One pope is quite enough

We are living in a unique moment in church history with an ex-pope (properly credited for having the courage to resign when the problems he faced became overwhelming) living within the Vatican walls.

Apr 26, 2019

We are living in a unique moment in church history with an ex-pope (properly credited for having the courage to resign when the problems he faced became overwhelming) living within the Vatican walls. The resignation is best interpreted as Benedict XVI’s act of generosity toward the church. The graciousness Francis has displayed toward his predecessor is equally an act of generosity.

Increasingly, however, Francis must also be calling on the virtue of patience to deal with the interference of a predecessor whose retirement has gone from a promised “life dedicated to prayer” to a life of backseat pontificating.

The most recent – and perhaps most unfortunate – intervention was Benedict's letter theorising on the causes of the sexual abuse crisis and, of course, defending his role in dealing with it.

That the latest was not a one-off, but part of a pattern that was pointed out by NCR Vatican Correspondent Joshua McElwee in reporting on the letter.

In November 2016 a book-length interview was published in which Benedict defended his eight-year papacy, saying he didn’t see himself as a failure. In March of that same year he inserted himself into a Francis initiative when he did an interview in which he expounded on God’s mercy while Francis was in the midst of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year, with mercy as its central theme. These interventions may appear anodyne to some, but they set a terrible precedent, making the perception or reality of a rivalry between the former pope and his acolytes and the incumbent Pope and his supporters more likely.

Benedict’s theology and exegesis in his latest letter aside, his analysis of the causes of the crisis — the turbulent 1960s, the sexual revolution, the various forces of modernity, the deficiencies in seminary training — would, if made the basis for understanding the scandal, turn the Church back decades.

Benedict had his opportunities as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as Pope to call the hierarchical culture to account. He took some personally courageous action, not least of which was to bring the case against the notorious paedophile Marcial Maciel Degollado. But he failed to hold the leadership of the Church accountable.

His current meddling is neither sound analysis nor helpful to a Pope making unprecedented efforts to reform the clergy culture. Benedict should follow his initial instinct and be prayerfully silent.

(This article first appeared on NCRonline.org, the Website of National Catholic Reporter, and is being used with permission)

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