When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the choice of the Vatican‘s guardian of orthodoxy cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Fr M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City OK priest who was in St Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times, “He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics. He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership… either get on the train or get off the track. He’ll not put up with rebellious children”.
Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favourite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat. Michael Brendan Dougherty, a Latin Mass enthusiast, lamented the day the pope made the shocking announcement that he would resign on 28 February, “Although Pope Benedict XVI’s highly unusual resignation is said to be for reasons of health, it fits the character of his papacy… all his initiatives remain incomplete. He was consciously elected to rescue the church from itself, but he failed to finish what he started”.
Since then, the criticisms have continued to come in from a range of onetime champions, and on a spectrum of issues… Benedict didn’t sufficiently clean house in the clergy sex abuse scandal and he didn’t appoint enough hard-liners to the hierarchy; he didn’t bring the old Latin Rite schismatics fully back in the fold, a mission that’ll likely end with his pontificate; he was too quick to mollify Muslims or pursue ecumenical gestures; and he charted, as Dougherty put it, “a precarious middle course” theologically. Even his three encyclicals… the most authoritative documents a pope writes… focused on social justice issues and often embraced the kind of liberal policy prescriptions that sent conservatives into conniptions.
To be sure, liberals would note that, under Benedict’s rule, theologians, and even American nuns, suffered investigation and discipline, and that he appointed some serious conservatives as bishops and promoted others to the College of Cardinals, which’ll choose one of their number to succeed Benedict. Nevertheless, if he was not exactly a pleasant surprise to the left, neither did he fulfil the great expectations of the right. That vaunted German managerial instinct? It seemed to have no effect, as the Vatican under Benedict became a mismanaged palace of court intrigue and financial scandals, lurching from gaffe to disaster, and all exposed to public view when the pope’s own butler leaked reams of internal papal documents. Joseph Bottum wrote a withering verdict delivered in the latest edition of The Weekly Standard, Benedict was “as bad as a pope has been for 200 years. All in all, a terrible executive of the Vatican”.
Even his resignation confounded many of his conservative supporters. Some saw Benedict’s act as a repudiation of the decision by his predecessor, John Paul II Wojtyła, to die with his boots on despite his public struggle with infirmity… a move conservatives loudly proclaimed the only possible option at the time. Others, like New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, worried that Benedict, this most traditional of churchmen, was introducing a modern innovation that would undermine future popes and embolden those looking for a more accountable papacy. However, disappointment was inevitable. The hopes of Benedict’s fans had blinded them to the parts of his writings (on charity and justice, for example) or his personality traits (such as his loyalty to friends, no matter how incompetent) that didn’t fit with their plans.
That leads to a second factor, which is that popes may enjoy great authority, but they can’t act like autocrats. Benedict, more than his supporters, knew that he had to be the pastor of a huge global flock, not just a “bad cop” who tells people to follow the rules and drums them out when they disobey. As he told dinner companions early in his pontificate, “It’s easy to know the doctrine. It’s much harder to help a billion people live it”. Finally, Ratzinger was always at heart… and in his head… a scholar and theologian. He had a German intellectual bearing, but little of his countrymen’s renowned knack for organisation. He warned his fellow cardinals during the 2005 conclave as he saw the momentum swinging in his direction, “I’m not an administrator”. Benedict spoke the truth then, as clearly as he always did. The irony is that his most ardent fans, rather than his liberal foes, apparently didn’t want to listen.
18 February 2013
Religion News Service
As quoted in USA Today
There are two very important takeaways in this piece. Firstly, do note the vitriol and spleen that the righties spew at those who refuse to follow their notional fantasies. Benedict had to deal with the real world; ergo, his decisions and actions angered these sorts. As for Joseph Bottum, he was the third-rate successor to Richard John Neuhaus… First Things deteriorated badly under his mismanagement and rightwing fanaticism… it had to shitcan him and replace him with Russell Reno (for the record, the Weekly Standard isn’t known as expert in religious matters, it’s a stridently-neocon publication).
Secondly, do note how everyone’s quick to blame Benedict for long-simmering troubles in the Vatican. To be blunt, as an experienced curial infighter, he knew what was going on, and he knew that it was beyond anyone’s competence to put right. Let’s not be coy, the current troubles plaguing the RCs started in John Paul’s tenure… that’s one reason why Benny’s resigning… he doesn’t want things to get worse, he knows that the Holy See needs a younger, more vigorous, man to deal with this unpleasantness.
In short, the malevolence of the right is on display for all to see, and the fact that it’s unfair to blame Benny for the frolics that John Paul either shoved under the rug or was too weak to counter is just as obvious. I’d say that B16 resigned because he didn’t want the mess to get worse. No doubt, he didn’t want the post to begin with, but we don’t know what the alternative might have been. That’s the 64,000 Dollar Question, and the cardinals are going to carry the answer to that one to the grave.
Yet, the most important thing I’d like you to attend to is:
It’s easy to know the doctrine. It’s much harder to help a billion people live it.
I think that Benedict was completely in the right on that one… and that the Orthodox konvertsy are completely in the wrong. Do note how they accuse all and sundry of “laxity” and “indifference”… they don’t understand that the canons have to fit real people and actual situations grounded in reality… not the other way ’round. I’ll say that Benedict did know that… and that’s why the righties hate him. Do think on that. It makes him a sympathetic and human figure, no?