Monday, April 19, 2010

Five Years On

Photo released by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI, second from left, speaks with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, left, as Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone, second from right, and Giovanni Re, smile on the occasion of a luncheon to mark the fifth anniversary of his election, in the Ducale Hall, at the Vatican, Monday, April 19, 2010.

Father Denis Vincent Twomey SVD PhD is Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is a former doctoral student of Pope Benedict XVI. He is also the author of Pope Benedict XVI: the Conscience of Our Age. A Theological Portrait (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007)

In contrast to the rather sour and mischievous "Letter to Bishops" by Father Hans Küng with its damning critique of the first five years of Pope Benedict XVI, Professor Twomey presents a more balanced account of the stewardship of Pope Benedict`s first few years.

It is entitled Despite media smears, world and faithful have warmed to Benedict and is in today`s Irish Times.

Professor Twomey tackles head-on the fact that when he was first elected, Pope Benedict XVI had "baggage": many people thought they knew him and did not like him. Many disliked the fact that he was of German nationality.

The negative image of him as Pope has always been a difficult problem. He has never had a good Press. Many on the so-called "liberal" wing have assisted in the attacks on him. It has culminated in what Professor Twomey has called "the atrocious letter of Hans Küng to the bishops of the world – a kind of encyclical from the man who would be pope (published in The Irish Times and elsewhere)."

Twomey stresses the positive side of this Papacy: through his teaching and pastoral actions, and not least through his homilies, talks and visits.

He is a Second Vatican Council man. He adheres to the documents produced by the Council. Unlike others who criticise him, he does not teach based on the rather nebulous "spirit of Vatican II".

Contrary to what Küng published earlier in the week, Twomey demonstrates that the present Pope is quite definitely a Pope who believes in ecumenism.

He also demolishes the criticisms made by Küng of the Pope in relation to the sex abuse crisis.

It is worth quoting in full:

"Today marks the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict who has made an enormous impact, nothwithstanding the claims in last week’s atrocious letter from Fr Hans Küng to the bishops

THE NIGHT Pope Benedict XVI was elected, I announced on Prime Time that he would surprise us all. He did. The moment the newly elected pope first stood on the balcony of St Peter’s with a shy smile, his previous image as the Panzerkardinal, God’s Rottweiler, the Vatican Enforcer, began to dissolve.

In Germany, where his image was particularly bad, the popular press rejoiced that a fellow-German had been so honoured: Wir sind Papst was the banner headline on the front page of the largest daily newspaper. German Catholics, who tend to be liberal, were, to put it mildly, less enthusiastic.

Initial attempts by the English-speaking media to daub him as a Nazi sympathiser (“From Nazi to Papa Ratzi” was one front-page headline) gave way to a more positive image once this lie was exposed for what it is: a calumny. Then followed a kind of honeymoon with the media. It was short-lived. Several of his public pronouncements provoked media outrage, such as his Regensburg lecture and his interview about Aids during a flight to Africa. The negative image again surfaced. In recent weeks, that image has dominated the media, culminating in the atrocious letter of Hans Küng to the bishops of the world – a kind of encyclical from the man who would be pope (published in The Irish Times and elsewhere).

But among the faithful especially, the more positive image continues to predominate.

This is so because of the enormous impact he made, and continues to make, through his teaching and pastoral actions, not least his visits to various countries and places inside and outside Italy and Europe. Two World Youth Days – in Cologne and in Sydney – took the world by surprise. Catholic youth flocked to hear and applaud what he had to say.

In all his speeches his primary object was, and is, to speak of God to contemporary man. In his address to the cardinals who elected him, he promised that he would follow the path of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. His sole concern would be to proclaim “the living presence of Christ to the whole world”. Above all, he was determined “to continue to put the Second Vatican Council into practice”.

In his first major speech to the Roman Curia he clarified what he meant by correct implementation of the council. It was basically a matter of hermeneutics (ie how the conciliar decrees were interpreted). He distinguished between “a hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture” (aided by the media and a certain trend in theology) and “a hermeneutics of reform”. The former interpreted the council as a radical break with tradition with, at times, disastrous consequences. The latter viewed the council as a part of the development of the church’s living tradition, thereby stressing the continuity in the discontinuity.

Two interrelated emphases can be detected in his teaching office, to which he has given priority. The first is directed to those outside. It consists in the proclamation of Christ to the whole world, a world that has, especially in the West, turned its back on God. The second emphasis is directed to reform within the church, a reform that is centred on the Eucharist and is in harmony with the whole Christian tradition, reflecting eastern as well as western Christianity.

His literary output has been – again typical of the man – prodigious. His homilies on special occasions and his talks at the Wednesday audience and after the Angelus on Sunday are theological gems. His three encyclicals – on love, on hope and on the relationship between love and justice – touch on the deepest issues affecting the human condition. His encyclical on love undid almost a century of misunderstanding about the relationship between eros – human love – and agape – divine love. The encyclical on hope drew attention to the greatest need humans have today: the need for authentic hope, and the related need not to be seduced by the many false political hopes: utopianism – that, like Marxism, have caused hell on earth – or the meaninglessness of evolutionism that leaves a void in people’s lives. His third encyclical is devoted to the need for morality in economic and political life, a morality rooted in justice and motivated by love.

Before he was ever elected pope, Joseph Ratzinger had stressed the need to reform the liturgy as the council fathers intended as distinct from the (mostly) botched reform at the hands of the experts. Since his election he has promoted what is called the “reform the reform” (“the Benedictine reform”) which stresses the continuity with the older forms of liturgical worship. The Benedictine reform also includes pastoral initiatives such as the Year of St Paul, the Synod on the Word of God, and the present Year for Priests. The first was an attempt to respond to the legitimate criticism of Protestants with regard to the role of Scripture in the church. The second is caused by the need for a reform of the life and task of the priest.

Of the many decisions made by Benedict, none caused such a furore as the January 21st, 2009, lifting of the excommunication on the four bishops ordained illegally by bishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988. (They were, and are still, suspended from acting as bishops within the church.) One of the bishops, Williamson, was a Holocaust denier. Criticism of the pope was particularly vehement in France and Germany. His response was swift and bold.

His letter to the bishops is a passionate rebuttal of false accusations, similar in spirit to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. He was hurt by the way his decision was misinterpreted by those who, as he said, should have known better, namely his fellow bishops. The letter also dramatically illustrated one of the main concerns of his pontificate – promoting the unity of Christians, in the face of the enormous challenges posed by secularisation, so that the church can fulfil her mission to liberate the world by leading people to Christ.

His commitment to ecumenism, which Küng questions, was one of his passions as a theologian and is one of his aims as pope. In his first address to the cardinals he said: “With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter’s current successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty. He is aware that good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress.”

The most striking advances in relations have been made between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, especially since the election of Patriarch Kirill I to the see of Moscow. Relations with Constantinople have been brought much closer by the reciprocal visits of Patriarch Bartholomew I to Rome and Pope Benedict to Constantinople.

But Ratzinger’s links to the Orthodox span his entire career. I was present in the University of Regensburg when, circa 1975, the then professor Ratzinger was presented with the Cross of Mount Athos for his contribution to promoting closer ties with the Orthodox. It is interesting to note that the once-Communist Moscow paper Pravda published one of the staunchest defences of the pope in the face of present attacks, albeit with their own anti-capitalist slant (March 30th, 2010).

Even the pope’s decision to provide a way for traditional Anglican communities (not in communion with Canterbury) to become one with Rome collectively while retaining much of their Anglican tradition does not seem to have dimmed the good relationship between the pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Regretfully, the dogmatic and moral issues separating the churces (regarding the ordination of women and sexual ethics) have increased in recent years.

Reaching out to the Lutheran communities was made somewhat easier by the fact that no other pope shows a deeper knowledge or appreciation for the theological concerns of the Reformer. Recently, the pope accepted an invitation to preach at the Lutheran Church in Rome – a historic “first” ignored by the media.

The pope’s “Regensburg lecture” given on the occasion of his pastoral visit to his homeland, Bavaria, caused a media uproar at the time. Its quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor criticising Islam as being intrinsically violent caused the headlines. The main thrust of his lecture was ignored, namely a profound criticism of western culture that has in effect eliminated God from public consciousness. The lecture was part of the pope’s dialogue with the post-Enlightenment culture that marked much of his writings. Part of that dialogue was his encounter with Jürgen Habermas at the Catholic Academy, Munich, on January 19th, 2004.

The initial tsunami of outrage in the Islamic world and beyond soon gave way to a more moderate response. Reason triumphed – in line with the general thrust of the lecture that religion needs reason as much as religion needs revelation. It seems to have galvanised the more moderate voices in Islam and gave them the courage to stand up and be counted.

The pope’s visit to Turkey, especially his visit to the Blue Mosque, quickly helped to heal wounds. His visits to Jordan and the Holy Land cemented the mutual respect. The tribute paid to Benedict’s promotion of dialogue with Islam by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammed Bin Talal on the pope’s visit to the King Hussein bin Talal mosque in Amman was quite astonishing. In the meantime many Arabic leaders, including the King of Saudi Arabia, have sought audiences with the pope and were readily granted them. Some 138 Islamic scholars from around the world wrote a letter seeking dialogue – immediately reciprocated. The dialogue has continued at various levels, with many positive results.

Ratzinger’s own well-known, long-term, appreciation of the Jewish religion is well known to many Jews. One of the most memorable events of his papacy was his visit to Auschwitz. He visited, and was warmly received, in the synagogues in Cologne, New York, and, more recently, Rome. His trip to Israel, despite some initial media criticism there, earned him international respect for the way he manoeuvred through the political and human minefields there.

In recent weeks, his record as pope has been overshadowed by what seems to be a concerted attempt by the media to use the revolting phenomenon of clerical sexual abuse to besmirch his name. It did not take long for the finger of accusation to be pointed at the pope – and with a venom that surpassed all the earlier attacks.

These culminated in Hans Küng’s “encyclical” to the world’s bishops rubbishing his record as pope and claiming that “the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005)”.

Vatican correspondent John L Allen jnr, who coined the phrase “Enforcer of the Faith”, asserts the opposite: “For those who have followed the church’s response to the crisis, Ratzinger’s 2001 letter is . . . seen as a long overdue assumption of responsibility by the Vatican, and the beginning of a far more aggressive response. Whether that response is sufficient is, of course, a matter for fair debate, but to construe Ratzinger’s 2001 letter as no more than the last gasp of old attempts at denial and cover-up misreads the record.”

Pope Benedict’s response to the publication of the Ryan and Murphy reports was swift and decisive, though this is not always appreciated. He took the unprecedented step of summoning the Irish bishops to Rome to account before him and some of his major co-workers for their actions (or rather inaction). He wrote an unprecedented letter to the Catholics of Ireland calling for a spiritual renewal and promising an “Apostolic Visitation” that, presumably, will deal with more concrete matters.

Future generations, however, will probably remember Benedict’s reign not primarily for any of his official documents or actions, however significant, but for his teaching.

Of special note are his Wednesday audiences devoted to St Paul, the man and his theology, and especially his book Jesus of Nazareth , the second volume of which is due to be published later this year.

He is conscious that the greatest challenge to the church in the future will centre on the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. That is the foundation on which all else rests."

One of the problems which the present Pope has is "his image". He is a rather shy person. He does not take a good photograph. In these times "image" for many is all important. First impressions and the impressions in the media for many seem to be what count.

He is the type of person who genuinely has no interest in his "image" although there are signs that he probably goes along reluctantly with what his advisors in the Vatican might suggest.

He speaks through his writings. His writings especially his homilies disclose the real Josef Ratzinger. He is a very humble and attractive personality and not like the "Grand Inquisitor", or Panzerkardinal in popular folk-lore. He has been and is still subject to attempts to blacken his image. We do not have to be reminded of the most recent attempts. One would imagine that he probably knows everything that is being said about him. To such a sensitive nature, all of it will be extremely hurtful.

But he will continue in his quiet dignified way. His foundation is the basalt like foundation of his faith. He is as open to beauty as he is to truth. He lives outside himself. He does not take himself too seriously. Above all he accepts everything human is imperfect and incomplete and only in Christ and following his two Great Commandments of Love will man achieve contentment, resolution and perfection.

Professor Twomey in his Introduction to Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait) has written about the character of the Pope. Perhaps it is also worth reminding ourselves once again about Pope Benedict XVI`s character from someone who knew him before he became "famous" and has known him at close quarters since then:

"Walking the streets of Rome the day before Pope Benedict XVI's Inauguration Mass, [1] I was confronted by a strange and rather unsettling sight: the familiar face of my former teacher in hundreds of posters everywhere. They were on billboards and in street stalls among miniature statues of Michelangelo's Pietà and David, or they were stuck incongruously between bottles of grappa in a café. I had arrived in Rome that Saturday morning and was one of the vast crowd walking toward the magnificent piazza in front of Saint Peter's Basilica, still somewhat numbed by shock that the man whom I had long revered as Doktorvater had just been elected pope, the new successor of Saint Peter. Joseph Ratzinger himself has written extensively on the nature of the office of the pope, [2] and at least three of his doctoral students [3] have devoted their research to the origins and nature of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the universal Church, which is one of the chief stumbling blocks for separated Christians, in fact the only really substantial obstacle to union with the Orthodox Churches.

It was only in the course of the various celebrations marking his inauguration as successor of Saint Peter that I slowly came to terms with the transformation of my former teacher, an eminent but essentially humble German professor, into the Universal Pastor of the Church, now the focus of the world's attention, thanks in no small way to the modern mass media. The somewhat retiring academic I had once known had become an exuberant pastor, responding with gestures we his former students had never seen before, such as waving hands and kissing babies.

While I was in Rome, the main topic of conversation was the person of the new Pope. Everyone wanted to know: What kind of a person is he? Those who had only known the new Pope as the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had a decidedly negative image, one largely created not only by a largely hostile media but also by the nature of his office as Cardinal Prefect responsible for the integrity of the faith. [4] That image did not match the reality they now saw on their TV screens, and so they asked: "What is he really like?" His former grim image was strikingly at variance with the smiling new Pope, who had evidently captured the hearts of the Romans and who was already causing journalists from around the world to question their own creation.

When we, his former students, some of whom had known him for forty-five years, got together in private, we allowed ourselves the luxury of fond--and not so fond--reminiscences. Over lunches that lasted well into the afternoon, we recalled the halcyon days when we were his postgraduate or postdoctoral students. The atmosphere in Rome was comparable to that of a wedding banquet: we tried to accustom ourselves--not without an occasional tear and much laughter--to the sudden change of our much beloved teacher into the Holy Father, who was now exciting the world as he had once inspired his students in Regensburg. In truth, we could hardly contain our joy or adequately express our surprise at the fact that our former teacher had become the successor of Saint Peter as Bishop of Rome, whose main task would be to nourish the faith and strengthen the brethren, his fellow bishops and all fellow Christians, in our common mission and responsibility to bring Christ to mankind and lead mankind to Christ.

The world at last, we felt, had the opportunity to encounter the charming personality; intellectual brilliance, and pastoral heart of the man we his former students knew so well. This encounter was made possible by journalists, the very people, paradoxically, who had been largely responsible for his negative image as "Grand Inquisitor", Panzerkardinal (the iron-clad cardinal), and "enforcer of the faith" (John L. Allen, Jr.). Incidentally, at an audience of some five thousand journalists and their relatives the day before his induction, Benedict XVI thanked them for making it possible for the world to participate in the recent death of the Pope and the election of a successor, often at great personal cost to themselves and their families. It was the first time they had been thanked by a pope, one hardened journalist told me, and they were deeply moved.

We, his former students, recalled the days when he was a professor in Bonn, Münster, Tübingen, and, especially, Regensburg. We were displeased by the recent attempt to blacken his image by distorting the truth about his youth at a time when Germany was under the total control of Hitler. (He and his family were intensely anti-Nazi.) [5] And we speculated about the future, about what he might do, in the light of what we knew of his own personality and, more importantly, of his great mind and extraordinary memory.

Pope Benedict XVI will teach the world not only by what he says but also by example. The simple dignity of the Requiem for Pope John Paul II and the sheer beauty of his own Inauguration Mass gave those present a touch of heaven on earth--and entranced those who followed it on television. As I remarked to a Dublin diocesan priest, now studying liturgy in Rome, who sat near me at the Mass: Benedict XVI was giving the world his first lesson in liturgy. He has written extensively on liturgy, but his writings have generally been ignored--even kept off the shelves of at least one institute set up for the study of liturgy, as I happen to know. Now, it is hoped, people will finally read him.

This, I suspect, will be his teaching method--first to win the hearts of people, who will then read for themselves what he has written on a particular topic. He has written on almost every theological subject touching on the faith, morality, and Church and State. The latest bibliography of his publications (up to 2002) covers some seventy-nine pages. [6] Many more publications have appeared since then-the latest a few weeks after his election as Pope Benedict XVI, [7] for, as few people realize, he continued to publish as a private theologian while Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What is the secret of Ratzinger's quiet, dignified behavior, as seen during the world-shaking events of Pope John Paul II's death and the conclave that elected him successor? How could he be so relaxed and smiling precisely at the moment he accepted his election to responsibilities that would overwhelm most mortals? Let me answer by recalling two anecdotes.

While at Tubingen, one student asked another to identify the difference between Professor Ratzinger and another equally famous theologian. The reply was: Ratzinger also finds time to play the piano. He is as open to beauty as he is to truth. He lives outside himself. He is not preoccupied with his own self. Put simply, he does not take himself too seriously.

The other anecdote is personal. Once he asked me gently about the progress of my thesis. It was about time, as I had been working on it for some seven years. I told him that I thought there was still some work to be done. He turned to me with those piercing but kindly eyes, saying with a smile: "Nur Mut zur Lücke" (Have the courage to leave some gaps). In other words, be courageous enough to be imperfect.

On reflection, this is one of the keys to Ratzinger's character (and also to his theology; in particular his theology of politics): his acceptance that everything we do is imperfect, that all knowledge is limited, no matter how brilliant or well read one may be. It never bothered him that in a course of lectures he rarely covered the actual content of the course. His most famous book, Introduction to Christianity, is incomplete. [8] Ratzinger knows in his heart and soul that God alone is perfect and that all human attempts at perfection (such as political utopias) end in disaster.

The only perfection open to us is that advocated by Jesus in the Gospel: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48), he who "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:45). Love of God and love of neighbor: that is the secret of Pope Benedict XVI, and that will be the core of his universal teaching. [9]


[1] The booklet with the text of the Mass was entitled: Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome. It seems to be of no small significance that neither the term Summus Pontifex nor any related title is mentioned in the liturgical booklet. Like the replacement of the papal tiara, or triple crown, with a simple bishop's miter in the Pope's coat of arms (albeit with traces of the tiara in the miter), this preferred title (the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome) probably signifies a change of emphasis for the papacy, although one that is rooted in the most ancient traditions of the Church universal, in particular, that of the pre-Constantinian era. It might well augur a new era in ecumenical relations, especially with the Orthodox and Oriental Churches no longer in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

[2] See, for example, Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger, Episkopat und Primat, Quaestiones Disputatae II (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1961); J. Ratzinger, Das neue Volk Gottes: Entwufe zur Ekklesiologie (Düsseldorf. Patmos, 1969); "Papal Primacy and the Unity of the People of God", in Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology [=CEP], trans. Robert Nowell (Slough: Saint Paul; New York: Crossroad, 1988), pp. 29-45; Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, trans. Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), especially chap. 2, pp. 47-74.

[3] M. Trimpe, Macht aus Gehorsam: Grundmotive der Theologie des päpstlichen Primates im Denken Reginald Poles (1500- 1558) (dissertation, Regensburg, 1981); Stephan Otto Horn, Petrou Kathedra: Der Bischof von Rom und die Synoden von Ephesus und Chalcedon (Paderborn: Verlag Bonifatius-Druckerei, 1982); Vincent Twomey, Apostolikos Thronos: The Primacy of Rome as Reflected in the Church History of Eusebius and the Historico-Apologetic Writings of Saint Athanasius the Great (Münster: Aschendorfi 1982).

[4] The effect of his negative image is well illustrated by the reaction of an old friend, an S.Sp.S. Sister, to whom I had given To Look on Christ, one of Ratzinger's spiritual works, as a present quite some time ago. She did not even bother to open the book. During Advent one year, she got the courage to take it off the shelf--only to be quite overwhelmed by the richness of his reflections. She has since reread the book so often that it has come apart!

[5] I will deal with this topic below in chap. 6.

[6] Joseph Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, a collection of articles published as a book by his former doctoral and post-doctoral students on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday and edited by Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005); the bibliography is on pp. 299-379. For the most complete annotated bibliography up to 1986, see that compiled by Helmut Höfl in Weisheit Gottes--Weisheit der Welt, vol. 2, Festschrift für Kardinal Ratzinger zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Walter Baier et al. (St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 1986), pp. 1*-77*. For the period from 1986 to 1997, see the bibliography of original publications (including secondary literature on his theology) compiled by Helmut Moll and thematically arranged in Joseph Kardinal Ratzinger: Von Wiederauffinden der Mitte: Grundorientierung; Texte aus vier Jahrzehnten, ed. Stephan Otto Horn, S.D.S., et al. (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1997; 2nd printing 1998), pp. 291-315.

[7] Joseph Ratzinger, L'Europa di Benedetto nella crisi delle culture. Introduzione Marcello Pera (Siena: Edizioni Cantagalli, 2005); English trans.: The Europe of Benedict in the Crisis of Cultures, trans. Brian McNeil, C.R.V (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006).

[8] Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity [=IC], trans. J. R. Foster (London: Burns and Oates, 1969). The book was intended to be a commentary on the Creed, but in fact the third article (on the Holy Spirit) is but a fragment. The genesis of this, perhaps the most well known of all his writings, is interesting. In the preface to the first edition (1968), he wrote: "The book arose out of lectures which I gave at Tubingen in the summer term of 1967 for students of all faculties." The lectures were tape-recorded by one of his Assistenten, Doctor Peter Kuhn, who made a transcript of the tape. He gave the transcript to Professor Ratzinger to edit and insert the footnotes, which was done during the summer vacation. A second edition with a new preface was published in Germany in 2000, with an English translation in 2004 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press).

[9] This was written in May 2005. My prognostication has been confirmed, not only by the first encyclical from the pen of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, which has the interaction of divine and human loves as its subject matter, but also by many of his addresses and messages, such as his Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005.