28 June 2023

Papal Profile: Pope Benedict XVI

 The Mad Monarchist takes a look at the (then) reigning Pope. 

From The Mad Monarchist (10 May 2012)

The first pontiff of the Third Millenium, Pope Benedict XVI was born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in the small Bavarian town of Marktl am Inn on Holy Saturday, 1927. His father was a policeman and his mother was from the Austrian region of Tyrol, and both were devout Catholics. His father retired in 1927 and the family tried their best to avoid the expanding Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Ratzinger's father being a known critic of the Nazis -the same party which dismissed Catholicism as a religion of "Jews and Romans". He escaped service throughout most of World War II because of his age, but as the situation grew worse he was forced into the Air Force in 1943 but never served in any combat role. Later he was pressed into the labor corps where he worked in Eastern Europe before being released and drafted into the army, but his unit never went to the front. Before the war ended, young Joseph deserted at the risk of his life because of his opposition to the Nazi regime. He knew he had a religious calling and was determined to spend his life serving the Church.

After attending the seminary, where he did very well having a reputation as a very intelligent, devout and scholarly young man with an "angelic" singing voice, he was ordained a priest in 1951 along with his older brother Georg. He continued his studies and in 1958 became a professor at Freising College. The following year he took a post at the University of Bonn where he served until 1963 when he transferred to the University of Munster. His reputation had become so great that Joseph Cardinal Frings of Koeln, Germany took Fr. Ratzinger with him as his theologian to the Second Vatican Council. Ratzinger was included as one of the reformers of Vatican II, but would later write extensively on the need to "reform the reforms" of the council. Like many at the time, he thought the changes outlined by the Council were necessary but that these were often implemented in such a way as to remove any value or even be harmful to the Church and its work.

In 1966 Ratzinger went to work at the University of Tuebingen, but later resigned because of the increasing acceptance of secularism, atheism and Marxism. He became an outspoken but very thoughtful critic of such rising world-wide trends as materialism, communism, liberalism and the acceptance of homosexuality. In March of 1977 Ratzinger was named Archbishop of Munich and Freising, taking as his motto, "be co-workers in the truth". Three years later he was given the rank of cardinal by HH Pope Paul VI. Shortly after the accession of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger was named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981. This office, known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition before Pope St Pius X changed it in 1908, made Cardinal Ratzinger the chief enforcer of orthodox doctrine for the Church. The former Holy Office couldn’t have been in better hands.

While doing his duty in this office, Cardinal Ratzinger gained many friends and more than a few enemies because of his firm determination to uphold Catholic doctrine. Some of the issues he tackled which gained him fame and notoriety were his writings explaining that Catholics who voted for pro-abortion politicians were cooperating with a sinful act, that women could not be ordained priests, that homosexuality was wrong and homosexual marriages an absolute sacrilege and firmly upholding the supremacy of the Catholic Church as the one, true church founded by Christ for the salvation of the world. Many non-Catholics were outraged by this as were many Catholics (or “Catholics”) who had been advocating that the Church embrace things like abortion, gay “marriage” and ordain women. While Cardinal Ratzinger was on guard, such agendas were certain to go nowhere. As he grew older, Cardinal Ratzinger tried several times to retire, but Pope John Paul II would not let this most devout and faithful cardinal go. Finally, as Dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger had the sad duty of presiding over the funeral of Pope John Paul II after his death on April 2, 2005.

After the traditional conclave, on the second day of voting, April 19, 2005 Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to the Throne of St Peter, taking the name of Benedict XVI. He announced that the goals of his reign would be to unite all Christians, resist the creeping secularism in the world and uphold the truth and purity of the Church's teaching. Benedict XVI, at 78, is the oldest man elected to the See of Peter since Pope Clement XII in 1730 and is the seventh German pope in history. Many worried that Benedict XVI would be far too authoritarian, but have quickly discovered the warmth, humor and humility of the new Pope. He has spoken out of the need to battle the "dictatorship of relativism" and to unite all Christians without any compromise to the truth because of the pressure of the modern world. This has led to some controversies as the Pope has dealt with other religions though in virtually every case it was a case of hyper-sensitivity or feigned moral outrage rather than any extremism on the part of the Pontiff. Eyebrows were raised when the Pope categorized the Catholic and Orthodox communities as churches but the Protestants as Christian sects. This was, of course, simply a reference to the Apostolic Succession which, generally, Protestants do not consider significant anyway. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, among others, also expressed outrage when the Pontiff, while visiting South America, said that the indigenous peoples were ’silently longing’ for Christianity. Many people seemed to ignore the basic truth that any Christian would (or should) believe that everyone is longing for Christianity, consciously or not.

Benedict XVI has made sincere efforts at outreach to people of other religious beliefs but many in the secular world cannot see that or understand how the Pope could do so while refusing to compromise the teachings of the Catholic Church. While not relenting in pursuit of the goal of Christian and religious unity, the Pope has also made it clear that past efforts at times mistakenly gave the impression that all beliefs are the same, an impression he has worked to correct, viewing it as another aspect of the tyranny of relativism which he has devoted his reign to opposing. This has also fit in with the noticeably more traditional style of Pope Benedict XVI. Since his election he has elevated the traditional form of the mass (in the Latin language) within the Church, insisted on a more traditional and reverent pose for those receiving communion and has adopted more traditional style vestments than have been seen in recent times. He has also enacted special guidelines to welcome in disgruntled traditional Christians into the Catholic Church, specifically from the Church of England where the embrace of the ordination of women, gay “marriage” and other issues have caused many old-fashioned Anglicans to turn to Rome.

In the past, moves in this direction were often discouraged by many Catholic officials for fear that anything seen as “traditional” would put off younger Catholics and drive people out of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t seem to be buying that line of thought. In fact, the Pope has spoken out on several occasions that he believes the Church must hold ever more strongly to traditional truth even while Catholicism may be reduced to small (but devout) isolated communities in a sea of secularism and irreligion. The choice of his reigning name reflects this as well, calling to mind St Benedict, that a new “Dark Ages” is coming which the Church will have to endure, protecting what they have inherited, before going out to start the work of conversion all over again. The quality and ability of Pope Benedict XVI can be easily gauged by simply asking Catholics their opinion of him. Some will have unqualified praise while others will have nothing but criticism. However, it is those who actually attend Church regularly and believe in Church teachings (even the really difficult ones) who think well of him and those who are more ‘Catholics in name only’ who do not. There should be no doubt that, from a Catholic perspective, for devoted Catholics, Benedict XVI has been a great Pontiff. Those who criticize him are generally those who favor innovation and do not view Church history and tradition with great respect. In other words, generally the sort whose criticism speaks well for the person in question.

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