Pope Benedict XVI and the Church After the Fall



Corruption within the Catholic Church lengthy predated the eight-year papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, which started in 2005. The Protestant reformers hammered their critique of Catholic greed and treachery into historical past a number of centuries earlier than this pope. The churn of time proved no treatment for the Church’s failings. When Hannah Arendt printed her reflections on the life and dying of Pope John XXIII in 1965, she hung her consideration on the questions posed to her by a canny Roman chambermaid: “Madam, this Pope was an actual Christian. How may that be? And the way may it occur {that a} true Christian would sit on St. Peter’s chair?” After a lot worldly infamy, the concept appeared suspect.

However the rot the world discovered of throughout Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure was new in its overwhelming attestation from victims, its international attain, and its particularly sinister perversion: For many years, clergymen and prelates had raped and sexually molested 1000’s of youngsters of their cost, and their superiors within the Church had protected them from penalties, permitting the abuse to proceed and unfold unabated.

Though intercourse abuse within the Church seems to have been most rampant from the ’60s by means of the ’80s, discovery of widespread mishandling of sex-abuse circumstances took place in 2002, with The Boston Globe’s protection of crimes within the Archdiocese of Boston. Benedict XVI was subsequently left to reckon with a groundswell of reviews recounting hideous violations that had taken place earlier than he was pope however throughout his lengthy profession as a prelate. There was the Ryan Report of 2009, which recognized lots of of circumstances of sexual and bodily abuse perpetrated in Catholic establishments in Eire from 1914 to 2000; the Murphy Report, printed later that very same 12 months, which discovered proof that greater than 170 clergymen within the Archdiocese of Dublin had been shielded from allegations of sexual abuse from 1975 to 2004; and, lastly, The New York Instancesexposé of the American priest Lawrence C. Murphy, who sexually abused boys at a faculty for the deaf in Wisconsin for many years regardless of his victims’ finest efforts to have the person stopped, together with, in 1996, by means of the enchantment of an archbishop to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger, on the time of the report’s publication in March 2010, was now not Cardinal Ratzinger in any respect; he had turn out to be Pope Benedict XVI.

Thus, the face of the Catholic Church when a lot of the world decisively misplaced religion within the establishment was his. An aged face: Considerably withdrawn and mental, already white-haired and infrequently bespectacled upon his election, Benedict XVI was by no means the charismatic, crowd-working superstar that John Paul II had been, nor did he have the straightforward, widespread contact that Francis would convey to an workplace so badly in want of ethical credibility. As an alternative, Benedict XVI was dedicated to his theological work and, maybe much more so, to the otherworldly magnificence the Church lays such proud declare to: “Higher witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and artwork which have arisen locally of believers,” he as soon as wrote, “than by intelligent excuses which apologetics has give you to justify the darkish sides which, sadly, are so frequent within the Church’s human historical past.” The late pope emeritus’s repute as a liturgical traditionalist is completely entangled together with his file as an advocate for sacred paintings and music. Although I perceive that the politics of the 2 camps are fairly opposed, I discover their means and strategies suspiciously related: Each are compelled to the most effective variations of themselves by magnificence. Benedict XVI himself appeared to hail each form of magnificence—he reintroduced a number of retired objects of papal apparel throughout his tenure, and wore a bespoke cologne with notes of grass and verbena—however this typically appeared to solely irritate public sentiment in opposition to him, maybe as a result of he led the Church at such an abhorrently ugly time.

Evidently, the stress weighed on him. Peter Seewald, a German journalist and Benedict XVI’s biographer, writes in his second quantity on the pope emeritus that, within the later years of his papacy, the pontiff “felt a way of gloom … No Catholic would ever suppose Christ’s neighborhood might be purely holy, all wheat and no weeds. However the older he turned, the extra he doubted that human beings would ever study. ‘However let’s depart that,’ he as soon as abruptly ended a dialogue, when he was requested about his hopes for the long run.” Within the aftermath of the sex-abuse disaster and the 2012 “Vatileaks” scandal, during which a trove of inside Vatican paperwork have been printed depicting a corrupt and altogether worldly wrestle for energy and affect in Rome, then-Pope Benedict XVI apparently started to withdraw. He knew the sensation, Seewald writes, “of now not being equal to a scenario.”

And so, it was the corruption within the Church, at all times an merchandise of ridicule however now a pervasive, agonizing actuality, that appeared finally to overshadow the person, who turned in 2013 the primary pope in 600 years to retire from his workplace. The pope—who in 2010 had remarked, dispiritingly however not unconvincingly, that “humanity has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of dying and terror which they’ll now not escape of”—turned the pope emeritus, and left the Roman Catholic Church and its billion souls within the palms of his successor, who has usually struck a extra optimistic word.

The knowledge of that perception apart, it’s onerous to disagree with Benedict XVI’s personal evaluation that he was in some sense unequal to the second, not least as a result of the conclusion squares with the gravity of the disaster itself. This was and is the form of darkness not seen for hundreds of years, a historic disaster. It affected its direct victims, their households and family members, the parishes and dioceses that turned answerable for settling with them, the parishioners who now needed to salvage their religion. The world—and the Church—post-crisis can really feel like a spot too violent, too exploitative for the vulnerability of enchantment. Maybe the pope emeritus noticed the magnitude of the harm himself, and maybe his retreat got here nearest to acknowledging it.

How heavy the toll is—the way it colours the Church’s current historical past with a streak of predatory menace, the way it calls for an accounting for itself even in moments of celebration and loss for the Church, the way it irrevocably complicates easy lay religion. The abstract Catholic novel of the post-crisis period might be Mary Doria Russell’s prescient The Sparrow, whose protagonist cries out earlier than a council of his brother clergymen: “I had nothing between me and what occurred however the love of God. And I used to be raped.” To talk of the Church now’s at all times to talk after the disaster; to write down in regards to the religion now’s at all times to grapple with this ghastly inheritance. However the place there stays one thing in any way to be stated, there stays some hope, and a few capability for redemption. That perception could finally be the very one upon which the whole religion survives.



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