Loving Francis, Missing Benedict


In September, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI found himself standing in Westminster Hall, London before British representatives. The audience included the diplomatic corps, politicians, academics and business leaders. It was an extraordinary visit. The Vicar of Christ was openly invited and warmly hosted by an English monarch and society which, centuries before, had bitter enmity with the Church of Rome and persecuted its adherents. It was a true act of charitable reconciliation on both sides. And the bright lights of English society welcomed him warmly.

However, while the symbolism of the visit was profound, it was exceeded only by the message. In a brief address, Pope Benedict XVI lauded Britain’s common law tradition, checks and balances, and the dynamic tension erected between the rights and duties of citizens with respect to the state. These customs, the Pope would congratulate, have served as a proud model for legal systems worldwide. And yet he then offered a kind, yet chastening, word about St. Thomas More, the deeply Catholic lawyer, politician and scholar. More died a martyr at the hands of a King and system which demanded he perish unless he violate his own conscience.

It is in this anecdote regarding St. Thomas More that the Pope illustrated a larger point. A proud British system was juxtaposed with a humble, yet conscientious man. At first, the Pope reflected with admiration,

“Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good.”

And yet in spite of common values that can be found in British democracy (and other democracies) and Catholic social teaching, Pope Benedict XVI outlined the dissonance that exists,

“Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.”

Where the state has, of late, become more sternly outspoken about issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the management of free expression, the individual may find himself in a less hospitable environment to exercise his conscience should he find himself in disagreement. Coinciding with this divergence between the state’s and a citizen’s prerogatives is a greater potential for suspicion and resentment. Oversimplified observations may protest that one entity operates cooly on the basis of “reason” while the other operates passionately on “conscience informed by religious revelation”. To lend some light, the Pope enters the fray – quite brilliantly. The Pope explains,

 “The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.”

Reason and revelation, logic and conscience inform and purify one another. If religion is tipped too far away from reason, we risk dangerous irrational fundamentalism. This was a message, sadly lost by most, in the Pope’s 2006 Regensburg address. Likewise, if reason is tipped too far away from religion, we risk brutal rationalism bled white of its respect for human dignity. This was the lesson of National Socialism and Communism. The latter imbalance is what most concerned the Pope.

“Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life. Your readiness to do so is already implied in the unprecedented invitation extended to me today.”

That the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, the Heir to Peter would provide such an eloquent articulation of the indispensable interplay between faith and reason to the secular and sacred luminaries of British society should come as no surprise. After all, the Catholic Church has been saying this for years. It’s just that this Pope has been so remarkably good at it. One year on, after Benedict’s resignation, I miss him. I love Francis and I miss Benedict. And so he would conclude,

“The angels looking down on us from the magnificent ceiling of this ancient Hall remind us of the long tradition from which British Parliamentary democracy has evolved. They remind us that God is constantly watching over us to guide and protect us. And they summon us to acknowledge the vital contribution that religious belief has made and can continue to make to the life of the nation.”






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  • ladybird

    Amen! I will share this. Benedict was so eloquent. So brilliant. So kind. So Catholic. Francis is more pastoral and I hope he comes to realize the breadth of his responsibility. His media interviews and recent video to the pentecostals on Tony Palmer’s iPhone is a great example of his naiveté. He is no longer in Argentina. He is on the world’s stage and his words and actions have greater impact. I pray for this “son of the church.”

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    No question about it. I am really missing Benedict.

  • stoney

    Please Lord, bring back Benedict. We didn’t deserve such a humble and brilliant man, but we do deserve what we’re getting now in Francis.

  • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

    As a systematic theologian, I fully agree that Benedict XVI is the greatest theologian to hold the petrine office since Gregory the Great. I’m also ecstatic over the clear continuity between him and Pope Francis. They are both Peter. The only difference is one of style.

    • BT

      Style, yes. But don’t you also think Francis is pushing the church back toward its historic emphasis on Christian service and mercy as well? Isn’t that a qualitative difference?

      • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

        Francis does indeed challenge us to embrace a preferential option for the poor and to serve them in charity. So does Benedict:


        • Jared Clark

          Thank you!

          • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

            Please, give the glory to God.
            And may He bless you, also.

        • BT

          But even within that, a re-ordering of priorities, no?

          I suppose I don’t get what is perceived as missing in Francis that was present in Benedict.

          • Jared Clark

            I wouldn’t even go that far, though I can see how their differing styles and charisms could give that impression.

          • BT

            Then why miss Benedict if the similarities are that strong?

            (Signature line – “Confused Protestant”)

          • Jared Clark

            I…don’t even understand how that could be confusing. Imagine if you have a new friend. This friend agrees on every issue with an old friend whom you rarely see these days. Is it weird to miss the old friend while loving the new friend?

          • BT

            I suppose the people who had a reasonably personal relationship with the man would miss him. I suspect the majority of folks commenting here though don’t, hence my failure to grasp it. To a protestant like me, it’s a bit like saying the new leader (that I don’t really know) is about the same as the old leader (that I didn’t really know), but I miss the old one (despite not really knowing him.)

            This is probably why I’m not catholic.
            Note that I also rank about equal to an office chair when it comes to being sentimental.

          • Jared Clark

            You’re not Catholic because of people having some feeling of connection with individual popes?

          • BT

            No, of course not.  The denomination itself doesn’t seem to fit as evidenced by this whole line of discussion.  I think I make a very poor catholic.  Failure to comprehend a level of affection for someone I don’t really know is just one part of that.

          • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

            You realize, of course, that sentimental attachment to the pope is not required to be Catholic. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the list of essentials is actually quite short, and leaves plenty of room for intellectual freedom.
            I commend your suspicion of sentimentality. Far too many people are moved by unregulated sentiment than reason these days.

          • BT

            No, I’m fairly educated on the topic of denominational characteristics. The protestant themes of every believer a priest and flatter hierarchies (mostly) just tends to fit my mental wiring better, although I appreciate the deeper tradition and liturgy.

          • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

            Understood. Thank you for sharing your appreciation of sacred tradition and the liturgy.
            Recall that Catholics, too, confess the priesthood of all believers.

          • BT

            I recall.  There’s just a protestant nuance to that term that I hold dear.

          • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

            May God bless you.

          • BT

            And you.

          • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

            Nope, there was no re-ordering of priorities. It’s always been “Feed the hungry” first then “Teach them to be good people” second, for the past 2000 years.

            The only question is which side gets the press. With Benedict, it was all “Teach them to be good people” while his own service to the poor of Rome, and his pleas for the third world, went unnoticed. With Francis, it’s “Who am I to judge” and his service to the poor that gets noticed, while his pro-life, pro-dignity message is almost entirely hidden.

          • BT

            And therein do I see the shift in priorities away from issues of so-called “culture wars” and toward service as a mechanism for addressing culture.  And also therein some of the discomfort and “missing” of Benedict who was at least portrayed as more involved on those points.

          • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

            The shift is in the portrayal, not in the man. The day after that America column “demphasizing” the culture wars went hot, Pope Francis told a bunch of gynecologists that it was their duty to support a culture of life:


            So rather than backing away, Pope Francis has doubled down on the culture wars, challenging us all to see our brother in the most hated people being “thrown away” by this culture.

          • BT

            I’m hoping that’s not true.  I do see evidence of a change in the portrayal/coverage as folks here say, but I think there is at least a modest substance behind the smoke.

          • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

            The smoke was more on hiding Benedict’s good points. I highly respect both men. The problem is though, neither side of the culture wars is entirely compatible with charity and the faith.

            It simply isn’t charitable to solve poverty with genocide. Even if all you are killing are so-called “potential” people and “unproductive” people.

            It also isn’t charitable to pay people less than a living wage, and freeze entire populations out of the ability to be a part of the culture of life.

            Every Pope for the last 120 years has said this. Every single one of them.

            Catholics don’t fit into American first-world myopia very well. And the press has its own reasons for pushing for genocide and third world wage slavery.

  • BT

    Interesting. As a non catholic but ecumenical Christian, I could appreciate Benedict’s intellect and commitment but always felt that something was missing. I find hints of that something in Francis and welcome the change. The church (writ large – both catholic and Protestant) has been resisting change too long.

  • Fallulah

    Miss that guy who as a a Cardinal shielded Pedophile priests and was forced to resign in order to dodge legal repercussions. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

    • Jared Clark

      And you should share that tinfoil hat. Not everyone has their own!

      • Fallulah

        No but I see you have a nice plot of land to bury your head in!

        • Jared Clark

          Alright, land-owning conspiracy-theorist, show me documentation on Cardinal Ratzinger helping sexual abusers. You’ve raised a heinous crime against the man…probably with an intent of hating Catholics rather than supporting abuse victims, who are often treated as one-liners or punch lines in internet debates….you better be able to back it up.

          • Fallulah

            They exist. Just because YOU ignore the evidence doesn’t mean the rest of us who haven’t drank the kool-aid will ignore these ghastly human rights violations on our most vulnerable members of society.

          • Jared Clark

            C’mon, you can do better than explicitly baseless accusations! You could at least hunt down an obscure blog post making the same claim as you and pretend it’s a source, like everyone else who raises this baseless accusation against Benedict.

            At this point, if you’re honest and introspective, you’ll be asking yourself if you’ve actually seen any evidence connecting him to the abuse instead of angry rants on reddit/atheism or some fundamentalist facebook page (depending on your faith or lack thereof). The reason you have not seen any is that reality does not support the idea.

            Fact is, Cardinal Ratzinger actually requested that Bl. John Paul the Great put the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (or, as it used to be called…the Inquisition), of which Ratzinger was the prefect, in charge of the Church investigations instead of each local bishop (because, as we all know, several of the local bishops weren’t doing a good job there).

            You are accusing the man who did the most to stop the abusers of aiding them. How sick is that? It’s time to take off the tinfoil hat, or pull your head out of the dirt, or whatever analogy you prefer because the man you are accusing of this evil action is, in fact, a hero.


          • Fallulah

            I did in fact post an article…but this stupid commenting thing has been on the fritz for me today and I guess it never posted it. I will Repost.

          • Fallulah

            Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.

            In another Tucson case, that of Msgr. Robert Trupia, the bishop wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005. Bishop Manuel Moreno called Trupia “a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that he many have contact with.” There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded.

            from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/03/more-evidence-emerges-tha_n_524192.html

            Church officials in Essen decided not to press charges and instead arranged for their brother to enter into therapy in Munich. In the letter of transfer, written to the Bavarian diocese that Ratzinger then led, there was a clear admission that the priest had sexually assaulted children in his former parish. Munich was not left in the dark about what kind of problem was on its way to them, the diocese of Essen said last week.

            The Diocesan Council, chaired by Archbishop Ratzinger, dealt with the case in Munich on Jan. 15, 1980. According to the minutes of the meeting, “Point 5d” on the agenda saw the council discussing Peter H., who had requested “accommodation and support in a Munich parsonage for a while.” The request also stated that “Chaplain H. will undergo psychological therapeutic treatment.” from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/sex-abuse-scandal-did-archbishop-ratzinger-help-shield-perpetrator-from-prosecution-a-684970.html

            Supporters pointed to other documents in the released files that showed in 2003, the then-Archbishop pleaded with the Vatican to defrock a priest who had been accused of repeatedly abusing children.

            “The impact on his various victims has been significant,” he wrote. “The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has yet to even locate all of the potential victims that could come forward for assistance. Our new found awareness of the severity of damage caused by sexual abuse at the hands of clergy makes it impossible for us to ignore this situation.”

            Despite his pressure, the Vatican office overseeing sex abuse allegations, which was then led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to be Pope Benedict XVI, took more than a year to formally dismiss him.

          • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

            Please understand the gravity of the accusations you’ve made. First you claimed that as a cardinal, Ratzinger “shielded pedophile priests.”

            Such a serious charge demands clarity. The implication is that Ratzinger knowingly and willingly protected priests who were guilty of sexually abusing children.

            But then you accused Benedict of “failing to act against a known paedophile priest.” This charge is serious, but note that it’s not identical to shielding perpetrators. One is a crime of commission; the other a crime of omission.

            The other question is one of motive. Is your main interest safeguarding children and seeing justice done, or are you more concerned with attacking Benedict’s character? Consider your motive carefully, because if it’s the latter, you are not only committing calumny, but also exploiting innocent victims’ pain to do so.

            I have read every source you cited, and consulted primary sources. I know the story angles, the authors’ biases, and the rhetorical manipulations they relied on. Most importantly, I know the pertinent facts in each case.

            I will give you some time to weigh the purity of your intentions. My response will depend on the sincerity of your answer.

          • Fallulah

            I don’t give two shits about Pope Benedict or his character. You can call all those reputable sources I sited “biased, manipulative” etc etc as though there is this grand conspiracy against your church and your beloved Ratzinger if it helps you sleep at night.

            My question to YOU, is YOUR main interest safeguarding children and seeing justice done or are you more concerned with defending your religion and your ex-pope at all costs?

            I have no vendetta against Ratzinger but I know what I have read and what I have seen (he did resign under suspicious circumstances) and I have also heard evidence of the abhorrent practices of moving pedophile priests from one place to another, whether it was Pope Benedict or someone under him…it happened and as he was the head of the organization at the time, the fault lays with him.

          • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

            Very well. I accept your response.

            This reply is not for your sake, but for those who may be quietly undecided, who are at risk of being scandalized by such spurious claims, or who, God forbid, have been affected by the grave sins of Catholic clergy.

            Once again, the charges you leveled at Ratzinger are the serious crime of shielding pedophile priests and the lesser offense of failing to act against a pedophile priest.

            You cited articles from The Daily Mail, The World Post, Spiegel, and The Telegraph as evidence.

            Reading these articles made me question whether you’d actually read them, or just skimmed them for inflammatory terms. The reason I suspect a less-than-thorough reading of these articles is that, had you read them all, you’d have seen that they contain facts which refute their own sensationalistic headlines.

            From The World Post: [T]he delay in defrocking Teta was caused by a hold on appeals while the Vatican changed regulations over its handling of sex abuse cases. In the meantime…Teta had been suspended since 1990.

            Also, Teta was ordered defrocked in 1997. He appealed, and his case was held up until after new regulations took effect in 2001. His case was one of the first on the docket afterward, and this resulted in him being defrocked in 2004.

            The Spiegel article further admits that Ratzinger promised families that Peter H. would never again work with young people, and it was his vicar-general Gerhard Gruber who
            returned the priest to pastoral service without Ratzinger’s knowledge.

            As for the Telegraph piece, it was focused mainly on Cdl. Dolan, but paused to take a jab at Benedict by noting that it took the pope a year to defrock an abuser priest. A year is a fast turnaround time for a secular court, let alone a recently reorganized ecclesial justice system flooded with thousands of cases from around the world.

            To sum up, you flippantly made grave accusations, which you used as a pretext to shame people engaged in fond remembrance of a beloved spiritual and intellectual teacher. It was pointed out that the burden of proof rests on the accuser, and you produced only sensationalistic allegations, wild innuendo, and comically ignorant “exposes” on Church procedure which manifestly failed to meet this burden.

            You claim not to “give two shits about Pope Benedict or his character.” Your persistent, unrepentant slander obviates that statement. It also demonstrates your contempt for due process, presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, and basic charity. Ratzinger does care about these things, which is why the most substantial charge you can prove against him is that he didn’t defrock pedophile priests as hastily as you’d have liked.

            Yet he did defrock over 400 of them.

            Your tactics are transparent: condemn the good for not being perfect. As head of the CDF and as pope, Ratzinger saw more justice done for victims of priestly abuse than any human being before or since. You cannot deny this fact, so you find something–anything to attack him with. You equate his adherence to procedure and respect for the laws which bound him with WILLING, CRIMINAL OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE.
            You thought you evaded my question, but the bitter fruits of your calumny reveal the truth. The victims of these enormities are not real to you. They are numbers and statistics useful for vilifying those who did all in their power to heal their very real wounds.
            One conclusion follows logically from the premises. If you cared about victims of priest sexual abuse, you wouldn’t denigrate, accuse, and slander those who sought to help them. You would not, in effect, disincentivize Church leaders from exercising the rigor you claim to want. Why should they heed your calls to double their efforts when they’re met with nothing but scorn?
            You want my motive? Which of us made the initial accusation? Who here has made even the slightest effort to conceal his allegiance? I’ll answer this tu quoque. My motive is the truth. I am a Catholic, which obliges me to love the truth since He loved me first. I am not obliged to hold a naïve self-deception according to which all clergymen are angels. Shall I mention John XII? Alexander VI? Cardinal Richelieu? Judas Iscariot?
            I will admit Pope Emeritus Benedict guilty of obstruction of justice or gross negligence if sound evidence sufficient to convict him is produced. As long as nothing but gossip and hearsay are cited against him, I will extend Benedict the threefold credit of faith, hope, and love that is due to all.

          • Fallulah

            Wow you really will tell yourself anything. So sad. And when you say, “The victims of these enormities are not real to you. They are numbers and statistics…” I think you are projecting. I am not paying tithe to this corrupt organization that perpetrated these crimes. You can back peddle, and defend and accuse me all you want. People with real investigative minds will see through your deflections.

          • Fallulah

            As for the 400 “defrocked”:

            The maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church tribunal is essentially losing his job: being defrocked, or removed from the clerical state. There are no jail terms and nothing to prevent an offender from raping again.

            NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

          • Fallulah

            The Pope has been accused of failing to act against a known paedophile priest.

            The claim that Pope Benedict XVI covered up the case of an American curate who abused 200 deaf children sent shockwaves through the Vatican.

            Correspondence published between U.S. bishops and the future pontiff in the 1990s apparently show that he ignored their pleas for him to act.

            Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1260536/Pope-implicated-cover-paedophile-priest-sex-abuse-200-deaf-boys.html#ixzz2v1iuLYKo

            You call this man a hero…how sick is THAT.

    • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

      Except, none of that is true. Over 400 pedophile priests were laicized by Benedict.

  • BiggerFatterPolitics

    List Of Republican Pedophiles

    Republican are 100′s of times more likely to molest a child than a Catholic priest! Let’s hope that the new pope will put some pressure on the media and expose the real criminals in the world who rape and oppress us.