|" Why They Are Attacking Me." Autobiography of a Pontificate
September 3, 2010
Two books have been released this summer, in the United States and in Italy, that reconstruct and analyze the merciless attacks on Benedict XVI from various sides, since the beginning of his pontificate, with a crescendo that reached its peak this year.
The book by Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson, editors of Catholic publications very widely read in the United States, focuses on the scandal of sexual abuse by the clergy.
The book by the Italian vaticanistas Paolo Rodari and Andrea Tornielli instead extends the analysis to a dozen attacks against as many actions and speeches of Benedict XVI: from the lecture in Regensburg to the liberalization of the ancient rite of the Mass, from the lifting of the excommunication from the Lefebvrist bishops to the condemnation of using condoms to prevent AIDS, from welcoming Anglicans into the Catholic Church to the scandal of pedophilia.
Rodari and Tornielli provide a highly detailed reconstruction of each of these episodes, including some previously unknown background information.
Their conclusion is that three different attacks are underway against Benedict XVI, carried out by three different enemies.
The first and main enemy is the external one. It is the currents of opinion and centers of power hostile to the Church and to this pope.
The second enemy is those Catholics – including not a few priests and bishops – who see Benedict XVI as an obstacle to their project of "modernist" reform for the Church.
Finally, the third enemy is those officials of the Vatican curia who hurt the pope instead of helping him, out of incapacity, ignorance, or even opposition.
It does not appear that these three fronts are commanded by the same general. But this does not mean that a unifying reason cannot be sought that would explain such bitter and constant attacks, all concentrated on the current pope. This is what Rodari and Tornielli do in the last chapter of their book, collecting the opinions of various analysts and commentators.
But it is no less important to know how Benedict XVI himself interprets the attacks brought against him.
In the homily at the concluding Mass of the Year for Priests, last June 11, Benedict XVI also referred to an "enemy." As follows:
"It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the 'enemy'; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God's concern for our good, turns into its very opposite."
And this is what the pope said at the beginning of his trip to Fatima, last April 11:
"The attacks on the Pope and the Church come not only from without. [...] The greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification."
It can already be intuited from this that for Benedict XVI, even the horrible year of 2010 is to be lived as a year of grace, just like the previous years, likewise riddled with attacks against the Church and the pope.
For him, everything holds together. The tribulation produced by sin is the condition of a humanity in need of salvation. A salvation that comes only from God, and is offered in the Church with the sacraments administered by the priests.
Because of this – the pope explains – the rejection of God coincides so often with an attack on the priesthood and what publicly distinguishes it, celibacy.
Last June 10, on the eve of the closing of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI said that celibacy is an anticipation "of the world of the resurrection." It is the sign "that God exists, that God matters in my life, that I can base my life on Christ, on the future life."
For this reason – he continued – celibacy "is a great scandal." Not only for today's world, "in which God does not matter." But for Christianity itself, in which "God's future is no longer considered, and the now of this world alone seems sufficient."
Pope Joseph Ratzinger has said repeatedly that "making God present in this world" is the priority of his pontificate, particularly in the memorable letter he addressed to the bishops of the whole world, dated March 10, 2009.
But connecting the question of God with that of the priesthood and of priestly celibacy is by no means a given. And yet this is precisely what Benedict XVI does constantly.
For example, at the end of 2006, making an assessment of his trip to Germany that had made an impression because of his lecture in Regensburg, after emphasizing that "the great problem of the West is forgetfulness of God," he continued by saying that "this is the central task of the priesthood: to bring God to men." But the priest "can do this only if he himself comes from God, if he lives with and from God." And celibacy is a sign of this full dedication:
"Our world, which has become totally positivistic, in which God appears at best as a hypothesis but not as a concrete reality, needs to rest on God in the most concrete and radical way possible. It needs a witness to God that lies in the decision to welcome God as a land where one finds one's own existence."
It is therefore no surprise that, just before his election as pope, Ratzinger called for a reform of the Church that would begin with purifying God's ministers from "filth."
It is no surprise that he conceived and proclaimed a Year for Priests intended to lead the clergy to a holy life.
It is no surprise that the liturgy is so central to this pontificate. The priest lives for the liturgy. It is the priest that God "has enabled to set God's table for men, to give them his body and his blood, to offer them the precious gift of his very presence."
The liberalization of the ancient rite of the Mass, the lifting of the excommunication for the Lefebvrist bishops, the welcome extended to the Anglican communities most attached to tradition are parts of this same plan. And they are all promptly the object of attack.
There is a mysterious lucidity of vision that unifies the attacks on the current pontificate. As if an "invisible hand" were at work in them, hidden from their own authors. A hand, a mind that glimpses Benedict XVI's basic plan, and therefore does all it can to oppose it.
In the Gospel of Mark, there is a "messianic secret" that accompanies the life of Jesus and remains hidden from his own disciples. But not from the "enemy." The devil is the one who recognizes Jesus immediately as the savior Messiah. And shrieks at him.
The paradox of today's attacks on the Church is that, precisely while they intend to reduce it to impotence and silence, they reveal its essence, as place of the God who forgives.
"Seraphic Doctor" is the nickname of Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, one of the first successors of Saint Francis as head of the order he founded. It could also be applied to Benedict XVI, for how he is guiding the Church through the storm.
In the catechesis he dedicated last March 10 to this saint – whom he studied extensively even as a young theologian – pope Ratzinger also spoke his mind about his "enemies" within the Church.
To those who, discontented, are demanding a radical palingenesis of the Church, a new spiritual Christianity made of the naked Gospel with no more hierarchies or precepts or dogmas, Benedict XVI said that it's a short step from spiritualism to anarchy. The Church "is always Church of sinners, and always place of grace." It progresses and evolves, but always in continuity with tradition.
To those who base Church reform entirely on new structures of command and new commanders, he said that "governing is not simply an activity, but above all thinking and praying": which means "guiding and enlightening souls, directing them to Christ."
The attacks that are focused on Pope Benedict are, for him, the proof of how big the wager is that he is proposing to the men of today, even the unbelieving: to live as if God exists."
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