Day of the pontiff

Catholics for a Free Choice interpret the new pope's first 100 days.

Published July 27, 2005 8:40PM (EDT)

Did you know that today was Pope Benedict XVI's 100th day in charge? We hadn't been counting, but the folks over at Catholics for a Free Choice sure have been. And to mark the occasion, they've released a comprehensive 20-page report on what the former Joseph Ratzinger has been up to lo these three-plus months.

The CFFC document kicks off by listing the recommendations that CFFC made for the new Holy Father as part of its "First 100 Days Campaign." They include the hope that Benedict would "meet with survivors of clergy sex abuse, listen and apologize," "lift the ban on condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS," "open top curial positions to women and appoint qualified women to 25% of senior positions within the Vatican," "move towards optional celibacy for all priests," "promote intellectual and theological freedom throughout the church," "clarify the right of all Catholics, including divorced and remarried Catholics and policy makers, to ... determine for themselves their suitability to receive the Eucharist," and last but not least, "celebrate the Eucharist with those whom the church has hurt, including married priests and advocates for womens ordination, nuns and young people abused by clergy, theologians who have been silenced by the church and people living with HIV and AIDS."

Unsurprisingly, Benedict is batting a big fat zero as far as the CFFC is concerned.

The First 100 Days report notes that none of CFFC's recommendations required "theological change on the part of the Roman Catholic church," and that "each of these actions could have been done immediately, and ... still should be done for the integrity of the church."

It then goes point by point, noting exactly what Benedict has done on each of these matters.

Instead of meeting with survivors of clergy sex abuse and apologizing to them, he met personally with disgraced Boston Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, who famously covered up sex abuse cases in his diocese. Benedict also appointed San Francisco Cardinal William Levada -- who'd covered up sex abuse in Portland, Ore., to succeed him as guardian of church doctrine. And the Vatican refused to investigate allegations of abuse against Rev. Marchial Maciel Degollado, who is being accused by nine former seminarians.

Lifting a ban on condoms? Strangely, that hasn't happened either. In fact, after visiting with bishops from AIDS-plagued South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho, the pope called abstinence the only "fail safe" birth control accepted by the church and helpfully pointed out that the real threats to African way of life -- rather than fast-moving sexually transmitted fatal diseases -- were "divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraceptive mentality" that all "contribute to a breakdown in sexual morality."

And Benedict hasn't just failed to appoint qualified women to senior positions within the Vatican. He's closed Regina Mundi, the only pontifical university for women, and requested the resignation of Bishop Maximilian Aichern of Linz for commiting "liturgical abuses" like encouraging women to wear liturgical vestments and lead ceremonies. The CFFC also claims that it took the new pope 73 days to actually plan a single meeting with a woman.

Benedict dashed the "optional celibacy" pipe dream with a speech to visiting bishops from Papua New Guinea in which he told them that they needed to carefully select candidates who will deepen religious identity and enrich the "joyful commitment to celibacy." The promotion of "intellectual and theological freedom" has already resulted in the dismissal of widely respected America editor Rev. Thomas J. Reese, who had published pieces critical of the church.

And don't even get them started on Benedict's stance on same-sex coupling.

The report concludes with the assertion that the most striking clues about the pope's intentions and priorities can be found not in the list of what he has done, but in what he hasn't. "Benedict XVI has participated in 150 formal meetings, met with dozens of policy makers from around the world ... issued more than 91 public statements, published a book and released a new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church," reads the text of the report, written by CFFC communications director Michelle Ringuette. "During these early days, the pope has made multiple overtures toward the Jewish community and the Orthodox church. He has reached out to Africa, Latin America, Europe, China, Buddhists and the World Council of Churches. He has promoted the "evangelization" of the church and the importance of missionary work."

But, the text continues, Benedict "has not held serious meetings with women, sex abuse survivors, gay and lesbian Catholics or reform groups." Despite early hope, the CFFC concludes, "it appears that this papacy will ... operate as a true heir to the philosophy and agenda of John Paul II."

Hey, buck up. It's only been a hundred days. Just think, there are hundreds -- maybe thousands -- more ahead of us.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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