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The Passion of Pope Benedict: Six Accusations, One Question

Pedophilia is only the latest weapon aimed against Joseph Ratzinger. And each time, he is attacked where he most exercises his leadership role. One by one, the critical points of this pontificate.

NOTE: For its combination of succinctness and clarity of thought, this piece by the most indispensable of Vatican-watchers, Sandro Magister of L’Espresso, deserves reproduction in full.

ROME, April 7, 2010 – The attack striking pope Joseph Ratzinger with the weapon of the scandal posed by priests of his Church is a constant of this pontificate.

It is a constant because every time, on different terrain, striking Benedict XVI means striking the very man who has worked and is working, on that same terrain, with the greatest foresight, resolve, and success.

1)The tempest that followed his lecture in Regensburg on September 12, 2006 was the first of the series. Benedict XVI was accused of being an enemy of Islam, and an incendiary proponent of the clash of civilizations. The very man who with singular clarity and courage had revealed where the ultimate root of violence is found, in an idea of God severed from rationality, and had then told how to overcome it.

The violence and even killings that followed his words were the sad proof that he was right. But the fact that he had hit the mark was confirmed above all by the progress in dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam that was seen afterward – not in spite of, but because of the lecture in Regensburg – and of which the letter to the pope from the 138 Muslim intellectuals and the visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul were the most evident and promising signs.

With Benedict XVI, the dialogue between Christianity and Islam, as with the other religions as well, is today proceeding with clearer awareness about what makes distinctions, by virtue of faith, and what can unite, the natural law written by God in the heart of every man.

2)A second wave of accusations against Pope Benedict depicts him as an enemy of modern reason, and in particular of its supreme expression, science. The peak of this hostile campaign was reached in January of 2008, when professors forced the pope to cancel a visit to the main university of his diocese, the University of Rome “La Sapienza.”

And yet – as previously in Regensburg and then in Paris at the Collège des Bernardins on September 12, 2008 – the speech that the pope intended to give at the University of Rome was a formidable defense of the indissoluble connection between faith and reason, between truth and freedom: “I do not come to impose the faith, but to call for courage for the truth.”

The paradox is that Benedict XVI is a great “illuminist” in an age in which the truth has so few admirers and doubt is in command, to the point of wanting to silence the truth.

3)A third accusation systematically hurled at Benedict XVI is that he is a traditionalist stuck in the past, an enemy of the new developments brought by Vatican Council II.

His speech to the Roman curia on December 22, 2005 on the interpretation of the Council, and in 2007 on the liberalization of the ancient rite of the Mass, are thought to be the proofs in the hands of his accusers.

In reality, the Tradition to which Benedict XVI is faithful is that of the grand history of the Church, from its origins until today, which has nothing to do with a formulaic attachment to the past. In the speech to the curia just mentioned, to exemplify the “reform in continuity” represented by Vatican II, the pope recalled the question of religious freedom. To affirm this completely – he explained – the Council had to go back to the origins of the Church, to the first martyrs, to that “profound patrimony” of Christian Tradition which in recent centuries had been lost, and was found again thanks in part to the criticism of Enlightenment-style reason.

As for the liturgy, if there is an authentic perpetuator of the great liturgical movement that flourished in the Church between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from Prosper Guéranger to Romano Guardini, it is precisely Ratzinger himself.

4)A fourth terrain of attack runs along the same lines as the previous one. Benedict XVI is accused of derailing ecumenism, of putting reconciliation with the Lefebvrists ahead of dialogue with the other Christian confessions.

But the facts say the opposite. Since Ratzinger has been pope, the journey of reconciliation with the Eastern Churches has taken extraordinary steps forward. Both with the Byzantine Churches that look to the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, and – most surprisingly – with the patriarchate of Moscow.

And if this has happened, it is precisely because of the revived fidelity to the grand Tradition – beginning with that of the first millennium – that is one characteristic of this pope, in addition to being the soul of the Eastern Churches.

On the side of the West, it is again love of Tradition that is driving persons and groups of the Anglican Communion to ask to enter the Church of Rome.

While with the Lefebvrists, what is blocking their reintegration is precisely their attachment to past forms of Church and of doctrine erroneously identified with perennial Tradition. The revocation of the excommunication of four of their bishops, in January of 2009, did nothing to the state of schism in which they remain, just as in 1964 the revocation of excommunications between Rome and Constantinople did not heal the schism between East and West, but made possible a dialogue aimed at unity.

5)The four Lefebvrist bishops whose excommunication Benedict XVI lifted included Englishman Richard Williamson, an antisemite and Holocaust denier. In the liberalized ancient rite, there is even a prayer that the Jews “may recognize Jesus Christ as savior of all men.”

These and other facts have helped to feed a persistent protest by the Jewish world against the current pope, with significant points of radicalism. And it is a fifth terrain of accusation.

The latest weapon of this protest was a passage from the sermon given at Saint Peter’s Basilica on Holy Friday, in the pope’s presence, by the preacher of the pontifical household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. The incriminating passage was a citation from a letter written by a Jew, but in spite of this the uproar was aimed exclusively at the pope.

And yet, nothing is more contradictory than to accuse Benedict XVI of enmity with the Jews.

Because no other pope before him ever went so far in defining a positive vision of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, while leaving intact the essential division over whether or not Jesus is the Son of God. In the first volume of his “Jesus of Nazareth” published in 2007 – and close to being completed by the second volume – Benedict XVI wrote splendid pages in this regard, in dialogue with a living American rabbi.

And many Jews effectively see Ratzinger as a friend. But in the international media, it’s another matter. There it is almost exclusively “friendly fire” that rains down. From Jews attacking the pope who best understands and loves them.

6)Finally, a sixth accusation – very current – against Ratzinger is that he “covered up” the scandal of priests who sexually abused children.

Here too, the accusation is against the very man who has done more than anyone, in the Church hierarchy, to heal this scandal.

With positive effects that can already be seen here and there. Particularly in the United States, where the incidence of the phenomenon among the Catholic clergy has diminished significantly in recent years.

But where the wound is still open, as in Ireland, it was again Benedict XVI who required the Church of that country to put itself in a penitential state, on a demanding path that he traced out in an unprecedented pastoral letter last March 19.

The fact is that the international campaign against pedophilia has just one target today, the pope. The cases dug up from the past are always intended to be traced back to him, both when he was archbishop of Munich and when he was prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, plus the Regensburg appendix for the years during which the pope’s brother, Georg, directed the cathedral children’s choir.

• • •

The six terrains of accusation against Benedict XVI just referred to bring up a question.

Why is this pope so under attack, from outside of the Church but also from within, in spite of his clear innocence with respect to the accusations?

The beginning of an answer is that he is systematically attacked precisely for what he does, for what he says, for what he is.

This post was published on Thursday, April 8th, 2010 12:45 pm. It has been categorised under Benedict XVI and been tagged under , .
Comments
  1. steven
    8 April 2010
    1:40 pm

    Part of the answer, a large part I believe, is also that most, in fact almost all, journalists are deeply stupid people, who nevertheless are sufficiently perceptive to realize that the Catholic Church is one of the few large institutions that cannot threaten to pull much advertising, and that unlike Muslims, Catholics do not stab to death the journalists who humiliate them.

    Another part of the answer is that the Catholic bishops in the United States and elsewhere have tolerated, and covered for, *chronic,* *serial,* sexual abusers of the youth in their ranks, and because of this, among the intellectually underprivileged who compromise the largest part of the journalistic corps, there is this notion that the Catholic Church must be an evil institution.

  2. Robert H.
    8 April 2010
    2:21 pm

    Yes, but if sexual abuse were the real issue, the New York Times et al. would go after all abusers. But they fail to look into the Hasidic communities of New York, where abuse is rife, nor do they report much on abuse by teachers, which is much more frequent than by Catholic priests, nor do they follow abuse by non-Catholic ministers.

    So we can only conclude that they don’t actually care about pedophilia or abuse per se, but that they find them the latest stick to beat the Pope with.

  3. 8 April 2010
    2:23 pm

    Regarding Magister’s claim that the SSPX is in a state of schism, didn’t Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos state that they were not?

  4. Andrew Cusack
    8 April 2010
    2:31 pm

    Indeed. I checked the original Italian version, and the same term ‘stato di scisma’ is used, so this is an incorrect use of terminology on Magister’s part, rather than the translator.

  5. steven
    8 April 2010
    3:21 pm

    Robert: Although I don’t know for sure, I would be far from surprised if all too critical treatment of the Hasidim did not result in representations to the advertising department, as for the public schools and Protestant clergy; since when has the NYT cared about hoi polloi?

    After journalists, the teachers unions rank as one of the most organized groups of less capable people, and they do play for keeps, and cultivate the Democratic party.

    Besides the fact that Catholics rank lower on the social totem pole, in aggregate, and whatever animi remain with us, there is another point: most journalists are very lazy, and the abuse stories have almost always been brought to them by plaintiff’s lawyers. It happens that Catholic churches always belong to the diocese, and have their clergy assigned by the bishop, whereas many Protestant ones are property of the congregation, who often chose their pastors, which often makes litigating abuse cases against troubled Protestant churches uneconomical.

    This trend is particularly pronounced because the real trash among the clergy almost always winds up in the poor churches; suing a poor Protestant church often means taking a shot at winning the rights to a mortgaged property, whereas suing a poor Catholic church means getting one’s hands onto the Bishop’s reserves, and the take from the churches in affluent areas.

  6. Daniel McGlone
    8 April 2010
    9:21 pm

    Brilliantly captured. The explanation is simple however. Of the six points it is clear that the Holy Father is in the right. This does not endear him to the world.

  7. Benedict Ambrose
    9 April 2010
    10:34 am

    I have been sickened, if not unduly surprised, by the lack of public support the British and continental bishops and senior clergy have favoured the Pope with in the last few weeks. When the Church and especially His Holiness himself have been calumniated like seldom before in recent years – often by demonstrably false and wildly misleading press reports – this silence has been deafening.

    Alas, the explanation seems all too evident: not a few senior clergy actively want to see the Pope’s vision for the Church (which vision they heartily detest) fail, and are content to let the world think ill of him in the hope that such external criticism will weaken his “hermeneutic of continuity” agenda.

    Many others lack conviction altogether – without even the courage of their lack of conviction – and would rather keep their heads down than risk having them shot at by edging them over the parapet in the Pope’s defence.

    Why are cardinals’ robes red again?

  8. Alberto C
    11 April 2010
    12:08 pm

    As it’s been suggested before me, it’s a mix of ignorance and ill will, which usually go hand in hand.

    The difference of treatment between the cases within the church and other cases of abuse by social workers, state school teachers, etc, which are far more numerous than the former, makes one think that an abuse victim is not an abuse victim in the eyes of the media unless the case can be used against the Pope. Particularly telling is the silence surrounding the cases of abuse in East German institutions. Perhaps many journalists still consider East Germany their spiritual home?

    Such is the hysteria that when a child abuse scandal was revealed surrounding a family of loony evangelical preachers in Missouri, a news bulletin here in Spain mentioned the word “priests”. And in state TV, no less. I don’t know whether this was another step in the unprincipled war against the church or simply a sad indictment of the degenerating standards in the journalistic profession, which seems to run in parallel with the proliferation of journalism schools. Probably both.

  9. 14 April 2010
    12:01 am

    The sloppiness has been truly shocking, and what is more, when Catholic journalists and bloggers correct the mistakes and defend Benedict, the thousands and thousands of good priests, and priestly celibacy, we are accused of “deflecting” and even of being “apologists for pedophiles.”

    I’ve read Facebook comments that suggest Catholic media isn’t credible on this topic because it’s about Catholics. That’s sort of like saying Spaniards shouldn’t teach Spanish history.

    This distrust of Catholics’ own p.o.v. is interesting because at last people are dropping their pretense that they don’t have a problem with Catholics, just with priests, bishops and the pope. Now we see that people are deeply uncomfortable with Catholics who actually speak up, who actually believe what the Church teaches, who are actually unwilling to see an innocent man slandered. We’re not the safe, rebellious, normal, “recovering” Catholics they know. We are a contradiction to the world and its thousand kinds of sloppiness, and the world doesn’t like this.

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