Jonah Goldberg

Habemus Papem!

That's Latin for "We have a pope!" With those words the College of Cardinals announced that the world's Catholics have a new spiritual leader, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

As the Vatican's chief defender of theological doctrine, it's no surprise he's already being condemned as a "traditionalist" and a "hardliner." Of course, if some of the modernizers had their way, a new pontiff would be announced with the declaration, "We got pope!" Or maybe "The pizzy is in the hizzy!" Then Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake would bump and grind a bit before His Holiness rolled out in a newly pimped-out Pope-mobile.

But my guess is that won't be happening any time soon, and not just because Ratzinger's the new pope. Some believe there is a radical left wing in the Catholic Church that seeks to unravel the teachings of John Paul II, but this is an exaggeration of the Western - particularly, the American - press. The notion that you could find any cardinal eager to change church policy on abortion, for example, is simply a fantasy concocted by liberal journalists. Excepting, perhaps, the issue of  distributing condoms in Africa, it's hard to think of a hot-button social issue that divides the church's leadership a fraction as much as American editorial pages seem to suggest.

If a committee made up of Andrew Sullivan, Gary Wills, Andrew Greeley, Paul Begala and Nancy Pelosi were given the power to select a pope from the current College of Cardinals, we would still have a pope opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

The issues that truly divide the church have to do with questions of local autonomy, global economics and the like. It takes the solipsism of American liberals to imagine that simply because America is divided over certain issues, the Vatican must be, too. And it takes the ignorance of the American media to think that a "liberal" in America is a liberal in Rome, Buenos Aires or Lagos.

That said, there's still a good lesson for the American right and left to draw from Ratzinger's election. One of the most interesting aspects of his story is that he was, by all accounts, a liberal until the year 1968. But during student riots at Tubingen University, where he was teaching, he looked into the soul of the New Left and saw a deep void. "For so many years," he said in an interview years ago, "the 1968 revolution and the terror created - in the name of Marxist ideas - a radical attack on human freedom and dignity, a deep threat to all that is human."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jonah Goldberg's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.