There’s been no honeymoon for a pope correctly perceived as too Catholic for the taste of secular critics. Instead, a wave of preemptive vilification has greeted the "archconservative" pontiff.
"God’s Rottweiler" is a phrase that expresses the antipathy felt toward Cardinal Ratzinger by those who gleefully point to his stint in the Hitler Youth. Such journalists fail to note that membership in the Nazi organization was mandatory and that, at the ripe age of eighteen, the future "Papa-Ratzi" deserted from the German army into which he had been drafted.
In addition to these youthful "offenses" Ratzinger’s stint as prefect of the Church’s office on Doctrine earned him the moniker "God’s Inquisitor." (Ironically, this stigma comes from a class supremely skilled at destroying political opponents. Were Benedict XVI as bad as his press, one might think a degree of professional courtesy would be extended by these practitioners of high-tech lynching.)
What makes Benedict even more odious to critics is the address he gave to his peers before ascending to the papacy. In that talk the German cardinal took aim at a dogma to which his secular opponents pledge fervent allegiance--the "dictatorship of relativism."
This oxymoronic label aims at relativism’s hidden duplicity--a duplicity suggested by the insults directed at a man who, by all first-hand accounts I have read, is a model of patience and self-effacement. Though tolerance appears to be relativism’s logical corollary, the linkage is illusory.
Behind relativism’s easy-going facade stands a rabid rejection of moral absolutes. Truth, they say, is relative--but relative to what? The honest response in most cases, "relative to me," explains the hostility directed by elites toward influential expressions of orthodoxy. It also explains why the statement "there is no wrong answer" has become so popular in recent years--especially in discourse about abortion, child-rearing, or "alternative lifestyles".
Thomas Hobbes gave serious thought to the shape of a world where egos rule and concluded that a political Leviathan was required to bring order to an otherwise brutish and short existence. Relativists aren’t far behind the English philosopher--except when it comes to candor.
A world where egos rule is, more accurately, a world where some egos rule over others. And the guiding principle of this governance must be the "gut instincts" to which those power brokers give deference. In a world devoid of absolutes, these instincts increasingly coincide with narrow self-interest. (Relativists, it should be recalled, need not and do not defer to majority opinion when the latter fails to echo their own "nuanced" visions of "truth".)
St. Augustine said that in his youth he yearned to become a law unto himself--to reject any authority outside his own will. This "I-did-it-my-way" cultural complement of relativism smacks more of the "will to power" than of tolerance. The same egocentric impulse generates venom toward Pope Benedict--a man capable of defending the notion that moral truth is more than putty placed in the hands of gurus who pontificate on God-knows-what from their mansions in Malibu.
A Pope who used the spiritual force of his office to bring down political totalitarianism in Eastern Europe has been succeeded by another who targets a different form of despotism. The "Rottweilers of Relativism" despise Benedict XVI in much the same way KGB operatives feared John Paul II. Dictators, whether political or cultural, hate answering to anyone except themselves.