Nobody could have predicted this early goodbye
It’s exciting when there’s big news at the Vatican. Everyone tunes in, Catholic or not. I get excited for a few reasons – I am Catholic, I follow the Pope and what he’s up to, and I just love reading the ignorant dribble that emerges from those who take the liberty to call themselves “Vaticanologists”.
Or in this case, a historian. Dr Geoff Nathan from UNSW wrote his thoughts on why the Pope had to go, as if it was a fait accompli that his days were numbered. While you expect the usual complaints from another “informed observer”, you certainly don’t expect a blatant disregard for facts, which should be bread and butter for a historian.
Mistaking John Paul II’s election year (it was 1978, not 1981) was a schoolboy error, and a taster for greater oversights.
Apparently, John Paul II was mentally inert. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and ultimately died as a result of complications following a bad strain of influenza, breathing problems and a urinary tract infection.
During his last years with this crippling disease, he produced some of his greatest writings, such as Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Rosarium Virginis Mariae, as well as his reflections in the books Memory and Identity and Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, which he wrote with his trademark phenomenological approach.
His heroic effort to push on inspired millions of people around the globe. Although much went unreported, he had a rock-star status everywhere he hobbled. He couldn’t speak when I met him in 2003, but the ten seconds I had to stare into his eyes and blabber out some gratitude will stay with me forever. He was never mentally inert.
Apparently, Benedict XVI’s resignation shows vanity. If there was one thing that even Benedict’s greatest adversaries can agree with his supporters on, it is his deep humility.
When elected, he said he was “a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord”. He is also the first Pope ever to resign without some other crisis bearing pressure on him, with full freedom and full power.
The day before he resigned he tweeted: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners.”
Hardly a vain consideration.
Apparently, his past is “uncomfortably intermingled with the legacy of Nazi Germany.” Even the laziest of historians would bother to find out that youths were conscripted against their will into the Hitler Jugend, and from all reports, Joseph Ratzinger was a very unexcited member who refused to turn up to meetings. He has always condemned the Nazi policies.
And as Pope, apparently he has been AWOL on the paedophilia scandals.
In 2006 Benedict defrocked the popular Mexican priest, Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. The investigation had started under his predecessor John Paul II. He ordered him to dedicate his life to prayer and penance for what emerged as substantiated claims of sexual abuse.
In May 2010 the Pope established a formal panel to investigate sexual abuse in Ireland. A handful of the members were archbishops from other countries, to add independence. He met with victims and apologised to them, as he did in the United States, in Australia, in the UK and in Germany.
He told victims: “Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated… I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.” And for the guilty clerics: “you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres… Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who expect him to literally self-immolate in St Peters, they are always going to be disappointed.
Benedict is someone that despite being in his mid-80s, sees the need to reach out to the young. He has personally taken to the Twittersphere with incredibly insightful tweets, and he embraced John Paul II’s legacy for the very popular World Youth Days held every two to three years.
Due to media blind-spots, most would not know, but the biggest religious gathering in Australian history by far occurred in 2008 at Randwick – with a reported 400,000 people coming to see him. I was lucky enough to speak to them as an MC and I can tell you they were hardly disenchanted!
The fact that some clergy around the world might be disaffected with Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexuality and abortion is the very reason that their laity are confused and why there are fewer vocations. Whether you like it or not, where clerics are faithful to Church teaching the churches and seminaries are full.
The increased numbers of young men flocking to the seminary under Cardinal Pell are part of Benedict’s ‘new springtime’ of the Church, to say nothing of the many goings-on including this increasingly famous event in a Sydney pub.
Benedict is also an innovator – he established a new department in the Vatican for this “New Evangelisation”. So his choice of name is now amazingly fitting – Benedict XV set out to re-Christianise Europe in the aftermath of the Great War which he dubbed the “suicide of Europe”; St Benedict was the father of Western Monasticism who desired a life of quiet prayer and work.
That’s what I like most about Benedict XVI - his silence, as when media pundits had the temerity to say the new Pope had worked the PR machine to re-style as a genial old man, instead of admitting they were wrong about the “German Shepherd”.
He didn’t bat an eyelid, but quietly produced his first encyclical – God is Love.
And the deepest reasons for Benedict’s resignation are just like the reasons for John Paul’s decision to stay until the end – totally unknown to us, and we embarrass ourselves a little bit by purporting to know all the reasons, let alone pretend we saw it coming.
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