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John Wayne's Holster: Benedict XVI Charts His Course
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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Benedict XVI Charts His Course

The conclave is over and the Holy Spirit has spoken! Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany has been elected as Pope.

Cardinal Ratzinger has assumed the name Benedict XVI. Prior to his ascendancy to the Papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger served as the Dean of the College of Cardinals and as Prelate for the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now that he is Pope, just what kind of Ponfiticate we can expect from Benedict XVI? No one can say for sure. However, if we take a look at his life, analyze his writings , and examine the positions he has taken, we can get a pretty good idea of how he will shepherd the Church in the coming years.

Joseph Ratzinger was born in Bavaria in 1927. Germany was coping with the overly harsh conditions imposed upon it by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI. During this time, there was a radical nationalist sentiment growing in Germany that spawned the Nazi party. As a boy of 13, Ratzinger was enlisted in the Hilter youth program. Membership in the Hitler youth was mandatory (lest one opt out by going to Dachau). Later, he was conscripted into the army in the anti-aircraft corps, from which he later deserted (for which he could have been shot on sight if caught). The oppression Ratzinger experienced living under Nazi rule instilled in him the indespensible role that absolute truth played in the preservation of freedom. He saw the Church as fulfilling the vital role of preserving and protecting the truth.

Ratzinger entered the seminary and was ordained, along with his brother Georg, in 1951. In the early 60’s, Fr. Ratzinger was present at all four session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) where he served as the chief theological expert to the moderate Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne. Fr. Ratzinger played an influential role in the council and quickly gained a reputation as a progressive theological thinker for his position on the limits of Church authority and his criticism of the growth of church bureaucracy, particularly that of the Holy Office. During the Council, he was partial to the idea of change in the Church, but rather than the embrace of modernity favored by a large faction of Cardinals at the Council, Fr. Ratzinger favored a return of the Church to its more traditional role as a hierarchical patristic authority. Referring to the Councils and to the general state of the Church itself, Fr. Ratzinger remarked that he “found the mood in the church and among theologians to be agitated. More and more there was the impression that nothing stood fast in the church, that everything was up for revision.” It was this struggle between modernity and traditionalism that evidenced to Fr. Ratzinger that the seeds of liberalism and relativism were beginning to sprout within the Church. Fr. Ratzinger would dedicate his priesthood to uprooting them and will undoubtedly continue to do so as Benedict XVI.

In 1966, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Tübingen, where he held a chair in dogmatic theology. In the late 60’s, amid a wave of student uprisings, Marxism began to take center stage as the dominant philosophy at Tübingen, and religious beliefs were forced into a subordinate role. Fr. Ratzinger resigned his position at Tübingen and moved back to Bavaria where he became dean at the University of Regensburg and a theological advisor to the German bishops. These experiences made it clear to him that, ‘the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the [Church]”.

In 1972, he and several other theologians founded the journal Communio, which advanced the “return to tradition” stance that he favored during the Second Vatican Council, and is very much in line with the mind-set of Ratzinger today. In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich and Freising. Upon his confirmation as archbishop, he adopted the Episcopal motto of “co-worker for truth”. As he stated, in his capacity as archbishop it was his duty “follow truth [and] to be at its service… because in today's world the theme of truth has all but disappeared...and yet everything falls apart if there is no truth.”

In 1981, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the office formerly known as the Holy Office and the Inquisition. Historically, the Holy Office has been very secretive and was plagued by the shameful clouds cast over it by the Inquisition. As Prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger changed all that. He opened the operations of the CDF to the public. As Fr. Augustine Di Noia, theological adviser for the U.S. bishops points out, “[The CDF’s] procedures, its staff, are all now a matter of public record…He has transformed it into a very modern office.”

As CDF Prefect, Cardinal Ratzinger’s major role was to enforce adherence to Church doctrines. In this role, he was a resolute traditionalist. He reigned in dissident theologians, condemned lifestyles advocating self-assertion, and resisted pressure for moderation of church teachings regarding birth control, euthanasia, stem-cell research and religious pluralism. His maintenance of these positions has earned him praise among church traditionalists, and disdain among church progressives. Nevertheless, he has been steadfast, and will likely continue to be so.

There are many important issues facing the Catholic Church as it continues to head into the new millennium. Among these are: doctrinal dissent in the western churches, a shortage of priests, the call for expanding the leadership roles of women, and pressure to decentralize Church authority. In many ways, it is expected that Benedict XVI will continue to follow the course that he himself help John Paul II chart. It is almost a certainty that there will not be any change in the Church’s position on the ordination of women or on the collegial authority of the Cardinals. Addressing the shortage of priests by relaxing the celibacy requirement is also unlikely to occur, but is not completely out of the question. The priest shortage is a real problem for the church and may require a dramatic canonical change. The Church already allows married Episcopal priests to convert to Catholicism, and serve as priests while remaining married. It is not implausible that celibacy may be lifted for the average parish priests, but is likely to remain a requirement for the monastic orders and higher ranking clergy, such as bishops and cardinals.

Regarding dissent from doctrine, Benedict XVI may take an even harder-line than his predecessor. In his public ministries, he has advanced an agenda that allows no room for compromise by the laity regarding Church teachings on a number of issues, including abortion, euthanasia, and religious pluralism. Those who reject these teachings risk putting themselves outside the fellowship of the Church. During the recent US political campaign, a controversy erupted when a private memo issued to American bishops by Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to the press. In the memo, Cardinal Ratzinger stated that candidates who support issues like abortion or euthanasia should be denied Holy Communion. Demanding that Catholics toe the line regarding doctrinal adherence carries the inherent risk of agitating progressive Catholics and even turning so called “cafeteria Catholics” away from the Church. But according to Vatican observers, Benedict XVI thinks this is a fight worth fighting. In fact, Ratzinger has suggested in the past that the Church may need to become smaller in order to remain faithful to the truth.

At the root of these issues that are facing the pontificate of Benedict XVI lies the problem of moral relativism. In a pre-conclave homily, Cardinal Ratzinger identified relativism as the most pressing problem facing the Church today. He stated, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” In other words, right are wrong are subjective judgments that are open to the interpretation of the individual. Compounding the problem is the fact that the relativist ideology is so deeply woven into the democratic fabric that it will be difficult to disentangle. Democracy and liberation have been misinterpreted as license. In the pursuit of our own freedom, we have trampled and denied the same to others. This is most apparent in the depravity underlying abortion and euthanasia. People seemed to have forgotten or altogether ignored the fact that true freedom must rest on the foundation of truth and operate within its limits. Any form of liberation not rooted in the truth is, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, dehumanizing and “harbors the radical antithesis to God”.

Eradicating relativism will take center stage in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, just as the overthrow of Marxist dictatorships in Europe did for John Paul II. The future of the Roman Catholic Church may very well rest in the outcome.


At 7:09 AM, Anonymous Be said...

I find it interesting that he chose the name of Benedict. Don't you? Some years ago, he appeared on Meet the Press and stated that he believed that any Catholic politician that did not support the banning of abortion, birth control, and ban on homesexual unions, should be denied communion by their local church. I find this especially disturbing because of seperation of church and state. Anyway, the Benedicts of the past have been political popes......trying to change politics through church pressure. So, what does this mean for the present church/state relationship? I find it very freightening. How about you?

At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Hi Be

Thanks for the reply.

I do find the name of Benedict interesting, although the Pope has not publically said why he chose that name (unless I missed it). I think the name was choosen not only to honor the Pope Benedicts of the past, but also Saint Benedict of Nursia. The Pope Benedicts (at least the last three) were somewhat political, particularly Benedicts XIII & XIV. But both of them were Pope over 250 years ago – when the papacy itself was more political. Benedict XV was not as political as the others – or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he was not politically effective. He did sincerely try to mediate peace during and after WWI, but he was pretty much ignored. As such, his pontificate was somewhat politically inconsequential in the global sense. Within Italy, he had some influence in the formation of a political party that had an agenda centered on Catholic social justice, but I don’t know how successful that party was. Within the Church, Benedict XV was opposed to Modernism, but was apparently not as fervent in his opposition as Pius X. John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) are also opposed to Modernism and its offshoot, Relativism. Perhaps Benedict XVI intends to follow the course set by JPII regarding Modernism/Relativism just as Bendict XV followed his predecessor, Pius X.

I also think that the name Benedict was choosen to honor St. Benedict of Nursia, who is considered by the Church to be the founder of western monasticism. I think that the new Pope, who happenes to be from a monastic order (Augustinians), is sending a message that we should reject the rampant materialism that has become so central to our lives and cultivate a life of service to others. In other words, I think he is trying to encourage us to make our faith, rather than our ego, the guiding principle.

As far as the Church vs State issue is concerned, I don’t think it comes into play here. The Church is issuing guidelines for people to follow. They are non-binding in the political sense. The Church is open to all who want to come in. But if you want to come in, here are the rules. You have a free will to decide to accept them or not. Political leaders who support issues like abortion and euthanasia are openly rejecting the moral teachings of the church and, by their example, encouraging others to do the same. If the Church were to say or do nothing, it would make a mockery of itself and loose its legitimacy. Essentially the Pope is saying the same thing to the leaders of the world that he is saying to us – make your faith and not your ego your guiding principle, He echoed those sentiments yesterday in his homily when he said, “At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter's Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!" The pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society.”

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous David Lally said...

Hi Joe,
You make some good points and I am happy that John Paul brought you so much fulfillment. However, while I sympathize with your argument that moral relativism may somehow erode our ethical conduct, you cannot ignore the possibilty that absolutist doctine might also result in moral corruption. The Catholic churches' forbiddance of condoms, for example, did little to curtail promiscuity in Africa - a continent with both a burgeoning Catholic population and an Aids epidemic. The Church cannot evade complicity in the multitudinous moral crises it has instigated by assuming an absolutist posture. That's analagous to outlawing sprinklers because fires are immoral. Fire's happen when the conditions are ripe for them to occur. If you outlaw the means to extinguish them, how have you dealt with the problem of fires?
Seventy five years ago, my mother was a victim of a predatory pedophile priest. The repercussions of this event have painfully insinuated themselves into the lives of 3 subsequent generations. Did the Church deal with the slimy underbelly of its celibate caste? One need only pick up a newspaper to answer that question. The is the product of the Churches, absolutist doctrine. If the Church is going to assume an absolutist posture, then it should start with love, compassion and humility.
Peace, David

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Hi David

Thanks for the reply. Your points are well made.

I think the two issues your bring up are real problems for the Church; however, I only see the first (condoms/AIDS) being related to absolutist doctrine. The Chruch has forbidden the use of condoms for several reasons. For one, they feel that their use is morally wrong. The rationale for the Church’s decision is spelled out in Humanae vitae (we can save this debate for another time). Another reason is that condoms are not completely effective, even when used properly. Before we go on, we must admit something about human nature – people are going to continue to have sex regardless of what anyone tells them. Back to the issue - Condom manufacturers themselves admit failure rates of 1-3%. As such, condom use is not a guarentee against spreading AIDS. The Church maintains that the only effective way to halt the spread of AIDS is abstainence and monogamy/fidelity. Countries where this method is encouraged as the primary means of AIDS prevention (e.g. Uganda) have significantly lower rates of new AIDS cases than countries were condoms are more readily available (e.g. South Africa). It seems to me that it is not really the Church that is complicit here, but rather the groups promoting condom use.

I agree with your characterization of the church (small “C”) having a “slimy underbelly” as it relates to the pedophilia scandal. But I don’t see the connection to Church doctrine or abolutism. Sexual abuse is morally wrong and the Church has always maintained that teaching. The problem here was that the leaders of the Church did not follow through in reporting these acts. In that sense, they are definitely morally complicit and should be held accountable. I can empathize with your mother, as I too have been down that path. In my case, it was not a priest, but rather my step-father (who incidentally had been abused by a pedophile preist).

Some feel that the celibacy requirement for priests is at the root of the pedophilia problem. I don’t see the connection. There are plenty of examples of pedophiles who are not celibate. They come from all walks of life. In the past, people used to think that being homosexual meant you were also likely to be a pedophile. That connection was grossly overstated. I think you will find the same thing with celibacy. The stats on pedophiles show that the link goes back to childhood/rearing issues. The problem for the Chruch is that it has not properly screened applicants to the priesthood. The preisthood offers a sheltered, secure life. As such, it attracts people that are socially maladjusted and continues to insulate them from the real world. This presents a suitable envornment for the pedophiles to carry out their crimes. I think the Church realizes this now, is more careful about who they admit to their seminaries, and is more vigilant about pedophilia and other problems. Incidentally, it seems that the areas where the Church has the biggest problems with pedophiles are areas heavily populated with the Irish (Ireland, England, Boston, Australia, etc).

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous David Lally said...

Alright Joe, I'll take the bait. You know how I love this kind of jibber jabbering and your comments merit a reply. Leigh was looking at your blog (that sounds kinda naughty)and thought you should have your own editorial column. I often think that your thoughtful commentaries don't get enough responses, so I'll put my two cents in (or does this make four cents since it is round two?). Here goes:
First let me say that I was not making a causal connection between celibacy and pedophilia. Who knows, maybe there is - maybe there isn't. What I'm saying is that the reality for at least the better part of a century is that the Catholic church has had a disproportionate number of sex offenders among it's priestly ranks. Such a non-random distribution implies a causal factor (whatever it is). That's been the reality of the situation, but rather than pragmatically dealing with the situation, the Church enshrouds itself in absolutist doctrine and ignores the reality of the situation. What's that you said, "Sexual abuse is morally wrong and the Church has always maintained that teaching." Yes, exactly my point. It has maintained a "teaching" while failing to pragmatically address the problem. When you don't confront the reality of a situation, then you are in denial. If you are in denial then you cannot begin to address the problem.If you don't address the problem, then 75 years after my mother was abused, you end up with 10% of the Boston (my mom's hometown) priesthood being sex offenders. Do you get my point.
Your point about Uganda is not the whole story and in fact further illustrates my point. Uganda dropped its soaring HIV rates in the 90's by taking a pragmatic three-pronged approach:
"The Ugandan approach has always been dubbed the "ABC" strategy, with the emphasis firstly on abstinence, then on being faithful and thirdly on condoms."
An approach like this gives primacy to moral values but also accounts for the back-sliders i.e. the rest of us.
I think many American catholics are not aiming at an ego-driven moral relativism, but rather to live their lives in a way that more faithfully reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ (when did jesus ever teach us to be celibate?)
Lastly, are you taking a jab at the Irish with that ominous closing statement or were you just in a hurry to get back to your cocoa trees? Are you somehow linking irish culture and pedophilia? I don't recall a song "dancing, drinking and diddling" on any of my Clancy Brothers albums.


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