Saturday, 23 February 2013


Now that Pope Benedict has announced his retirement Roman Catholics will be asked what they thought about his seven year reign as Pope (2005 to 2013) and as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005.

Das Spiegel a popular German newsweekly recently stated:


He [Benedict XVI] was originally a liberal theologian, but adopted conservative views after 1968. His prolific writings [including the Catechism of the Catholic Church* (1994) defends traditional Catholic doctrine and values. During his papacy, Benedict XVI advocated a return to fundamental Christian values* to counter increased secularism** in many Western countries. He views relativism’s denial of objective truth, and the denial of moral truths in particular, as the central problem of the 21st century".

**Expressed in Benedict's typical absolute terms

*** In Benedict’s eye’s 'secularism' consists of anyone who does not belong to or believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the only Christian church to possess all the Truth’s

It is no secret of course that during his reign under and following John Paul II Benedict was personally responsible for the cover up of the sexual abuse scandal which contributed significantly to the mass exodus of Roman Catholics in Europe and North America. To a degree that ex Catholics now form the second largest Christian denomination in North America.

To help us better understand the more complex and complete legacy of Benedict’s reign as both Pope and Cardinal I recommend the views of two recognized experts namely Matthew Fox, former Roman Catholic priest and ‘silenced’ theologian, and Andrew Harvey popular author, religious scholar and teacher of mystic traditions. Both recently, writing for Tikkun magazine, accurately captured Benedict’s legacy in a revealing but critical analysis. While their views may offend some Traditional Catholics they deliver some irrefutable and undeniable facts that can be directly attributed to this Pope’s hard-line rule. However, Andrew Harvey also offers the hope that this Pope’s resignation may eventually lead to a more inclusive and compassionate Church.
We owe it to the BBC for a most reasonable assessment of the past and current events concerning the reign of Benedict XVI.  In a special series ‘Ten Moments that defined Pope Benedict XVI readers may explore the background  themes:
  • World’s Catholics - How many Roman Catholics are there in the world? (demographics)
  • Legacy -Pope Benedict: Will retirement seal his legacy?
  • Pope Election - Conclave: How cardinals elect a Pope
  • Next Pope’s Inbox - The Pope's inbox: Top priorities for Benedict's successor

For more in depth reflection on Pope Benedict’s resignation I am reminded of the prophetic words of the ‘silenced’ theologian Hans Kung who in October of 2012 called for a revolution from below to unseat the pope and force radical reform at the Vatican. At that time Kung spoke to UK Guardian reporter Kate Connolly in Tubingen about the need for a complete reform of the church.

My own personal views about the Pope’s legacy are quite similar to those expressed by Matthew Fox and Andrew Harvey but by adding that Benedict’s criticism of Vatican II reflected his determined desire to return to a smaller church back reminiscent of the austere Council of Trent (1563).

As a convert to Roman Catholicism in 1986 through the helpful guidance of the best priest and mentor one could ever ask for; my dear cradle Catholic wife and I became rapidly enthused with the openness of the Catholic faith. This openness was reflected in the acceptance and inclusion of my Protestant faith. The church seemed to be a beacon of God’s unconditional love and healing for many years thereafter. Then one day I was alerted to the beginnings of the darker side of Catholicism. It came in the form of a seemingly harmless warning, from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) suggesting that certain writings from Fr. Anthony de Mello were in conflict with Catholic teachings. While the impact of this spiritual uplifting retreat remains with me to this day it would also reveal the first crack in the Catholic institution for me.

But this was not to be the last warning or crack in the foundation. The instructions or teachings origination from the CDF, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, became more frequent and were usually stated in the form of warnings and other means of retribution. Over time, as the cracks widened we could see a growing division spreading from the top down to the laity at the bottom. Soon the effects of Benedict’s autocratic rule were transmitted by his appointed members of the clergy to the laity and elsewhere.

Benedict who was well aware of this self created crisis of faith did nothing to repair the foundation and instead seemed to focus on a smaller church with the hope it would include the formerly excommunicated community of St. Pius X. The church and its followers as envisioned by Benedict must be based on his personal interpretation of scripture and tradition and where unity meant conformity. It was to be a religion based on practising strict orthodoxy not on Christ’s promise to set his people free. Roman Catholicism was well on its way to becoming a cult with one earthly leader. In retrospect  Benedict’s growing demand for absolute obedience to church teaching suggests this is more important than obedience to God or the individual’s conscience which was guaranteed under Vatican II.

I feel no need to expand on this growing list, other than to say that the final straw came in the form of a homily when the celebrant announced that ‘Jesus walked away from sinners’! This was to mark our final break with the church – but certainly not from God or away from our respected Catholic friends.

Addendum (Feb.26/12) 

Published: February 11, 2013
To the Editor:

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI may be the most influential act of his papacy. It opens a window of opportunity for serious reform, starting with the papacy, in a church roiled in multiple crises. If the scandal of the papacy as one of the last absolute monarchies in a democratizing world is not addressed, all other reforms will falter. Catholic scholarship is clear. There is no evidence that a papal monarchy was Jesus’ idea.

Of course, if you accept that Peter was the first pope, there would be lessons. Peter was married. A happily married pope with a strong spouse and children could think more clearly on sexual and reproductive issues and not let the church get mired in obsessions that obscure the message of justice and peace that Jesus preached.

Of course, no change will occur if the Catholic laity act like sheep awaiting word from their all-male shepherds.

Milwaukee, Feb. 11, 2013
The writer is a professor of moral theology at Marquette University.

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