12 April 2010

Is Pope Benedict qualified for role as Universal Pastor?

Last night a friend asked me about an article she read that claimed Pope Benedict had only been a pastor a short time. I had not seen the article but found it this morning over at What Does the Prayer Really Say? where Fr. John Zuhlsdorf gives his take on the article.

The article in question is written by Vanessa Gera for the Associated Press and titled "Pope's ivory tower past adds to his detachment."

The headline itself is sensationally over the top so - with a discerning mind and a just a pinch of common sense - you can already guess the accuracy of the article.

At any rate, her text follows, with my emphases and comments:

VATICAN CITY – Long before entering Vatican life, Pope Benedict XVI won renown as a theologian and a German university professor, penning more than 40 books and winning a devoted following of students who respected his prodigious memory and brilliant mind.

One thing absent from his resume? Significant time as a parish priest.

Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, only worked 15 months tending to a flock in the 59 years since taking his vows, instead closing himself in the ivory tower of academia — a background that may help account for his troubled handling of the sex abuse crisis engulfing the church [If Ms. Gera would read even a couple of his more than 40 books, she might well learn that he is not separated from everyday life as she presumes].

For one, it adds to the impression of an out-of-touch pontiff who simply doesn't grasp the enormity of the fury around the world over mounting evidence of sex abuse by priests [only if you want it to do so; not everyone has that impression of the Pontiff], and inaction on the part of the Vatican and Benedict himself.

Benedict's very legacy will be shaped by whether this aging pontiff, who turns 83 on Friday, can embrace a new openness and express remorse in straightforward language free of the stilted defensiveness of many Vatican pronouncements to date [Perhaps Ms. Gera should read the letter he wrote to the Irish. Or what he has said when he has met with victims of sexual abuse. Or what he did to expedite abuse cases at the CDF. He has certainly expressed "a new openness" and "remorse." Ms. Gera is more aloof and out-of-touch than she realizes].

"Pope Ratzinger, more lucid than many of his defenders, must keep from being suffocated by Professor Ratzinger," Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican reporter, wrote in a column last week in the daily Il Fatto [this guy's just as clueless as Gera. A suffocating professor does not continue to draw crowds in such large numbers as Pope Benedict does, more than Pope John Paul II. He might consider reading or even just listening to what Pope Benedict says].

But in his native Germany, the prominent Der Spiegel magazine has already declared his papacy a failure [and everyone knows Der Spiegel is not only the voice of reason but the governing mind of the universe. How can a papacy be declared a failure when it isn't over? He already has attained many unexpected victories: dialogue with Jews and Muslims; reunification with the Traditional Anglican Communion; and nearing reunification with the Russian Orthodox, just to name a few], speaking in its most recent issue of "the tragedy of a man who had set out to write books and, only near the end of his life, was summoned to assume the Herculean office at the Vatican."

Even the pope's staunchest admirers say he's not the best manager [who is? With the media's hatred of the Church, no Pope can ever live up to what they expect of him for to do so would be to deny the faith of Jesus Christ].

"Benedict XVI is only infallible as an authoritative teacher of the faith, not as an administrator," noted the Rev. Joseph Fessio, who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Ratzinger and participates in the annual "student circle" discussions Benedict hosts each summer with his former students.

Some of Benedict's critics, however, say the pope's real problems lie mainly with a practice of surrounding himself with unqualified advisers [that's possible, but has nothing to do with the headline].

"He doesn't have grade A types around him — but he picked them," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame and frequent critic of the pope [McBrien isn't exactly a grade A type himself].

McBrien noted that although Ratzinger served only a short time as a parish priest, his five years as archbishop of Munich and Freising gave him ample real-world experience. He said Ratzinger engaged fully with even the small details of administration there and later as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church's doctrine office.

Yet his tenure in Munich provides precisely one of the more damning cases of sex abuse that have swirled around the pope himself: In the 1980s, Ratzinger approved therapy for a suspected pedophile priest, but the prelate was allowed to resume pastoral work while in therapy [this claim has already been shown to be false].

The Vatican has insisted that Ratzinger's vicar took full responsibility for letting the Rev. Peter Hullermann resume pastoral work and that the future pope was unaware [the Archdiocese of Munich has said so, as well, and the then-Vicar General has also accepted full responsibility for the decision and has said Ratzinger was unaware. This is lousy "reporting"]. Hullermann in 1986 was handed a suspended sentence for molesting a boy.

In addition, while running the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger resisted pleas from a California diocese to laicize a priest who had pleaded no contest to lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two boys, according to correspondence obtained by The Associated Press [a claim which has also been proven false].

The Vatican's lawyer has insisted the California bishop was responsible for making sure the priest, the Rev. Stephen Kiesle, didn't abuse while Rome processed his case to remove him from the priesthood [both of which are true].

"The pope's background as a professor of theology has little or nothing to do with the present controversy. It is simply one of the excuses offered by his well-intentioned defenders," McBrien told the AP [I've seen no such defense offered for the Holy Father. What a ridiculous claim.].

Despite Benedict's missteps, there are a few signs that some understanding of the outrage is starting to penetrate the Vatican's medieval walls [only a few? Really, where is this person?].

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, long a bastion of protecting Vatican secrecy [for the good of the accused and of the victims; whatever happend to innocent until proven guilty?], is seeking greater openness with plans to post on its Web site Monday a concise and simply written guide to how it handles sex abuse allegations. And in his recent letter to the Irish bishops, Benedict urged greater cooperation with civil authorities in cases of pedophile priests and said he'd meet with more victims [and that those responsible would be brought before tribunals; maybe she missed that part].

In a way, the scandal may be bringing Ratzinger full circle back to his short term as a parish chaplain [but she said above this has nothing to do with the present media attacks. Which one is it?]. Ratzinger served as chaplain at the Precious Blood church in Munich for just over a year, teaching religious instruction, hearing confessions and running a youth group. In his memoirs, Ratzinger said he felt unprepared for such practical work, yet once back in academia, said he missed the day-to-day contact with people that it entailed [every newly ordained priest is unprepared for the week given him and, if people are honest, everyone is not fully prepared for their first day on the job. I daresay Ms. Gera is unprepared to write this article].

Peder Noergaard-Hoejen, a Danish theologian on a Catholic-Lutheran commission seeking to forge better understanding between the two faiths, sees some movement toward a more modern approach.

"A new openness and a turn away from secrecy mark a break with a tradition going back centuries," he told the AP.

Still, he admits Benedict lacks the ideal credentials for his current job.

"I think he was very good for the position he had before he became pope because this was an intellectual position," Noergaard-Hoejen said. "It is of course important that the pope be able to think, but Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, is no politician [The Pope is not supposed to be a politician. Maybe that's where Luther went wrong - or at least his successors]. His type is that of a German professor" [whatever that means].

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