Today marks the fifth anniversary of the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. The new pope was elected amid an outpouring of grief for the late Pope John Paul II. Indeed, at John Paul’s funeral, and the installation of Pope Benedict as the new pope, there were cries of Santo subito. Many point to his speech the day before the conclave began, in his capacity as dean of the College of Cardinals, in which he addressed his fellow electors to stem the “dictatorship of relativism”. It is not hard to believe that this assertion of doctrine was enough to convince his fellow electors that he was the man to guide the Church for a brief period until a more serious longer term successor could be elected. In choosing the name “Benedict”, Ratzinger asserted his goal to restore Christianity to Europe and end much of what he sees as the slide into moral chaos that has enveloped the continent.
It has recently been revealed that the Legion of Christ, which claims almost 800 priests, 1,300 seminarians and a lay movement consisting of almost 70,000 members, was close to a number of John Paul’s keys aides, including Angelo Cardinal Sodano and Eduardo Cardinal Martínez Somalo. The Vatican has just finished an apostolic visistation of the Legion and the late Marcial Maciel Degllado, who is known to have fathered at least one child and is thought to have “used large sums of money in order to buy influence with senior Vatican officials”. The Legion constitution included the highly controversial Private Vows, by which each Legionary swore never to speak ill of Maciel, or the superiors, and to report to them anyone who uttered criticism.
Interestingly, “Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was said to have refused an envelope of cash after giving a speech to the Legion”. It is this duality that is seen again and again during the papacy of Benedict. Many are calling on Cardinal Sodano to resign his, largely cermonial position, of dean of the College of Cardinals after the true extend of his close ties to the orgainisation have been revealed.
In 2006, as Benedict, he banished Maciel from ministry to a “life of prayer and penitence.” Maciel left Rome in disgrace, though the Legionaries mounted a defense of his innocence.
These contrasts continue as the Papacy of Benedict XVI continues. It seems a small point but after his election, his coat of arms was released and sadly it was drawn without the papal tiara that had been on all papal coats of arms until Benedict’s election. However, Benedict has restored much of the previously lapsed papal customs.
In January 2006 his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is love) was published. It was a masterstroke in PR, even though that might necessarily have been the aim at all. To go from “God’s rotweiller” to extolling the virtue of the love of God was quite a turnaround, and coupled with his more humble coat of arms the initial expectations were interesting, to say the least.
March 2006, led to Benedict’s first consistory in which he created 15 new cardinals, 12 of whom are electors, among them were his successor at the CDF, William Cardinal Levada, Carlo Cardinal Caffara, archbishop of Bologa and the youngest creation of his first consistory, the current prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, formerly archbishop of Toledo and primate of Spain, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, both former CDF staffers. Also notable among the new cardinals was the archbishop of Kraków and former JPII confidente, Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz.
Then on 12 September 2006, Benedict delivered a lecture which made a passing reference to Islam at the University of Regensburg. The global media storm that ensued led to what comprised of the Vatican’s PR machine to go into overdrive in an attempt to limit the damage to inter-faith relations. This would not be the first time the the Pontiff would have to backtrack, if not apologise for his actions, indeed, to some, it would set in motion a pattern that would be repeated throughtout his papacy and would be one of the many differences between Benedict and John Paul.
After discussions which had been going on for months, on 7 July 2007, Benedict issued the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. This was perhaps his most important action up to this point in his papacy. On his own initiative he loosened the restrictions on the stunning Tridentine Mass that had been in place since the 1988 motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei and made it so that any priest could celebrate it without the permission of his ordinary. This would be another repeating thread in Benedict’s papacy, outreach to Traditionalist Catholics, as well as other like minded Christians. By loosening the restrictions on celebration of the Latin Mass, Benedict hoped to show that he desired union between Rome and the Society of Saint Pius X. Indeed, Benedict in August 2005, met the Superior General of the Society, Bernard Fellay to discuss the schism that has been in place since 1988. Just going on the number of curialists in Rome who now celebrate the Latin Mass, must surely give us a clue as to the direction Benedict wants to proceed.
Benedict held another consistory on 24 November 2007, where he created 38 cardinals, 33 of whom are electors. The list included, future papabile, Angelo Cardinal Comastri, archpriest of the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vicar General of His Holiness for the State of Vatican City, and president of the Fabric of St. Peter’s, Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo, whom it is thought, Cardinal Sodano wished to see as his replacement as secretary of State, and perhaps most notably, Daniel Nicholas Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston. Benedict in a nod recognised the substantial growth of the Catholic population in the traditionally heavily Protestant, American south, which was recently followed up by appointing Jose Horacio Gomez as the coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles.
Pope Benedict’s second encyclical titled Spe Salvi (“Saved by Hope”), about the virtue of hope, was released on 30 November 2007.
In only his second trip outside Europe to the United States in April 2008, Benedict met with victims of clerical abuse. It was not on the official programme of events and was done quietly without press attending but his willingness to meet abuse victims was admirable as it showed some admittance of guilt and acknolwedged the pain that has been caused by the Church to many people over the last fifty years. The trend would be repeated when he apologise to victims in Australia during World Youth Day celebrations in July of 2008. The trend was repeated most recently in April 2010 when he met abuse victims on his trip to Malta.
On 22 December 2008 in his Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, Benedict spoke and yet again there was a media storm, this time however, it was largely invented. The media accused Benedict of asserting that to save the world heterosexuality was the only option available to man. In fact, homosexuality, or indeed, heterosexuality were never mentioned specifically in the speech and much of the crisis, was for once not in the fault of Rome. However, the fact that the media invented the story, and that it was so widely believed, shows how little credibility the Vatican has left.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere with very little warning, Benedict, on 21 January 2009, lifted the excommunications of the four “bishops” of the SSPX. The decree was published on 24 Janunary. By doing this, Benedict sparked off another media storm, sound familiar? This time however it was not entirely his fault. The event would have gone virtually unnoticed had Richard Williamson not denied the Holocaust days before on Swedish television. The Vatican expressed surprise at the views held by Williamson but they were easily available on the internet. Again the Vatican press machine lumbered into the action. Eventually Williamson gave a half hearted apology and was dismissed from his position as rector of the SSPX seminary in Argentina by Fellay. Last know reports place him somewhere in London. At the heart of this was Benedict’s desire to unite this wing of the Church and so end the only major schism left in the Church.
The whole point of this however was so that Benedict could place the ball in the SSPX court as it were and see how willing they were willing to go in re-joining the Church. The upshot of this is talks which have been going on since October 2009. The fundamental points being raised is that of religious liberty, and crucially, the importance of Vatican II, both the liturgical reforms as well as how the Church engages with the world from everything to inter-religious dialogue to talking to atheists and Jews as well as other issues.
His third encyclical titled Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth” or “Charity in Truth”), was signed on 29 June 2009 and released on 7 July 2009. In it, the Pope continued the Church’s teachings on social justice. He condemned the economic system that almost lead to collapse of the economic as we know it. Benedict said that the system showed that “the pernicious effects of sin are evident,” and called on people to rediscover ethics in business.
In Anglicanorum coetibus of 9 November 2009, (Groups of Anglicans) Benedict allowed for Anglicans who disagreed with what they saw as the drift in the Anglican Communion, to join the Latin Rite Catholic Church. This has been written about before but it is enough to say that this has caused much upset amongst those who feel that this is a dramatic retardation of the progress that was made under his predecessor. Whether this image is correct or not, however, is a different question. Yet, it is significant that such a document under be issued under Benedict, rather than JPII. Whether it will advance the long term cause of Christian unity is beyond the remit, or scale of this anyalsis in both knowledge, and time span. Some see the apostolic constitition as a pastoral solution to those who wished to leave the Anglican Communion and join the Catholic Church, while others see it as an ecumenical issue that will take years to recover from.
On a side note, with the impending retirement of Walter Cardinal Kasper as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, it will be interesting to see who Benedict chooses as Cardinal Kasper’s successor. Among the names are Bishop Kurt Kock of Basel, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mulller of Regensburg, or the more liberally orientented Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti – Vasto but my guess is that we’re in for a Teutonic PCPCU president.
Finally, there is the current issue of the abuse crisis, which Benedict has been personally implicated in, when a priest from incardidated in the diocese of Essen, came the the diocese of Munich to seek psychiatric therapy for sexually abusing minors. Fr. Gerhard Gruber, who at the time served as Ratzinger’s vicar general in the Munich diocese said that he and he alone was involved in the transfer of Hullermann into the diocese of Munich. However, it is extremely doubtful that such an action was possible without the local ordinary being at least aware of the basic details of the transfer. However when Hullermann resumed his pastoral care work among children to believe that Cardinal Ratzinger was not aware was laughable. Indeed, the New York Times reported on 24 March 2010 that Ratzinger had been copied on Gruber’s memo, and the archdiocese confirmed that Ratzinger’s office had received a copy. Worst of all in a lame attempt to correct what should have been done decades ago, Hullermann was suspended from active ministry on 14 March 2010. It was recently revealed that Gruber took the fall for Benedict, after he was “begged” by Church authorities.
Not only that, but he seems to have, during his time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document, De delictis gravioribus which says that it “reserved to the CDF the processing of clerical sex abuse cases not in order to ‘cover up’ the accusations, but to ensure they were acted on — and, where guilt was proved, to speed the laicisation of abusing priests.”
How successful and why this has been is another matter.
In response to the Irish Ryan and Murphy reports, investigating clerical child sex abuse in both schools and the diocese of Dublin respectively, Benedict wrote a letter to Irish Catholics in which he attempted to blame secularisation and Vatican II, amongst other things for the reasons for the abuse of the Church. The letter is dealt with in detail in a separate entry. He had previously met with all of Ireland’s active bishops en bloc and despite much acticipation from the press, little was achieved. There was a sense that too little was being done too late in the process to countance any proper change. Interestingly, some of the bishops who have handed in their resigations over the abuse scandal in Ireland, including, James Moriarty, bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, as well as two Dublin auxiliaries, Ray Field and Eamon Walsh have yet to have their resignations accepted by the Pope.
The fact that he thought it necessary to write a specific letter shows that things are not quite as bad as they may seem. Benedict, like most of us, seems to be split between an acknowledgement of the problem, though stopping short of fixing it, and sometimes at the same time as trying to solve it, burying his head in the sand.
Who knows what the next five years will bring. I can only feel sorry for a man who, at 83, must lead a Church when in reality it is a job for a man half his age. It seems however that things will get worse before it gets better both for Benedict and for the lay faithful.