Pope Benedict XVI
The elevation of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to the Chair of St. Peter has come as a relief to most traditionalists and neoconservatives. At Christian Order we understand and share that relief in large part.
While mainstream UK journals, both so-called ‘Catholic’ and secular, regularly mocked and railed against then-Cardinal Ratzinger throughout his time as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith [CDF], CO consistently supported
and promoted his work. We defended him against the relentless attacks of the dissidents and gave him full credit for his strong support for the Old Mass and his admirable defence of orthodoxy in many areas. Just last March our feature article was full of praise for his strong leadership and challenged bishops everywhere to support the Cardinal rather than ignore or moan about his stands for the Faith on pivotal issues ("An Open Letter to Catholics").
And of course CO carried a series of devastating and prophetic reports by the late Michael Davies which documented the Cardinal’s magnificent lone defence of the Faith against the treacherous compromises which surfaced in the Final Report of the ecumenical discussions with the Anglicans (summarised in Michael’s response in our June/July 2004 edition to Jim Larson’s series on the Cardinal’s liberal theological and philosophical proclivities). We are all deeply appreciative of such efforts while head of the CDF, as too with his restatement of Catholic teaching on the one true Church in Dominus Iesus.
Let us thank God for giving us a Pope who will surely stand firm against the arsenal of catastrophic ideologies now marshalled against the life of souls and wielded so furiously by the deathdealers and moral degenerates in their relentless assaults on Holy Mother Church. Certainly, his robust address at the start of the conclave summarising the ills of the world reinforces our confidence that he will take the pro-life baton passed on to him by his predecessor and run with it.
Yet, unlike John Paul II, it is neither the world nor ecumenism nor even the pro-life cause that should preoccupy Benedict XVI and consume his time and energy. As we have repeated ad nauseam in this magazine over many years, a Church sick to the core simply has nothing to offer a sick world. "Physician, heal thyself" should be the motto of this pontificate. And judging by his striking Good Friday meditations on the dire and decrepit state of Holy Mother Church (see below) this Pope at least appears to be under no illusions about the magnitude of the situation he faces. Nor should he be, having occupied a head position at the nerve centre of the Church where the most shocking reports of every kind from every country filled his intray daily for over 20 years.
In this regard, the following article by Marco Tosatti, titled, "The Document That Put Ratzinger on Top," appeared in the Italian newspaper La Stampa of 22 April:
A confidential but highly detailed document on the situation of the Church - and especially the situation inside the Church - circulated among the cardinals over the past few days, making a vivid impression and probably contributing indirectly to the choice of Joseph Ratzinger as the successor of Pope John Paul II. "I put my hand here after reading it, because I was afraid my heart would give out on me," one cardinal told us. It is an unsigned document, consisting of about ten sub-parts, which provides a picture of the situation of the clergy in various countries of the world, particularly Europe, Africa, and North America. We were not told who the author was, but certainly it was someone viewing the Church situation from a privileged vantage point, and very much an insider’s one.
The "lack of integrity" of too many priests is put in stark relief: violation of the rules of celibacy, obviously, but not only that; problems tied to money, problems with the use of the faithful’s contributions, and problems concerning the confessional as well. One example cited was the case of two young priests, guilty of violating the secrecy of the confessional and for that reason reduced to the lay state for thirty years by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "Time was when the secrecy of the confessional was an impregnable rampart," remarked the aforementioned cardinal. It is likely that this document was the basis for then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s seemingly harsh interventions.
The first of the series took place during his reflections accompanying the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, the reflection on Jesus’ third fall under the weight of the cross. The Pope’s theologian-friend wrote: "Ought we not call to mind how much Christ has to suffer in His own Church? ... How many times we celebrate only ourselves without so much as taking Him into consideration! ... How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, by virtue of their priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Christ! How much vainglory, how much self-complacency! How little respect we show the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which He awaits us to raise us up again every time we fall!"
It was a reflection in which he spoke of the Church as a "boat on the point of sinking, a boat taking in water on all sides. And also in Your field we see more darnel than wheat. To see the vesture and visage of Your Church so filthy throws us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures."
Two days later, near the Vatican, Cardinal Ratzinger met on the street a retired curial monsignor who asked him the reason for giving what seemed a discouraging reflection. "We must pray much, we must pray much," answered Benedict XVI, "You weren’t born yesterday; you understand what I’m talking about; you know what it means - We priests! We priests!" he concluded in a tone of pleading, adding, "Remember the prayer to the Sacred Heart, in which we ask particular pardon for the sins of priests. I know it hurts to say the boat’s taking in water from every side, but it’s true, it’s true. We priests ..."
Struck by the manner in which Ratzinger said, "we priests, we priests," the monsignor recognized his inner suffering and asked him nothing further.
Tosatti goes on to mention Cardinal Ratzinger’s second sounding of the alarm, his aforementioned homily as the dean of the College of Cardinals at the Missa pro eligendo pontifice (reprinted in this edition), the first act of the conclave, which sounded the same cry of alarm in another form. "The bleak picture of the situation within, and the need for a Pontiff able to grasp the helm of the Barque of Peter and keep hold of it," Tossati concluded, "removed the reservations of many respecting the candidacy of Benedict XVI."
Assuming the essential accuracy of the La Stampa report, we might dare to hope that the soul now in supreme command of the Church will actually move to depose or otherwise discipline and call to account the dissident and lukewarm prelates at the rotten heart of our Modernist crisis; to end a diabolical forty year hiatus which has allowed perfidious so-called "liberal Catholics" - "the worst enemies of the Church" [Leo XIII] – to embed themselves in diocesan structures and decision-making bodies with the full blessing of these wretched episcopal hirelings (see "The Feminist Threat to the Church" in this issue).
But no matter how hopeless the immediate outlook or forbidding the task of cleaning out this embedded Modernist "filth", there is no point lamenting or prognosticating. From the outset of his reign, above all else, Pope Benedict must concentrate on righting the present state of play he has broadly described, identifying the episcopal culprits and making an example of one or two to get the ball rolling and show he means business (as recommended by the great St. Alphonsus Ligouri - CO, May 2005, p.80). Followed by some spectacular elevations of young, robust, fearless, virtuous, Catholic priests to set the new standard.
There is simply nothing left for it and no other way. Too much time has been spent on papal appeasement; too many souls ruined and lost. Any meaningful reform must start immediately with the bishops, even as plans are laid for a new generation of holy and orthodox clergy to replace them all in the long term.
At the same time, if we are to have any chance of securing a regular flow of manly Catholic Shepherds, the Pope must clean up the Vatican diplomatic corps and restructure the curia with a view to restoring autonomy to the various Congregations, putting the Secretary of State back in his appropriate pre-Conciliar box.
These moves would surely help eliminate the corrosive mixed-messages which fill Vatican documents nowadays – like the liturgical corrective Redemptionis Sacramentum, in which contributing Modernists from secondary Congregations were able to cancel out and contradict the orthodox intent of the primary Congregation in para after para (see "Redemptionis Sacramentum: DOA-RIP" - CO, Aug/Sept 2004).
Ruthless initiatives of this ilk within Head Office might also signal a dismantling of the great facade of ‘fraternal charity’ so easily exploited by oily Modernist clerics. I refer here to that effete, ultra-diplomatic, two-faced, gently-gently approach to all problems ecclesiastical which has come to define the clerical milieu, leaving no room for righteous rebuke and punishment (backside-kicking, to put it bluntly). It has made appearance, blackmail and who-you-know everything in the Church today.
Of course, as the ensuing article recounts, we have been here before: sky-high papal expectations never realised. At this dawn of restorative possibilities, therefore, if we are to avoid massive let-down and despair we must, as Cardinal Manning insists, "learn the duty and the necessity of seeing things as they are, in their exact and naked truth." In these tumultuous times a superficial, rose-coloured view of those we have come to admire will not do. We have nothing at all to fear from facing facts but, today more than ever, very much to lose if we do not address them.
Needless to say, we will not find these facts in the blather of the Establishment ‘Catholic’ press or secular media which often bears no resemblance whatsoever to the complex reality of Benedict or the state of the Church. Most of the ‘talking heads’ and pen-pushers who dominated the saturation press and TV coverage of the papal funeral and conclave were either paid up members of Britain’s dissident rogues gallery or well meaning but clueless scribes caught up in the excitement. So let us put their spurious pap aside and briefly consider the "exact and naked truth."
Local subscribers should be aware, for starters, that there has never been any compelling indication that Pope Benedict comprehends the extent of Britain’s demise or the suffering endured by the faithful. How this could be, given the amount of information and voluminous dossiers passed to him as Prefect of the CDF by the best informed British laity, is a mystery. Yet despite this constant flow of ‘intelligence’ to his (admittedly overworked and understaffed) Congregation, there has been precious little to show for it by way of dutiful action to rescue a local Church rotting, fishlike, from the head down.
Yes, as Cardinal Ratzinger he is said to have personally vetoed the expected elevation to the Southwark archdiocese of mega-Modernist Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth (Deo gratias!). He also personally confronted and fiercely rebuked then-Bishop Peter Smith of East Anglia and demanded that he withdraw a heretical catechetical series from his schools.
But such intermittent flashes of recognition in no way warrant breathless forecasts, from one of the better Catholic media pundits, about Pope Benedict’s accession having "tremendous implications for the English Catholic Church ... [whose] relations with the Church of England [are now] dead as a doornail."
If only! In fact, Pope Benedict appears to retain a mystifyingly naïve enthusiasm for the utterly futile ARCIC ‘dialogue’ with the Anglican rabble, which continues apace under arch-Modernist Cardinal Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, who is set to resume his pointless review of ARCIC II. Moreover, in answer to journalist Peter Seewald’s risible statement in his book length interview with Cardinal Ratzinger that "Only English Catholicism seems to be growing stronger", the Cardinal offered not a solitary objection, lauding instead the "strong Catholic potency in Anglicanism" which he considers "is becoming very visible again"! [Salt of the Earth - 1996].
Meanwhile, even the simplest open-and-shut concerns referred to the Congregation, such as the listing of ultra-dissident groups in the national Catholic Directory, which might have been fixed with a pointed CDF phone call or letter, were never addressed despite the repeated provision of comprehensive damning evidence.
Nor should we forget that the new Pope is essentially a gentle, amiable academic who is not constitutionally cut out for banging heads, episcopal or otherwise. Among other acts as Head of the CDF from 1981-2005, he famously suspended Fr. Curran, excommunicated Archbishop Thuc and Fr. Balisuriya, condemned works by Fathers Boff, Schillebeeckx, Guindon, Dupuis, de Mello, Haight and banned Fr. Nugent and Sr. Gramick from exercising their pastoral ministry. It has been a good training ground for the arduous job ahead, but over a 24 year period and given the number of rampant heretics loose in the Church today, it is hardly a record to inspire absolute confidence in his will (as opposed to his evident desire) to clean out the "filth".
Especially when one considers that he speedily ‘reconciled’ Fr Balisuriya with the Church just a year after his excommunication, following an orchestrated outcry from the Modernist lobby. (Not surprisingly, Balisuriya materialised in Rome during the conclave, rubbishing his old nemesis Ratzinger on television and sounding decidedly ‘un-reconciled’.)
There have been other underwhelming, dubious and eyebrow-raising statements and actions by the Pope in his former CDF incarnation, such as his suggestion that the US media exaggerated the sexual abuse saga; enthusiastic support for organ donation; too easy acceptance of the US Bishops’ lukewarm attitude to pro-abort politicians receiving Holy Communion; confusing elaborations on Dominus Iesus during interviews in the controversial aftermath of its publication; the CDF lauding of the heretical Karl Rahner during the Rahner rehabilitation jamboree in Rome last year; the ‘ecumenical theology’ behind the validation of an ancient Assyrian Eucharistic Prayer which lacks the words of Consecration .... .
And of course, in our excitement at the possibilities opened up by his election, we must also never forget that Pope Benedict is the ultimate apologist for the ill-fated Vatican II.
Like his predecessor he intends to pursue the depressingly familiar party line: to ‘further develop the unique inheritance’ of this Council whose ‘full importance and meaning has yet to be understood’ and on and on. Hence his rather disturbing statement to the assembled Cardinals at his first Mass that his "primary task" would be to work to reunify all Christians. But this quintessential Vatican II "task" is certainly not the "primary" role of an elderly Pope who may have very limited time to save his own Catholic remnant from the depredations of Modernist hierarchies.
Just as worrying was his unsupportable statement that John Paul II had left us "a Church that is more courageous, freer, younger. A Church that ... looks with serenity to the past and is not afraid of the future."
Yet as Cardinal Manning stated it is not about the past or the future but the present. And while the ‘courageous, young, free’ Church described by the Holy Father might once have been or may be to come, it is surely not the timid, ageing Western Church of today; the one enslaved by "the synthesis of all heresies."
Then there is Mr Larson’s compelling CO series documenting and analysing some of the many Modernist philosophical and theological thoughts and formulations to be found in the numerous works of Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as his rehabilitation of the previously condemned Antonio Rosmini. (All these articles are now available on the CO website for general access and further study - along with Mr Larson’s reflection on his analyses in light of Cardinal Ratzinger’s elevation, which we also include in this edition for readers who might be wondering.)
In response, one can proffer that our new Holy Father is only human and that, after all, a few of his predecessors have been guilty of personal ‘skirmishes’ with the heterodox or heretical.
The "grace of state" afforded the Vicar of Christ, however, is always a strong antidote to whatever erroneous views may have been held before elevation and a Divine protection against proclaiming those errors from the Chair of Peter. Thus, while readers may be rightly concerned they need not be unduly disturbed by the Larson critiques, but maintain with full confidence their belief in the unfailing capacity of the successors of Peter to confirm their brethren in the one true Faith - Catholic, Apostolic and Roman.
Nonetheless, with the accession of Pope Benedict the charges made and questions raised by Mr Larson are now even more pressing. The more incisive scribes in the secular press have already picked up on our new pontiff’s curious ‘line of thought’, revealed in this comment by Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page:
[In his memoirs "Milestones"] Joseph Ratzinger describes how he prefers Augustine to Thomas Aquinas, "whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made." Anyone familiar with Augustine and Aquinas would at least pause to reflect on this remark.... Augustine is the more mystical personality, closer in some ways to the "new age" impulses of our times. In the writings of Augustine, arguably the most complex mind Christianity has produced, the exercise of deep faith carries with it the possibility of what I would call a "high" experience in one’s pursuit of and relationship to God... I get the impression that Joseph Ratzinger ... is at heart more a vibrant 5th-century Christian than a stale 19th-century dogmatist; as conceivably was John Paul II, who often let himself slip into an Upward-directed reverie in public. In short, Benedict XVI looks to be very different from the stolid, authoritarian German described this week in the public prints.
Mr Larson would doubtless see the aversion to St. Thomas (a central theme in his essays) along with this propensity for Augustinian-style "mysticism" as a key to understanding the Cardinal’s controversial rehabilitation of Rosmini, who was also
known as a "mystic". It might also provide the only plausible explanation for the otherwise inexplicable appointment of Archbishop Levada of San Francisco to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Yes, even as the above para was being penned, news arrived of Pope Benedict’s appointment of the notorious homosexual-friendly Levada as moral and doctrinal enforcer for the universal Church. Expected now to lead the cleansing of clerical perverts from the Church, Levada warmed up for this daunting task by becoming the first bishop in history to lead his diocese into bankruptcy due to the number of lawsuits brought against his abusing homosexual clergy, who apparently ran riot in Portland on his watch. He later underlined his perverse sympathies when, as Archbishop of San Francisco, he took a neutral position (i.e. compromised) on an anti-gay-rights initiative that recognised homosexual "domestic partnerships."
If there is any rational explanation for such a bizarre appointment, which has cast an immediate shadow over Benedict’s pontificate, it might lie in the fact that Archbishop Levada (once an overseer of Anglican-Roman Catholic ‘dialogue’) is also said to be the hierarchy’s leading expert on Eastern Orthodox theology. This leads us back to the Larson thesis that Cardinal Ratzinger’s alleged errors appear headed in the general direction of an Augustinian-Platonic style of philosophy, theology, and spirituality which is very much closer to the Orthodox.
If so, the Levada appointment would continue this ecumenical thrust towards the East, which along with the rehabilitation of the likes of Rosmini could be the primary vehicle for implementing philosophical and theological approaches which bypass St. Thomas. Since Eastern Orthodoxy is noted for its aversion to Aquinas and considering, in consequence, the errors and heresies which ravage the East today, Levada’s appointment might be seen as doubly disturbing.
So there is much to ponder and weigh up amid the predictable joy and hope raised by this new pontificate. We need to calm down, and then get down - on our knees - and pray that God will shore up Pope Benedict XVI: eliciting from him all that is good for the Church and protecting him (and us) from any wrong turns.
And on the pivotal liturgical question we should all immediately write a few lines to the Holy Father requesting that he release the full findings of the favourable 1986 report of the Commission of Cardinals, of which he was a member, on the granting of a universal indult for the celebration of the Old Mass. This report has never been made public, let alone acted upon.
To briefly recap for the benefit of papal correspondents – as reliably related by the late Dr Eric de Saventhem (RIP), former head of Una Voce International, and outlined in the Autumn 1997 edition of the traditional Australian journal Oriens: a commission of nine Cardinals constituted by Pope John Paul II to thoroughly study the issue informed His Holiness that a priest cannot be obligated to celebrate the new rite of the Mass and that bishops cannot forbid or place restrictions upon the celebration of the traditional Mass, whether in private or in public.
The Cardinals then went on to lay down six ‘norms’ to provide for the co-existence of the traditional with the new liturgy:
Understandably, Pope Benedict’s major liturgical concern and natural postconciliar predisposition will be to sort out the Novus Ordo (starting, one hopes, with the summary sacking of hitherto papal liturgical ‘choreographer’ Archbishop Piero Marini – see "Confusion at the Very Top", CO May 2004).
Nonetheless, his renowned esteem for the traditional Mass will ensure that missives related to the 1986 commission and a universal indult receive a warm and considered reception.
Finally, as exemplified by the reign of St. Pius V (1566-72), we should never doubt that a comprehensive reform can be effected in a very short pontificate, given the papal will and determination. But it takes a very special breed of pontiff - one possessing all the fortitude and implacable resolve embodied in the "Crisis Popes" [see "Cronies, Crooks and Crisis Popes", CO January 2002].
Like Pope Benedict XVI, St. Pius also inherited a thoroughly corrupt and compromising Church full of false optimism in the aftermath of a General Council [Trent]. Yet he was never passively resigned to the present course of events and knew no half measures in his dealings and disciplines. Among the many staggering achievements under his leadership, heresy virtually disappeared from Italy.
Despite his exulted regard for his predecessor, whose cause of beatification he has now fast-tracked, we should hope and pray, therefore, that history comes to adjudge the aura and actions evoked by Pope Benedict as not so much those of a "Great" Pope but, rather, a "Crisis Pope"; as more Pius V than ‘John Paul III’.