River Irons
2 min readJan 6, 2023

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“Crowds towards St Peter’s” by courgettelawn is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

When I heard that Cardinal Ratzinger had died, I thought, “Wow. First, the former Pope falls gravely ill, and now Cardinal Ratzinger dies? Are they all trying to get out before 2023?”

I’d heard the name “Ratzinger” frequently growing up in an extremist conservative Catholic family, and it was never said without disdain. Now, I’d completely forgotten that Pope Benedict and Cardinal Ratzinger were the same person.

I have one clear memory of my family’s stance on Cardinal Ratzinger.

In the final days of May 1995, I graduated from Saint Mary’s Academy, the high school run by the extreme Traditional Catholic group the Society of Saint Pius X. The next day my mother drove me nearly two hours to Kansas City for some kind of fancy brunch for specially chosen members from the schismatic SSPX.

I remember these events so well, perhaps because my graduation marked the beginning of my adult life in the cult. I was now allowed to speak to men. I’d made a dress to wear to both the graduation and the brunch.

After the pomp of a High Mass in the chapel, we made our way to the room where we’d brunch. Speakers pontificated from a pulpit while several dozen dressed-up churchgoers ate, seated at round tables set with tablecloths and arranged across what was actually a rather garishly lit cafeteria.

One of the priests from Saint Marys used his turn at the pulpit to bluster loudly about how Cardinal RAT Zinger was too liberal and trying to ruin Catholic dogma. This priest had prepared well in that he had his entire speech typed out on a stack of paper. He turned over each page with a dramatic flourish as he read out what he’d written.

Each time this speaker said the Cardinal’s name — and he said it a lot — his voice became louder by orders of magnitude. “Ratzinger” became two distinct words, with a fist-pounding emphasis on RAT.

I didn’t think this was clever or funny. RAT Zinger, zingin’ rats all over the place? What next, flicking cockroaches? Even as an ad hominem attack on the cardinal it didn’t make sense in the context of the speech. The man at the podium, who got to put on the long black robes of male moral authority and take away my bodily autonomy, hadn’t matured past middle school.

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River Irons

I grew up in a cult. I escaped. I still search for freedom from oppressive constructs. Digital Artist, Storyteller.