA Times to presume to tell Benedict it would be "wiser" to listen to "other Catholics" than "hard-liners" to avoid "mischief" is certifiable.
The Pope obviously makes the Times uneasy. Mischief-maker that he is, perhaps he could tip the scales in some future election, or influence an unwed mother to reject her "choice", or be so judgmental as to suggest that sin should be avoided, regardless of "lifestyle." And so the logic leads invariably to constituents vs. Constitution. For the oh-so-beleagured politician, that is surely one thing to consider.
But notice the next phrase in this tension-filled dynamic. They must worry about "their standing in the church." You know, the church, that collection of backward-thinking fossils who stand in the way of progress, arbitrarily deciding what rules permit inclusion.
There was a time, it seems like an ancient myth now, when the editorial boards of great newspapers were held in high regard. August opinion-makers, the newspaper editorial board counciled the masses with the educated and informed judgments of the wise. Today, as intelligence and instruction decline, as the new media trumps the old, and McPapers offer Mcpinions in sound bites and graphs, the opportunity for sober and refined editorials has a new moment. Alas, the great papers of old, the major city dailies and papers of record are found pathetically wanting.
The two thousand year history of a church, which began amidst Roman Emperors and has seen every political system, economic system, culture, geography, and condition under the sun, continues to unfold. Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times marks a century and a quarter this year, and anxiously wonders about its future prospects.