Pope Benedict XVI’s Legacy
It was a breath of fresh air to hear that the pope has chosen to step down, the first pope in 7 centuries to do so. What he and his predecessor wrought to the Catholic Church as we know it is nothing short of devastation. But as a Christian I see their 42 year reign as so destroying the church we know that now the Holy Spirit can give birth to a community far more attuned to the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus than the current and dying structures ever could be. Those structures are as passe as the Berlin Wall.
Thinking of Benedict the man, I think this was a very wise decision indeed for before he “meets his Maker” he surely has a lot of soul work to accomplish. Below is a short list of some of the issues history will hold him accountable for both as cardinal and as pope. Were I his confessor, I would start work on them very soon. (Since this is a list, I offer page numbers of my study on his life and papacy to see the back up evidence.)
1. His silence for years about the notorious pedophile priest Father Maciel who was so close to Pope John Paul II that he was invited on his plane often and was feted to a mass ordination of his seminarians by the pope in St Peter’s Square. This man, who sexually abused dozens of his seminarians and had two wives on the side and sexually abused his own children (though a priest with vows of celibacy), was not fully investigated until 2005 even though a New York bishop wrote Ratzinger’s office in 1995. (125-130)
2. His and the previous pope’s unwillingness to divorce themselves from the politics of Father Maciel who was a great admirers of the blood-soaked dictator Pinochet in Chile.
3. His attacks when head of the CDF (formerly “Office of the Holy Inquisition”) on theologians the world over who dared to do their job which is to think. He denounced, fired, hounded, at least 105 theologians not only from his chair of CDF but also as pope (they are listed on page 238-241 of my book The Pope’s War ).
4. He and his predecessor brought back the Inquisition and in fact killed theology, reducing it to 1) a catechism and 2) Saying Yes to whatever the pope (or his curia) said.
5. His unrelenting attacks on base communities and Liberation Theology (thus fulfilling Ronald Reagan’s plans to “split the church” in Latin America) even though this movement, like the civil rights movement of the U.S., was the most Christ-like movement for democracy and justice and freedom in centuries. One side light of these attacks has been a void of genuine Christianity in Latin America, a void being filled by Pentecostal (and right wing political) churches there. (pp. 41-62)
6. His (and the previous pope’s) complete pushing of neo-fascist sects as the new “religious order” and shock troops of the pope beginning with the secret “Opus Dei” which is embedded in places of great power including cardinals and bishops all over the world and also financial headquarters of EU, the US Supreme Court, the CIA (especially under George Bush the first), FBI, and the US mainstream media. (pp. 106-124)
7. His and the previous pope’s rushing the founder of Opus Dei, Fr. Escriva, a card-carrying fascist who actually praised Hitler, into canonization faster than any saint in history (and destroying the age-old process of canonization in the process by eliminating the “devil’s advocate’s” role which is to bring up the shadow side of the candidate). Books by former Opus Dei members include his personal secretary of 7 years were completely ignored and their testimony was never asked for.
8. The cover-up of pedophile clergy in the US, in Ireland and elsewhere. The recent HBO film tells the facts about some of these horrors and how the buck stopped with Ratzinger. All the cover up put an Institution ahead of the rights of young children. (pp. 134-174)
9. His and the previous pope’s putting wind in the sails of extreme right wing groups from Maciel’s Legion of Christ to Communion and Liberation to Opus Dei and their support of zealots such as neo con and theo con George Weigel. (pp. 130-144)
10. The end of religious ecumenism. Ratzinger as pope managed to insult Islam; Judaism; all Protestant churches (he says they are not churches); also as cardinal Thich Naht Hahn (whom the Vatican called “the anti-Christ”) and yoga—wrote Ratzinger—Christians should not do it because it “puts you too much in touch with your body.”
11. The dumbing down of the church not only by condemning thinkers but by appointing Bishops and cardinals world-wide whose only qualification for the job is to be a loyal Yes man, thus the loading down of church decision makers for generations who don’t have a conscience, an intellect or a clue about the spiritual needs of people.
12. A complete reaffirmation of a “morality” of Sexism (no women priests ever; Catholic sisters in America are now subject to investigations like theologians have been); and of Homophobia—Ratzinger composed not one but two documents as head of CDF that were mean-spirited and spiteful about gay persons and ignored scientific research even as pope that has created another Galileo moment in church history. He stuck by his “no condoms even in an age of AIDS” position that is all about St Augustine’s silly sexual ethic and not anything Jesus ever taught. Even birth control in a time of excessive human population on a crowded planet remains, in his rigid world view, the law of the church and any theologian (or bishop) who questions such matters is suspect.
13. The interference in the presidential election of 2004 wherein Ratzinger instructed American bishops to read his declaration that any “catholic politician” (i.e. Kerry) who did not denounce gays and abortion could not receive communion. The result was three states had very unusual Republican votes from Catholics—if just one of them had had more normal Catholic vote, Kerry, not Bush, would have been president.
With such a trail of devastation as this, Father Ratzinger, ex-pope and ex-Inquisitor, is right to retire. Hopefully, beginning in this time of Lent, he will do some soul searching and asking for forgiveness. Unfortunately, because he and his predecessor appointed only Yes Men as cardinals, one should not expect any improvement in the next pope. Instead we should recognize that history has passed the papacy by and that now is the time for the Holy Spirit to push the restart button on Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant versions, so as to strip down to the essence of Jesus’ teaching and the Cosmic Christ tradition.
Toward this end, Andrew Harvey and myself are starting up a series of “Christ Path” seminars available on line or in person (see firstname.lastname@example.org) This restart of Christianity can be done without basilicas on our backs but mere backpacks. Travel lightly. Walk humbly. Do justice. And peace will follow.
(Matthew Fox is a former Catholic priest who is the author of Original Blessing and the creator of the “techno-mass” he developed at the University of Creation Spirituality. His newest book, The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Crusade Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, details much of what he has summarized above. Fox is a member of the Advisory Board of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives — www.spiritualprogressives.org)
(We recognize that the above opinion offers a controversial point of view. If you have an opposing point of view (or a different topic altogether that you wish to explore) and would like to contribute an article you have authored to the Guest Column, please submit it to our Managing Editor, Lisa McCormack, for possible publication in this space. Not all submissions can be published, due to the number of submissions and sometimes because of other content considerations, but all are encouraged. Send submissions to Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com. Please label the topic: “Guest Column.”)