When the last pope first came to this country, I was in graduate school in Iowa. People that I actually knew -- people I would never have suspected of such impulses -- drove to Chicago to attend a mass presided over by John Paul II. Perhaps it was because John Paul & the poet Czeslaw Milosz had been boyhood friends & we were poets in wanting, after all. But I'm not sure my friends even knew enough to know about the pope's connection to the poet. I only learned about it later. But I stood mystified. Even then, I would have been reluctant to subject myself to a stadium-sized crowd to see, say, the Rolling Stones. (Maybe Dylan.) But the pope? The man who stood for a politics I couldn't imagine subscribing to? It was the ceremony, they told me. And the personality. I'll grant that John Paul had personality, that he was a sort of intellectual, though of a distinctly medieval sort. But Benedict the whatever? The man sounds like Peter Sellers doing a prissy German accent. The gushing coverage on NPR as I was driving to work was simply too much. I turned off the radio & listened to my rotten muffler. I have a protestant detestation of ceremony that extendsÂ even into my academic life. I got drafted last year to go as my department's representative to the university's awards event. The fucking thing is three hours of endless high-minded blather & made-up tradition. I think it was the most boring three hours of my life. The Catholic Church, despite its liberals & liberationists, stands for a politics of prejudice. Sure there are sincere Catholics who believe in social justice. Good for them. But what the hell would Jesus say? Jesus who hung out with hookers & queers & the poor, for God's sake! Did you know that the pope wears $600 shoes? Sell all that you have & give it to the poor. Commercial spiritual gush. Advertising. Power. The rhetoric of peace without the least sense of responsibility. The rhetoric of compassion riding in a white Mercedes. American Catholics themselves have doubts about the "rigorous" religious faith this pope demands of the faithful. The oppression of women & the exclusion of gay persons, that's rigor. And yet the secular media falls all over itself to be respectful. It is a measure of our own depravity that we do not hoot this man from the stage, that we do not ignore him as the dangerous anachronism that he is. And, sure, this is an anti-Catholic rant. I was raised among right-wing protestant fundamentalists they're even worse. Coming soon: why the hardcore "rationalist" atheists are just as stupid.