By E. J. Dionne

The Paradoxes Of Pope Benedict

February 11, 2013 4:26 pm Category: Memo Pad 20 Comments A+ / A-
The Paradoxes Of Pope Benedict

WASHINGTON — Pope Benedict’s resignation shouldn’t have surprised us as much as it did. As an institutionalist who believes in the Roman Catholic Church as the carrier of truth in a sinful world, he would worry a great deal about the impact of his own infirmities on the institution’s capacity to thrive.

He is a traditionalist who was nonetheless much affected by modernity. He would therefore not be troubled that he had to reach far back to find a precedent for papal resignation. He knows that a pope hobbled by sickness and weakness would be a dispiriting symbol in a media age.

Then again, perhaps his very traditionalism inclined him to this decision. After all, he wouldn’t have looked for only recent precedents. He’d have gone back through the church’s 2,000-year history and noted that several popes have abdicated — the most recent being Gregory XII, who left office in 1415. Father Tom Reese, a scholar of Vatican politics, points out that Gregory left at the request of the Council of Constance to help end the Great Western Schism. You wonder: Does Benedict see his resignation as an occasion for pulling together a very divided church?

I have always seen Benedict as a kind of neoconservative — not in his foreign policy attitudes but in sociological terms. Like the original neoconservatives of more than 40 years ago, Benedict was a moderate progressive before he became a conservative. He was pushed to the right, as so many neoconservatives were, by a visceral reaction to the rebellions of the 1960s.

When I was writing a profile of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for The New York Times Magazine in 1985, he granted me a written interview in response to questions that proved surprisingly revealing.

The student revolts of 1968 deeply alarmed him. “At the time,” he wrote, “I was dean of the faculty of theology at [the University of] Tubingen, and in all the university assemblies in which I participated, I could notice all kinds of terror, from subtle psycho-terror up to violence.”

He described how he initially regarded Marxism as a potential corrective to certain strains of modern thought. But he came to identify it with “terror.” He added: “I think that in those years, I learned where discussion must stop because it is turning into a lie and resistance must begin in order to maintain freedom.”

From this, it’s possible to see how a one-time liberal became an ardent critic not only of Marxism but of liberalizing trends in the church, including the epochal reforms of the Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII. As Ratzinger put it in a famous series of interviews with the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori before he became pope, “one has encountered dissension [in the church] which … seems to have passed over from self-criticism to self-destruction.” Benedict was thus intent on pressing the most conservative interpretations of the meaning of Vatican II.

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The Paradoxes Of Pope Benedict Reviewed by on . WASHINGTON -- Pope Benedict's resignation shouldn't have surprised us as much as it did. As an institutionalist who believes in the Roman Catholic Church as the WASHINGTON -- Pope Benedict's resignation shouldn't have surprised us as much as it did. As an institutionalist who believes in the Roman Catholic Church as the Rating:

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Comments

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7DKWSXHQIDBW5PUAPZ2HZAYYUY Baron Cormac

    EJ, we are dealing with a guy whose last job was Head of the Inquisition, no matter what fancy title they give it today. As such, he was the enforcer for Wojtyla’s ideas of what Catholic Orthodoxy should be. Between the two of them in their tenure as Pope, they managed to destroy just about every reform Roncalli and Montini fought for in Vatican II. Their have taken a Church dragged Kicking and Screaming from the 15th century into the 20th century back to the 15th century again.

    Ratzinger was directly involved in the slow response and foot dragging the Church had in reaction to the Sex Abuse scandals. He has foisted the title “the Great” on his predecessor and has tried to fast track his path to Sainthood. If anything, a serious evaluation of his Papacy shows that outside of his travels and his linguistic capabilities, he was mediocre at best. And Ratzinger is even more mediocre than his forerunner. Lord help us if whoever gets the nod declared Ratzinger as “the Great”, too!

    Also, just about every Cardinal who can vote in this coming Conclave will owe their Hat to either Wojtyla or Ratzinger, so they will probably elect from their own ranks someone with the same philopsohy and outlook. Which means that for the next decade or so of the 21st century, the Church Universal will be led by someone who believes the 15th Century to be the pinnacle of his faith! Lord help us all, but particularly help those who still call themselves Roman Catholic!

  • Sand_Cat

    Unfortunately, they’ll probably just elect someone worse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

    In my opinion, Pope Benedict was a lackluster and, at times, controversial replacement for John Paul. It is also worth noting the unprecedented fragmentation that currently exists in the College of Cardinals and the Catholic hierarchy, not regarding dogma, but over the scope of the Vatican authority on financial matters.
    The only positive thing I can say about Pope Benedict is that he showed wisdom and courage in deciding to resign.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RCV6PTTSY3NRJKVOBMMRXMJ6NA Barbara

    When do we ever find out of the true number of Catholics. I and thousands of others left years ago
    but, if you are baptized Catholic, I’m sure you are still in their head count. I cannot believe anyone
    with education and common sense could follow this cult.

    • Dol5

      I’m with you! You have stated just what I have always thought.

  • latebloomingrandma

    Well, this Grandma and ardent practicing Catholic struggles daily with all the paradoxes. I love the faith, but am frustrated with the Church as “institution” and with the style of the patriarchal hierarchy. I live a conservative life but think as a liberal. It’s difficult being a Catholic and an American citizen, as the belief systems don’t alway gel with the Bill of Rights. Yet, I’m one who stays rather than let the stodgy people kick me out. Liberals are the pulse of the country, and purging the Church of us would really turn this beautiful faith into a right wing cult. They will have to throw me out. The only way I would leave on my own if I am “forced” to check my brain and my heart at the door of the church before I enter. I have learned that I will not “put up” with priests any more. If the priest is a lousy messenger or a hypocrit, I look for another parish. Right now I belong to a parish with a terrific priest, who really understands the gospel message for these modern times.
    I appreciate E.J’s writings on matters of religion and politics. I heard him and Chris Matthews yesterday re: the Pope. Chris thinks the Pope has his successor picked, as he appointed many of the cardinals. I liked EJ’s take better—he thinks this is Machiavelli vs the Holy Spirit, and is hoping the Holy Spirit wins out. I almost left the Church over the clergy scandal—my sister said we must have faith that the Holy Spirit is stronger than the hierarchy. I guess we’ll find out.
    I know there are not too many “religious” people who post here, but since most of us are of the liberal persuasion, I hope I don’t get dissed too badly, but felt I needed to speak out in some kind of defense of my Church.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/HJIWONQOW4EAYMCA4QH2DDJMBU MARK

      Thank You for sharing your thoughts.

    • tobyspeeks

      Though I’m not religious, personally I have no problem with religion. My problem is with the religious nut collective. Thanks for you post, it was refreshing.

    • Dol5

      You sound like an educated lady. Not all Catholics are as liberal as you have stated but hang in there. I enjoy your blods when ever they appear. Thank you for your take on this issue.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bob.brindell.7 Bob Brindell

      You said it all! I was born a liberal demodrate and Catholic when I die I will still be both.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonny-Dancer/100003939186029 Jonny Dancer

    Until the high level rulers of the Catholics come to terms and come into the 21st century there is not much hope of any moderniing of the dedomination!

  • Michael Kollmorgen

    What a HOOT!

    A POPE isn’t supposed to RETIRE, actually neither are the Priest and Nuns.

    Enough Said!

  • http://mohammeddressup.com/ I Zheet M’Drawz

    The only reason anyone is a Catholick (or any other religion) is because it was forced down your throat by your parents before you were able to distinguish between make believe Santa Claus the Easter Bunny & Jesus and reality.

    Here’s a guy, he was/is a Nazi, protects an institution known for one thing, raping boys.

    They’re one of the wealthiest organizations on earth & surely one of the most evil.

    • Michael Kollmorgen

      There are other Christian Denominations that consider the Catholic Church the ultimate embodiment of the Anti Christ.

      They just might have a valid point.

      Don’t want to seem harsh, but I aint got no use for any religion.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HJIWONQOW4EAYMCA4QH2DDJMBU MARK

    I was born into Catholicism.By age seventeen I had left the Church and in later years came to learn that my leaving had been absolutely essential to my continued survival.I have never suffered from a lack of a personal relationship with the God of my understanding.All my life I have witnessed the Catholic Church struggle for relevancy while I refused to hold my breath waiting to find a member of the clergy with enough integrity to say that nobody needs a church,religion,bible or other holy books,or any priest,preacher,minister,etc. in order to have a relationship with God.The only thing needed is desire.Right or wrong,I have concluded that the reason the clergy does not say that, is because they don’t want to put themselves out of a job. While the Church certainly promotes some high and righteous ideals and some concepts that do make sense such as a strong family unit being the hub of society,as any other group of human beings they are imperfect. There is a man living down the street from me with whom I was formerly acquainted.He has very little education and is a dedicated fundamentalist who thinks that science is evil and nothing but lies.In his wisdom he has decided because I am not a church goer nor do I spend my days pouring over the contents of the bible that I am damned and going to hell.I guess time will tell.Meanwhile,I am content to live and let live and try to do the right things for the right reason.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bob.brindell.7 Bob Brindell

      Religion is not for evert one. Obviously you found be a Catholic not for you. Nor as it seems from your post any othe organized religion. Yet you have maintianed a belief in and relationship with God. Good for you! God speed to you.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/HJIWONQOW4EAYMCA4QH2DDJMBU MARK

        It has been an exceptional and mind/spirit altering experience that continues to inform me. Thanks for your words and good wishes and may you too have many blessings.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7DKWSXHQIDBW5PUAPZ2HZAYYUY Baron Cormac

      Mark, in my case the Church abandoned me when I got divorced and remarried. I refuse to PAY for an annulment to declare that my first marriage of almost 20 years never existed when, according to the Federal Government (DoD, IRS, etc,) it did. Unlike most Cradle Catholics, I was exposed to many Christian denominations. I am currently a member of one of the more mainstream Protestant denominations and enjoy the level of involvement in Church governance that I used to enjoy in the Catholic Church before Wojtyla and Ratzinger gutted Vatican II, and removed as much lay involvement that they could get away with. Even if the Universal Church welcomed me back, I have to question whether I would accept their invitation.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/HJIWONQOW4EAYMCA4QH2DDJMBU MARK

        Baron,I know that I would not accept the invitation.Nor have I any doubts that I would ever get one.Twice over the years,I returned briefly only to be rejected by parishoners and to encounter the old Catholic hierarchy mandate of blind compliance.The main message I got as a kid and it was constant,was that I was bad.It seemed that no matter what I did,I had no chance of ever getting to heaven.I can tell you that is one massive burden for a ten year old to carry.I won’t bore you with the details but thirteen years ago I was in extreme desperation.I asked God for another chance at life and to become a better man than what I was.I got what I asked for. Since then my knowledge of who I am and what God is has become clearer and stronger. I try to live accordingly and to practice gratitude.I thank You very much for sharing your thoughts with me and I hope that you live with the blessings from the God of Your understanding.

  • BOC

    How does one retire from serving the Lord, especially one that is in leadership to counsel and lead others to the Lord Jesus Christ?

    “Serving God is a way of life for those who truly believe?” The problem with this description of serving, which is plagued with so many problems (child abuse, malfeasance, etc.) is it’s distorted view of what faith and the Kingdom of God really is. “Institutionalism being the adherence to or belief in established formalities, especially belief in organized religion.”

    Institutionalism is a system practiced by those who view things in the natural world as opposed to the Kingdom of God. They believe in the natural order of things on one- hand, while recognizing and acknowledging faith and the Holy Spirit(supernatural) on the other.
    You cannot serve two masters. You are either in with God or you are out, there is no in- between. You cannot serve him faithfully in the church then head to the corner bar or curse your neighbor outside of his house. Serving God is a way of life.

    “The Roman Catholic Church as the carrier of truth in a sinful world?” One must look within before one can truly carry God’s word to share with others, God doesn’t like ‘Hypocrites.’
    A person or leader in God’s Kingdom does not worry about bodily ailment or weakness,
    especially one brought on by old age. Frailty and feebleness are things God heals and/or protects his children from, if they are obedient and have faith in him and his word that he he will heal you. God promises us long-life if we seek and serve him diligently, he has never broken a promise. The church that functions under Gods instruction, will always thrive and function properly, because it is his house [Matt.6:18 KJV].

    The language infighting in this church became the major focus in-lieu of God’s word only being the way, the only way. For we walk by faith not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV] So what the world was comfortable with which is temporal, but Gods Holy word which is never dispiriting but everlasting, is what we should always be focused on. A house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand [Mark 3:25 KJV].

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