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May 5 17 5:53 AM
May 24 17 7:35 AM
Burying BenedictThough Benedict is still living, Francis is trying to bury him. (This may be the silliest thing I’ve heard yet from an anti-Francis commentator.) Upon his election in 2013, Francis began to pursue an agenda that Joseph Ratzinger had opposed throughout his career. A stress on the pastoral over against the doctrinal, (Since when has the pastoral aspect of the Catholic faith been something so disagreeable?) a promotion of diverse disciplinary and doctrinal approaches in local churches, the opening of communion to the divorced and remarried (Clearly Schmitz hasn‘t read the various commentaries which say that the Pope has not allowed the wholesale opening of Communion to the divorced and remarried.) — all these proposals were weighed and rejected by Ratzinger more than ten years ago in a heated debate with Walter Kasper. (But Ratzinger certainly thought differently when he was a young professor of theology in 1972 - which Schmitz seems to have conveniently forgotten.) For better or worse, Francis now seeks to reverse Ratzinger. (Popes have both supported and reversed their predecessors at one time or another throughout the history of the Church. Has Schmitz forgotten that?)The conflict began with a 1992 letter concerning “the fundamental elements that are to be considered already settled” when Catholic theologians do their work. Some theologians had suggested that while doctrine might be universal and unchanging, it could be bent to meet discrete pastoral realities—allowing for a liberal approach, say, in Western Europe and a more conservative one in Africa.In order to guard against this idea, Pope John Paul II and Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, insisted that the universal Church was “a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church.” There would be no Anglican-style diversity for Catholics—not under John Paul.Behind this seemingly academic debate about the local and universal Church stood a disagreement over communion for the divorced and remarried. In 1993, Kasper defied John Paul by proposing that individual bishops should be able to decide whether or not to give communion to the divorced and remarried. Stopping short of calling for a change in doctrine, he said that there ought to be “room for pastoral flexibility in complex, individual cases.”In 1994, the Vatican rejected Kasper’s proposal with a letter signed by Ratzinger. “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.” Kasper was not ready to back down. In a festschrift published in 1999, he criticized the Vatican’s 1992 letter and insisted on the legitimate independence of local churches.Ratzinger responded in a personal capacity the following year. It is because of such responses that he gained his reputation as a rigid doctrinal enforcer, but this caricature is unfair. Benedict has always been a poet of the Church, a man in whose writing German Romanticism blooms into orthodoxy. We see it here in his defense of Christian unity. He describes the Church as “a love story between God and humanity” that tends toward unity. He hears the gospel as a kind of theological ninth symphony, in which all humanity is drawn together as one:The basic idea of sacred history is that of gathering together, of uniting human beings in the one body of Christ, the union of human beings and through human beings of all creation with God. There is only one bride, only one body of Christ, not many brides, not many bodies.The Church is not “merely a structure that can be changed or demolished at will, which would have nothing to do with the reality of faith as such.” A “form of bodiliness belongs to the Church herself.” This form, this body, must be loved and respected, not put on the rack.Here we begin to see how the question of the universality of the Church affects apparently unrelated questions, such as communion and divorce and remarriage. Ratzinger cited 1 Corinthians, where Paul describes the unity of the Church in terms of two sacraments—communion and matrimony. Just as the two become one flesh in marriage, so in the Eucharist the many become one body. “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”The connections Paul draws between marriage, the Eucharist, and Church unity should serve as a warning for whoever would tamper with one of the three. If the one body of the universal Church can be divided, the “one flesh” of a married couple can be as well. And communion—the sign of unity of belief and practice—can turn to disunion, with people who do not share the same beliefs joining together as though they did.Kasper’s rejoinder came in an essay published in English by America. It is the earliest and most succinct expression of what would become Pope Francis’s program. It begins with a key distinction: “I reached my position not from abstract reasoning but from pastoral experience.” Kasper then decries the “adamant refusal of Communion to all divorced and remarried persons and the highly restrictive rules for eucharistic hospitality.” Here we have it—all the controversies of the Francis era, more than a decade before his election.(It should be noted that overwrought terms like adamant and highly restrictive, for which Kasper has sometimes been criticized, were introduced by an enthusiastic translator and have no equivalent in the German text.) ("Enthusiastic translator"? How could Schmitz even know the frame of mind of the person who translated Cardinal Kasper's text?!) Hovering in the background of this dispute, as of so many Catholic disputes, is the issue of liturgy. Ratzinger was already known as an advocate of the “reform of the reform”—a program that avoids liturgical disruption, while slowly bringing the liturgy back into continuity with its historic form. (Alas, for the conservatives who attach themselves to Ratzinger, the “historic” form of the liturgy seems to go only as far back as the Tridentine liturgy.) Kasper, by contrast, uses the disruption that followed Vatican II (It is really so tiresome to see the word "disruption" being forever linked to the phrase "Vatican II".) to justify further changes in Catholic life: “Our people are well aware of the flexibility of laws and regulations; they have experienced a great deal of it over the past decades. They lived through changes that no one anticipated or even thought possible.” Evelyn Waugh described how Catholics at the time of the Council underwent “a superficial revolution in what then seemed permanent.” (Evelyn Waugh was a Catholic of the traditionalist bent - it isn't surprising that he would think that way, but it doesn't make his opinion about the post-Conciliar Church true.) Kasper embraces that superficial revolution, hoping that it will justify another, profounder one. (It is amazing how Schmitz, who holds an undergraduate degree in English, seems to think himself far more theologically knowledgeable than Walter Kasper, who holds a doctorate in dogmatic theology - and therefore clearly knows far, far more about Catholic dogma and doctrine (and the difference between them) than Schmitz - and was once the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Tubingen.)He laments that Ratzinger does not see things his way: “Regrettably, Cardinal Ratzinger has approached the problem of the relationship between the universal church and local churches from a purely abstract and theoretical point of view, without taking into account concrete pastoral situations and experiences.” Ratzinger has failed to consult what Kasper calls the “data” of experience: “To history, therefore, we must turn for sound theology,” where we will find many examples of a commendable “diversity.”Though Kasper’s language is strewn with clichés (“data,” “diversity,” “experience”), (Those are words. Clichés come in the form of sentences or phrases. And I thought Schmitz has a degree in English!) it has genuine rhetorical appeal. We want to believe that there can be peace, peace, though there is no peace between Church and world. Just as we can be moved by visions of unity, we can be beguiled by promises of comfort. The contrast between the two men is thus rhetorical as well as doctrinal: Ratzinger inspires; Kasper relieves.America’s editors invited Ratzinger to respond, and he reluctantly agreed. (“Reluctantly”? Does Schmitz now claim to be privy to the thoughts of Joseph Ratzinger when he was asked to respond?) His reply notes that baptism is a truly trinitarian event; we are baptized not merely in but into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We are not made members of one of various local Christian associations, but are united with God. For this reason, “Anyone baptized in the church in Berlin is always at home in the church in Rome or in New York or in Kinshasa or in Bangalore or wherever, as if he or she had been baptized there. He or she does not need to file a change-of-address form; it is one and the same church.”Kasper closed the debate in 2001 with a letter to the editor, in which he argued that it “cannot be wholly wrongheaded … to ask about concrete actions, not in political, but in pastoral life.” There the controversy seemed to end. Ratzinger became pope and Kasper’s proposal was forgotten.Twelve years later, a newly elected Pope Francis gave Kasper’s proposal new life. In his first Angelus address, Francis singled out Kasper for praise, reintroducing him to the universal Church as “a good theologian, a talented theologian” whose latest book had done the new pope “so much good.” We now know that Francis had been reading Kasper closely for many years. Though he is usually portrayed as spontaneous and non-ideological, Francis has steadily advanced the agenda that Kasper outlined over a decade ago. (So, if Francis had not seen and supported the merits of Cardinal Kasper's views, and instead kept to the "Ratzinger" line, he wouldn't be considered ideological?)In the face of this challenge, Benedict has kept an almost perfect silence. (“Perfect silence”? Schmitz has conveniently forgotten the “coincidental” release of Joseph Ratzinger’s “revised” 1972 essay on Communion and the divorced shortly after the Synod of 2014. The conclusion of the original version, if Schmitz, doesn’t know it yet, suggested that divorced and remarried Catholics might be allowed to receive Communion under certain circumstances. That conclusion was conspicuously absent in the version of the essay that appeared in Ratzinger’s “Collected Works” - which, incidentally, was edited by none other than Gerhard Ludwig Muller, the CDF Prefect who opposes Communion for the remarried - that was published in November 2014. One can't help but wonder if the essay was purposely “revised“ (willingly or no by the author) so that it could no longer be cited as a theological justification for such a controversial subject. After all, it wouldn't suit Francis' enemies to be shown that Ratzinger himself once put down in writing some theological insights that were in agreement with an idea of Francis' that they particularly despise.) There is hardly any need to add to the words in which he resoundingly rejected the program of Kasper and Francis. And yet the awkwardness remains. No pope in living memory has so directly opposed his predecessor (“In living memory“? Whose “memory“? Schmitz's? That's a rather short memory, to say nothing of being selective, considering that Schmitz began college in 2004, which makes him just over 30 years of age. So, that leaves out Popes Paul VI and John XXIII - coincidentally, the two Popes responsible for Vatican II, for which Schmitz clearly has no love lost. Besides, is it Schmitz's claim that a Pope should never - ever! - contradict his predecessor, not even on small details? Good heavens - there goes the rehabilitation of Galileo, the condemnation of slavery, the acceptance of the Copernican theory of the solar system, Nostra Aetate, and goodness knows what else ...) —who, in this instance, happens to live just up the hill. This is why supporters of Francis’s agenda become nervous whenever Benedict speaks, as he recently did in praise of Cardinal Sarah. Were the two men in genuine accord, partisans of Francis would not fear the learned, gentle German who walks the Vatican Gardens. (The two men are in genuine accord, as they have both demonstrated time and time again. It is those who refuse to accept Ratzinger’s resignation - and who are bent on using him to further their agendas - who keep insisting that they are not. And this particular "partisan" of Francis also loves the wise and gracious German who would be far happier in his beloved Bavaria than walking in the Vatican Gardens only to be "met" by strangers who are given access to him by the gatekeeper of the Monastery.)And so the two popes, active and emeritus, speaking and silent, remain at odds. (They are "at odds" only in the minds of people like Schmitz, who would probably be happier if Vatican II never happened. And Schmitz has forgotten a very basic teaching of the Church: there is only one Successor of Peter at a time. Joseph Ratzinger resigned from the papacy, and is therefore no longer the pope. Archbishop Rino Fisichella was right, as were many other leading canon experts - that benighted “Pope emeritus” title is causing no end of trouble and should never have been used in the first place. Whoever ignored Ratzinger's wish to be known simply as "Padre Benedetto" upon retirement, and pressured him into using the "Pope emeritus" title, has much to answer for.) In the end, it does not matter who comes last or speaks most; what matters is who thinks with the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go. (Is Schmitz now implying that Pope Francis is supporting heresy?!) When Benedict’s enraptured words are compared to the platitudes of his successor, it is hard not to notice a difference: One pope echoes the apostles, and the other parrots Walter Kasper. Because this difference in speech reflects a difference in belief, a prediction can be made. Regardless of who dies first, Benedict will outlive Francis. (Or, people will be far more wise and discerning than Schmitz, and in their hearts both Joseph Ratzinger and Jorge Bergoglio, with Angelo Roncalli, Giovanni Montini, Albino Luciani and Karol Wojtyla, will live forever, cherished and beloved for the individual gifts they brought to the Church.)
The basic idea of sacred history is that of gathering together, of uniting human beings in the one body of Christ, the union of human beings and through human beings of all creation with God. There is only one bride, only one body of Christ, not many brides, not many bodies.
May 28 17 5:05 AM
May 29 17 2:09 AM
For more than four years, since his resignation took effect, Benedict XVI has very carefully avoided public comments on the state of the Church. For someone who was a very public figure and a very prolific author, his silence was conspicuous. When he announced his plan to resign, Pope Benedict pledged his loyalty to his successor, and he obviously intended to keep that promise, saying nothing that could possibly be interpreted as a criticism.Yes, the retired Pope did occasionally write a congratulatory letter to a fellow theologian, or even a foreword for a book. But he steered well clear of contemporary ecclesiastical debates. He has cooperated in the production of his collected works, and on at least one occasion he made an editorial decision that some careful readers saw as significant, in light of current debates within the Church. But leaving aside that one case—which involved a subtle change, and required expert interpretation—Benedict has not written or said anything that could be cited as a clear disagreement with Pope Francis.With Benedict’s steadfast silence in mind, I am still mulling over the significance of his decision to write an “afterword” for Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Power of Silence. It would have made perfect sense for Benedict to write a foreword for the book. His praise for the book is obviously genuine, and Cardinal Sarah’s views are certainly in accord with those of Benedict/Ratzinger the theologian. But Benedict’s “afterword” was released only after Cardinal Sarah’s book was already in print. ( Could Benedict have been "persuaded" to write this in "support" of a beleaguered Sarah. Ganswein is clearly close to the cardinal and introduced the German version of this book in the library of the Anima last week. There he had the nerve to say that writing this piece was a "sovereign act" of Benedict XVI. Apart from the highly provocative choice of words, he was clearly covering his back and claiming there was no pressure from him. Perhaps pressure came from the same mysterious person who insisted Benedict use the title "Pope Emeritus".)Once a prolific author, Benedict at the age of 90 can no longer churn out written material at the same pace. Maybe he was simply late with this contribution. Maybe that explains it all. Or maybe he read the book recently, and was inspired to write something about it. That possibility makes perfect sense as well; Cardinal Sarah’s message is that powerful.But when I read the retired Pontiff’s afterword, I pause when I reach this sentence:We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church.Benedict’s reference here is to Cardinal Sarah’s role as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Again Benedict’s praise is undoubtedly heartfelt; there is no doubt that Cardinal Sarah is, in Benedict’s opinion (and mine too, not that my opinion matters) exactly the right man for that job. But do the words of the retired Pope take on a different meaning in light of the persistent rumors that Pope Francis plans to remove Cardinal Sarah from that position?
We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church.
Jun 15 17 4:36 PM
Jun 16 17 1:34 AM
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