by Henry Farrell on April 16, 2008

I just spent an hour trying to make my way through the Popage – I had forgotten that the papal procession would be wending its way along Pennsylvania Avenue, which inconveniently cuts between my Metro station and my office. Eventually, the Pope made his way through, waving at the cheering crowds on both sides of the street, but even afterwards the street was closed (for some unexplained reason which I suspect had more to do with DC police overtime than security needs, they aren’t letting people cross the street again for another couple of hours).

It was an interesting contrast with the last time that I had seen a Pope in person – when John Paul II came to visit Ireland in 1979, I, along with a very significant chunk of the rest of the population, went to see him. This was probably the high-water mark of the Catholic Church’s influence in Ireland – the 1980s saw a series of largely successful defensive actions against encroaching secularism, while the 1990s saw a series of unsuccessful ones against teh gay (finally legalized in 1993), the introduction of condoms (which had previously been available only by prescription in order to try to limit their use to married couples), divorce, and the right to travel to obtain an abortion.

In particular, I was struck by the similarities between the 1979 Popemobile and the 2008 version – either the engineers haven’t much imagination, or there isn’t all that much you can do to improve the basic design (although I don’t remember the original having bulletproof glass). Nor was the 1979 experience complicated by evangelical Christians with bullhorns vigorously denouncing ‘false religion’ and telling the cheering nuns and folks in Pope Benedict t-shirts that they were all going to go to hell unless they were born again in Christ. Finally, I was intrigued by this sign (apologies for blurriness of photo; the camera on my phone is garbage), which seemed to me to have dark undertones that were presumably not intended by the person who was waving it about.

We Love Our German Shepherd



Nick 04.16.08 at 5:48 pm

New horizons in kitsch: I’m told that a range of badges, coffee mugs etc are available with the same theme . . the ‘love’ being a heart-sign . . .


Maria 04.16.08 at 6:04 pm

Oh, I’m glad you got here first, Henry. I watched some of the coverage this morning and was shocked – shocked – at how much I’m mellowing on Pope Ratzinger.

It was touching how genuinely chuffed he was when the White House lawn audience spontaneously broke into two competing rounds of Happy Birthday. And I thought he kept an admirably straight face when GBII said ‘we Americans’ like to be judged by how the weakest are treated in this country.

More seriously, Ratzi’s tribute to America’s unique democratic tradition seemed thoroughly thought through and really heartfelt. But he’s really going to have to knock the abuse scandal on the head, though, if this visit is to be an unqualified success. Refusing to meet clerical abuse victims was a poor choice, and I hope he makes up for it in what he has to say.


notsneaky 04.16.08 at 6:12 pm

“(although I don’t remember the original having bulletproof glass)”

Because it didn’t – it was added after the 1981 assassination attempt.


Kieran Healy 04.16.08 at 6:36 pm


matt 04.16.08 at 6:39 pm

_”Refusing to meet clerical abuse victims was a poor choice, and I hope he makes up for it in what he has to say._”

Didn’t he have more than a bit to do with trying to cover it all up and hoping it would go away when it was just starting to break out, in his pre-pope job? That’s my recollection, but I could be wrong. I seem to recall him blaming it all on anti-Catholic types. I rather suspect he still feels the same way.


Doug K 04.16.08 at 6:51 pm

“German Shepherd” is truly boggling.. surely that cannot be un-ironic ?

I was in Malawi when Pope John Paul II visited, in 1989. The whole country closed down. My wife fell ill, and we had to pay the Peace Corps volunteer doctor in promises, since we couldn’t get cash anywhere.
His Excellency the Life President of the Republic of Malawi Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda had equal billing with the Pope, on all the posters and billboards. I had to cut my hair to get into the country, in accordance with His Excellency’s visa directives.


Anthony 04.16.08 at 7:06 pm

The “German Shepherd” is a takeoff on the “The Pope’s Rottweiler”, the nickname that Ratzinger had as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict *is* German, and a shepherd; and German Shepherds are generally gentler dogs than Rottweilers.


P O'Neill 04.16.08 at 7:08 pm

It’s also worth noting the extent to which the child sex abuse scandals hurt the Church’s image in Ireland, and other sex-related scandals like the Bishop Casey business. But unlike in the US, one wouldn’t be able to cite a steep financial cost to the Irish church from the scandals, since the State bailed them out. With all the cynicism, I think the crowds would be fraction of their 1979 versions on any future visit.


toby 04.16.08 at 7:13 pm

Thanks, Kieran, for bringing me back to 1980. I was also in the crowd at Galway, and will never forget the feeling as the helicopter descended. It was eerie to be a part of a enormous crowd all intent on a single object.

Not that I was particularly religious.. for a fleeting moment, it was great to be part of something larger than yourself. But it didn’t last!

Kieran has a good account of the scandals that accompanied the fall from grace of the Church that “saves from foam/ the leaky barge of the Pope of Rome” (according to James Joyce). Certainly, the Church in the 1980s exerted a steely muscular grip on the secular state.

In particular, it denied the sitting Taoiseach (Garret Fitzgerald) his wish on the wording of the 1983 Abortion Referdendum, and brought the succeeding disaster (the X case) on its own head.

The 1983 visit was weird in retrospect… it was said the birthrate spiked nine months later because (it was thought) people threw away their contraceptives. But there might be another reason … the visit was accompanied by a certain amount of fiesta. David McWilliams, an Irish economist, wrote of his school friends bussing to Galway for the papal mass, but the day ended with some teenage bacchanalia that Pope John Paul (God bless him!) would definitely not have approved.

In retrospect, the visit may be seen as a catastrophe, rather than a success, for the Irish Church because it led to fatal miscalculations of its own place and influence in a rapicly changing society.


Kevin Donoghue 04.16.08 at 7:15 pm

Henry, I’m sure you know (but some readers may not) that if you want to locate “the high-water mark of the Catholic Church’s influence in Ireland” you need to go back a long, long way before the visit of John Paul II in 1979. That episode was just a short-lived rally in a bear market which started with the fall of poor auld Parnell.


Nick 04.16.08 at 7:35 pm

Henry, I’d respectfully suggest the DC police have actually improved their act somewhat: I have a distinct memory of blundering around in the Senate offices sometime with my girlfriend in fall 1981 & coming face-to-face with a non-plussed Anwar Sadat . . .


Jon H 04.16.08 at 10:36 pm

“for some unexplained reason which I suspect had more to do with DC police overtime than security needs, they aren’t letting people cross the street again for another couple of hours)”

You may scoff, but the threat of time-travelers planting backward-moving temporal bombs is a very real thing. All it takes is one tardis materializing in the empty street an hour after he passes, and it’s all over.


Roy Belmont 04.16.08 at 11:00 pm

The difference in most minds now between Benedict/Ratzinger and someone like Elton John is that Elton John plays the piano and is openly gay. Both are lovable entertainment figures in unusual costumes, with a kind of harmlessness to their presentations, though Elton’s got more evident soul.
The idea that the Pope has a direct line to Almighty God but somehow the subject of sexually dangerous priests just never came up when they were talking creates cognitive dissonance in anyone that thinks about it. Or it should.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s morally unsound condemnation of Liberation Theology, and his refusal to support the nuns and priests who were risking and giving their lives in Central America performing true Christian acts of mercy and compassion make him look like an evil cartoon. This is not a good, nor even a harmless man.
As opposed to Jimmy Carter who’s meeting with Hamas, while the Pope meets with George W.Bush.


Righteous Bubba 04.16.08 at 11:19 pm

Both are lovable entertainment figures in unusual costumes


make him look like an evil cartoon.


vivian 04.17.08 at 1:00 am

Erm: And I thought he kept an admirably straight face when GBII said ‘we Americans’ like to be judged by how the weakest are treated in this country. Admirable?


Maria 04.17.08 at 3:34 am

Yes, I’d agree with Nick (11). The absolute peak of Irish Catholicism’s popularity was most likely the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. But in our lifetimes, there is nothing to match 1983.


Maria 04.17.08 at 3:34 am

15 – well it would have been a bit rude to laugh out loud.


Doug 04.17.08 at 5:51 am

15 & 17: B16 was remembering his lesson from Prince. “You can be the President/I’d rather be the Pope…”


MR. Bill 04.17.08 at 10:28 am

You’ll admit the Pope has cooler shoes than the recent Elton John, surely.


John Protevi 04.17.08 at 1:24 pm

It’s too bad you couldn’t have included the person holding the placard in your photo. I’ve been wondering as to Rick Santorum’s whereabouts, and this might have been a valuable clue.


AlanM 04.17.08 at 2:36 pm

Toby’s mention of papal visit-induced bacchanalia reminds me of a quote that my American history prof was fond of. Some nineteenth century American luminary commenting on the enormous revival meetings
of the 1840s(I think)that “more souls were begotten at them than were ever saved.”

If anybody knows the source of the quote, I’d be happy to find it out.


Henry 04.17.08 at 3:13 pm

20 – I actually wasn’t thinking along those lines at all (suppose I’m still an innocent) – more just that German Shepherds/Alsatians can be pretty nasty and vicious as dogs go (although the most loved family dog of my childhood was my grandmother’s Alsatian/sheepdog mutt, which was a wonderful hound altogether).

Kieran – I had completely forgotten about that post of yours – now I wonder whether I thought those things because I had unconsciously assimilated yr point of view, or whether the similarity is b/c we have somewhat similar Irish Catholic-turned-doubting-social-scientist biographies.


John Protevi 04.17.08 at 4:08 pm

I actually wasn’t thinking along those lines at all (suppose I’m still an innocent)

In fact I wish I had never heard the phrase “man-on-dog action” from a United States Senator, but such are the times we live in.


GeoX 04.17.08 at 4:24 pm

And they gave you a german shepherd to walk, with a collar of leather and nails…


Steady Eddie 04.17.08 at 7:02 pm

22 — henry, and all this time I thought your “dark undertones” were about the fact that Ratzinger had literally been a go-along-to-get-along Nazi in his youth, and that German Shepherds/Alsatians were prominently used to monitor the lines of poor souls on their way to the gas chambers.

But being Jewish, and inclined to remember significant historical/contextual facts like those, maybe I’m susceptible to those particular “dark undertones”…


bernarda 04.17.08 at 8:08 pm

Everyone seems to have forgotten the stories of priests raping nuns and young girls in Africa. The National Catholic Reporter ran some articles about it a few years ago.



Maybe the last Pope that had a normal sex life was Alexander VI. Some reporter should as Pope Benedickhead about him.


Adam 04.17.08 at 11:31 pm

As far as German Shepherds go, I’ve seen/heard of two instances before of Benedict XVI being called that.

1) An Italian friend told me that shortly after he became Pope, a Church-hostile newspaper introduced him as “Il Pastore Tedesco”

2) A year or two later, I saw a car parked in a Catholic church’s lot with a bumper sticker resembling the ones dog owners sometimes have: “I [heart] my German Shepherd,” with a picture of the Pope.


Joshua W. Burton 04.18.08 at 2:37 pm

“Bulletproof glass” — did Jesus wear nailproof gloves?


Joshua W. Burton 04.18.08 at 2:51 pm

Sorry, that was a very stale gibe. In penance, here’s something original (scribbled the day the white smoke went up, 2005).

Twenty-first century
College of Cardinals,
Holding back future with
Cross in the dike,
Picked a conservative
German to start their third
Thousand-year reich.

Erudite catamite,
Priests in America
Caused a real furor when
Choir boys they hooked.
Now comes aus Deutschland a
Leader whose charge is pro-
Tecting the Kinder, or
Kirche is cooked.

Pontifex, multiplex,
Cardinal Ratzinger,
Recently numbered a
Shepherd of men.
He’ll be a bridge to our
Posthuman progeny:
In hexadecimal,
Benedict 10.

Untergang, boomerang,
Germans enjoyed a great
Thanks to a Pole.
Wall-less and prosperous,
They can reciprocate,
Sending to Poland a
Pope — and the dole.

Beacon Hill, deacon’s will,
Cardinal Ratzinger
Offered to Kerry no
Wafer and wine.
Since he was then without
Mission aborted. John
Paul wouldn’t sign.

And a couple of older ones, for good measure.

Ropery, potpourri,
John Paul the Second was
Named for the First, who was
Named for two more.
Ringo? George? No, Rome is
“Bigger than Jesus” was
Hard to ignore.

Antioch, underfrock,
Jesus of Nazareth
Left us a shroud as a
Sort of a gag.
Tell them in Turin some
Should get the stains off that
Vatican rag.

Comments on this entry are closed.