As it is, the Cardinals, with the election of Joseph Ratzinger to be the new Pope, have shown the world that the 21st century is just not for them. Pope Benedict XVI, as Ratzinger has chosen to call himself, has a track record of being sectarian, authoritarian and conservative.
The last Pope used Ratzinger to enforce his reactionary agenda on such matters as same-sex unions (the "legalisation of evil" supported by politicians who are "gravely immoral"), freedom of information (the government's responsibility was to "avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage") and adoption by gays ("Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to the children"). He even denounced rock music ("the vehicle of anti-religion" and an "expression of the elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a sometimes cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship"). And just as the Vatican downplayed the American clergy child sex-abuse scandal, so did Ratzinger (stating that the "constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign . . . Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church").
Should we be that surprised? It is no mistake that Ratzinger has chosen Saint Benedict as his namesake. Benedict founded the monastic tradition in Catholicism, an attempt to present the church as a refuge from an inherently sinful world. The key was submission to the church hierarchy for, as he put it, "the first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all."
The Benedictine legacy is one of submission to authority and the new Benedict has already indicated that this obedience must be expanded. This explains his warnings against the "dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires." In other words the attempts of people to think for themselves and work out what is right and wrong based on their own intellect and shared humanity.
It is this last factor, the sense of equality, which ensures that any decent system of non-absolutist ethnics does not allow oppression and exploitation to be tolerated. It is precisely this sense of equality which a hierarchical organisation like the Catholic Church cannot appeal to in spite of Jesus stating that the highest commandment is "treat others as you would have them treat you." But, then again, every church is extremely selective in what it takes from its holy books (talk about "dictatorship of relativism" -- the church will do the dictating and the relativism!).
In this attack on individual freedom and equality, the current hierarchy of the Catholic Church is not alone. The desire for obedience can be found in all forms of fundamentalism, whether Islamic or Evangelical Christians. The aim is the same, to produce an "Eternal Authority" which can provide the basis for a moral life and so relieve people from the joys and tribulations of thinking for themselves. That this "Authority" must be channelled through their particular hierarchy is just a coincidence, as is the fact it is usually a group of reactionary old men who must be obeyed without question to ensure the "blessings" necessary to get to heaven.
Ultimately, the new Pope shows that the struggle of authority and the individual still goes on and that previous conquests of liberty need to be continually defended against those who would destroy them. It is one of the ironies of the 21st century that those who are leading the onslaught on freedom get proclaimed to be "champions of liberty" by their fellow authoritarians.
The atheist message, so forcefully expounded by the likes of Goldman and Bakunin, is still as relevant today as they were in the past and that it is no coincidence that anarchism and atheism go hand-in-hand. The struggle for liberty, as anarchism stresses, must be waged not only against economic and political authorities (the bosses and the state) but also spiritual authorities as well (against religion). The new Pope has done us the great service of reminding us of this.