April 26, 2019
By John L. Allen Jr.
Rome – Over the last ten days, four major milestones have been marked in the U.S. and elsewhere:
– The 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings (April 20)
– The 25th anniversary of the death of former U.S. President Richard Nixon (April 22)
– The 130th anniversary of the birth of Adolph Hitler (April 20)
– The 92nd birthday of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI (April 16)
At first glance, putting those four things together almost seems a classic SAT question about “which item does not belong in this list?” The first three seem reminders of a world gone mad – National Socialism, the Watergate scandal, and the scourge of school violence.
Benedict, on the other hand, is one of the most celebrated theological minds in contemporary Catholicism, a figure who inspires intense devotion among a wide swath of the Catholic population.
Yet there’s a scarlet thread running through all four, because one of the cornerstones of Benedict’s thought over the years has been precisely a deep reflection on how such social evil is possible, and how the Church can best resist it. It’s a controversial diagnosis, and, for exactly that reason, it points to one of those deep tectonic fault lines in Catholicism that underlie a host of surface debates.
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In a sense, it’s also the same point Benedict tried to make in his recent essay on the clerical sexual abuse crisis that caused such a tempest. While the hubbub focused on his line about “homosexual cliques” in seminaries and whether he was blaming gays, his ultimate diagnosis was that the real culprits are a loss of faith in God and a collapse of confidence in objective truth.
Once again, his central idea is that only truth – clearly defined, robustly proclaimed, and, when necessary, unabashedly defended, as he suggests John Paul II did with his 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor – sets limits to the evils sinful human beings are capable of inflicting on one another.
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