Sunday, 2 May 2010

Benedict XVI versus Ratzinger

James Carroll, in his book 'Practicing Catholic' (2009) provides an interesting bio of Pope Benedict XVI In his quarter of a century as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger redefined Roman Catholicism in ways both major and minor. Here is a summary of what he did:

  • He stopped the use of inclusive language ("people" instead of "men") in Scripture translations and liturgy

  • killed the movement toward Catholic reconciliation with the Church of England (and, by extension, with other Christian denominations) by declaring that the Roman rejection of Anglican orders is an infallible teaching (but welcomed disenfranchised Anglican priests to join the Catholic Church)

  • condemned joint prayers with other believers (even when, in Assisi in 1986, Pope John Paul II did it)

  • was first to declare that Hans Kung should forfeit his license to teach as a Catholic theologian

  • led the prosecution of other theologians with whom he disagreed, silencing and even excommunicating them; single-handedly dismantled what he called the "heresy" of liberation theology

  • condemned the use of the word "martyr" for Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated at the altar while saying Mass by a Salvadoran government death squad; saw to the Vatican's recognition of the military coup that overthrew President (and former priest) Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti (the Vatican was the only government in the world to do so)

  • declared that the Catholic prohibition of women as priests is infallible teaching

  • condemned the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, even by married couples one of whom is infected with HIV

  • defined masturbation as "intrinsically and gravely disordered"

  • equated religious pluralism with communism

  • denounced the "subtle seductions" of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels

  • affirmed neoconservative American bishops in their right-to-life alliance with the Republican Party (helping to reeled George W. Bush in 2004); was, in general, the author of Pope John Paul II's most reactionary statements and actions. More than John Paul II, Ratzinger was the architect of reaction

  • Reversed a return to the preference for dogma over ethics
  • Reaffirms "No salvation outside the Church" with the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993). In spite of the contradictory statements issued under Vatican II.

Carroll goes on to say "It seems harsh to say so, but cruelty underlies the shy pope's evident goodwill. That is because the ideology he advances for Roman Catholicism cares less for actual people (men and women in the hopeless dead end of a failed marriage, say) than for esoteric abstractions (the absolute indissolubility of matrimony). It is this aspect of Pope Benedict's mindset that qualifies him as the chief sponsor of the new Catholic fundamentalism, enforced with no regard for the real cost to human beings. "In essentials, unity"—here is how St. Augustine defined Catholic life—"in nonessentials, diversity; in all things, charity." But not in the Church of Pope Benedict XVI, where essentials and nonessentials are all blurred together, and where charity is mocked with the word "nice."

The ticket to draw near the altar for the sacred bread and wine was an uncritical acceptance of what the pope's statement called, in a striking echo of those early-twentieth-century Protestants, "fundamental values." These included, especially, the defense of human life "from conception to natural death." The document's key declaration was that "these values are not negotiable."

Is it any wonder then that this Pope continues to lose credibility not only with Catholics but also with other religious denominations throughout the world? When will our Bishops finally exercise their collegial office by listening to their hearts and stead of their heads? When will Catholics come to understand that they are the 'people of God' and are therefore equally responsible for what determines the fate and future of THEIR church?

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