Sunday, 11 August 2013


The Dark Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI
Matthew Fox

The pope has chosen to step down, the first pope in seven centuries to do so. As a Christian, I witness his legacy, and that of his predecessor, with profoundly mixed feelings: outrage over the crimes committed against the people of God, and relief that the masks covering the corruption of the papacy have at last been removed.
I see that the 42-year reign of the past two popes has so destroyed the church we once knew that now the Holy Spirit can give birth to a community far more attuned to the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus than the current and dying structures ever could be. More than ever, we recognize the warning of historian Lord Acton after Vatican Council I defined papal infallibility: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
We have witnessed how Cardinal Martini on his deathbed, issued a damning call to actionto a church "200 years behind the times." We have witnessed the retaliation of the past two popes against theologians and pastoral ministers who have dared to dissent for the sake of social justice, eco-justice, gender and gender preference justice: 105 and more have been and continue to be hounded, silenced and expelled.
So as one of these dissidents, speaking now from outside the Vatican's punitive reach, I offer a short list of some of the issues for which history will hold Ratzinger accountable, both as cardinal and as pope (I offer page numbers of my study on his life and papacy in my book, "The Pope's War: How Ratzinger's Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved," to see the backup evidence).
1.       His silence for years about the notorious pedophile priest Father Maciel, who was so close to Pope John Paul II that he was often invited on the papal plane -- and who sexually abused dozens of his seminarians, had two wives on the side and sexually abused his own children. Fr. Maciel was not fully investigated until 2005 even though a New York bishop reported his actions to Ratzinger's office in 1995 (125-130).
2.      His attacks while head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly "Office of the Holy Inquisition") on theologians and pastoral leaders the world over who dared to do their job which is to think (they are listed on page 238-241 but the list keeps growing).
3.      His (and his predecessor's) bringing back the Inquisition and dumbing-down the church, educing theology to 1) a catechism and 2) agreement with the dictates of the pope and his curia. History does not remember Torquemada as a theologian; neither will they remember Ratzinger as one.
4.      His unrelenting attacks on base communities and Liberation Theology even though this movement, like the civil rights movement of the U.S., was the most Christ-like movement for democracy and justice and freedom in centuries (41-62).
5.      His (and the previous pope's) promotion of neo-fascist sects as the new "religious orders," including Opus Dei, which is now embedded in places of great power including the financial headquarters of E.U., the U.S. Supreme Court, the CIA (especially under George Bush the first), FBI and the U.S. mainstream media (106-124).
6.      His and the previous pope's support for extreme right wing groups from Maciel's Legion of Christ to Communion and Liberation to Opus Dei (130-144). Opus Dei members are being placed as bishops and cardinals in Latin America and now in North America: Los Angeles, the biggest North American diocese, is run by an Opus Dei bishop. Likewise the diocese of Kansas City, whose bishop is convicted of covering up for a predatory priest but refuses to step down.
7.      His destroying the integrity of the canonization process by eliminating the role of "devil's advocate" in pointing out the shadow side of the candidate. With this obstacle out of the way, Ratzinger pushed through the canonization of the founder of Opus Dei, Fr. Escriva -- a recognized fascist who praised Hitler -- faster than any saint in history (106-125).
8.      His covering up the scandal of pedophile clergy and putting the image of the Catholic church ahead of the rights of young children in the U.S., in Ireland and elsewhere. The recent HBO film "Mea Maxima Culpa" tells the facts about some of these horrors and how the buck stopped with Ratzinger (134-174).
9.      His public disrespect for other faiths and disavowal of religious ecumenism. Ratzinger as pope managed to insult Islam, Judaism, all Protestant churches (saying they are not churches) and the mind-body-spirit practice of yoga. As cardinal he presaged this anti-ecumenical attitude, unbelievably calling the globally revered Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, "the anti-Christ" (260).
10.   His absolute reaffirmation of a "morality" of sexism (no women priests ever; Catholic sisters in America are now being subjected to inquisitions as theologians have been; priests who support women are dismissed -- but pedophile priests are not!).
11.    His un-Christlike diatribes against gay persons, borne out in not one but two documents: his ignoring scientific research on homosexuality has created another Galileo moment in church history.
12.   His irresponsible positions against condoms even in an age of AIDS and against birth control in a time of excessive human population on a crowded planet. His positions on sexuality are all about St. Augustine's antiquated ethics and not anything Jesus ever taught.
13.   His interference in the presidential election of 2004, wherein Ratzinger instructed American bishops that any "Catholic politician" (i.e. Kerry) who did not denounce gays and abortion could not receive communion. This resulted in three states having very unusual Republican votes from Catholics -- if just one of them had had a more normal Catholic vote, Kerry, not Bush, would have been president.

With such a track record as this, Father Ratzinger is right to retire. Unfortunately, because he and his predecessor appointed only yes men as cardinals, one should not expect any improvement in the next pope.
Instead, we should recognize that history has passed the papacy by. Now is the time for the Holy Spirit to push the restart button on Christianity -- both Catholic and Protestant versions -- so as to strip down to the essence of Jesus' teaching and the Cosmic Christ tradition.

Christianity can be rebuilt without basilicas on our backs but mere backpacks. Travel lightly. Walk humbly. Do justice. And peace will follow.


  1. Probing the enduring legacy of Benedict XVI, good and bad

    Over the next few weeks and beyond we can expect to see a lot about the legacy of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Indeed much is already emerging. For example, as noted here and here, the statements issued by Orthodox and Protestant leaders suggest a pontificate that has seen a strong development in authentic ecumenism. An article released by Vatican Radio highlights what so many of us see as one of the great marks of the Benedictine pontificate, his teaching on and celebration of the liturgy. After Benedict the liturgical cat is out of the bag and there will be no putting it back. Indeed, who can forget his last Ash Wednesday Mass, hard in the wake of his stunning announcement, when having briefly indulged spontaneous and heart-felt applause from the congregation, he reminded us all of what should always inform our liturgy – a focus on God not man: “Thank you.Now let us return to prayer”.

    Another aspect largely unrecognised is Pope Benedict’s cleaning up of the episcopal college. He has sacked several bishops, most spectacularly the lamentable Bishop Morris of Toowoomba, Australia. But it seems he did a lot more behind the scenes, confronting bishops who were grossly mismanaging their dioceses and convincing them to resign. By the very nature of things, it is a legacy that will not be open to the public gaze, but it may prove real enough in time.

    Yet it strikes me that there are two aspects of this pontificate that need to be more carefully examined by those more competent than I.

    One emerges from the course of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, the other from its end, yet even the former has a clear marker in the days following the announcement of abdication. One is positive, the other negative (though it pains me to say so).

  2. From the outset of his pontificate Pope Benedict signalled that the Second Vatican Council needed to be re-appraised. His comments did not arise from any deep-seated dissatisfaction with the Council itself, but with its subsequent interpretation and application. For Benedict, as for anyone who knows even a little about the Church the growth of its Christian life, the Council could never have marked a point at which it could be said “Everything has changed, it is a revolution in the Church, we are leaving behind all the outdated baggage and becoming relevant to the modern world”. This attitude, which so many of us have experienced, he saw as revealing an interpretation of the Council through the lens of radical change, or the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture“. But the Pope made it clear that this was not an only an inadequate interpretation of the Council; it was to misunderstand it. Instead, the only valid way to interpret and apply the texts of the Council (as opposed to the nebulous and shape-changing “spirit” of the Council) was through the “hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in …continuity”. The Council operated within the historical faith it had received, developing it organically according to the perceived needs of the day. It did not rewrite the Church’s constitution.

    At the end of his pontificate Pope Benedict returned to the theme of the Council in his address to the clergy and seminarians of Rome on 14 February, a few days after his announcement. Extempore, he gave “a few thoughts on the Second Vatican Council, as I saw it.” He spoke of the “Rhine Alliance” that came to the Council with a clear agenda to be addressed: liturgy, ecclesiology, revelation and ecumenism. The liturgy was the starting point, the first document in fact, and Pope Benedict saw this is as exactly right:

    I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin with the liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration. “Operi Dei nihil praeponatur“: this phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. 43:3 [- "prefer nothing to the work of God"]) thus emerges as the supreme rule of the Council.

    Here is not the place to examine his speech in great detail, though it must be and will be here. But suffice it to go to his closing remarks, in which we find the words which reveal his legacy as he sees it. He spoke of there being, in practice, two Councils: the Vatican “Council of the Fathers” that debated and enacted the conciliar documents, and the Vatican “Council of the media”.

    I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers – the real Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council apart, and the world perceived the Council through the latter, through the media. Thus, the Council that reached the people with immediate effect was that of the media, not that of the Fathers.

  3. The liturgical legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. I would say he has changed the liturgical landscape. Of course, there is still a long way to go in many countries in the re-sacralisation of the liturgy, and liturgical abuses still abound. But he has laid the foundations for a genuine reform, and this movement is, I would say, irreversible.

    As to his resignation setting a precedent for the next pope, and future popes, I am sure he has thought of this. I can see the dangers, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that a future pope need feel under presure to resign merely because Pope Benedict felt it the best thing to do in his case. I suppose it depends on who is applying the pressure, and how they go about it ! Overwhelming a pope with paperwork and filling his diary with too many engagements would be an effective tactic. It should be easier to cope with media pressure.

    Of course, the Curia should be there to assist the pope, not to add o the stresses and strains of his office. This why I think the new pope will need to reform the Curia, root and branch. In this he will have to be a lion, not a lamb. God help him.

    As to the more or less unprecedented situation of having a retired pope livng almost cheek by jowl with a reigning pope, I feel sure Benedict XVI will be a model of how a pope-emeritus should behave ! God bless him.

    Pax et bonum.

  4. Benedict XVI is a good man but a poor pope. His resignation shakes something of the foundations of the world.

    "The Pope, how many divisions does he have?" the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once mocked.

    But the papacy is still alive and strong while Soviet communism resides in the dustbin of history.

    Benedict was always going to have a hard time following in the footsteps of John Paul II, the most charismatic, and perhaps the most influential, pope in the 20th century.

    But he disappointed even his closest supporters.

    He was a fine theologian and a gifted teacher but a truly terrible administrator, with little sense of how to marshal the vast but disparate resources which the papacy commands.

    One of the key figures in his election as pope seven years ago was Australia's Cardinal George Pell.

    Pell is unique in the history of Australian Catholicism.

    There have been hugely influential Australian church leaders before, such as the controversial Daniel Mannix, archbishop of Melbourne for several decades.

    And there have been a few Australian cardinals who have become influential inside the Vatican.

    Pell is a unique combination of both roles.

    He played a role in Benedict's election and is bound to play an important role in the election of the next pope.

    He could easily end up as the Vatican secretary of state. There could even be some votes for Pell as pope himself.

    But that remains to be seen.

    Benedict deserves praise for the courage of his resignation, surely the most difficult, and in a sense radical, decision of his life.

  5. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned his Rottweiler nickname by silencing and firing Catholic academics who questioned dogma. But the abuse of children seems to have drawn no similar ire. When he was archbishop in Munich in 1979 a convicted pedophile priest was assigned to his jurisdiction, given some therapy, then sent back out to a parish where he molested children again. Documents from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, obtained by The New York Times, show that in the late 1990s -Ratzinger declined to defrock Lawrence C. Murphy, an aged priest known to have molested about 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin from 1950 to 1974.

    One reason Ratzinger may not have recognized the human trauma in these cases is that his experience with actual humanity is so narrow. He has spent almost his entire life in the rarefied world of academia in Germany or the antique corridors of power in Rome. "He was a priest in a parish for one year," says the Rev. Thomas Rausch, a Jesuit professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University. "I'm worried that he doesn't have more direct pastoral experience."

    For such a man, the desire to protect fellow clerics can be so deep as to be instinctive: the Vatican's bureaucratic elite, the Curia, is perhaps history's first old boys' club. "It's a culture of secrecy and hierarchy and doing what you're told," says Peter Manseau, author of Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son.

  6. Some close observers believe not only that Benedict has the ability to change, but that he's already done so. John Allen, the respected Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, argues that by the time Ratzinger became pontiff in 2005 he had been transformed by the weight of evidence he'd seen about child abuse in the church. "As pope," Allen writes, "Benedict XVI became a Catholic Eliot Ness," disciplining Vatican favorites once regarded as untouchable—like Marcial Maciel, the founder of the conservative Legion of Christ, who allegedly drugged boys in order to rape them.

    Yet Maciel was allowed to live out his years in quiet contemplation, rather than being prosecuted. Most outside observers agree that the current crisis calls for far more dramatic measures—a systemic review of the world's dioceses, and an explicit articulation and enforcement of penalties. (This has been done well in many places, including the United States.) What's needed, really, is a new vision for a church that is more human. Is Benedict the man to provide that? Alas, probably not.

  7. Spare me any more reverential coverage about Pope Benedict XVI and his decision to give up his office. On a personal level, I wish him well. At the age of eighty-five and increasingly infirm, he surely deserves a rest. But as far as his record goes, he can’t leave office a moment too soon. His lengthy tenure at the Vatican, which included more than twenty years as the Catholic Church’s chief theological enforcer before he became Pope, in 2005, has been little short of disastrous. By setting its face against the modern world in general, and by dragging its feet in response to one of the worst scandals since the Reformation, Benedict’s Vatican has called the Church’s future into question, needlessly alienating countless people around the world who were brought up in its teachings.

    Not that it matters much, but you can count me among them. When I was a boy, in Leeds, West Yorkshire, the nuns at Sacred Heart Primary School taught my classmates and me the New Testament from slim paperbacks with embossed navy-blue covers. We each got four of them: “The Good News According to Luke,” The Good News According to Matthew,” “The Good News According to Mark,” and “The Good News According to John.” Of the four gospels, the most thumbed, by far, were those of Luke, which contains many of Jesus’s parables, and Matthew, which features the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…”

    It was the early seventies, an era of hope and optimism for many Catholics. Following the lengthy Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII in 1959, the Church had made a determined effort to modernize some of its doctrines and practices. Masses, which for many centuries had been confined to Latin, were now celebrated in other languages. Priests, who traditionally faced the altar during services, had been instructed to face their congregations and invite them to participate. In place of a stultifying focus on ancient dogmas and ceremonies, there was a return to the actual teachings of Jesus, which were being interpreted in increasingly liberal and egalitarian ways, as evidenced by the words of a popular folk hymn we used to sing, a few lines of which I recount from memory:

    He sent me to give the Good News to the poor.
    Tell prisoners that they are prisoners no more.
    Tell blind people that they can see,
    And set the downtrodden free.

  8. After John Paul died, in 2005, and Ratzinger took over, the conservative counter-offensive continued. Indeed, it intensified. The Vatican eased restrictions on the Latin Mass and invited back into the Church some excommunicated members of the Society of Saint Pius X, an ultra-conservative group dedicated to reversing the Second Vatican Council. (One member of the group, an English bishop called Richard Williamson, turned out to be a Holocaust denier. Last year, belatedly, the Society expelled him.) In criticizing the “culture of relativism” in modern societies, and “the anarchic freedom that wrongly passes for true freedom,” Benedict made clear that he saw his primary mission not as extending and enlarging the Catholic Church but as purifying it, by which he didn’t just mean dealing with the child-abuse scandal. He meant casting off extraneous growths and getting the Church back to what he saw as its proper roots. If this process alienated some current and former members of the faith, so be it. Benedict said numerous times that the Church might well be healthier if it was smaller.

  9. After John Paul died, in 2005, and Ratzinger took over, the conservative counter-offensive continued. Indeed, it intensified. The Vatican eased restrictions on the Latin Mass and invited back into the Church some excommunicated members of the Society of Saint Pius X, an ultra-conservative group dedicated to reversing the Second Vatican Council. (One member of the group, an English bishop called Richard Williamson, turned out to be a Holocaust denier. Last year, belatedly, the Society expelled him.) In criticizing the “culture of relativism” in modern societies, and “the anarchic freedom that wrongly passes for true freedom,” Benedict made clear that he saw his primary mission not as extending and enlarging the Catholic Church but as purifying it, by which he didn’t just mean dealing with the child-abuse scandal. He meant casting off extraneous growths and getting the Church back to what he saw as its proper roots. If this process alienated some current and former members of the faith, so be it. Benedict said numerous times that the Church might well be healthier if it was smaller.

  10. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said.

    “It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than' and a ‘worse than'. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

    The Pope said abuse revelations in 2010 reached “an unimaginable dimension” which brought “humiliation” on the Church.

    Asking how abuse exploded within the Church, the Pontiff called on senior clerics “to repair as much as possible the injustices that occurred” and to help victims heal through a better presentation of the Christian message.

    “We cannot remain silent about the context of these times in which these events have come to light,” he said, citing the growth of child pornography “that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society” he said.

    But outraged Dublin victim Andrew Madden last night insisted that child abuse was not considered normal in the company he kept.

    Mr Madden accused the Pope of not knowing that child pornography was the viewing of images of children being sexually abused, and should be named as such.

    He said: “That is not normal. I don't know what company the Pope has been keeping for the past 50 years.”

    Pope Benedict also said sex tourism in the Third World was “threatening an entire generation”.

    Angry abuse victims in America last night said that while some Church officials have blamed the liberalism of the 1960s for the Church's sex abuse scandals and cover-up catastrophes, Pope Benedict had come up with a new theory of blaming the 1970s.

    “Catholics should be embarrassed to hear their Pope talk again and again about abuse while doing little or nothing to stop it and to mischaracterise this heinous crisis,” said Barbara Blaine, the head of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,

    “It is fundamentally disturbing to watch a brilliant man so conveniently misdiagnose a horrific scandal,” she added.

    “The Pope insists on talking about a vague ‘broader context' he can't control, while ignoring the clear ‘broader context' he can influence — the long-standing and unhealthy culture of a rigid, secretive, all-male Church hierarchy fixated on self-preservation at all costs. This is the ‘context’ that matters.”

    The latest controversy comes as the German magazine Der Spiegel continues to investigate the Pope's role in allowing a known paedophile priest to work with children in the early 1980s.

  11. 9 Things You Should Know About Pope Benedict XVI

    1. Benedict is the 265th pope and the first to resign in over 600 years.

    2. Benedict XVI was elected pope at the age of 78. He is the fifth oldest person to have been elected pope (the other four were 79 at the time of their election).

    3. Born Joseph Ratzinger, he was six years old when the Nazis came to power in his native land of Germany. Although his family was staunchly anti-Nazi, he briefly was forced—like all German teens—to join the Hitler Youth. In 1943, while still in seminary, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer (air force child soldier) though he deserted two years later without having fired a shot. In 1945, after his desertion, he was recognized as a German soldier by the Americans and sent to a prisoner of war camp near his hometown. He was released a few months later and returned to seminary.

    4. After being ordained as a Catholic priest in 1951, Ratzinger became an academic theologian. He had a long career as an academic, serving as a professor of theology at several German universities, before being appointed a cardinal in 1977. Prior to the promotion Ratzinger had relatively little pastoral experience.

    5. In 1976, he suggested that the Augsburg Confession, the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran Church and one of the most important documents of the Lutheran reformation, might possibly be recognised as a Catholic statement of faith. He later backed off this position because of differences between Catholics and Lutherans on the understanding of justification.

    6. In 2001, Ratzinger convinced John Paul II to put Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the Vatican office that Ratzinger oversaw—in charge of all investigations and policies surrounding sexual abuse in order to combat such abuse more efficiently. By all accounts, Ratzinger was punctilious about studying the files, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse. As a result, he acquired a familiarity with the contours of the problem that virtually no other figure in the Catholic church can claim.

    Driven by that encounter with what he would later refer to as "filth" in the church, Ratzinger seems to have undergone something of a "conversion experience" throughout 2003-04. From that point forward, he and his staff seemed driven by a convert's zeal to clean up the mess.

    Of the 500-plus cases that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with prior to Benedict's election to the papacy, the substantial majority were returned to the local bishop authorizing immediate action against the accused priest -- no canonical trial, no lengthy process, just swift removal from ministry and, often, expulsion from the priesthood. In a more limited number of cases, the congregation asked for a canonical trial, and in a few cases the congregation ordered the priest reinstated.

    7. During his time as a cardinal, Ratzinger's liberal Catholic critics dubbed him "God's Rottweiler" because of conservatives positions and actions such as his denunciation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, his disciplining of Latin American liberation theologians, and his censure of Asian priests who viewed non-Christian religions as part of God's plan for humanity.

    8. Ratzinger is the author of 66 books. His first book was published in 1966 and his most recent in 2012.

    9. Ratzinger didn't really want to be pope. In 1997, at the age of 70, he asked Pope John Paul II for permission to become an archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives and a librarian in the Vatican Library, but the pope refused. At the time of his election to pope, Ratzinger had hoped to retire peacefully and said that "At a certain point, I prayed to God 'please don't do this to me' . . . Evidently, this time He didn't listen to me."

  12. "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." -- Jimi Hendrix

    In the meantime we all live in hope that the day will come when men/women of faith actually live up to their calling. The pain, suffering, and distress that is caused by so many is immeasurable. We would all do well to remember the words of John XXIII: " must never confuse error and the person who errs, not even when there is question of error or inadequate knowledge of truth in the moral or religious field. The person who errs is always and above all a human being, and he retains in every case his dignity as a human person; and he must be always regarded and treated in accordance with that lofty dignity."(Pacem in Terris) Put aside the dogmas and the theological comeuppances and remember that we all are the children of God. Treat everyone one meets with genuine love and respect.

    "Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of the pleasures; costs nothing and conveys much. It pleases him who gives and him who receives, and thus, like mercy, it is twice blessed." -- Erastus Wiman

    A good book for all to read: Towards The True Kinship Of Faiths --His Holiness The Dalai Lama


  13. The egomaniac Pat Buckley strikes again!