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April 24, 2007

No Mo' Limbo

Roy Meachum

When I think this Catholic pope can do nothing more to weaken our church and lessen his stature, Benedict XVI comes grimacing through. Over the weekend, the world's media blared the Vatican decree there was no more limbo.

This could very well be puzzling to the benighted among us; they were deprived of education by a knuckle rapping nun or a gut busting priest or brother. The poor unfortunates didn't know until news stories over the weekend that Rome has for centuries held a quaint notion about the newly born.

Unless baptized, the church fathers said, they would dawdle until the Second Coming in an otherwise pleasant place but deprived of the vision of God. Enquiring minds might well ask what that could matter to infants ordained to endure their sightlessness.

Nobody, we were assured, gets into the after-life without some form of judgment. Saints were always a shoo-in to march right past the pearly gates; sinners would find the doors shut and guarded by archangels and good ol' St. Pete.

For openers, why should human beings be forced to place their eternal fate in the hands of someone notorious for being so wishy-washy as to deny Christ three times? All in a single night, before the rooster got out of bed?

Considering the man himself only came along approximately 2,000 years ago, why was the first pope entitled to judge the qualifications of those who would rest in the Green Pastures? Was there no Heaven before Rome invented it?

What happened to all those unfortunate enough to live and die before Jesus came along? And what about those worthy souls who were never given a fair chance to buy into the curia's requirements? Members of other faiths?

The answer to the final question: Because Sister Mary Rose or Brother Melchior said so. For the others, the Vatican provided a substitute called limbo; in all ways we were assured it was as good as Heaven, except for one very vital missing element: The face of God.

Since theologians long ago established that the Supreme Deity is everywhere, finally, how could they turn around and inform us He was absent from that single precinct?

The concept of limbo really satisfied man's common sense strictly in the ages when whatever was over the next hill remained a mystery. And God kept watch over every roof, personally. In my youth, people still believed Heaven was somewhere in the blue skies; then rockets and jets came along.

The point here is, other than theologians and the extremely devout, who really believed unborn babies were guilty of original sin that could only be washed out by holy water.

Original sin, of course, was the way Adam and Eve trashed the Garden of Eden and dissed God. Every person, the Catholic Church maintains, is born with guilt from the first woman's biting the apple.

On that sole basis, we were told until the weekend's astonishing news that anyone who didn't receive a Rome-approved baptism was not fit to enter Heaven. This other place was invented to hold the millions otherwise eligible but lacking the rite's water and oil.

But of course the ancient Egyptians, Hittites and Greeks, together with today's Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and some Protestants, are not the media's "sexy" hook, compared to new-born babes.

After all these years spent covering and writing about the church, in which I was baptized, the weekend's announcement was very reminiscent of Vatican II.

On the death of John XXIII, the councils fell under control of conservatives who fought doggedly the beloved pope's attempt to modernize the oldest daughter of Christianity. While they were ruthlessly gutting the proposed reforms, the curia was blowing sand in the faithfuls' eyes. What do I mean?

Dismissing the existence of such saints as Christopher, Barbara and George, which aroused public opinion to the degree that all three were "restored" to the pantheon.

Wrestling with the issue of allowing meat on Fridays (as well as Wednesdays during Lent), which brought about conformity since it was a right enjoyed in Spain, to commemorate tossing the Moors out, in 1492.

Most of all, of course, and with the greatest impact, no longer requiring mass in Latin - after insisting from the outset that using a single language throughout the world signified the universality of the Church of Rome.

The present pope, born Josef Ratzinger, was a young theological adviser to German Cardinal Josef Frings during Vatican II. He was in excellent position to see and understand how his conservative superiors dealt out meaningless concessions to keep firm control of the church's core.

In his present situation, the man who crowned himself St. Peter's successor may have abolished limbo to placate the rising chorus of voices, including mine, raised against his attempt to create a narrower and smaller church.

At the same time, Benedict XVI condones the way some bishops have tried to hush up the pedophiliac scandals. Why? The current hierarchy are his boys, picked and anointed by him during the decades he acted as John Paul II's hatchet man.

Cardinal Ratzinger headed what was formerly known as the Holy Office of Inquisition: renowned for torturing and burning Protestants, Muslims, Jews and other "heretics." In 1908, it became the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but still generally known, especially since control passed to the present pope, as the Holy Office, as in the good old days.

With that in mind, the declaration of no more limbo must be considered suspect; maybe the herald of further restrictions on the faithful to come, but possibly simply a diversion for the church's handling of the sex scandals.

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