Views on Benedict XVI

The news came out yesterday that the See of Rome will be vacant as from the end of this month and there will be a conclave to elect a new Pope. The bookmakers are taking bets and calculating probabilities, based on I don’t know what expert advice or data. We know that Benedict XVI intends to retire into a life of prayer and study. Will he spend the rest of his life in the old Vatican nunnery we read about or return to Germany? At this point, speculation is unhealthy and idle, and will do none of us any good.

What is still interesting me is to read informed viewpoints, not only from those who applaud every gesture of Benedict XVI, but also those with a more critical viewpoint. Other than the racaille calling out for same-sex marriage and women cardinals, there are some sensitive spirits around. I already quoted Damian Thompson who is a respected journalist and a devout Roman Catholic. The American journalist Rod Dreher has written Viewpoint: Benedict a disappointing leader in troubled times in our very mainstream BBC news. Former Catholic? I bristled, wondering whether he was now a militant atheist. No, originally a Methodist, he converted to Roman Catholicism, and again to Orthodoxy – a traditionally-minded Christian likely to have a more interesting critical viewpoint than many in his profession.

The real issue in the Church, the elephant in the room, has been, since the pontificate of John Paul II and before, clericalism. That would be, in this journalist’s analysis and that of many others, the underlying cause of the complicity by silence of just about the entire clerical caste in the sexual abuse of children by priests. The present Pope saw the extent of the disease whilst he was yet at the CDF under the dying John Paul II. There was no end to it. Whilst John Paul II was alive, next to nothing could be done about it.

Back in April 2005, the sclerosis seemed to be at an end with the Pope’s death, and it seemed that the only thing to do was to abandon the Church of Europe and America to its fate and base a new effort of renewal on the Church in Africa and South America. Let Islam or Big Brother have Europe – and good night! Then Cardinal Ratzinger was elected. I had not yet joined the TAC and I lived on my own in western France as a vagante priest. Would reconciliation be possible with a Church more concerned with “restoration” than the status quo of the clerical bureaucracy? I welcomed Benedict XVI, but quickly saw that anything positive would take decades and longer than our lifetimes. We began to read on the blogs “the Pope of unity” – but “brick by brick“. This great theologian would continue to inspire us by his writings as an intellectual, but he would try to govern by persuasion than constraint. I agreed, as I was already through with the conservatives who wanted everyone to suffer except themselves, rather like those who want the end of the world but at the same time to survive it.

I was already far from the RC Church. I lived in my house in the Vendée, did my translation work and ministered to those traditionalist Catholics who were not concerned about my not being ordained by as kosher a bishop as others would prefer. I was far from it all but connected by Internet, and I had a kind of “blog” on my website called Ramblings of an Unchurched Cleric. Day after day, I looked at the Vatican watching blogs, especially Father Zuhlsdorf’s entries between feeding wild birds and Italian cooking, reminding me of an Austrian priest I knew in Rome in the 1980’s, Fr Gregor Hesse.

I noticed that the traditionalists and conservatives hung onto every word of the new Pontiff, and quite frankly projecting their wishful thinking onto what he was actually doing. Benedict XVI has been for a reform of the reform, allowing the old liturgy for those who want it – but we have to remember that he and Cardinal Ottaviani thought differently at Vatican II in terms of theology and the clash between the ressourcement theologians and neo-Thomist scholasticism. The vision of Benedict XVI is radically incompatible with that of the Society of St Pius X and the old Roman School it seeks to restore and perpetuate. The differences reveal the same dead end as under Paul VI in the 1970’s.

Rod Dreher describes his feeling as one of disappointment. What happened between Summorum Pontificium, Anglicanorum coetibus and the appointment of Archbishop Müller to the CDF after the just as enigmatic and paedophilia cover-up tainted Cardinal Levada? I remember a film with Harrison Ford addressing the American President, and the latter enticing the character Harrison Ford was playing, saying that he “had a chip in the big game”, the old Potomac Two-step. One dances from one foot to another, without principles or coherence, merely as a political strategy. I have had my suspicions that Benedict XVI was a profound cynic. How does one get into the most powerful position in the Church and then become Pope without being like most politicians? The way Anglicanorum coetibus was implemented was deceitful and messy. Of course the conservatives would say that was all part of God’s will and that the arrangement is perfect. It destroyed Archbishop John Hepworth, rooted out those who had received orders in the RC Church (as was written in Levada’s Complementary Norms)  and seems to have taken in a small number of TAC clerics and laity, just as long as they had never had any previous RC involvement. I am happy to see the success of the Ordinariate in Canada and the USA. Australia seems to be doing well, and the English one has taken on a few TAC men. As Deborah Gyapong and I discussed in 2010 and 2011, the whole thing was outsourced to men without the least sympathy for what had seemed to be the vision of Benedict XVI.

I don’t think the Pope is a cynic, but his advisers are!

Frankly, we seem to have seen quite a few half-finished and botched jobs, presumably because someone said to the Pope “You can’t do that. We’re not allowing it“. For Benedict XVI in 2005, it was a raw deal. No one could satisfy anyone, for the same man would be too conservative for the liberals and to “modernist” for the conservatives and traditionalists. Who in 2005 could have done better?

The real obstacle was certainly the Vatican bureaucracy. I tend not to believe in conspiracies. No one forced Benedict to abdicate, but they might have told him that he would henceforth be no more that a rubber-stamper for the bureaucracy. Who would want to continue being Pope in those conditions? Note that he was never able to undertake a real reform of the Roman Curia since the Animal Farm pigs took over under Paul VI and John Paul II. The poor man probably “saved his soul” by resigning. We can only hope that Boniface X or whoever it’s going to be isn’t going to put his predecessor into Paolo Gabrieli’s old dungeon cell and make him die of disease and starvation!

What could have been done by the sex abuse crisis? We know what most of the liberal journalists would say – make the RC Church a worldwide clone of ECUSA under Ms Schori! My answer to that would be completely unexpected. The problem of both Rome and ECUSA is clericalism. How do you deal with clericalism? Get rid of priests and bishops? Clericalism is not a problem only with priests but with any elite that considers itself as above the norms of the rest of humanity. I sometimes find lawyers and surgeons more clerical than priests I know – when they are arrogant, unaccountable to anyone, and maintain their power through secrecy and intrigue.

In order to deal with priests who rape and bugger children, you have to break down clericalism, the mechanisms protecting the guilty. I know what the clerical game is like. When I last wrote about my experience in seminary, I mentioned that we were trained in clericalism and the art of using secrets and secretiveness to gain power over others. Secrecy is a cult, and not merely for the protection of persons who have confided their sins to a priest as they confide their physical ills to a doctor and the injustices committed against them to a lawyer. The cult of secrecy goes much further and serves clerical power for its own sake.

I was just a few years in seminary and just a few years in country parishes, but Benedict XVI has been in it up to his neck since the 1940’s when he went to seminary.

What next? Logically, they could make Bishop Fellay a cardinal and elect him, putting the SSPX in the position the Jesuits occupied in the Counter Reformation times. The trouble is that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were kings and princes in the Church’s pocket. They whipped their subjects into compliance. Unleash an über-traditionalist Church on the world today, and what would we get? I can only imagine the cartoons in the newspapers! The thought is absurd. You need men like Mussolini, Franco and Pinochet with their secret police, torture chambers and places where people can be made to “disappear”. Otherwise, religion depends on convincing people of its intrinsic truth. Is it true? Do we believe it to be true? Or, is the object of our faith our power to manipulate other people and play God?

Benedict XVI has always been realistic about the limits of Catholicism in Europe. The game is over, though one may be permitted to believe in some divine miracle. The traditionalists expected too much and projected their wishful thinking on a man who wasn’t going to play their game. He kept his silence, an idea we will be reading a lot about in the liturgy in about six weeks time…

Dreher’s conclusion, as one who went Orthodox, is that the game is over in Europe and Canada, and increasingly so in the USA. All churches are declining, the liberal ones faster than the conservatives. It’s all being thrown away like the household rubbish we put out in the street each week.

I don’t know if clericalism has the same meaning in those parts of the world where Christianity is thriving. It would seem that the only way the Church in the west can be reformed is to leave it to die its death. There are fewer and fewer priests in the parishes, and soon there won’t be the money to keep the provincial dioceses going. Our churches will be demolished, sold, redeveloped or put to secular use.

We seem to be confronted with the same reality as in 2005, only that the sentence was suspended for a while. The last chance of 2005 is now blown. It would seem that Europe belongs to Allah or Big Brother, as may also be the case in the other western countries. Perhaps it is time to leave the western world, except that the peoples we once colonised are hardly likely to want us on their doorstep. Bernard Moitessier was not so wrong as he set out for his second circumnavigation. We can hole ourselves up into our micro-churches, but that will only be a temporary stop-gap and band-aid on the wound. I have no illusions about our little Anglican communities, as they are just as fragile as a boat in the Roaring Forties, but being on a boat is better than swimming.

I remember a friend talking to me about the change of civilisation from the one whose death we are witnessing, and that we will not have the consolation of seeing what will replace it. Even the assumption that Europe would become Muslim or as “atheist” as Albania in the Communist era is open to criticism. Muslims, when they get money and the amenities of western consumerism become less interested in the Mosque and the Koran. They discover pleasure! Pressure is also building against capitalism and consumerism. Where would that lead? The future is as obscure as the conclave in Rome next month.

For the Roman Catholic Church, there may be twists in the plot as this month nears its end. Certainly the traditionalists have their hopes for a climatic declaration of the canonical regularisation of the SSPX, leaving them to oppose Vatican II and every kind of theological work outside the neo-Thomist Roman mould. I can only see problems, and the man Joseph Ratzinger would still be alive to be made to pay the Devil. This Pontificate could simply come to its last day in silence and nothing to report. That seems more likely to me. There is nothing to understand! Foucault’s Pendulum – it just goes tick-tock.

Perhaps this should be our thought as we hear the words tomorrow – Remember, o man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return. That is our reality, as it was many times for the unfaithful of Israel.

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9 Responses to Views on Benedict XVI

  1. Ioannes says:

    It’s an act of faith to think you will at all read this, but hear me out, this isn’t the typical vandalism coming from me. You can read this, and then delete it if you like.

    I agree with you, about material comfort turning religion irrelevant. Comfort softens the mind and pleasure dulls the senses. Or rather, the mind is sharpened to justify its own selfishness, ala Dawkins and other “New Atheist” writers out there. I hope that we both agree that atheism will only lead to destruction at so many levels. If not, let’s agree to disagree on that.

    As we both know, because of my displeasure in the liberalized place I inhabit, I’ve become a fan of totalitarian governments and their methods, what you’d call “making people disappear” and all that. But that is not the object, nor the ultimate aim, I think. Reason, when used as a means to understand to some extent God, and Church, and revealed Truths, is good- we have theology as a result. Fides et Ratio, as you said. But, as you noted above, there is also a limit to everything a human being can do. Take me, for example, there’s only so much I know and can know when writing about what you just wrote about. So, there would have to be some other means to communicate the Truth that exists outside our own prejudices and our own opinions.

    It’s not sufficient for the Church, or any religion to be “convincing” because peoples’ willfulness becomes problematic. A spokesperson for Catholicism or Christianity, saintly and intelligent and respected as he may be, cannot truly evangelize to a people who have already found some other idol to worship and so have closed their hearts and minds to the possibility of One God or One Religion to take precedence over everything else. But what can an evangelist do? Isn’t the definition of insanity to keep trying something over and over with the expectation of a different result, when all it yields is failure? What came into my mind was the failed Catholic missions to Japan, and why Christianity is still considered a foreign and strange (and more recently, stupid,) way of thought. Yet we can’t deny that the Christian World View has impacted Japan to the point where concubinage is illegal, adultery and homosexuality is, at least in the public life, frowned upon, and Japanese villagers in rural areas no longer leave their elderly family members and infants in the wilderness for them to die from exposure and starvation during times of hardship.

    So…. In our “enlightened” world, which I think remains as brutal as ancient times if not in violence, then through some other way, (Though the scary thing is- my generation has become anesthetized to violence and brutality) What role does sitting down and having a clam chat with someone who thinks you’re already and will always be wrong have? What use does it make to try and converse calmly and rationally to someone whose only language is violence, or whose only wish is to be left alone and for them to be allowed to do whatever they want? I’m not trying to moralize, or anything, I’m just trying to channel the mind of the world, and why religion is becoming irrelevant, and the task Jesus Christ told His followers to do, an immensely botched operation ever since they climbed out of the catacombs and were given imperial blessings and churches and all sorts of honor.

    Now, maybe it would have been different if my parents were not so devout, or I was born somewhere else, but where I’m coming from, the Church and clericalism is all that we have. People would like to wish that the Church is not monolithic, but from my experience, as a traditionalist, it is ironically inflexible in its ways- and if Nouvelle Théologie is followed through to its logical conclusion, “Church” wouldn’t be needed, at least how Traditionalists see it.

    I’d still like the SSPX to come and drive out the liberal elements of the Church. But then a certain atheist said: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” (Not that I’m a fan of that guy, anyway.)

    • I decided to let this one through, because in its perverse way it contains a certain amount of reflection, even some wisdom. But, that reflection is quite frightening, that of a certain Ioannes who in favourable historical circumstances would follow the ways of those who did evil in the pursuit of a perceived good. The theme runs through the twentieth century, but at a lesser scale throughout the history of humanity. Ioannes spews out reams and reams of his constant ideas based on those of Maurras and others. He remains on moderated status so that his virtual monologue on Fr Smuts’ blog and elsewhere will not fill up this space too.

      I have not studied Maurras to any great extent, but I do know that he worked in a time when the Church in Europe was having to deal with Hitler and Mussolini, giving rise to the popular notion of Christ the King, a better Leader to follow than the Austrian corporal or the Italian buffoon. I won’t argue, as I have already written about totalitarianism in the light of my philosophical reading of Russian authors and mainstream accounts of Third Reich history (Shirer for example). Pope Pius XI condemned the ideas of Maurras as unorthodox.

      I have already published postings on the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky, which forms a chapter in his book The Karamazov Brothers. Russia in the nineteenth century was coming under the grip of nihilism, as was Germany under the influence of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Marx had already made his mark, and so the character of the Grand Inquisitor was born from this evil spirit that began to possess thinking people.

      The Grand Inquisitor is set in relation to the three Temptations Christ faced in the desert, respectively of food, power over nature and political power. Christ resisted those temptations and introduced freedom. According to the Inquisitor, Christ made a mistake because freedom could only ever lead to sin. Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil?. Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering’.

      Indeed, freedom is hard to assume, and perhaps most people never do, or do so only in degrees. It is the higher way, that of the spirit. Could it be that Christ excluded most of us because of the challenge of freedom? Would it not be better for us to be in the dystopia of Orwell or Huxley, safe and confined, happy. Freedom brings a heavy weight of responsibility. The Inquisitor thinks he has the duty to “correct” Christ’s work and therefore place himself over a failed God. In his eyes, Christianity had failed, exactly what Hitler said in the twentieth century. He too wanted the place of God. Human life was not to be rooted in freedom but on miracle, mystery, and authority.

      The Inquisitor has within himself the root of atheism in the name of religion and piety. What Ioannes is promoting is exactly the root of the atheism he so zealously rejects.

      I am not going to launch into a tedious debate about this subject. I invite Ioannes to set up his own blog and soap box platform, and he is as free to express himself as anyone else. He said elsewhere that he didn’t want to do this – yet he “jumps” onto other people’s blogs and dominates them with posts sometimes of great length. His desire to express himself – far from being uninterested in expressing himself – is there and obvious. I’m not going to allow it here, but I will link to his blog if he sets one up.

      I also invite him to go into politics and present his ideas through the democratic process. Far-right ideas seem not to be as discredited in the USA where he lives than here in Europe. Let him try it – taking over a little political party of men who like drinking vast quantities of good German beer, a little putsch, writing a manifesto in prison, storm troopers – – – all the way to utter defeat by a world that will not accept such horror and suffering and suicide in a blazing Götterdammerung. Whether it is about making the Church the principle of this power or some cranky racial theory, it is all the same. Just another “failed deity”.

      This is why Christianity is a contemplative way and the freedom of the spirit, even when living in the determinism of this world.

      So, I will say to Ioannes – set up your own soap box and take your place in the market place of ideas. If you keep spewing here, you will be stopped. If you want to be published save your breath and write succinctly and wisely.

      In my view, there is no need to “correct” humanity. It is self-regulating. The Christian faith is a spiritual Kingdom working to rules beyond and above the crude political systems of our societies and the men without conscience or empathy who make it to power – for a time before good and decent humanity defeats them.

      • Ioannes says:

        I agree, let’s not debate. (You can delete the numbered points if you’d like, if you decide to post this at all)

        1. Humanity can only be corrected through Christ. (The Orthodox call it “Glorification”) It may be a process started with the Church and Christ’s Sacraments, but I don’t know anything beyond that. But we need to be corrected, and so we need Christ.

        2. The Kingdom of God can manifest itself in the world, but will always be at odds with the world. Even decent and human beings with empathy and goodness, if they don’t struggle and fight, are weak and easily corruptible because we are fallen, so that’s why we are called the ‘Church Militant’.

        3. American democracy is broken and dysfunctional. Maybe all democracy is like that, considering democracies rely on broken and dysfunctional people to govern themselves or limit issues on what is practical rather than ideological. I’m of the opinion that it may be more practical for one person to run everything- it’s easier to put the blame on a single person, rather than passing responsibility from one elected official to another. As such, I don’t see much of my ideology being popular anytime soon- Unless some civil strife is involved. Hitler got to his position because he presented himself not initially as a king, but as an ideal man everyone could love, the voice of the people, at a time of instability and uncertainty and all that. But all of humanity is broken, so who’s to say Americans haven’t already elected their Fuhrer? Their version of “He who can do no wrong”? Anyway, to paraphrase a certain scholar’s opinion in the matter: “People get the government they deserve- governments are the byproduct of the culture” So, I’m a part of a fringe, and will always be a fringe, unless I initiate a coup on some corrupt 3rd world country. Much better than making my blog, I think! 😉

        4. I detest the sort of freedom the “World” tries to present itself as the only thing that can make people happy. It has given me nothing but grief and disappointment. Yes, I’m bitter about it, but I don’t think I’m alone in that. Rather, the genuine love and freedom offered by Christ seems worth dying for, more than anything. Without Christ and His Church, what do I have, where will I go? I’m not about to become a New Atheist. But it’s interesting that you mentioned The Grand Inquisitor. I’d like to see, however, a counter-example.
        Well, consider my brief moment of lucidity as a way to make restitution to any offense I made, but I don’t think I’ll ever make a blog. There are enough blogs in the world, another one won’t change a thing. It’ll make the world more cluttered, though, that’s for sure.

      • It all seems to be resumed very simply:

        1. The era of Christian kings and Catholic states is over. Like it or not, that is the reality and the “trajectory of history”.

        2. You personally can take one of two attitudes:

        a – Being a Christian in spite of the world whose values are opposed, as they always have been.

        b – Enter politics and become an absolute ruler, and impose Christianity by force.

        I think you are going to have to be realistic, my young friend, you have no special position or entitlements and you won’t change the world. Very few people can. Nor will I through blogging. Actually, you might do well to start a blog, because all blogging is is encouraging other people to think for themselves and make progress in life, spiritual life and so forth.

        The Church (I don’t mean just a particular institution, even that ruled by the Pope) has always lived in but not of the world, but sometimes of the world (then it became unstuck) or turned to the contemplative life away from the world.

        Why not concentrate on looking at ways to live our faith in spite of the modern world we live in, renewing our own spiritual lives, without trying to reform the world around us for which we lack any power or influence?

  2. Michael Frost says:

    So very odd, yet so very interesting. But as if it is a discussion from say 1927 or 1937? Makes me think of that somewhat unique RC “solution”, almost a return to monarchical agrarian feudalistic authoritarianism that one found in RC countries like Marshal Pilsudski’s Poland, Franco’s Spain, or Stroessnor’s Paraguay? Just don’t be on the wrong side of the people pulling the levers of government?

    Ioannes might read the great Paraguayan writer Augusto Roa Bastos’ Son of Man, which chronicles Paraguay’s sordid Colorado vs Liberal history from about 1870-1936, to see what life was like for the common man under a style of “government” he might like. Seriously oppressed people suffering daily under an almost anarchic oligopolistic mafia-like regime consumed by internecine warefare do rely heaavily on religion! But is that a good thing? [For a more academic work, he might try Paul Lewis’ Political Parties & Generations in Paraguay’s Liberal Era, 1869-1940 (Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1993). And for the common man in such a society, see Elman & Helen Service’s Tobati: Paraguayan Town (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1954), a sociological study done in 1948-49, esp. Part III, Society, Chpt. XIII, The Church as a Social Institution.]

    • PrimroseLeague says:

      Interesting indeed, and right for Poland and Paraguay – although I’m not sure you can have Franco’s Spain in that list.

      Without defending that regime for a second, it was the technocratic revolution under Franco from the 1950s that dragged Spain kicking and screaming into the 20th century, and built the democratic society they have now. Deeply unfashionable of course to say so now, but nonetheless economically Spain benefitted tremendously from the Movimiento’s technocrats, and their headlong pursuit of modernism, industrialisation and economic reform in the 20 years to Franco’s death. Before say 1955 it fits the thesis more closely, but then Spain did spend most of the decade post victory in 1939 rebuilding a shattered country (and one that had been arguably misfiring since long before the republic, and probably back as far as 1898).

      Agrarian National Catholicism it was not (if anything that was a positioning for external consumption to stop the newly victorious Allies from turning south in 1945 and dealing with Spain on the same terms as Italy and Germany just in case). You’d be on stronger ground with Salazar’s Portugal, or the Greek colonels (although they of course were Orthodox….).

      • Michael Frost says:

        PL, I think Ireland, both the Free State and full republic, qualifies with Pilsudski’s Poland and so much of 20th century caudillo South America.

        The leftist and rightist populist revolutions in the 1910s-1930s in Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, etc. are a most fascinating study. Oddly or interestingly, they are replaying themselves out today in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. I love Paraguayan history. But take Mexico. Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory as well as his travel work from which it was derived, The Lawless Roads, are masterpieces of both literature and “history”.

        Guess I’ve taken Salazar for being a bit more fascistic, Mussolini-lite? (If only they would’ve worked harder to “save” Goa! We let the Indians do what we stopped the Chinese from doing to Macau and Hong Kong.)

        As regards your comments on Franco’s post-WW II Spain, sounds a bit more appropos for the Brazilian colonels in the 1960s, and their modernizing streak? I would suspect Franco’s–somewhat nascent and non-systematic–modernizing tendency was deemed… necessary…in a post-WW II environment in which his prior fascist allies lost, the feared communists were co-victors, and a coveted American wealth & power reigned supreme in Western Europe under the Marshal Plan and NATO?

        Pinochet’s Chile another great example of post-WW II modernization after both agrarian conformity and leftist social upheaval.

  3. PrimroseLeague says:

    sorry -not a hobbyhorse of mine particularly – just the joys and fruits of having studied 20th century Spanish history once upon a time!

  4. Dale says:

    One could also mention that before the occupation of the Papal states by Italy after the removal of French troops (who were protecting the Pope and his states against the encroachment of the Italians) the Papal states had been one of the most repressive in Europe with, by some estimates, over 100,000 political and religious prisoners.

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