But, today, Susan Sarandon awakened indignation. Maybe it’s because, like Andrew Klavan, I consider the present pope to be one of the most brilliant theologically-minded men on the planet today and probably ever. Maybe it’s because, even though I’m an ardent admirer of Pope John Paul II, I grow weary of the way countless JPII fans assume his successor couldn’t possibly be as sensational — and use their appreciation of John Paul II’s charisma as an excuse for Benedict-bashing. Maybe (and this is the least likely) it’s because I’m still bitter at Susan Sarandon and Timothy Robbins for splitting after 23 years, ending all hope of a Hollywood happily-ever-after.
Whatever the reason, I find Sarandon’s recent remarks about Pope Benedict XVI utterly unacceptable:
During an event at the Hamptons Film Festival, Sarandon said she had sent a copy of the book “Dead Man Walking” in hopes that the late Pope John Paul II would elevate the issue of the death penalty in church teaching. According to reports, Sarandon said she sent the book to “The last [pope]. Not this Nazi one we have now.”
Never mind that Pope Benedict XVI’s relationship with the Hitler Youth and Nazi Germany has been clarified over and over again. Joseph Ratzinger’s family was fiercely anti-Nazi, he himself was never a member of the Nazi Party, he was forced to enter an auxiliary unit of the German Army and he deserted before the war’s end. Nevertheless, it was an easy pot shot for Sarandon and she took it.
Response to her irresponsible quip has been quick and correct:
The Anti-Defamation League called Sarandon’s words “a disturbing, deeply offensive and completely uncalled for attack on the good name of Pope Benedict XVI.”
William Donohue of the Catholic League also blasted Sarandon’s comments, noting: “Susan Sarandon’s ignorance is willful: those who have hatred in their veins are not interested in the truth. The fact is that Joseph Ratzinger (the pope) was conscripted at the age of 14 into the Hitler Youth, along with every other young German boy. Unlike most of the other teenagers, Ratzinger refused to go to meetings, bringing economic hardship to his family. Moreover, unlike most of the others, he deserted at the first opportunity.”
Every time I write about something like this (incivility toward the Tea Party, for example), I wish I could afford to be a little less sensitive. I’d like to be able to embrace snark and insensitivity and not begrudge the other side its stabs and jabs. But, in the end, it’s not really either color, wit and comedy or civility, substance and sweetness. With truth as the foundation, sarcasm and sincerity alike have a place. It’s possible to have a robust dialogue in which we speak plainly, refusing to be easily offended, at the same time that we stay attuned to an innate sense of the sacred and refuse to violate it. The key is not to indulge in baseless, unprovoked accusations (i.e. to speak truthfully). Sarandon clearly doesn’t grasp that.