[…] in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

These shocking words were spoken by Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013, and marked the end of what we might describe as the Ratzinger era in the Church, which began in 1981, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II. I have a deep admiration for the Pope Emeritus, and he was pope when I received the sacrament of confirmation after spending much of my life in ignorance of the Church. I respected, and still respect, his lifelong commitment to protecting Catholic teaching in the face of the many threats it has faced since the Second Vatican Council. Yet I also recognize that his effort came at a cost. Certain strains of Catholic thought were either silenced or pushed away into alternate venues. There is a long list of theologians who were either punished by the CDF or found themselves under Cardinal Ratzinger’s watchful eye. At times, his apparent lack of pastoral sensitivity regarding the difficulties of living according to the fullness of Catholic teaching in the modern world only furthered the existing divide between a minority of Catholics who accept this teaching in all its rigour—especially teachings on sexuality—and a majority of much-maligned “cafeteria Catholics” who ignore or reject parts of it. Gay Catholics felt especially marginalized after the publication of what is popularly referred to as Ratzinger’s “Halloween letter” in October of 1986. The pro-life movement, in part due to Ratzinger’s influence (such as his 2004 memorandum to Cardinal McCarrick on “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion”) became increasingly absolutist in its approach to politics, severely limiting the range of what it considered acceptable voting behaviour and cutting itself off from potential allies that it saw as compromised.

This rigourism, which had the noble goal of protecting Catholic teaching, facilitated the formation of a particular brand of reified Catholicism. By “reified Catholicism” I mean a nicely-packaged and ostensibly orthodox Catholic culture that nevertheless did not reflect the full range of voices in the Church or its underlying dynamism. Especially in the English-speaking world, it was a media culture that came to see itself as representing the Church as a whole. It allowed for the growth and interconnection of Catholic publishers whose books, booklets, and magazines populated every parish library or display stand. On television, radio, and the Internet it provided a lens through which to interpret the Church and the world, and its professional apologists provided the arguments needed to respond to a sometimes aggressively secular society. It provided neat and tidy Catholic answers to every question. That Catholic culture is one that many of us who entered or returned to the Church during the 1990s and 2000s are familiar with. Its embodiment, first in the United States and then in other parts of the world, was the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) and all its offshoots and acquisitions.

Many good and intelligent people were and still are part of this world of reified Catholicism. Its commitment to the Magisterium was admirable, and it provided stable ground for Catholics still reeling from the great social changes of the 1960s and 70s. But it is now falling apart. After Benedict came the deluge.

As we see more clearly now, cracks were already forming before the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Signs of an unhealthiness underlying Catholic culture were becoming apparent. The multi-decade abuse crisis erupted in the 1990s and again in the 2000s, shattering the public image of the Church and spawning new breeds of both blind apologists and fanatical anti-gay anti-abuse crusaders. Then there was the high-profile case of Father Marcial Maciel—a Catholic hero who turned out to be a monstrous con-artist and sexual predator. Then the scandal of the Holocaust-denying SSPX bishop Richard Williamson, which exploded just as Pope Benedict XVI was pursuing reconciliation with the traditionalist wing of the Church. Then VatiLeaks. And as the pope knew, a scandal regarding Cardinal McCarrick was brewing.

Looking back at Pope Benedict XVI’s statement of his intent to resign, it is easy to read it as an admission that he simply did not have strength left to “govern the barque of Saint Peter” through the media storms he surely perceived were on the horizon. But it was not just a fear of scandal—he understood that we have entered a new social and technological revolution at least as significant as that which formed the backdrop to Vatican II. It is perhaps symbolically significant that the first tweet from the @pontifex account, from Pope Benedict XVI, came in December 2012, less than three months before he resigned.

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis, the Church entered a new phase, and we are witnessing what might be termed a “return of the repressed,” to borrow a term from psychoanalysis. Pope Francis has shown an openness to frank discussion and criticism—to parrhesia within the Church and dialogue with those on the outside. Many of the voices that were once excluded or simply ignored in mainstream Catholic discourse are being heard once again, for better or for worse, and they have been amplified through social media.

How are we to determine which of these voices to listen to and take seriously? Although this discussion is happening within the Church, I propose that we can use the standards of ecumenical dialogue that have been established since Vatican II as a guide. Are these new voices focused on areas of agreement with the Church of today or are they primarily critical and divisive? Is Catholic unity their ultimate goal, or do they reflect an impulse to create separate communities of believers? Even if we must listen to all of these voices, there is no need to give all of them equal consideration.

At the moment, three examples of the return of the repressed stand out: the Amazon synod, the German ‘synodal way,’ and the conservative Catholic populist revolt.

With the Amazon synod we are hearing the voices of those who have been largely invisible to many in the Church, especially in Europe and North America. Acknowledging their voices will not only help to change the Church’s relationship with the peoples of the Amazon region, but also its relationship with Indigneous peoples across the world, helping to heal some very deep wounds. There are some controversial ideas in the air, surely. The influence of liberation theology is clear, and there are even perhaps strains of the Creation Spirituality of Matthew Fox (who was censured by Ratzinger). But the synod is being held in Rome, with the full approval and participation of the pope. It represents perfectly the deepening of synodality that Pope Francis has encouraged, and he will have the final say on what we as a Church can adopt from this process.

The German ‘synodal way’ is a more ambiguous and troubling example. Here, the return of the repressed is occurring through the well-funded and organized ZdK (Central Committee of German Catholics), and through lay movements like Maria 2.0. Cardinal Marx understands that the laity, in the aftermath of the abuse crisis, will have to be listened to, and that they will not be satisfied with mere talk. We shouldn’t assume bad faith, but we can definitely hear echoes of the ideas of Hans Küng, Ratzinger’s theological nemesis. Pope Francis attempted to intervene in the ‘synodal way’ a fatherly manner, providing both encouragement and warning, and although the Vatican has unambiguously expressed its concern, it has not taken definitive action against the process. The organizers of the ‘synodal way’ claim to be listening to the Holy Father, and Cardinal Marx is still one of his closest advisers, but it remains to be seen whether they are truly committed to synodality or whether they are simply intending to go their own way. What their approach has to recommend it, however, is that it is broadly in line with the goals of the Francis papacy, even if there is a risk that they plan to go further with synodality than Pope Francis ever intended.

Finally we come to the conservative populist revolt. Here we see the reemergence of ideas that have been pushed to the fringes for many decades: Maurrasianism, Lefebvrism, obsessive homophobia, anti-Freemason conspiracy theory, Marian apocalypticism, and in some cases even anti-Semitism. At its worst, it traffics in a theology of disgust and evangelization by ridicule, in which all that is deemed to be non-Catholic (according to ever-increasingly stringent traditionalist standards) is both expelled from the virtual traditionalist community and mocked with an aggression that itself borders on the obscene. The pope is derided, and his authority largely rejected or relativized. Most disconcertingly, it has worked its way into the crumbling domain of reified Catholicism.

First Things magazine, which was founded by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in 1990, and although not exclusively Catholic was intimately tied to the reified Catholicism we have been discussing, recently published an article on its website by professor and theologian Douglas Farrow on the Amazon synod. In it, we find language regarding the pope that would have been unprintable, and perhaps even unthinkable by most mainstream Catholics, even four or five years ago:

The kairos, the culture of encounter, being lauded in the Pan-Amazon Synod is a Bergoglian kairos and culture. The church ‘called to be ever more synodal,’ to be ‘made flesh’ and ‘incarnated’ in existing cultures, is a Bergoglian church. And this church, not to put too fine a point on it, is not the Catholic Church. It is a false church. It is a self-divinizing church. It is an antichristic church, a substitute for the Word-made-flesh to whom the Catholic Church actually belongs and to whom, as Cardinal Müller insists, it must always give witness if it means to be the Church.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us, quite frankly, with the question of how both the true Church and the false can have the same pontiff, and what is to be done about that fact. […]

The real problem, here, is not that some are seeing the Church of today as an “antichristic” Church. Those types of Catholics have long existed, even if they have new platforms now for expressing themselves. The problem is that the reified Catholicism of the past few decades has been revealed for what it is—a construct. It is an image of the Church that is now passing into history. Those who cling to it will argue for a smaller, purer Church that may have to operate in defiance of the Holy See. The rest of us will continue on, as we grapple with the realization that the Church is much bigger than we ever thought it was.


Image: Pope Benedict XVI in Brazil, from Agência Brasil. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license.

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43 Responses

  1. Miles Harvey says:

    Really important article. Thank you.

  2. L Daily says:

    Though clearly a gifted theologian and mystic, Pope Benedict was not a pastoral leader or spiritual guide. He opened and closed the very doors that led us into the divisive state we find ourselves in. Theologians and mystics can envision a smaller, purer church – Popes must shepherd the entire Body.

  3. George XY Palantine says:

    Ah, the mask comes off. I thought so. We are not dealing here with any coherent set of thoroughly Catholic writers. We are dealing with your typical, liberal, “we dislike Ratzinger” people, the “nuns on the bus” people, the “Catholicism means anything goes” people

    “Certain strains of Catholic thought were either silenced or pushed away into alternate venues”

    Yes, and those certain strains were NOT CATHOLIC, and that is why they were disapproved of. They were the creepy liberation theologians, the infallibility deniers, the divinity of Christ deniers, the feminists who said bizarre things, etc.

    As we see with the pagan synod, when this stuff is tolerated, Catholicism falls apart. Oh, and by the way, no one in their right mind believes the stuff about clericalism being the cause of the abuse crisis. That crisis was almost entirely a homosexual predation crisis. We understand that now, and we understand that McCarrick and his friends tried to hide that from us.

    • D.W. Lafferty says:

      I’m not wearing a mask, and I think Ratzinger/Benedict XVI did what he had to do to protect the faith. Like I said, I have immense respect for him. But even if a pope makes all the right decisions, the results will not be uniformly perfect. And one of the results of his efforts was the creation of this reified Catholicism that has shown itself to be incapable of dealing with even minor changes of direction in the Church.

      • Francis says:

        Lafferty, I find your article fair, mature and very respectful of the alternative point of view. I have always argue your lines, and I believe every Pontiff has a mission, and some may be controversial…. :this child is destiny for the rise and fall of many… destiny to be a sign of contradiction.” These are prophetic words and they should be wieghed in.

    • Francis says:

      And now, who are the infallibility deniers

  4. Manuel Dauvin says:

    Thankyou, among all the horizontal analysis that i’m reading in the church and the world your article hints at a direction.
    All these movements you mention run amuck when they confuse their concept of church with the reality. Your last line,”perhaps the church is bigger” begs us to make a healthy break with the comfort zone of my concept of church. But the only way this “mental break” will avoid creating yet another movement is in silent living out of the basic teachings of Christ.
    In other words…we’ve reached the end of words. There’s too little living catholicism. The church is to big for our couch and our smart phone.
    Have we lost sight of the church by turning our eyes into our heads. The Trads have…the only real mission WPI could have is to CULTIVATE TRUST so that we can simply follow Christ (through His vicar) into the unknown, un-analyzed, undescribed arena of christian action. The remnant must no longer seek “reified …” they must be REAL in silent love. Makes me want to adore the Eucharist.
    How will we avoid “reified 2.0” while still giving the mind a place to call home in mother church. The church is big but so is the world and we feel at home in the big world by having our small little place on it. This article begs some sequel that points all variety of Catholics to look for a home in the church for themselves without becoming wayward, insular, judgemental or introspective. Good luck… you have my prayers.

    • D.W. Lafferty says:

      So many of the Church’s problems today are the result of a lack of trust! Some of that mistrust is well-founded after the abuse crisis, but we should still trust in the promises that Christ made to Peter.

  5. jong says:

    It’s not a difficult thing to understand why they are painting the Vatican II as the antichrist Church, why?
    The Rad Trads tactics are very clear, all the accusations they are throwing schism,heresies, apostasies, confusions, ambiguity and now the Antichrist Church, all this accusations reflected who they are. The schismatic rigid Trads groups are the “mystical body of Antichrist”, they are deceiving their viewers by denying their are the AntiChrist church by projecting their image to Pope Francis Magisterium.
    To accuse the Vatican II Church united to Pope Francis as the “antichrist Church” is to contradict the Dogma of the Church Indefectibility.
    To accuse Pope Magisterium in this way, is the “unforgivable sin” written in Matthew12:32.
    How can the Church united to the Pope the Mystical Body of Christ whose Head is Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as Her soul be infected by the Antichrist? This is like accusing the Church was infected by Satan and are doing the works of the devils which is the “unforgivable sin”.
    Satan had been using the schismatic rigid Trads the “mystical body of the Antichrist” to commit so many “unforgivable sin” by promoting resistance to the Pope and by accusing the Church united to Pope Francis infiltrated by satan as Dr.Marshall book implied.
    The “mystical body of the Antichrist” are composed of catholic members both laity & clergy plus prelates or the wolves who separates themselves from the Vatican II Church who are opposing the Mercy of God and are planning a revolt.
    The Expanded Petrine Ministry is the Wisdom of God in the end times, as the magnitude of Media attacks from all fronts cannot be withstand by a single Pope. A contemplative Pope is needed as a shield to Pope Francis to remain at peace, and Pope Emeritus BXVI is giving honor to his chosen name Holy Father St.Benedict a great prayer warrior.
    We are blessed to have Two Great Pope both Masters in the Art of Spiritual War who had already exposed and removed the wolves inside Vatican from their post and also fighting the packed of wild dogs or the noisy church critics and enemies thru the power of prayerful silence.
    Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus BXVI are winning the war, if we knew how to discern how they wage spiritual war thru silence (CCC2717 & Exodus14:14), the schismatic rigid Trads are getting noisier and it only means they are getting desperate by the day because they cannot force the ouster of Pope Francis since Day1. As long as the Great Prayer Warrior in the person of Pope Emeritus BXVI is still alive they cannot win.
    The antichrist or the counterfeit church “will destroy idols and religions”, that is their prophesied identity according to Ab.Fulton Sheen.
    The “naked statue” of the Our Lady of Amazon is an “idol” in their eyes, and the religions like Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, etc they will destroy and will not accept as part of the Universal Church the People of God.
    It takes a deep discernment to see the whole picture and to know the identity of the “mystical body of the Antichrist”.
    They are “rigid” meaning oppose to the Holy Spirit inspirations as written by Paul Fahey, they are schismatics & heretics, plus they are apostate for opposing the gospel of Mercy, they will destroy idols like the “naked statue”, and they hate other religions and will oppose the Mercy of God be given to LGBTQ, convicted criminals, couples in irregular union, and now to indigenous people of the Amazon..
    It’s not really hard to discern who is the “mystical body of Antichrist” despite all the media noise coming from the Rad Trads channels.

    • Terry says:

      Wow, you are really against Traditionalist, aren’t you? I consider myself as such, not that I would say I’m a ‘RadTrad’ but certainly one who believes something is afoul in Rome since VCII.

      • D.W. Lafferty says:

        I have no problem with traditionalists if you mean those who prefer the extraordinary form and simply have a love of Catholic tradition. It’s when it becomes a movement devoted to undermining and relentlessly criticizing the Church of today that it becomes dangerous.

  6. Manuel Dauvin says:

    George- the “egg on your face”…”mask comes off” pigeonholing way you comment comes of as patronizing. Maybe the papal sounding username is throwing me off. I have room for articles like this even though i can’t blame any pontiff for the state in the faithful.

  7. Marie says:

    Thank you D.W. for such a well reasoned and informative article. I do believe Pope Benedict’s affirmation of Church teachings was essential, but the narrow focus on these moral truths, separate from not equally acknowledging and teaching, hand in hand loving, listening to, and not judging those who struggle did come at a cost. Recognizing the sexual revolution as the enemy, when the equally dangerous consumerism movement that has overtaking families needed equal attention as well. I say this not as criticism, for it’s easy to look back, but as someone who gradually fell outside of these groups of followers I believe turned the Church into a Church that measured your worthiness to be a member based on sexual teachings alone. All others were lower tiered Catholics.

    There is no question Pope Benedict XVI wrote on social teachings, and much has been ignored. I think the problem was they were not joined together with moral teachings, at a time when these issues were already exposing a divide. They needed to be argued together. Little focus or understanding for those unable to fully commit, unwittingly I think created a new class of Catholics, those who could, allowing for the disposal of other members of our Church, tossed to the side so to speak.

    This decade of strict moral focus hardened people’s hearts towards others, and also allowed for Catholics understanding these teachings to take it to another level. A competition of sorts began with each other vying for best holiness title. It was now about home many children you had, how close in age, is the mother a stay at home mother, and best points went to those who home schooled. The products of this attitude, the children, now young adults, are often extremely narrow minded, very judgmental and frankly arrogant at their core, some of whom are entering the priesthood, wearing their saturnos. Most are anti Francis, as social teachings, mercy and love of neighbour have never been part of their curriculum. Often they begin to argue with “Most people don’t realize…”, ” Learned Catholics are obligated….” “Liberal Catholics….’ “You lefties…”. They can’t see beyond black or white, there are no different views other than theirs and the rest, unaware of their arrogant tone and demeanor and refusing to accept there are plenty of Catholics who accept Church teaching regarding sexuality, we just also accept social teachings, and the message of mercy and understanding.

    We need to be open to the reality we don’t know everything, and we should be driven to bringing Catholics back to the Church, not assuming we will be part of the remnant Church, and “that works just fine for me.” We need to listen, as difficult as it can be.

  8. BJ says:

    Well written article that highlights the three streams of thought that needs to be dealt with in peace, love and mercy within the Church. Many are wounded by all the articles being posted, Catholic media shows on air and this unprecedented uncharitable social media rhetoric aimed at ridiculing and polarizing the Catholic faithful. I have vowed to take no part on this attack on our beloved Pope Francis, May the Holy Trinity continue to guide his Petrine Office by the power of His Holy Spirit.

    • Jessica says:

      It really is bad, eh? I used the synod hysteria as a chance to reevaluate my Catholic media sources, and I lost two that I had thought were biased but non-hysterical. One from each side.

      At this point i only have Vatican sources, but I’d really prefer having reliable critical voices too. Ones that provide more Catholic material than than AP and Reuters, I mean.

    • D.W. Lafferty says:

      Thanks, BJ. It’s not that we can’t be critical, but some of the media entities out there are really dealing in misinformation and wild exaggeration. Scandal tabloids that have shifted their whole business model to attacking the Church–all in the name of Catholicism.

  9. Jessica says:

    This is humbling, actually. I didn’t realize it, but I really do have an attitude like the reified Catholicism you describe. I think lol. I missed this portion of Church history, so I’d enjoy hearing more.

    On another note, it’s fascinating that we were given a Pope who was (imo) extremely well versed in theology, followed by the opposite: one who is devoted to pastoral care. I wonder why the Spirit sent us both extremes, one after the other? I assume the message couldn’t be contained in a single moderate Pope, but I wonder why. They definitely came in the right order though.

    • D.W. Lafferty says:

      I’m still learning, myself. I think you are right that our popes have arrived in the right order. There are always periods of binding and loosing. Right now we are in a period of flexibility, but there may be a need in the future to pull back. That back-and-forth is what makes the Church alive!

    • Paul Fahey says:

      Jessica, I resonate with what you say here about not realizing how much reified Catholicism I have. I read this article to my wife and we both realized that it’s only been in the past few years that the Lord has lead us out of that confined Church where all the answers are neatly lined up and anyone who doesn’t fit the mold can just leave. The writings and actions of Pope Francis have been integral to the Holy Spirit rooting this mentality out of us, particularly his book The Name of God is Mercy and his document on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate (chapter two of this is like an examination of conscience for those in the reified Church). God bless!

  10. Andreas says:

    A very interesting analysis that I agree with. Pope Francis said early is his papacy that he wanted a Church that takes risks, and a church that is unified in it’s fundamental ecclesiology can do that. Pope Benedict, this great and enormously teacher of the faith did good to the church in a period where the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and the 70’s radicalism still was felt and threatened the deposit of faith. We have now entered another epoch, not better, probably worse, but with other challenges and where the Church needs to get after it she’ll after a long period of internal rejuvenation.

  11. L Daily says:

    Not sure if this is true or not, but supposedly fundamentalists Catholics are reporting that statues of Our Lady of the Amazon have been stolen and thrown into the river. This strange group won’t be satisfied until everybody who is not white, rich and straight walks away from the Church in disgust.

    • Benoît says:

      So true. Something should be written about the association between rad-trads and the most vile form of homophobia. I suspect it has something to do about fear….as a person with ssa myself, I can recognize many people with ssa being attracted to the hyper masculinity in certain trad groups.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      L. Daily,

      I felt physically sick when I saw Catholics rejoicing, online, over the desecration of those statues, which were in the Vatican. They are indigenous representations of Catholic faith! Our Lady of the Amazon is *not* a pagan idol! Throwing a statue of Mary in the river… Cromwell would be so happy at these destructive actions… Lord, help us…

      • JCMeg56 says:

        “Our Lady of the Amazon”! Are you kidding? The Vatican said the statues were NOT Mary, but symbolized fertility, motherhood and the Earth. That is pagan imagery straight up. There is no use trying to justify syncretism. It is what it is. RENOUNCE and catechize! It is not charity to affirm them in their error. It is not just to Our Lord to bring idols into His House and there how down to them – this is First-Commandment-breaking, abominable desecration. We used to know this. The modernist Church, with all its Pope-alators, is vomited out of God’s mouth.

      • BJ says:

        Do you even understand what modernism is? It certainly is not the Catholic Church we visibly see. Stop your stupidity. As far as those statues they are icons that represent a deeper spiritual meaning to the Amazonians and they brought it to the church to submit to the king of Kings and Lord of Lords – Jesus Christ. You need to be more charitable in your outlook of indigenous peoples.

      • Lazarus says:

        @JMeg57

        Since Pope Francis is the bishop of Rome, where is the true Church? Is the true Church indefectible? Sedes tend to forget that the Church needs to be visible since it’s mission is to save souls, and souls need to find it to enter it. If it became hard to find no one can be faulted for not finding it, and basically Satan derailed it from it’s mission for at least 60 years. R&R trads are schizophrenic since they recognize a man is a pope but refuse to give him the obedience traditionally Catholics are obliged to. They call accepting the doctrine of papal supremacy papolatry.

      • BJ says:

        Exactly put Lazarus, Rad Trads who call for papal opposition and papal correction fail to see the hand of god guiding the papacy. They think what the Pope of 1200 aD ruled when it comes to dealing with muslims should be used to deal with Muslims today in the 21st century. To them that is doctrine and you should just apply it verbatim without taking into consideration the changes in society, education, politics, technology etc… they are really ahistorical as correctly defined by Bp. Robert Barron

  12. Christopher Lake says:

    I agree with much of this article, but I’m not sure that I agree with the criticisms of Benedict XVI. Yes, there were many theologians who were censured by him, both when he was head of the CDF and as Pope. Of the theologians that I know of, where this was the case, he had legitimate reasons for his concerns and actions regarding them.

    In Benedict’s writings and his public witness as Pope, I regularly heard/saw a pastoral sensitivity for the worldwide Catholic Church and its many members with their various struggles. (Including me, a man with a physical disability who has lived much of his life on, or below, the poverty line.) He also wrote and spoke quite strongly on issues of Catholic social teaching that are, likewise, deep concerns of Pope Francis. Benedict XVI was very concerned about greed, consumerism, and economic systems that either are intrinsically, or can easily become, harmful to humanity, whether on the political “right” or “left” (as we in the U.S. tend to mean those terms).

    No doubt, *some* of Benedict’s vocal supporters in Catholic media (when he was Pope), who were/are also *vocal political conservatives,* did often downplay, ignore, and/or even publicly disagree with, his affirmations of aspects of Catholic social teaching which challenge American political conservatism. “Caritas in Varitate” is great in showing the harmony in the respective thinking of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html

    • Mike Lewis says:

      Christopher – I agree with much of what you write, but I don’t see this piece as excessively critical of Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger. I think he (not to mention JP2) was in many ways the right pope for his time, but even his teaching (such as Caritas in Veritate) was warped into “reified” Catholicism. Remember the Red and Gold pens?

      Much of the social teaching of Francis’s predecessors was ignored by this strain of Catholicism. This is unavoidable with Pope Francis, however.

      • Jessica says:

        Red and gold pens? That sounds like a story!

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Mike,

        I agree with the author’s criticisms of a “reified Catholicism.” This fortress-like, “we alone are the pure ones, against everybody else” kind of Catholicism was a twisted distortion of (maybe a funhouse mirror-like “reflection” of) what Pope Benedict XVI was actually, bravely, trying to teach. In retrospect, there was a terrible malignancy in what too many Catholics *inaccurately took to be* Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership and vision for the Church.

        I can agree with D.W. Lafferty’s criticisms of reified Catholicism. I *don’t* agree with his criticisms of Benedict XVI’s so-called “pastoral insensitivity” and his supposed unwillingness to listen to all strains of Catholic thought. It’s not a sincere practicing of “Catholic thought” for Catholic theologians to write and publish works which openly, brazenly, oppose Church teachings.

        Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI longed to see people come to faith in Christ and come *back* to faith in Christ. He prayed, wrote, spoke, and worked for it. He never vilified or marginalized gay people– at least not that I saw, and I know of more than a few gay Catholics who would agree. The 1986 “Halloween letter” of Cardinal Ratzinger is, simply, Catholic teaching, and it is *full* of genuine care, love, and concern for gay people. The gay Catholics whom I know and/or read *love* Benedict XVI and his teaching. They know that he cares enough about them to tell them the truth about the sinfulness of homosexual sex and the non-reality of “gay marriage”, even when that truth can be quite hard and painful to hear. He did not tell those truths in a cold, callous, holier-than-thou way, but out of a heart filled with Christ’s love. Christ knows that sin is destructive, and his warnings to us about sin are not out of a desire to “marginalize” or “shut out” anyone, but rather, they are because He wants to see us *fully alive*. Benedict XVI is obviously not literally Christ Himself (nor is any Pope), but from all that I have seen, heard, and read of him, I believe that he has the same loving heart for sinners (all sinners, not just certain ones) that Christ has.

        Let me also say, clearly, that I love that Pope Francis loves self-righteous neo-Pelagians in the Church (such as I have been at too many times!) enough to tell them (me) the truth about the condition of their (my) own hearts. I love his teaching and leadership, just as I loved Benedict XVI’s, when he was Pope. Definitely, neither of them is a perfect man. Obviously, all Popes are sinners, and they all make mistakes at times, sometimes serious ones, but Benedict XVI and Pope Francis are two men of whom I count myself as *incredibly blessed* to have returned to the Church in time to experience their Papacies.

    • Mary Angelica says:

      This was my impression as well. In many ways the reified stodginess has less to do with the man and more to do with what the public thought of him. Even the liberation theology issue reflects this. Ratzinger’s condemnation wasn’t a wholesale one either. The issues, iirc, that he had were basically that the liberation theology people were reducing salvation from sin and Jesus’s actions to a materialistic fight against oppression (and sometimes employing marxist tactics to do so…), but he spoke in favor of “theologies of liberation ” which draw out the implications of Christ’s victory over sin and make the Church’s work on justice an extension of this.

      But before he was a German academic who had traditional tastes, that was lost on his opponents… as well as many of his fans.

  13. Marie says:

    I don’t see it as criticism as much as an after the fact analysis, much the same way as when our children reach adulthood, and often expose any parental weakness or shortcomings, either in what we said or did, or did not say or do. Even when you do something right, the results are not always as expected, as they have not been received or viewed or understood as planned. It’s all in hindsight, but beneficial moving forward. Like St Pope JPII and Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI is responsible for converting or bringing back countless people to our faith, and deserves our love and respect, and has it.

  14. jong says:

    Latest synchronized videos from Rad Trads the throwing of “naked statue” of Our Lady of Amazon to the river.
    The Idols of Pachamama in Rome Are Destroyed and Cast Into the Tiber River
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_loUTdDJT6Y

    See, Ab.Fulton Sheen prophecy about the “counterfeit church or the mystical body of the Christ” will destroy “idols”.
    The Pan Amazonian indigenous people did not look at the “naked statue” as a false pagan idol but it is their cultural expression depicting Our Lady and couple it with St.Elizabeth image to complete the meditation on the Mystery of Visitation to erase the notion that it is a pagan idol.
    But to to judgemental mind of the Rad Trads it is simply an “idol” period.

    How about Ab.Fulton Sheen prophecy saying the counterfeit church will also destroy religions?
    Vatican II Council inspirations is to unite all religions as People of God as Pope Francis said “it is willed by God in His Wisdom”. It’s good to ponder Lumen Gentium chapter I on the Mystery of the Church and read Wisdom Chapter 9 esp. Wisdom9:18
    God created all mankind thru His Word/Logos and Wisdom/Holy Spirit and will save all mankind thru His Word and Wisdom too.
    In the Old Testament the people are seeking Wisdom to live in righteousness and in the NT Jesus the Logos became the Wisdom of God the righteousness of God, and after Jesus ascended, Mary in the Upper Room became the Seat of Wisdom the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

    Are the Rad Trads destroying “idols” of our brothers & sisters from other culture disrespecting their cultural sensitivity & heritage and destroying other religions too like Jews,Muslims, Hindus,Buddhist, etc.?

    We can see the opposite of inspirations, the Vatican II Church the True Catholic Church was inspired to embraced other religion as the People of God too, compare to the Rad Trads the “counterfeit church or the mystical body of Antichrist” inspirations to stay “rigid” and hold on to the Dogma of “outside the Church there is no salvation”, they are inspired to destroy and condemn other religion, still blinded not to see that this people in other religion are God’s children too, who are most in need of the Mercy of God and needed Pastoral care thru Fraternity & Charity.
    (John17:20-22)

  15. Robert says:

    Pope Benedict defended and promoted Catholic truth. He explained it in crystal clear language in his encyclicals. Pope Francis has spoken and written ambiguously about important moral issues -eg access to communion for those living in”irregular relationships” – and to say the least, has caused consternation and deep concern amongst the faithful. His attitude to those who value Catholic truth is to label them “rigorists” and other insulting terms. I accept Vat.11. but certainly not “the spirit
    of Vat.11” which seems to have polluted much of Catholic thought over the past fifty years. Your own references to homosexuality are also ambiguous. The promotion of homosexuality has become not only a cancer within society, it is obviously connected with the abuse crisis within the Church, a crisis which has caused young people to leave the Church in droves. Truth, justice and mercy are not incompatible values. Sadly, we are enduring a papacy which emphasizes a false mercy, one which sees doctrine as an impediment to effective pastoral care. I totally reject that notion as heretical.

    • Dan says:

      False mercy is the term for it. I’m new to the Church but here and elsewhere I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at the ambiguous and seemingly disingenuous use of language on offer, which sounds at times more akin to a political broadcast from British Liberal Democrats than something in keeping with Catholic theology. For instance, the article above makes use of the word “homophobia”, but what does that actually mean to us in the present situation, especially since that word is generally only employed to scream down anyone and everything that might prove reticent to endorse the distinctly post-modern/moral relativistic onslaught currently consuming much of society. I’ve approached the Church to find respite from that and the unceasing attempts to relativize absolutely everything out of existence in a deluge of buzzwords pertaining to “tolerance”, “inclusivity” and “dialogue” and I’m distressed to see that form of language (and the political agenda it appears to represent) in evidence here. A little clarity would help, starting as to whether the author and those in support actually stand by traditional, rationally grounded teachings on human sexuality or not.

      • D.W. Lafferty says:

        I do stand by Church teaching on human sexuality. The obsessive homophobia I am talking about is different, and I used that word intentionally and do not apply it to Church teaching on homosexuality. I’m talking about a true homophobia that alleges monolithic gay conspiracies and demonizes gay people, all while embracing an exaggerated masculinity.

      • Dan says:

        Thank you for the clarification.

  16. Andreas says:

    What exactly did you find ambiguous in the article’s reference to homosexuality ? In that case, do you find the catechisms reference to homosexuality ambiguous?

  17. Christopher Xavier says:

    As one from India, where inculturation has been a failed exercise since the time of the Portuguese Catholics and British Protestants , where attempts to saffronize the expression of the Gospel in order to ‘dialog’ with saffron has failed, when I see this Amazon Synod stuff and its proclivity for novelty, how it is artificially front-ended by feathers, boats, figurines and fertility symbols, and bolstered in the background by quasi-marxist liberation theologians and rebellious Saxons, I just laugh first, and then go and pray that such “experiments with truth” (to borrowed the phrase from Mahatma Gandhi) will cease, and adherence to the distinctives and uniqueness of Catholicism will prosper.

    For some unfathomable reason the Son of God determined to live in eastern Meditteranean and plant and lead His church from the northern meditteranean. We will let His choice of culture and expression prevail over my personal cultural preferences.

    /// Those who cling to it will argue for a smaller, purer Church that may have to operate in defiance of the Holy See. ////

    This is a false dilemma fallacy, really. History has shown the via media, just as much as it has shown puritanism on the right, and rebellion on the left. Is it unacceptable to God that the Church shrink during its phase of shedding and purification, and regrow organically when its dead and dying have been pruned away ?

    • BJ says:

      Christopher Xavier, having lived in India for many years doing ministry work, I must disagree on a point you made that the Portuguese used inculturation, they were the least in doing it, a lot of people were converted by force it indeed was a confusing time for the church. St. Francis Xavier did come in with a breath of the Holy Spirit and converted many of the natives in the coastal areas by God’s Grace. Actual inculturation happened more in areas outside Portuguese control, the carmelites, the Franciscans, Jesuits all did a great deal of work in North India. The Church there is definitely strong and DP go through persecutions from the Hindu right wing fanatics. South India has a different dynamic because Christianity has always been present in that society for the last 2000 years, preached by St. Thomas the apostle. The St. Thomas Christian Churches both Catholic and Orthodox have taken elements of the Indian culture into their church architecture and liturgies. I see the Amazon as more of an infant mission church compared to the churches in India that have existed for so long and is slowly but surely permeating into the Indian culture, not by force or edict as the Church in Europe but through inculturation and teaching and preaching of the gospel.

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