Benedict XVI: No tears for papal resignation after a career riddled with bigotry, blunders & failure Print E-mail
 London ~ Monday 11 February 2013

Benedict, the placeholder pope who leaves a battered, weakened church

As John Paul II's right-hand man, he watched the papacy fall into decrepitude. Obviously, he had no wish to follow suit

Pope Benedict resigns on Monday. As John Paul II's right-hand man, he watched the papacy fall into decrepitude. (AP)

Pope Benedict's resignation has been planned for some time – Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, knew about it before Christmas – but it is still a stunning shock to the outside world. No pope has willingly resigned since Pope Celestine V in 1294. Pope John Paul II hung on for years – he was dying of Parkinson's disease – while the machinery of the Vatican rotted about him.

During the decrepitude of John Paul II, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was his right-hand man. It may be that his experience then planted in him a wish to leave office while he was still able to discharge his duties.

Although his accession was greeted with horror by the liberals in the church, he spent almost all his time in office struggling ineffectually with the problems inherited from John Paul II. His most remarkable innovation was his decision to resign as he felt his powers failing. That ought to be a precedent that the church will make use of again.

In Benedict's resignation statement can be seen an implied rebuke to his predecessor, who argued that clinging to life and power for as long as possible was itself a form of witness to Christ's suffering. Benedict, however, says: "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world … strength of both mind and body are necessary."

Benedict leaves his successor more than a billion followers – but few of them take any notice of Catholic teaching. His church has been battered in the west by child abuse scandals and a shortage of priests, but it is still growing fast in the south. It is difficult to overestimate the speed and size of the shift in global balance. In the west the priesthood is ageing and shrinking: the median age in the US has risen from 34 in 1970 to 64 last year, while their numbers have diminished: 10% of the entire US population were lapsed Catholics in 2008, which would make them the third-largest denomination in the country. The structure and self-belief of Irish Catholicism have both imploded, and almost all the island's seminaries have closed. In this country, more than 40% of the priesthood is over 65. In Europe as a whole, the numbers in the priesthood diminished by nearly 1,000 last year.

In the Middle East, its historic homeland, Christians are now facing almost unprecedented persecution. Only in Asia is the priesthood really thriving, so that the most common names in the Australian priesthood now are Vietnamese, not Irish.

In the US, Germany and Australia, there is fierce and bitter struggle within both clergy and some laity between liberals and conservatives. The liberals believe in a form of democracy in the church, and that it should be mostly concerned with poverty and exploitation. The conservatives believe in autocracy – if they run it – and see the church's agenda topped by abortion.

Polls and observation suggest that the laity are indifferent to both parties. There is no measurable difference in this country between Catholics and non-religious in their attitudes to abortion, although Catholics are broadly leftwing in their voting patterns. Their birth rates everywhere show the futility of the church's struggle against contraception.

For Benedict, western Europe had been largely lost to Christianity and was once more a mission field that would have to be reconverted. But it's hard to see any signs of either planning or success in this task, despite the unexpected triumph of his visit to Britain in 2010. He did not manage to damp down the rebellions against compulsory celibacy in the priesthood, which have shaken the church in German-speaking countries. In fact, by his personal support of special arrangements for former Anglican clergy, he may have weakened the tradition of clerical celibacy.

The long-term planning means that the succession should go as smoothly as possible, but it is always difficult to predict the outcome of the conclave in which cardinals elect a pope. As the last two have not been Italian, it may be that the succession will move towards Africa and away from Europe altogether. An African would mean a greater focus on the relationships with Islam, perhaps at the expense of the relations with the rest of Christianity.

• This article has been updated and expanded from an earlier blogpost. It was amended on 12 February 2013, to correct a sentence that said the pope had nearly 2 billion followers.
 London ~ Monday 11 February 2013

The Pope can quit but it won't erase his complicity in his Church’s crimes

Letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several US court cases, always protective of rapist priests

By Geoffrey Robertson, QC

Yesterday’s resignation by Pope Benedict was merely expedient – he has become too old to cope. It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye – the rape, buggery and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care.

His “command responsibility” for this crime against humanity goes back to 1981, when he was appointed Prefect (i.e. Head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican body that disciplines errant priests. Although the CDF files are a closely guarded secret, letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several US court cases, always protective of rapist priests. As father Hans Kung, the eminent Theologian, put it in his open letter to Catholic Bishops in 2010, “There is no denying the fact that the world-wide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger”.

The worse case was that of Father Maciel, a bigamist, paedophile and drug-taker who raped his own children but had become a close friend of John Paul II. Ratzinger was in possession of all the evidence about Maciel but refused to act. Even after he became Pope, Ratzinger refused to defrock this monster priest or provide his affidavit to police. Instead he merely ‘invited’ Maciel to retire and lead a quiet life in the US, away from media attention. Ratzinger undoubtedly loathes such men, but he was always the ostrich Pope, the academic who kept his head in the sand until the storm hit.

Pope Benedict’s Vatican has been an enemy of human rights. The fiction that this religious enclave is a “state” enables it to appear at UN conferences and to veto initiatives for family planning, contraception or any form of “gender equality”. Benedict himself has decried homosexuality as “evil”, and ruled that women have no right to choose, even to avoid pregnancies that result from rape or incest; IVF is wrong (because it begins with masturbation); condom use, even to avoid HIV Aids within marriage, must never be countenanced. There is no denying that his Vatican has been a force in international affairs, rallying the Catholic countries of Latin America to make common cause on moral issues with Islamist states like Libya and Iran.

As Head of a State – even such a make-believe state as the Vatican – Pope Benedict has absolute immunity from legal action. But this immunity is not the same after you retire. There are many victims of priests permitted by Cardinal Ratzinger to stay in holy orders after their propensity to molest was known, and they would like to sue the ex-pope for damages for negligence. If he steps outside the Vatican, a court may rule that they have a case.

Geoffrey Robertson QC is author of “The Case of The Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse.”

 Melbourne ~ Tuesday February 12 2013

Ratzinger was behind great Catholic cover-up

By Christopher Hitchens
Citing wavering strength of mind and body, Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to resign from the papacy at the end of February. He will be the first Pope to abdicate in nearly six centuries. In 2010, as allegations of paedophilic priests continued to swirl, the late Christopher Hitchens decried individual and institutional corruption within the church's sacred walls. His original article is reprinted below.
On March 10 [2010], the chief exorcist of the Vatican, the Reverend Gabriele Amorth (who has held this demanding post for 25 years), was quoted as saying that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican", and that "when one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and paedophilia". This can perhaps be taken as confirmation that something horrible has indeed been going on in the holy precincts, though most inquiries show it to have a perfectly good material explanation.

Concerning the most recent revelations about the steady complicity of the Vatican in the ongoing – indeed endless – scandal of child rape, a few days later a spokesman for the Holy See made a concession in the guise of a denial. It was clear, said the Reverend Federico Lombardi, that an attempt was being made "to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse". He stupidly went on to say that "those efforts have failed".

Moving on ... Pope Benedict XVI. (Reuters)

He was wrong twice. In the first place, nobody has had to strive to find such evidence: It has surfaced, as it was bound to do. In the second place, this extension of the awful scandal to the topmost level of the Roman Catholic Church is a process that has only just begun. Yet it became in a sense inevitable when the College of Cardinals elected, as the vicar of Christ on Earth, the man chiefly responsible for the original cover-up. (One of the sanctified voters in that "election" was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, a man who had already found the jurisdiction of Massachusetts a bit too warm for his liking.)

There are two separate but related matters here: First, the individual responsibility of the Pope in one instance of this moral nightmare and, second, his more general and institutional responsibility for the wider lawbreaking and for the shame and disgrace that goes with it. The first story is easily told, and it is not denied by anybody. In 1979, an 11-year-old German boy identified as Wilfried F. was taken on a vacation trip to the mountains by a priest. After that, he was administered alcohol, locked in his bedroom, stripped naked, and forced to suck the penis of his confessor. (Why do we limit ourselves to calling this sort of thing "abuse"?) The offending cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for "therapy" by a decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, and assurances were given that he would no longer have children in his care. But it took no time for Ratzinger's deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, to return him to "pastoral" work, where he soon enough resumed his career of sexual assault.

It is, of course, claimed, and it will no doubt later be partially un-claimed, that Ratzinger himself knew nothing of this second outrage. I quote, here, from the Reverend Thomas Doyle, a former employee of the Vatican embassy in Washington and an early critic of the Catholic Church's sloth in responding to child-rape allegations. "Nonsense," he says. "Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He's the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he's trying to do, obviously, is protect the Pope."

This is common or garden stuff, very familiar to American and Australian and Irish Catholics whose children's rape and torture, and the cover-up of same by the tactic of moving rapists and torturers from parish to parish, has been painstakingly and comprehensively exposed. It's on a level with the recent belated admission by the Pope's brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, that while he knew nothing about sexual assault at the choir school he ran between 1964 and 1994, now that he remembers it, he is sorry for his practice of slapping the boys around.

Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" (formerly known as the Inquisition).

In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church's own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated "in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence ... and everyone ... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office ... under the penalty of excommunication." (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offence could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.)
Not content with shielding its own priests from the law, Ratzinger's office even wrote its own private statute of limitations. The church's jurisdiction, claimed Ratzinger, "begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age" and then lasts for 10 more years. Daniel Shea, the attorney for two victims who sued Ratzinger and a church in Texas, correctly describes that latter stipulation as an obstruction of justice. "You can't investigate a case if you never find out about it. If you can manage to keep it secret for 18 years plus 10, the priest will get away with it."

The next item on this grisly docket will be the revival of the long-standing allegations against the Reverend Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultra-reactionary Legion of Christ, in which sexual assault seems to have been almost part of the liturgy. Senior ex-members of this secretive order found their complaints ignored and overridden by Ratzinger during the 1990s, if only because Father Maciel had been praised by the then-Pope John Paul II as an "efficacious guide to youth".

And now behold the harvest of this long campaign of obfuscation. The Roman Catholic Church is headed by a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest iniquity, whose ineptitude in that job now shows him to us as a man personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime. Ratzinger himself may be banal, but his whole career has the stench of evil – a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel. What is needed is not medieval incantation but the application of justice – and speedily at that.
 US ~ February27, 2013

'God's Rottweiler' silenced many as head of doctrinal congregation

By Zoe Ryan

Although recent portrayals of Benedict XVI play on his white-haired grandfatherliness and his desire to fade into a quiet retirement of books and music, many Catholics with long memories have images in their minds of "God's Rottweiler."

During his time at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981-2005), the office became one of the most controversial Vatican agencies. He decried secularization, liberation theology, radical feminism, homosexuality, religious pluralism and bioethics.

Numerous Catholics found themselves in hot ecclesial water: Fr. Hans Küng; Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner; Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen; Leonardo Boff; Fr. Charles Curran; Fr. Tissa Balasuriya; Jesuit Fr. Roger Haight; Fr. Matthew Fox; Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent; Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez; and Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis, among others.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a former theology professor and bishop of Munich, was 54 years old when he was named to head the doctrinal congregation, the office charged with upholding orthodoxy.

He criticized the overreach of bishops' conferences. At the time the American bishops issued their pastoral letter in 1983 on war and peace, Ratzinger was arguing that episcopal conferences have no standing to teach on doctrinal issues. He criticized the International Commission on English in the Liturgy -- comprising representatives of the major English-speaking bishops' conferences -- on its approach to translation.

His first few years as head of the congregation dealt much with liberation theology, a movement centered on the poor and one that Ratzinger believed had ties to Marxism. In 1985, the Vatican silenced the Brazilian Boff, at the time a Franciscan priest and scholar of liberation theology. Ratzinger found Boff's 1981 book Church, Charism and Power troubling in its declarations on Christology and the structure of the church.

Often called the "father of liberation theology," Peruvian Dominican Gutiérrez faced several Vatican investigations in the 1980s for his writings.

Besides liberation theology, writings on sexual ethics became a hot topic. In 1983, Hunthausen, a well-known progressive bishop, allowed a Mass for Dignity, a group for gay and lesbian Catholics, in his cathedral, which resulted in complaints to the doctrinal congregation.

The congregation then asked Washington Archbishop James Hickey to make an official Vatican visitation. Hickey found "a number of other basic doctrinal problems" in the archdiocese. In 1985, the congregation appointed as auxiliary bishop Fr. Donald Wuerl (now cardinal-archbishop of Washington, D.C.), a Pittsburgh priest with long experience in Rome. In September 1986, Hunthausen announced he had transferred final authority in five areas to Wuerl in accord with Vatican instructions.

A month later, Ratzinger published "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." The document warns of "deceitful propaganda" from pro-homosexual groups and instructs bishops not to accept groups that "seek to undermine the teaching of the church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely." The letter refers to homosexual orientation as an "intrinsic moral evil."

Curran, a moral theologian who led the American resistance to Humanae Vitae in the late 1960s, was investigated by the congregation for his teachings on sexual ethics and fired from his teaching position at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in January 1987.

Bishop Jacques Gaillot was removed as bishop of Evreux, France, in January 1995 after he publicly challenged church teaching on several issues, among them contraception, priestly celibacy, homosexuality and the use of condoms in AIDS prevention programs. Tens of thousands of French Catholics protested his firing. But the Vatican did not relent, saying he was not in communion with the church. Gaillot was given the titular diocese of Partenia, which no longer exists as a territorial see.

In July 1999, after close to three decades of service to the gay and lesbian community in the U.S., Gramick (then a School Sister of Notre Dame) and Nugent were barred from ministry to the gay and lesbian community by the congregation for not representing authentic church teaching on homosexuality.

As different religions of the world acknowledged others, religious pluralism became an issue. Ratzinger once called religious pluralism theology the gravest threat of the church.

In January 1997, Sri Lankan theologian Balasuriya was excommunicated (a penalty that was later lifted) after being accused of theological aberrations, including assertions that Christianity is on the same level as other religions.

In 1998, the Vatican criticized the book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism by Dupuis, a Belgian. After three years of investigation, in 2001 the Vatican backed away from its initial finding of "serious doctrinal error" in the book but said there were "ambiguities and difficulties on important points which could lead a reader to erroneous or harmful opinions."

In September 2000, the congregation released the document Dominus Iesus, which emphatically denied that other world religions can offer salvation independent of Christianity.

Many saw the document as clamping down on theological speculation on religious pluralism, or creating a chilling effect for interreligious dialogue.

After many years of investigation, the Vatican banned Haight from teaching and publishing in 2008 because of his 1999 book Jesus: Symbol of God. In it, the American Jesuit argued that other world religions can offer pathways to God alongside Christianity.

[Zoe Ryan, NCR staff writer, compiled this report from the NCR archives.]
This story appeared in the Mar 1-14, 2013 print issue under the headline: Congregation under Ratzinger silenced many .

The Hindu ~ February 13, 2013

Drift and disappointment

By Stephen Bates

Pope Benedict XVI. (AP File photo)

Benedict XVI’s papacy neither inspired nor was it able to revive the moral authority of the Church

Pope Benedict XVI was always going to be on a hiding to nothing. Following the charismatic and long-reigning John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, the shy, elderly German academic, fond of cats and playing the piano, who had spent decades burrowing in the Vatican bureaucracy, was unlikely ever to set the Tiber on fire, let alone thrill the planet’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics — a sixth of the world’s population.

Long papacies are usually followed by short ones — the church gets tired of supreme leaders who occupy the throne of Saint Peter for too long. But those who are in power briefly can also have a marked effect on the institution — as the 20th century’s other great pope, John XXIII, demonstrated in just five years. In Benedict’s case, however, there has been a sense of drift and disappointment. “I’d say it has been disastrous,” said Michael Walsh, the British historian of the papacy, on Monday night.

Unresolved problems
The problems facing the church remain: the child abuse scandal has not been resolved, nor has the church’s loss of authority and self-confidence been reversed. In the West, and Europe was clearly the focus of Benedict’s interest, the decline in church attendances and the lack of vocations to staff the future priesthood, the sheer disintegration in its status and esteem have been neither confronted, nor resolved. Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet, said: “It has been a very troubled time. We have not got a Catholic church at ease with itself.” Indeed the Vatican has seemed to be pressing hard in the opposite direction: into a cul-de-sac of conservative authoritarianism which neither inspires, nor revives the mass of cradle Catholics, who are still deserting the church even in heartlands such as Spain and Ireland. Fifty years ago, governments in Catholic countries would tremble at the Vatican’s displeasure, now they just wag their fingers back and press on with their plans for gay marriages or easier abortion. There is no come back when the church has squandered its moral authority across the world over child abuse.

With the best will in the world, the push to revive the Latin mass, the imposition without much consultation of a ponderous new liturgy in English that looks as if it has been stitched together by someone whose first language is gobbledegook and the serious attempt to entice the posturing reactionaries of the breakaway Pius X Society — including the Holocaust-denying English “bishop” Richard Williamson — back into the fold, have been abject in purpose and effect. The church does not really do consultation at the best of times, but some of this has verged on the provocative: two fingers up to the laity.

At the same time, the creation of the Anglican ordinariate — a refuge for vicars finally unable to stomach the idea of female bishops in the Church of England — was not only undertaken negligently, without meaningful consultation, but also without much sense or reason. Those who thought the old authoritarian Vatican was coming back, but without the means or moral authority to make much difference to the fate of the church and its people have been proved all too correct. This has been all the more unfortunate because Benedict got on well with Rowan Williams, another shy bookish academic who himself surprised his flock last spring by deciding to retire early as archbishop of Canterbury. One of the few high points of his papacy was a successful visit to Britain in 2010.

On Monday there was already speculation about why Benedict should choose to be the first pope since the middle ages to retire: was he — like Harold Wilson when he stepped down as prime minister in 1976 — aware of a decline in his previously acute mental powers? Or was he harder hit by the papal butler scandal of last autumn, when a servant he trusted was convicted of passing leaked documents? Benedict had suggested in an interview a few years ago that he might retire, but in an institution where that hasn’t happened for hundreds of years, his decision certainly took world Catholicism by surprise.

There is a small glitch that he has thrown into the works: his predecessor, Pope John Paul II made provision for any deadlock in a papal election to be short-circuited in the conclave, with a 50 per cent plus one majority after the fourth ballot to replace the two-thirds majority initially required.

Benedict has reverted to the previous system, meaning the likely formation of rival blocking minorities and a prolonged conclave. At least he will be able to watch the confusion.

Benedict was always going to be an interim pope, but he has not been an old man in a hurry, so much as confused in facing a world where the church’s old certainties and expectations are under greater challenge than ever before. It is said that Pope John XXIII was once asked what depressed him most about being pontiff. “It is going to sleep every night in the bed you know you will die in,” he answered. At least Benedict will be saved that.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013
 February 12, 2013

The World from Berlin: 'It Is Good that Benedict Is Gone'

The Vatican has some shoes to fill now. (AP)
Pope Benedict XVI is nothing if not conservative. He spent the last eight years battling against relativism and individualism -- before breaking with tradition and taking a step that no pope has made for over 700 years. German commentators say his papacy failed to introduce much-needed reforms.

Pope Benedict XVI told almost no one that he was preparing to become the first pope in 719 years to resign from the papacy. His advisors were taken by surprise, as were the cardinals attending a papal consistory on Monday, a gathering they believed had been called for a trio of canonizations. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was present, called the announcement "a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky."

But the pope's brother, Georg Ratzinger, knew. He knew the exact date and even the time when Joseph, three years his junior, was going to announce his resignation. "In old age, strength fades," the 89-year-old told SPIEGEL ONLINE, adding that he did not seek to influence his brother's decision in any way. "He must bear the responsibility alone, he reached his decision alone."

In announcing his decision, Benedict, 86, cited his failing health. His doctors had advised him against making flights overseas and Georg himself noted on Monday that his brother had weakened. He said that he "wishes for both of us that we are spared further health problems until our dear Lord calls for us."

Benedict "broke a taboo" by resigning, Parisian Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois told the Associated Press. "He broke away from several centuries of practice," he added, "and expressed the view that it wasn't just legitimate but probably useful for a pope to renounce and withdraw from his duties." Vingt-Trois added that "for the century to come, I think that none of Benedict XVI's successors will feel morally obliged to remain until their death."

The manner of his departure, however, is only one small element of Pope Benedict XVI's legacy. Already, Vatican observers are trying to determine exactly how history will remember Joseph Ratzinger, a man many felt was too conservative for a church experiencing a rapid loss of membership in many countries, including Germany, amid abuse scandals and intrigue at the Vatican.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said on Monday that the Vatican hopes to complete the task of electing a new pope by Easter at the end of March. But on Tuesday, German commentators take a look back at the last eight years of Joseph Ratzinger's papacy.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"There is something bitter and tragic about (Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign)…. Only in his departure has Benedict broken the chains of tradition. Everywhere else, he left those chains alone, or even strengthened them. Only this one time has he stepped beyond himself, beyond his origins, beyond his traditional understanding of the church. Only this one time has he stepped beyond all that has always been held true by the church. In the face of all the problems facing the church in the third millennium, he remained the pope of the 20th century, a pope who was at home in the theological wisdom of the second millennium, but who had no understanding for the third millennium. Benedict was and remains the last old-style church patriarch."

"When Benedict was chosen eight years ago, he was seen as a transitional pope. And he made many sacrifices in moderating that transition. He impressively faced up to the abuse scandal. But he remained a transitional pope. As a bridge builder, he was never able to reach the other side of the bridge. As such, the question remains at the end of his papacy: transition to what? Nobody knows. This church is no longer triumphant, nor is it combative. It is a questioning church. The questions are knocking, are hammering, at the doors of the Vatican, but they have not been allowed to enter: the role of women in the church, celibacy, sexual morality and the role of the church in the international community."

"This church has remained stationary for 200 years. The Vatican has not allowed the vitality and imaginative power of the church in the Third World and in Latin America to approach. The houses of God in Europe are large, but they are empty. The organization is efficient, but powerless…. Ecclesia semper reformanda -- the church is always to be reformed -- goes the saying, which is sometimes ascribed to St. Augustine, sometimes to Martin Luther. But if reform is part of the essence of the church's being, then it has forgotten its essence. The church has seldom needed reform as badly as it does at the end of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"With his unheard of resignation, Joseph Ratzinger has revealed an almost individualistic weakness of a kind that seems foreign to him. As mild as he can be in personal interactions, theologically and ecclesiastically he has long been a man of tradition and of authority, one who believes in the immovability of conventions. Many critics see the German pope as an archconservative who is unable to understand the modern world, either because of stubbornness or obtuseness. Now, they are likely to pay him ironic respect: Welcome to the club of self-actualization."

"One doesn't have to share his stubborn refusal to modernize the church in the spirit of participatory democracy. One should, however, recognize that there are good reasons for strengthening the earthly institution of the church as an antipode to the current zeitgeist and its unavoidable relativization of values. One should understand why he cannot say yes to gay marriage and why he cannot embrace Protestantism. The church's dilemma is simple: If it refuses to bend to the times, it will lose members; if it does bend, it will lose them anyway. Joseph Ratzinger, who once called himself a 'servant to the truth,' embodies and bears witness to the conviction that the church can only be healthy if it remains convinced of the unlimited possibilities opened up by complete faith."

Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The pope's decision to renounce the power vested in him is not just the product of his failing strength. Benedict saw himself confronted with powers in the church that darkened the light of faith, dampened hope and perverted love. The long episode of sexual abuse fell over the papacy of Benedict XVI and over the entire church like a devilish shadow. But this trial too showed the greatness of the man: More than any of his predecessors, he faced up to the wrongdoing and looked the victims in the eyes. Whether the structures installed by the Vatican to prevent new episodes of abuse will work remains to be seen."

"In one facet, Benedict is similar to his predecessor Pope John Paul II. Both had their difficulties in dealing with the Roman Curia and with the machinations of the cardinals. John Paul II escaped by travelling the world, Benedict XVI retired to the world of his books. But their successor will be unable to avoid reforming the Vatican from the ground up."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung's front page is largely blank on Tuesday, but for the words "Gott Sei Dank," or "Thank God." Below the fold is an editorial entitled "Even Worse than Expected."

"It is good that this pope is gone, because nothing is good. Not in the Vatican and certainly not in the rest of the global church. During his eight-year papacy, Pope Benedict XVI managed to outdo even the worst fears harbored by Catholics in Germany. As God's deputy, Benedict showed little interest in facing the numerous sexual abuse crimes within his own institution. Nor did he wish to confront the fascist organization Opus Dei. Whether the topic was women, homosexuals, rape or human rights, it is hard to be more reactionary than this pope proved to be."

"The papal visit to the home of Martin Luther also served to cement the schism and destroyed all hope for a long overdue rapprochement between the two large Christian churches."

"It would be a good thing if Pope Benedict XVI were the last of his kind. And were history books to be able to write: 'This papal resignation was the beginning of a new era. The Catholic Church finally understood that it couldn't continue as before.'"

-- Charles Hawley, with reporting by Julia Jüttner
 Melbourne ~ Saturday February 16, 2013

The unfinished business of Pope Benedict XVI

By Michael Brendan Dougherty

ALTHOUGH Pope Benedict XVI's highly unusual resignation is said to be for reasons of health, it fits the character of his papacy: all his initiatives remain incomplete. He was elected to rescue the church from itself, but he failed to finish what he started.

The assessments of his papacy have so far focused on Benedict's statements on homosexuality, contraception and other controversial church teachings. This helps us locate him (and the church) on a familiar political spectrum but tells us little beyond the fact that the Pope is a faithful Catholic. After all, these are not ''policies'' that a future pope can change with a pen stroke. If we really want to understand Benedict's papacy, we have to understand the wrecked church he inherited and his limited powers within it.

Although The New York Times describes him as a ''profoundly conservative'' figure, Joseph Ratzinger made his first impression as a member of good standing in the liberal wing of ''periti'' (experts) at the Second Vatican Council during the early 1960s. He wore a suit and tie rather than a clerical collar to the proceedings. He was given to the bold - and often unsubstantiated - pronouncements of his generation of theologians. The world celebrated the changes Ratzinger's cohort helped to effect at Vatican II. And the Vatican II reforms and the charged post-conciliar spirit were seen as the answer to a problem that was conspicuously on the mind of theologians and apologists since the late 19th century: How should the church engage with ''modern man''?

Apparently, ''modern man'' was unimpressed by Vatican II. He left the church. After Catholic, ''Ex-Catholic'' has become the second largest ''religious affiliation'' in the US. In Europe, the decline is even more dramatic.

The meaning of the council itself became subjected to enormous debate within the church. Was it the first opening of a new age in the church, where previously solid dogma about the Mass, the sacraments and the male priesthood would dissolve? Or was it the disastrous rupture with the past that should be repudiated? In 1972, Ratzinger founded the theological journal Communio with theologians who charted a course between those two poles. Their position was that the Thomistic theology of the late 19th century was inadequate for the times but that the more radical theologians writing in the rival journal Concilium were throwing out the baby with the baptismal font.

By the time Benedict was elected pope in 2005, the church had gone aground. Pope John Paul II's papacy was the partial cause. After a period of activity in the 1980s, the former actor's papacy consisted of enormously dramatic but unexplained gestures such as praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem or giving the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury a pectoral cross. John Paul II either did not understand or denied the gravity of the child-abuse crisis. But his charismatic presence and the enormous goodwill towards the Parkinson's-afflicted pontiff overshadowed his failures of governance. Of his papacy, one would say, he travelled while Rome burned.

That Ratzinger emerged to succeed him was a shock at the time but makes sense in retrospect. A persistent theme of conversation among cardinals heading into the 2005 conclave was the need to repair the ''internal governance'' of the church. Ratzinger had impressed his fellow cardinals with his handling of doctrinal dissenters, as well as his move to finally centralise the handling of sexual abuse cases in his own office. Ratzinger said at the time that he was confronting ''the filth'' within the priesthood. He also seemed more charismatic in the days after John Paul II's death. He gave a militant homily at the papal funeral about the need for the church to face down ''the dictatorship of relativism … that recognises nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure.'' A respected and careful theologian, Ratzinger could give the church intellectual ballast once again.

The new Pope Benedict had set for himself two missions for his papacy. The first was to finally return basic competence to church governance. Within 60 days (lightning fast for the church) he had moved against the Reverend Marcial Maciel, head of the enormously influential Legion of Christ movement. Maciel was a favourite churchman of John Paul II. But Benedict ordered him into silence, and investigations turned up many instances of Maciel sexually assaulting children.

But Benedict has rarely moved that decisively since. He has always believed in the Vatican II concept of ''collegiality'', which assumes that other cardinals and bishops have authority and even some autonomy from the pope. This conviction meant that Benedict was never going to aggressively ''clean house'', felling malefactors with thunderbolts from Peter's chair. Most of his personnel changes have been accomplished through attrition and the normal process of appointment. And yet, the work seems only half-finished. The disgraced ogre of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, (as of now) retains his vote in the next conclave.

Benedict has also walked a precarious middle course, theologically speaking. He has imposed on the Vatican II documents an interpretive tool that he calls ''the hermeneutic of continuity''. He claims that Vatican II was not a break with Catholic tradition at all. This ''hermeneutic'' idea seems to be taking hold in the intellectual life of the church. For example, as part of his effort to make this continuity concept real to everyday Catholics, he liberalised use of the Traditional Latin Mass, though it remains uncommon. He encouraged reform of the new vernacular Mass, in line with the old. But those reforms have been timid and slow.

His drive towards greater Christian unity also prompted him to unilaterally create a space for disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church. But the governance of this ''Anglican Ordinariate'' has hardly any resources, and remains practically grounded. As with the Society of St Pius X, Benedict has outlined a goal but has not seen it through to completion.

A fruitful task for Vaticanologists will be sorting through the frustrations of Pope Benedict XVI. Rumours circulate that his orders were occasionally ''misplaced'' by his top aides. The papacy itself was perhaps an uncomfortable fit for him. If Benedict is leaving his initiatives to a successor, his legacy may be the very fact of his resignation. He was elected to right the ship after a time when it was led by a man nearly incapacitated by illness. Perhaps Benedict feared leaving the church rudderless again. But he leaves his work incomplete.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is national correspondent for the American Conservative.

London ~ Wednesday 27 February 2013

Pope Benedict couldn't see beyond his own vision of the Catholic church

The pope's final speeches show him hubristically constructing a reality in which the church is completely loyal to his teachings

Pope Benedict XVI at his final audience at the Vatican before he steps down. (KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features/KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features)

What did it feel like to be Pope Benedict XVI? In the last week, as he has gone around making his farewells to the clergy of the diocese, and to the wider church outside St Peter's at his final audience this morning, he has given a couple of remarkable glimpses of his world.

The church, he said this morning, is "not an organisation, not an association for religious or humanitarian goals, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. We experience the church in this way and could almost be able to touch it with our hands, the very power of his truth and love is a source of joy, in a time when many people speak of it as in decline."

This was, he says, what the church really is, and he saw it in the "many letters from ordinary people who … do not write to me as they write to a prince or a great [personage] one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters."

This is moving, but also rather worrying. Obviously popes are different, but I would not like to base my sense of family on the letters I get from strangers. And it is hard to read his praise and thanks for the cardinals who run the Vatican when you bear in mind the venomous intrigues, the corruption, and the simple inefficiencies revealed by the Vatileaks correspondence.

Popes are obviously in the business of seeing the reality of the world beyond its appearance. But the reality that Benedict thinks he discerns is always the view from inside a church completely loyal to his teachings. It's obvious that the church of which he is pope is as much an organisation and an association for religious or humanitarian goals as it is a mystical body. And, given that the pope's job is to run the organisation and to inspire the members of the association, it is a bit worrying, a bit like Rowan Williams, that he thinks neither of those aspects deal with anything real. Williams came to regard the institutional side of his job as loathsome but I don't think he ever thought it was an illusion: a nightmare, perhaps, but not just a dream.

The same preference for redefining "reality" to exclude all the nasty bits was even more absurdly on show in his farewell remarks to the clergy of Rome last week, when he contrived to explain away all of the changes that he disliked which stemmed from the second Vatican council as resulting from the "council of the media" rather than the "Council of the Fathers", which was what he remembered attending.

You can blame the media for a lot of things, but Benedict ended up blaming them for the ghastly translations of liturgy into modern languages. That really is grotesque. It was Catholic bishops and their advisers who wrote dull English, and Vatican bureaucrats who made it worse and duller. No doubt Polly Toynbee would have done her damnedest if she'd been asked to help, but this was an entirely self-inflicted wound.

In fact, he went on to blame the "council of the media" for almost everything: it "created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialised … and the true council has struggled to materialise, to be realised: the virtual council was stronger than the real council."

It is already an article of faith among Catholic conservatives that it was the reforms of the council that led to the paedophile crisis.

No doubt Benedict is a personally modest man. But this is a breathtakingly hubristic vision of the church's role and its ability to decide what's real or not. I remember the epitaph of the Bush presidency: "we're an empire now: we create our own reality". I remember, too, how that worked out. Perhaps the epitaph on Benedict's work will be that he really believed the Roman Catholic church could create its own reality.
February 28, 2013

Fascim in the Church: Ex-Priest on "The Pope's War," Clergy Abuse and Quelling Liberation Theology


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As Pope Benedict formally steps down today, speculation mounts over who will become the next pope. On Wednesday, Pope Benedict bid an emotional farewell at his last general audience, saying he understood the gravity of his decision to become the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. The 85-year-old pope cited ill health as the reasons for his departure. Addressing an estimated 150,000 supporters in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict said he is resigning for the good of the church.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: [translated] In these past months, I have felt that my strength has decreased, and I have asked God, earnestly in prayer, to enlighten me and, with His light, make me take the right decision, not for my good, but for the good of the church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its gravity and also its rarity; however, with a profound serenity of spirit. Loving the church also means having the courage to take difficult and anguished choices, always having in mind the good of the church and not oneself.

[in English] I was deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also around the world. The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s church. I will continue to accompany the church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new pope.

AMY GOODMAN: Pope Benedict’s tenure was marked by several scandals, perhaps most notably his handling of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, including allegations he ignored at least one case of abuse while serving as a cardinal. Documents show in 1985, when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, he delayed efforts to defrock a priest convicted of molesting children. Meanwhile, last year he oversaw an assessment from the Vatican that found the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States had, quote, "serious doctrinal problems" because it had challenged the church’s teachings on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, among other things. More recently, Italian news sources say an investigation by three cardinals into leaked Vatican documents show rampant corruption in the Vatican ranks.

For more, we go to San Francisco, where we’re joined by Matthew Fox. He’s the author of over two dozen books, most recently, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved. He’s a former Catholic priest, who was first stopped from teaching liberation theology and creation spirituality by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Fox was then expelled from the Dominican Order, to which he had belonged for 34 years. He currently serves as an Episcopal priest.

Matthew Fox, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you first respond to the pope stepping down, and the significance?

MATTHEW FOX: Well, thank you, Amy and Juan. I really appreciate your journalism. It means a lot to a lot of us.

Yeah, I think I’ll take the pope at his word here when he says he’s tired. I would be tired, too, if I left as much devastation in my wake as he has, first as inquisitor general under the previous pope. He brought the Inquisition back. And it’s true I was one of the theologians expelled by him, but I list 104 others in my book, and it keeps growing, the list keeps growing. So, that’s how history will remember this man, as bringing the Inquisition back, which is completely contrary to the spirit and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which was never to reform the church. So I think he’s stepping down because he can’t take it anymore.

It’s become a viper’s nest there, obviously—the Vatican is. I really think that, as a theologian, I see the Holy Spirit at work in all this. I think that the Catholic Church as we know it, the structure of the Vatican, is passé. We’re moving beyond it. And it’s become a viper’s nest. It’s really sick, what’s going on, obviously—the cover-up of the pedophile priests. And you can see it everywhere: Cardinal Mahony in Los Angeles; this cardinal in Scotland; Cardinal Law, who was elevated after he left Boston, given a promotion, running a fourth century basilica in Rome; and this pope himself, the recent documentary that came out a year—a week or two ago from HBO about how the buck stopped with him. We’re hearing these horrible things that went on at a school for the deaf in Milwaukee, where over 200 boys, deaf boys, were abused by a priest, and Ratzinger knew it. There’s Father Maciel, who was so close to the previous pope that he took him on plane rides with him, abused 20 seminarians, and he had two wives on the side and abused four of his own children, and Ratzinger knew about this man for 10 years. That document was on his desk, and he did nothing until the year 2005.

So, history and cheerleading of popes, what I call papolatry, will not cover up the facts. This has been the most sordid 42 years of Catholic history since the Borgias. And as I say, I think it’s really about ending that church as we know it. I think Protestantism, too, needs a reboot. I think all of Christianity can get back more to the teachings of Jesus, a revolutionary around love and justice. That’s what it’s about. And that’s why there’s been such fierce resistance all along from the right wing. The CIA has been involved in, especially with Pope John Paul II, the decimation of liberation theology all over South America, the replacing of these heroic leaders, including bishops and cardinals, with Opus Dei cardinals and bishops, who are—well, frankly, it’s a fascist organization, Opus Dei is. It’s all about obedience. It’s not about ideas or theology. They haven’t produced one theologian in 40 years. They produce canon lawyers and people who infiltrate where the power is, whether it’s the media, the Supreme Court or the FBI, the CIA, and finance, especially in Europe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to ask you for—

MATTHEW FOX: So, it’s been a very sordid mess that’s been going on.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In some of your writings, you have raised the point of view that both Pope Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul, were actually leading the schism and that, in fact, that they were attempting to overthrow the decisions of the Second Vatican Council. But for many Americans who are no longer familiar, because they’re young, they don’t know about the impact of the Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII, could you give us the broader historical movement that’s occurred here?

MATTHEW FOX: Yes. Pope John XXIII called the council in the early ’60s, and it brought together all the bishops of the world and all the theologians, many of whom had been under fire under the previous papacy, Pope Pius XII. And it definitely was a reform movement, and it gave inspiration to the poor, especially in South America. And after the council, the movement of liberation theology, which had a principle of preferential option for the poor, this really took off, and it created base communities, which was a new way of doing church where everyone had a voice, not just the person at the altar.

And this non-hierarchical, this far more horizontal and circular approach to Christianity and to worship was a big threat, of course, to certain people in Rome, but it was even a bigger threat to the CIA. When Reagan was elected, two months later there was a meeting of his National Security Council in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to discuss one thing: How can we destroy liberation theology in Latin America? And they concluded: We can’t destroy it, but we can divide the church. And so they went after the pope. They gave him lots and lots of cash for solidarity in Poland. And in exchange, they got the permission, if you will, the commitment on the part of the papacy, to destroy liberation theology.

And this is very much documented. It’s actually documented by Carl Bernstein, of all people, in a cover story in Time magazine, where he kind of creates a hagiography of Reagan and the pope together creating so much good. But Bernstein, I think, was very naive about what was really going on in terms of the church itself, because the reform of the church, part of the council was to declare freedom of conscience, and it said every Christian has a right to freedom of conscience. But all that was destroyed by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger.

So, the reforms of the Vatican Council were stuffed. And the reason this is a schism, therefore, is that in the Catholic tradition a council trumps a pope. Popes do not trump councils. For the last 42 years, these two papacies have been undoing all the values that the council stood for. And this is what the sisters are now undergoing. Just as they attacked the 105 theologians, now they’re accusing the sisters of, what should I say, not participating in the Inquisition. And God bless these sisters, who—the Nuns on the Bus. And so many of us know them because they have been on the front lines carrying out the values of Vatican II, especially values of justice and peace work and working with the marginalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Fox, why were you defrocked? Why were you forced out of the Catholic Church? You say it’s because of liberation theology. Explain.

MATTHEW FOX: Well, I was—first, I was silenced for 14 months by Ratzinger, and then I was allowed to speak again, and then, three years later, I was expelled. But he drew up a list of complaints.

Number one was that I was a feminist theologian, he said. I didn’t know that was a heresy.

Number two, I called God "Mother." Well, I proved that all kinds of medieval mystics called God "Mother," and so does the Bible, although not often enough.

Number three, I prefer "original blessing" to "original sin." I wrote a book called Original Blessing, in which I prove that original sin—Jesus never heard of it; no Jews ever heard of it. How can you build a church in the name of Jesus on a concept which is fourth century A.D.—that is, orginal sin? You know what else happened in the fourth century besides original sin ideas is the church inheriting the empire. If you’re going to run an empire, original sin is a real fine dogma to promote, because it makes everyone confused about why they’re here, and so they get in line much more efficiently.

And they accused me of not condemning homosexuals, which of course I do not. Obviously, God intends homosexuals, or there wouldn’t be 8 to 10 percent of our population all over the world with this special grace.

They said I work too closely with Native Americans. Well, I do work closely with Native Americans. I’ve learned so much from Native American teachers and rituals, such as sweat lodges, sun dances, vision quests. I don’t know that that’s a heresy to—I don’t know what working too closely means.

So, those were some of the objections. And really, none of them hold water. They’re really Rorschach tests about what really freaks out the Vatican. And, of course, above all, it’s women and sex. And that is the agenda. Whenever there’s fundamentalism and fascism, it’s about control. That’s why the Vatican, the Taliban and Pat Robertson have this in common: They’re all freaked out by the possibility of bringing the divine feminine back, and with it, of course, the equal rights of women.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the current—the scandals that have been rocking the Vatican and the entire church—obviously the pedophile scandals in recent years, but also the corruption scandals within the Vatican itself—there’s this report that has been produced by a group of cardinals investigating some of the corruption, but they’re not going to release it until the new pope is named. Your sense of whether any of this had to do with the pope’s decision to resign?

MATTHEW FOX: I’m sure it did. I was actually told that when he received the report and looked at it, six hours later he announced he was resigning, and he put it in a safe and said the next pope can deal with this. So, I think it’s pretty clear that there is a connection. But again, it was building up. I mean, as you say, there’s been—and there’s a lot more going on there behind the scenes than the press has yet learned, I can assure you. There’s been so much cover-up.

And when Ratzinger made himself pope, I went to Wittenberg and pounded the 95 Theses the door. And a year-and-a-half ago, I was in Rome, so I translated them into Latin—I mean, Italian, and pounded them at Cardinal Law’s basilica on a Sunday morning. And it was so interesting. A 40-year-old Italian man came up to me, a Roman. He said to me—very simply, he said, "I used to call myself a Catholic. Now I just call myself a Christian." I was very struck by that. Right under the pope’s nose there, Italians, too, are beginning to catch the truth of things, that we’re at a great historic moment. An 1,800-year-old institution in the West is melting before our eyes. And it’s painful. It’s ugly. On the other hand, it’s also a moment for breakthrough and for pushing the restart button on Christianity, returning to the really powerful message of Jesus and His followers throughout the centuries, the mystics and the prophets.

And just hearing your broadcast about Dr. King brings it all back, and this French fellow who stood up to fascism. You know, when my book was translated into German, I got a letter from the translator saying, "I cried many times translating your book," she said, "because my generation" — she’s in her forties — "in Germany was promised, 'Never again, no more fascism.' But your book proves that fascism is back, it’s in the church, especially the German and Polish wing of the church." She said, "Every German has to read this book, whether they’re religious or not." And I think it’s true in America, too, that, like this fellow who died at 95 reminds us, fascism is worth fighting, and it’s worth acknowledging it’s there.

Susan Sontag defines "fascism" institutionalized violence. Catholics have been going through institutionalized violence for 42 years. Ask any of these theologians who have had their jobs ripped away from them. Some of them have died of heart attacks. Some have died of poverty in the streets because they couldn’t get work. But, of course, talk to these young people who were abused by priests, and then the cover-up was put into place by people like Ratzinger, who protected the institution at the expense of every one of these children.

And Jesus has something to say about that: Put a millstone around your neck, and throw yourself in the water. I think that’s what Cardinal Ratzinger’s confessor should tell him to do, in symbolic terms, before he meets his maker. I think he has some reparation to do, at least internally, before he leaves the scene.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Matthew Fox, in terms of the speculation as to who the—who will be the successor to Pope Benedict, obviously there’s a lot of talk about there may be for the first time a pope from the Global South. Do you see any—any possibility for real substantive change in church policy, no matter who the successor is?

MATTHEW FOX: Sadly to say, I do not, because every one of these voters was appointed by Ratzinger or the previous pope with Ratzinger’s approval, so they all think like them. You see, the dumbing down of the church has been what’s really brought about this pedophile crisis, because when you don’t have leaders who are intelligent and with conscience, but only yes men, which is what they’ve been appointing for 42 years, you know, you don’t have intelligent response to crises such as finding a pedophile in your midst. And there’s a North American bishop—I will not name him—archbishop, who 20 years ago wept in the presence of a friend of mine and said to him, "There’s not a single bishop they’ve appointed the last 20 years that I can respect." Well, now we can say the last 42 years.

So, frankly, I think there are a few names that come up. There’s this fellow in Africa, who unfortunately, though, is a complete homophobe, who’s been endorsing all the homophobic violence in African laws lately. So—and he’s head of the peace and justice commission in the Vatican. One would hope it won’t go that far. There is an Austrian cardinal, who is a Dominican, who actually showed a little bit of independence once or twice. There’s this O’Malley from Boston, who’s a Franciscan, and therefore did not—does not want to be pope. And I think that might be a real good criterion, although I don’t know anyone in their mind, at this time in history, who would want to be pope.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Fox, we’re going to leave it there.

MATTHEW FOX: But I don’t think he has a chance, being—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, author of over two dozen books, most recently, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved. Matthew Fox is a former Catholic priest who was first stopped from teaching liberation theology and creation spirituality by Cardinal Ratzinger, then expelled from the Dominican Order to which had belonged for 34 years. He currently serves as an Episcopal priest, speaking to us from San Francisco.
March 2013

Ratzinger’s hard line in Latin America

The papal enforcer

by Maurice Lemoine

The international view of Pope Benedict XVI’s “resignation” has been that, in leaving with “courage and panache”, he is meeting the demands of modernity. However, people in Latin America associate Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, with a great leap backwards.

The archbishop of Recife, Brazil, Dom Hélder Câmara, who embodied the conscience of progressive South American Catholics, said in the 1960s: “When I feed the poor, I’m called a saint; when I ask why they are poor, I’m called a communist.” Poverty, illiteracy, and the marginalisation of tens of millions of people had radicalised many South American Christians and some in the Church hierarchy. Aggiornamento (“bringing up to date”, used to mean a spirit of change) prevailed under Pope John XXIII (1958-63), after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and the encyclical Populorum progressio (1967) that gave Rome’s support to the progressive clergy, especially in Brazil.

The Second Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, was attended by Pope Paul VI. A young Peruvian theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez, presented a report on the theology of development. The idea took hold and the conference’s final document affirmed that the continent was the victim of neocolonialism, “the international imperialism of money” and “internal colonialism” and recognised the need for “urgent, bold and profoundly renewing transformations” (1).

This was the birth of “liberation theology”. A politically committed reading of the Christian gospels posited the existence of collective and structural sin alongside personal sin: society and the economy can cause suffering, poverty and the deaths of countless “brothers and sisters”. In the countryside, working-class neighbourhoods and shantytowns, a generation of clergy took practical, therefore political, action alongside the underprivileged.

The attitude of conservative bishops hardened. There were three centres of resistance: Argentina and Brazil, both run by the military with no objection from the church, and Colombia. There was little surprise when a Colombian, Alfonso López Trujillo, was put in charge of recapturing the ground lost at the Medellín conference. His role was enlarged when, as auxiliary bishop in Bogotá, he was elected secretary-general of CELAM in 1972, then became its president until 1983. From 1973 CELAM’s leaders condemned the “Marxist infiltration” of the church. Liberation theologians insisted that all they took from Marxism was useful concepts ­ belief in the people as architects of their own history; some elements of its socio-economic analysis; an understanding of how the dominant ideology functioned; the reality of social conflict (2). That didn’t stop López Trujillo’s efforts to torpedo liberation theology, and he received significant help from the Vatican.

John-Paul II steps in
After the death of Paul VI, Karol Wojty a, as John-Paul II, presided over the Third Latin American Episcopal Conference in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. Only four countries in the area were not run by military dictatorships. When the bishops confirmed the “preferential option for the poor”, the new pope avoided taking a stance on Latin American tensions. He also refrained from denouncing the dictatorships. Shaped by his experiences in his native Poland, he was fiercely anti-communist and his reading of the South American situation was simplistic. In 1981 he called to Rome a German theologian whom he knew personally, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and made him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Inquisition.

The new ideologue-in-chief, who had just a year’s experience of curacy in a parish in Munich, became López Trujillo’s staunchest supporter and in 1983 invited him to join the Congregation. In the cold war atmosphere, Nicaragua in particular was interpreted according to the “Polish model” and the Church hierarchy was called on to resist the Sandinista regime, which had Christian as well as Marxist roots. An informal partnership was formed between the Vatican and the Reagan administration to combat the “communist threat” in Central America.

In a speech in the Vatican in 1983, Ratzinger’s hostility to liberation theology was unequivocal: “An analysis of the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church” (3). He denounced it as a form of radicalism whose “seriousness is often underestimated, since it does not fit into any of the accepted categories of heresy ... [In this theory] the world must be interpreted in terms of the class struggle ... [the] ‘people’ [are seen as] the antithesis of the hierarchy, the antithesis of all institutions, which are seen as oppressive powers.” The Congregation’s first “Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation” in 1984 is a resounding condemnation of Latin America’s leftwing clergy.

Outrage in Brazil
Ratzinger had previously addressed a document to the Peruvian archbishops on the work of Gustavo Guttiérez and forced him to “revise” his writings with a trial reminiscent of Galileo’s. In 1985, Church, Charisma and Power, a book by the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff, was attacked; he was forbidden to teach or make public statements and was sidelined at the publishing house he ran. This sanction caused outrage in a Brazil, which was emerging from 20 years of military censorship (4).

John-Paul II tried to damp down the fires fuelled by Ratzinger’s diktats. Writing of liberation theology in a letter to his Brazilian bishops in 1986, the pope said it “is not only timely but also useful and necessary”, and went so far as to condemn the new dominant ideology of neoliberal capitalism. Nonetheless, Rome gradually dismantled the gains made at the Medellín conference. Through the appointment of conservative bishops and members of Opus Dei, through the place accorded to movements such as the Neocatechumenal Way, the Legion of Christ, Charismatic Renewal, the Wojty a-Ratzinger partnership strengthened the conservatives. To reduce the influence of pastors considered too controversial, the boundaries of some dioceses, including that of the Brazilian cardinal Evaristo Arns, were redrawn. In 1985 Monsignor José Cardoso was parachuted in by the Roman Curia to replace Dom Hélder Câmara, who had reached retirement age, and soon antagonised nearly all of his clergy and lay activists.

Priests who took part in the Sandinista government were criticised, but not those who collaborated with the Argentinian junta. John-Paul II visited Latin America several times and gave communion to General Pinochet and his wife; when Pinochet was being held in London in 1998, the Chilean cardinal Jorge Medina engaged in “discreet negotiations” to try to secure his release and immediate return to Santiago. These negotiations were supported by López Trujillo and Joseph Ratzinger. But 140 theologians who had tried to put into practice opportunities made possible by the Second Vatican Council suffered disciplinary action during John-Paul II’s papacy.

Benedict XVI told a group of Brazilian prelates in 2009: “The more or less visible consequences of this behaviour, characterised by rebellion, division, discord, offence and anarchy, still endure, producing in your diocesan communities great suffering and a serious loss of vital force...” (5). It seems the Holy Father was not much inclined to forgiveness.

Translated by George Miller

Maurice Lemoine is a journalist.

(1) Latin American Episcopal Conference, L’Eglise dans la transformation actuelle de l’Amérique latine à la lumière du concile Vatican II (The Church’s Role in the Current Transformation of Latin America in the Light of Vatican II), Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1992.

(2) “Théologie de la libération: pourquoi cette méfiance?” (Liberation theology: why the mistrust?), Etudes, Paris, no 3851-21, July-August 1996.

(3) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “ Preliminary Notes” on liberation theology from The Ratzinger Report, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1985.

(4) Leonardo Boff asked to revert to lay status in July 1992.

(5) Vatican Information Service, Rome, 7 December 2009.