Bishop Ratzinger in the Pasture
I am not sorry to see Bishop Ratzinger go. I did not trust him. And I don’t think he was an effective—or a straightforward—pope. Like Bishop Ratzinger, I am an intellectual who was cast into an administrative role for which I was unsuited. I was chairman of my English Department; he was pope. No comparison there in terms of importance. I mention this only because I think Bishop Ratzinger was as poor a pope as I was a chairman. He made many mistakes, many public gaffes. So he was always playing catch-up, trying to backpedal and divert attention. And he offended the people he should have been working constructively with, like the Moslems and the Jews.
He wrote some beautiful things, which many found inspiring. That was his strength. And he boldly corrected John Paul II’s scandalous protection of the priest, Marcial Maciel Degollado, who was a powerful friend of JP II’s and an abuser of teenage boys. Bishop Ratzinger, soon after his elevation to the papacy, relieved Maciel of his official positions. We have no idea what the consequences for Bishop Ratzinger were because of that.
And I believe that in time Bishop Ratzinger will be known as the pope who opened the door to a married priesthood (via the invitation to married Anglican priests into the Roman Church) and to the diaconal ordination of women. His resignation itself may become a model in the modern papacy of a saner way to conclude a papal reign than the other methods which have been employed, including anonymous prince-regents running the Church from behind the throne of doddering old men.
But I believe that time will also expose Bishop Ratzinger’s deep immersion in the Vatican’s attempt to manipulate the politics and the PR of the priest sex scandal. The scandal has cooled down in the U.S., though it may ignite again, beginning in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. More significantly, emotions among Catholics and former Catholics are said to be high in Australia and Ireland over their versions of the scandal, and Germany and Austria are reported to be powder kegs. Bishop Ratzinger has done this issue no justice by trying to divert attention from it, and he has called his own credibility into question when he publicly scolded the Irish bishops for mishandling the scandal in their country while he himself has never adequately nor straightforwardly addressed his personal role in the Hellermann priest-pedophilia scandal in Munich while he was archbishop there. He let an underling take the fall for him, and, in spite of credible testimony to his hands-on approach to priest-personnel problems there, Bishop Ratzinger has remained silent about the issue.
In the long view, Bishop Ratzinger tried to establish a Traditionalist Catholic way as the operative modality of the Roman Church right from the beginning of his reign as pope—that is, a return to the glory days of the Renaissance Church with its ceremonies and grandeur, and with its theological surety and its safe, established orderliness—the way still embraced by those faithful who want to deny the horror of the priest scandal and who yearn for strawberry fields forever. But this Traditionalism has taken a hard hit. It was critically injured by the Vatican’s inability to contain the sex-scandal problem and to “put it to rest” in the turbulence of the public arena.
Bishop Ratzinger’s inability to prevent Traditionalism from being crippled by the patent truth may be the sole reason for which the Vatican establishment may have forced him from power. Or, in a way less than I had hoped for (namely, a public acknowledgement of, and apology for, his part in the betrayal of the faithful flock, before stepping down) Bishop Ratzinger may be quitting his office in a genuine act of conscience. If this be the case, Bishop Ratzinger may be leaving the post of chief shepherd because he has admitted to himself that he had utterly and in secrecy failed his flock. He may be willingly paying the price to God for his wrongdoing, though without seeking the forgiveness of the faithful whom he offended.
These thoughts lead me to suspect that there’s more to his resignation than frail health alone, although I don’t discount that factor. John Paul II had turned the papacy into a celebrity occupation. Bishop Ratzinger never fit that role—as he showed early on with his absurd curly-toed red shoes. It must have taken a lot out of him to try to be what he was not.
However, if there are more reasons than health and stamina for his resignation, the hot-button issues which Bishop Ratzinger may have wished personally to avoid dealing with will come to light in the future. In any event, I join the many in praying for him and for the Church his papacy leaves behind.
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O Jerusalem, holy city,
God scourged you for the works of your hands,
but will again pity the children of the righteous. (Tobit 13:9)
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