Winters on Benedict

I’m too busy this week to write my own, so I will steal the posts of others! Michael Sean Winters has written a great little essay on the pope. I concur with practically every word, and I went through the very same path of initial anxiety to deep admiration. My main complaint with the papacy so far is that he has not done enough to clean house at the Vatican. The Sodanos are still in place. Brave leaders like Diarmuid Martin are not getting the support they need. Benedict has an awe-inspiring message, which shines through his beautiful prose. But this light must not be hidden under a bushel, which means that some house cleaning is in order.

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  • digbydolben

    Perhaps you should explain why you like him. It would seem that he is opposed to almost all your religious values and principles. (A proponent of an “imperial,” authoritarian papacy, a hierarchy shrouded in secrecy, the initiator of a rejection of aggiornamento in favour of ressourcement, an actual protector of pedophile priests, in the Vatican hierarchy and in his own archdiocese, against civil prosecution, author of the great reversal of the Church’s position regarding the accepting of chaste homosexuals as priest-candidates–none of these positions seem to be even remotely your own. Are you sure that you aren’t merely sacrificing your own interpretation of the spirit of the Gospels to sectarian loyalties?)

  • AV

    Not a surprising article, really. I could of told you that five years ago (in fact, I sort of did on my old blog). If Paul VI was a combination of Robespierre, Louis XVI, and Marat all wrapped in one (it is pretty evident that Paul VI died in despair) and JPII was sort of like Napoleon with a happy ending (a consolidation of the new regime under charismatic leadership), then Benedict is a Bourbon Monarch of the Restoration: an external shell of the ancien regime with an essentially revolutionary core. He or anyone else isn’t going to restore the “bad ol’ days”, precisely because they are still revolutionaries at heart, and they wouldn’t know how anyway. Just look at all of the Young Turks who have suddenly developed a taste for maniples and mantillas: really a sad bunch of dilettantes who wouldn’t know their posterior from doughnuts. It’s just immature playacting, really.

    Marx said that things occur in history twice: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. The people today who want to restore pre-Vatican II Catholicism, or at least a mimicry of it, are nowhere nearly as sophisticated or cultured as the people who made Vatican II in the first place. Most don’t know enough Latin to know what Gospel is being chanted, let alone read an encyclical in it (not that they are written originally in Latin anyway). If there is a Vatican III, could you imagine the cacaphonous Babel that such a spectacle would be? It would be sort of like the U.N. Assembly with a bunch of clueless bureaucrats awkwardly dressed up in robes. Dissent used to be sexy, not there is nothing more mundane. Orthodoxy used to be firm and unforgiving, now it is just mushy and muddle-headed. All the same, I don’t consider theological liberalism down for the count just yet. The next twenty years will tell the story.

  • rcm

    My next tattoo will be “Spe Salvi.” His encyclical saved me life and was a source of grace.

  • Austin Ruse

    I remember it well. I was visiting my wife at her office at the Bishops Conference. When the announcement was made we screamed and jumped around. A more senior staff member scolded us because many in the building were upset at Benedicts elevation. Later that day we attended Mass at the Cathedral and in his homily the celebrant in tried to calm everyone down and told us all not to worry.

    It is a happy day that politically liberal Catholics have come to love our Holt Father!

  • brettsalkeld

    What surprises me most is that the arch-conservatives have managed to maintain their initial media-fed impression. Have they read what he says about a Lutheran Lord’s Supper? The Green Pope? Caritas in Veritate? Clearly the liberals have gotten to this guy!

    He manages to keep them onside with things like the Motu Proprio. But that’s the most liberal move yet. From Trent until JPII there was one rite in the Roman Catholic Church. Enforced uniformity. Now there are 3! Isn’t pluralism just another word for relativism?

  • Joe O’Leary

    The very fact that we are discussing the pope ad nauseam is a sign of the ongoing crisis in Catholicism. Here is a strong critique of Winters’ adulatory attitude:

  • brettsalkeld

    One gets the impression from this critique that Benedict invented Church teaching on homosexual acts and that the droves of people leaving the Church were all quite happy to be here until JPII’s election. No sense whatsoever of broader cultural issues or of the history of the Church before, during, and after Vatican II. Though I do not dissent on questions of sexual morality, I am usually very happy to hear what people like Lindsey have to say. We can certainly learn from those with whom we disagree and he is often a thoughtful and charitable contributor. But this bit of writing is too narrow to be helpful. The self-congratulatory comments are even worse. MSW as an Uncle Tom? C’mon.

  • John Henry

    What surprises me most is that the arch-conservatives have managed to maintain their initial media-fed impression.

    Or it could be that arch-conservatives aren’t as ‘arch’ as they are commonly portrayed by folks like Mr. Winters.

    There are various modes of uncivility. Among ‘arch conservatives,’ the tendency is to assume anyone to the left is a deist in Catholic garb. Among the left, the tendency is to dismiss anyone to the right as an unsophisticated fundamentalist unfit for civilized (or civil) conversation. ‘Yahoo watch’ anyone?

    As for Pope Benedict, I was thrilled with his election, but I have been somewhat disappointed with his papacy – there seems to be an insularity and tone-deafness in the Curia under his administration, which I think has ill-served the Church. At the same time, I continue to enjoy his thoughtful (and clear – not JPII’s strong suit) writing.

  • brettsalkeld

    I don’t know a lot about how Mr. Winters portrays the far right, but I know from real life meetings and the blogosphere that many Catholics have serious disagreement with Benedict on things like other Christian community’s eucharists and the environment. (They just pretend they don’t disagree with him, or that his positions aren’t really his.) And we all know how Caritas in Veritate played to the neocons.

    I am right with you on his writing and the curia.

  • Kurt

    It should never be forgotten (though frequently is) that he is a former liberal. The significance in that is that first he does not have from the first half of his life conservativism’s baggage — from his family’s early and active opposition to Right Wing totalitarianism to his important contributions at Vatican Council II. He affirms the goodness and merit of progressive Catholic thought of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

    Second, as a former liberal, one might say “he knows the other team’s playbook.” He doesn’t have the typical right-wing mischaracterization of progressive Catholics but a more authentic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the liberal Catholic vision.

  • digbydolben

    What I should like to ask Benedict XVI Ratzinger and those of you who approve his pontificate is this: if he is NOT the most homophobic pope on record–as he appears to many to be–and if, instead, he affirms the love of Christ’s Church for those whom it, under him, have barred from the sacerdotal state, then why are homosexuals encouraged by him and his bishops to remain “silenced” and “closeted”? If their sufferings are one of the greatest visible manifestation of humanity’s solidarity with Christ in His passion, then why are they not as celebrated as signs of this, as the sadhus of India–who, in contrast, are venerated in this country where I now live, even by people who’d never wish for a child of their own to follow such a path?

    My allegation is that Pope Ratzinger’s bourgeois false conscience and failure of spiritual nerve is made manifest not only by his protection of pedophile priests, but also by his abandonment of the “witness” of his long-suffering and obediently chaste “gay” priests.

    As far as I’m concerned, he is the most seriously objectionable pious hypocrite to have led the Catholic Church in my lifetime.

  • Arturo Vasquez

    Apropos of this post, here is an interesting post regarding BXVI:

  • brettsalkeld

    It’s not clear to me how we would measure who is the most homophobic Pope on record. I have the suspicion that some Popes in the past would have condoned quite serious punishments for homosexual behavior.

    In any case, is the belief that homosexual acts are objectively wrong the equivalent of being “homophobic”?

    Being the first Pope to hold office during a major cultural shift surrounding homosexuality does mean that one talks about the subject more than other Popes, perhaps, but it’s not clear to me that John XXIII (or whatever other less homophobic Popes we are imagining) would have been much more favorable.

    This is not to say that the Church has not pastorally failed many homosexual persons, or that the Church has nothing to learn from homosexual persons, or that there aren’t legitimate debates to be had about things like celibate gay priests. It is simply to point out that the rhetoric used here is not helpful in putting forward one’s points. Benedict can hardly be singled out over this issue. Until very recently, the vast majority of people were much more “homophobic” than Benedict.

  • brettsalkeld

    Interesting. I always like to keep an eye on this stuff. Family debates and all that. I shall have to buy the Ratzinger book in question for my in-laws.

    I wish the author would have tried to define what exactly he means by “spirit” though. It seems that it is treated much like matter, except, you know, invisible. I think a clearer idea on this would have bee very helpful.

  • digbydolben

    bretsalkeld, Benedict XVI has gone much further with a campaign of villification of the homosexual PERSONS than any of his predecessors; it is his PREDECESSORS who confined their judgments to the ACTS of the same-sex attracted, but Pope Ratzinger has defined their emotional and psychological CONDITION to be an “intrinsic moral evil,” and he has banned even the most chaste from sacerdotal candidacy, if their “homosexual” condition is openly acknowledged and admitted to.

    And please note that I did not say that he is “the most homophobic” of modern popes–just that numerous others–quite reasonably, in my opinion–consider him to be such.

    What I definitely WOULD maintain, however, for my part, is that his extraordinary zeal for condemning “homosexual” PEOPLE does seem to be a revulsion against something in himself. I agree with Coim Tobin, and think it’s obvious to anyone who closely observes the man’s mannerisms, personal affectations–even his sartorial style. What’s so off-putting about it is not any possible same-sex attraction, but, rather, the obvious moral cowardice in embracing his own nature. This moral cowardice is on display in other features of his life, too–and, in particular, in his refusal to admit his own guilt in the pedophile scandals and to aid in the civil prosecutions of the corrupt bishops who harboured and protected the child molesters.

    The man’s pontificate is, thus far, a disgrace which has done enormous damage to the reputation of the Church world-wide.

  • WJ

    Now this thread is getting interesting!

    I have not read that 1973 piece of Ratzinger, but I have read, in detail, taught, in fact, Ratzinger’s homilies on Creation delivered in 1981–eight years after that more speculative piece. I can say that Ratzinger *does* have a Franciscan account of the Incarnation, according to which the Incarnation would have happened regardless of the Fall, and that Ratzinger/Benedict holds this view because he believes that the logic of Creation *impels* the Incarnation as its culmination.

    Now, as some of the commentators remark on the thread to which Arturo pointed, this combination of beliefs may point to the influence of Teilhard de Chardin in Benedict’s thought, but it probably more accurately points to his desire to incorporate *some* of Chardin’s thinking into the lens of Augustinian and later Franciscan thinking on Creation.

    This suggests that Benedict believes that an Augustinian/Franciscan account of Creation and Incarncation can be read to incorporate some aspects of Teilhard de Chardin’s thought in a way that a Thomistic account cannot. It also suggests that Benedict thinks that something like this combination is *necessary* for confronting the fact of evolution. I find all this stuff fascinating. Furhther thoughts?

  • David Nickol

    In any case, is the belief that homosexual acts are objectively wrong the equivalent of being “homophobic”?


    This is a fascinating question. I think a related question is whether the belief that black people are measurably less intelligent than white people is racist when that is one’s honest interpretation of the available scientific data. Or if there are any grounds for opposing miscegenation that are not racist.

    Vermont Crank quoted St. Jerome from Aquinas’s Catena Aurea saying the following: “Then answered all the people [the Jews] and said, His blood be on us and on our children. This imprecation rests at the present day upon the Jews, the Lord’s blood is not removed from them.” Aquinas himself said, “[T]he Jews by reason of their fault are sentenced to perpetual servitude and thus the lords of the lands in which they dwell may take things from them as though they were their own . . . .” Assuming that Jerome and Aquinas were speaking purely from religious conviction and not out of personal animosity on their own part toward the Jews, were they anti-Semitic? Or if we want to bend over backwards not to judge them by the standards of our own time, we can ask if their statements may be considered anti-Semitic today.

    Certainly from the viewpoint of those who do not consider a homosexual orientation to be “objectively disordered,” the Church’s stance against homosexual acts is wrong in the way I think Aquinas’s beliefs about the acceptability of expropriating Jewish property were wrong. He may have been sincerely motivated by prevailing religious belief, but in retrospect, he justified treating Jews very unjustly.

    One of the problems I see with the position of the Church is no that it says that homosexual acts are wrong, but it maintains that they are objectively wrong, and that this is not merely a Catholic position, but a position that everyone should be able to arrive at through the use of reason and the study of “natural law.” Consequently, the Catholic Church does not limit itself to moral condemnation of homosexual acts, but feels perfectly justified in using whatever power it can bring to bear to make civil law oppose homosexual acts.

  • David Nickol

    In any case, is the belief that homosexual acts are objectively wrong the equivalent of being “homophobic”?


    One more thought. There is the old joke that just because you know you are paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t somebody following you. Somewhat similarly, just because someone believes homosexual acts are objectively wrong, and you agree with him, does’t mean his beliefs spring from right reason rather than homophobia.

  • brettsalkeld

    Such belief might spring from homophobia, right reason or wrong reason. I’m certainly not willing to let right reason and homophobia be the only two options. And, for the record, “wrong reason” could cover a whole range of erroneous, but not necessarily homophobic, possibilities.

    Also, I’m not sure what my presumed agreement with him has to do with any of it.

    And I’m not seeing the connection with the intelligence of black people bit. The question of whether given acts are moral or immoral is determined in very different ways than the question of the intelligence of various racial demographics. The only parallel seems to be the involvement of an oppressed minority, but not every question that relates to an oppressed minority is the same kind of question.

  • David Nickol


    I was trying to raise some questions about bigotry that I thought might illuminate issues involved in answering your question, “Is the belief that homosexual acts are objectively wrong the equivalent of being ‘homophobic’?” So I asked if belief that blacks were of inferior intelligence was racist or belief that Jews were “Christ-killers” was anti-Semitic. I think most people who oppose racism would say it is indeed racist to believe blacks are of inferior intelligence, even if a person claims to arrive at that conclusion empirically. I also think those who oppose anti-Semitism would consider it anti-Semitic for a person to consider the Jews of the 21st century guilty and accountable for “deicide” even if they have no personal animosity toward Jews and hold that Jews are “Christ-killers” out of deep and sincere religious conviction.

    In other words, if you hold an “objectively bigoted” view in good faith, may you be legitimately called a bigot? I lean toward saying the answer is in the affirmative.

    So it seems to me that an important question about holding that homosexual acts are “objectively wrong” is whether they are, in fact, objectively wrong. For certain Catholics, I suppose that question can be dismissed out of hand. The Church is never wrong about faith and morals. But if one does not grant the Church is infallible on this matter and disagrees with the Church, it does not matter how sincerely held the Church’s belief is about the wrongness of homosexual acts. It is oppressive in the same way as believing “Jews by reason of their fault are sentenced to perpetual servitude.”

    In other words, religious belief does not shield an individual or even an entire religion from charges of bigotry.

    If one believes that homosexual acts are objectively wrong but so is artificial birth control and takes a live-and-let-live attitude, that is different from believing that homosexual acts are objectively wrong and advocating discrimination against gay people.

  • David Nickol

    Now this thread is getting interesting! . . . Further thoughts?


    You may be interested in a long post over on the Commonweal blog by Fr. Komonchak, in a thread titled Catholicism and Evolution, in which he reproduces two comments from then Cardinal Ratzinger, one a book excerpt and one an interview. Here’s his introduction. I will not post the excerpts, because they are very long, but I will give a link.

    Joseph A. Komonchak 09/03/2010 – 4:48 pm
    If you type into a search-engine “Ratzinger” “original sin” “heresy,” you will be brought to a number of websites devoted to the heresies of Joseph Ratzinger, some of which maintain that because he is a heretic, he is not a legitimate pope. Among the heresies for which he is indicted is the one said to be expressed in these paragraphs of a book published when he was archbishop of Munich.

    The link to the thread is here. The post is about a third of the way down the page.

  • digbydolben

    It was Duns Scotus who believed that the Incarnation would have occurred, regardless of the Fall, and his theology was rejected in favour of Aquinas’s by the medieval Church.

    • Henry Karlson


      Duns Scotus was not the only one who believed the Incarnation was intended by God from creation; many believed this, long before Scotus. Moreover, the “medieval Church” didn’t choose Aquinas ever Scotus. You will find that the Church allowed for all kinds of theological opinions and schools of thought, and Trent was done in that light so as to keep valid opinions and not answer said theological debates.

  • WJ

    Thanks, I will check that out.

  • WJ

    That passage Komonchak quotes is taken, actually, from the homilies on Creation I earlier referred to. It *does* appear that Ratzinger/Benedict interprets the transmission of original sin *not* in terms of biological inheritance but in terms of a transmitted rupture in the social relationality of humans. This, incidentally, solves the problem of how original sin was transmitted to Adam’s contemporaries (assuming polygenism); when Adam sinned he not only affected his relationship with himself and with God, but he destroyed the social fabric that up until that point existed between himself and the other people.

    My one problem with Teilhard (theologically speaking…I have other issues with him, too) is that his account of Creation seems Manichean. There is the image of the material world *struggling* against God in a slide back to nothingness, as opposed to the vision of the goodness of the material world and of its complete dependence on God. It makes evil *part* of the organization of the original cosmos rather than a departure from that organization, and so is theologically very problematic.

  • brettsalkeld

    To follow up on Henry’s point, Rahner is a Thomist, but took the Scotist view on the Incarnation.
    I am fairly Thomist myself, but find Rahner and Ratzinger fairly convincing on this point.
    I have no sense of being out of step with the Church on the question.

  • brettsalkeld

    It seems that I am treating the question as if it is still open and you are treating it as if it is settled. If it is the case that being opposed to same-sex acts is the same kind of thing as thinking black people are inferior (as your points presume), then anyone who thinks that same-sex acts are wrong is the moral equivalent of a racist. And if that is so, then your whole line of reasoning follows. Since I do not think they are the same kind of thing, I cannot follow the reasoning that presumes that they are.

    I should add that one could hold my view about the difference between evaluating same sex acts and the examples you have given and come to virtually any conclusion about their moral value. Thinking these are different kinds of things doesn’t guarantee any particular evaluation.

  • WJ

    I think my earlier comments were lost, or I forgot to enter an email address or something. Anyway, thanks, David, for that pointer. That passage comes from his homilies on Creation; he clearly does not have a Augustinian account of the transmission of original sin but rather a social account of sin as corrupting the entire social fabric, thus insuring its propagation from generation to generation.

  • brettsalkeld

    Ratzinger has far more in common with Rahner than anyone lets on. I was doing some research on resurrection, for example, and they are extremely close.

  • WJ

    Brettsalked, was it you or Kyle (or someone else) who does work on the Eucharist? What do you make of Schillebeeckx’s work “The eucharist

  • digbydolben

    Duns Scotus may NOW be acceptable to those who subscribe to the teachings of Trent; however everybody who knows anything about the life and career of Gerard Manley Hopkins knows that he was denied advancement in the Jesuit order because he subscribed to Scotus’s ideas. I suspect that once upon a time Thomism was the doctrinaire philosophy of the Church.

  • brettsalkeld

    HI WJ, it’s me who does the Eucharist. I must admit that, at this stage, my knowledge of Schillebeeckx is almost all second hand. I will be reading his Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God shortly, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to The Eucharist. It can’t be too long since one must read it if one is to say anything intelligent about the developments in the last century.

    From what I know from critics, most think Schillebeeckx made the Eucharist too understandable. That is, he gave so much emphasis to the human capacity to use symbols to make meaning that the fundamental divine initiative in the Eucharist becomes difficult to discern. In any case, reading someone just in the eyes of his critics is never wise, so I’ll wait until I’ve had a look myself to make a more definitive judgment.

    In general, I am in agreement with the Magisterium that transignification and transfinalization are helpful tools for understanding transubstantiation, but not adequate replacements for it.

  • WJ

    Thanks, Brett. I don’t know much beyond the standard stuff on eucharistic theology; Schillebeecx does have an interesting interpretation of the development of the formulae during the sessions of Trent; he seems to think also that all the high scholastics would today (if they were properly understood) be read as working against an overly “realist” or “literal” reading of the presence of Christ in the eucharist. When you do get a chance to read Schillebeecx, it’d be great to have another post on eucharistic theolgy.

  • brettsalkeld

    It is certainly true, though not very widely known, that Thomas’ articulation of transubstantiation was an attempt to avoid what have been called ultra-realist or capharnaitic interpretations of real presence. He was certainly a realist in the traditional sense of the term, but he insisted, against the ultra-realists (see the first oath of Berengarius!), that there is more to reality than its physical aspect.

    Schillebeeckx may or may not have pushed his point too far, but I think it is undeniable that transubstantiation has come to mean almost the opposite of what Thomas intended.

    As a side note, it is interesting to see what certain Lutherans (Missouri Synod) think of Thomas and transubstantiation, namely that it is halfway to Calvinism. Folks like Hermann Sasse, Tom Hardt and John Stephenson would seem to prefer a Paschasian ultra-realism (a la the first Berengarian oath) to Thomas’ careful distinctions. They understand better than most Catholics what Thomas was trying to do, and they don’t like it one bit.