by Dan Hitchens
Wednesday, 6
May 2020
Debate
10:29

Do not let a brilliant thinker like Benedict fall silent

He remains a valuable source of wisdom in the Catholic world
by Dan Hitchens
Benedict concludes the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican in 2013

When he retired as Pope in 2013, Benedict XVI said that he would be “hidden from the world”. But this week he was in the headlines, not for the first time, after extracts from a new interview were published. Benedict told his biographer Peter Seewald that “seemingly humanistic ideologies”, including those which justify abortion, same-sex marriage and IVF, are a potent threat to the Church. He also addressed the allegation, often made by his critics, that by saying this sort of thing he was breaking a pledge to remain silent. “The claim that I regularly interfere in public debates,” Benedict said, “is a malicious distortion of the truth.”

You can see the critics’ point. There is only one Pope, and it is no longer Benedict. So why is he calling himself “Pope Emeritus”, dressing in white and giving high-profile interviews? Wouldn’t it be less confusing if he was an invisible figure, quietly writing his memoirs for posthumous publication, only glimpsed in the occasional press photo tickling his cats under the chin or sitting back in the sun with a foaming stein of weissbier?

Then again, it’s hard to hope for this brilliant thinker to fall silent. Many Catholics attribute their conversions, at least in part, to his meditative and sharp-witted writings; many non-Catholics have found in his work a cogent critique of modernity. Moreover, Benedict never actually “promised” to keep shtum, he just spoke poetically about being secluded. And when he has spoken, he has tried to stick to theological and historical topics rather than current controversies within the Church.

The trouble is that in recent years it has become very, very difficult to avoid those controversies. Catholicism is rightly known for its stability and continuity, but there are occasional eras when a spectacular food-fight breaks out in the canteen, and we’re currently in that sort of era. Cardinals denounce each other, open letters are signed, and the word “heresy” has made an impressive comeback. No doctrine has changed. But Pope Francis has made countless ambiguous statements, while promoting outspoken critics of Church teaching — all of which contributes to the tension.

In such an atmosphere, it’s hard for Benedict to say anything which can’t be seized on. Remarks which would otherwise be innocuous — saying how fond he is of the Pope, or reflecting on the value of priestly celibacy — will sound like dramatic interventions. There is no square foot of turf without a mine underneath it.

Things would indeed be simpler if Benedict had gone the full JD Salinger and disappeared completely. But it is a consolation, at this extraordinary moment, to hear from one of the few people on the world stage whose voice carries the authentic, unmistakable note of wisdom.

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cjhartnett1
cjhartnett1
2 years ago

When Benedict became Pope, the liberal media went into outrage mode. And have stayed there ever since
Whereas Francis is exactly the liberal sock puppet that the godless love. Amoral, thick and theologically less knowledgeable than Trump .
Benedict was the last of the line, I’m afraid the only potential counter to Islamic supremacy in terms of traditional institutional methods is now gone.
Ratzinger told the Curia and Conclave before his election in 2005 about the humanist void right at the heart of Europe, and what it’s consequences would be. He was a lone voice, is now a prophet in that he has been proved to be correct.

Paul Dobbs
Paul Dobbs
2 years ago
Reply to  cjhartnett1

If Benedict was the epitome of wisdom and courage, why did he resign, why did he retreat from the position of leadership? Something doesn’t make sense here. I

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
2 years ago

As a supporter of religious freedom in general, I would point out that religions in general are currently under attack by what for want of a better description one might call the (mainly atheistic) “forces of political correctness.”

Obviously the big arguments going on are about the issues of women’s roles, same sex relationships, abortion “rights”, sexual abuse and so on.

It is clear also that these PC forces will at times resort to outright lies, such as false allegations of sexual abuse, usually directed at male authority figures – the so called “white privileged male” being the main target of their abuse, and frankly thinly veiled hate.

(that’s why it is hard to know whatever the real extent of homosexuality or sexual or child abuse is in the RC Church or elsewhere, because the accusers have shown themselves so often motivated to remove men from positions of authority by using false allegations, as apparently in the case of President Trump amongst numerous others).

Clearly (though having read only his Wikipedia entry, I claim no detailed knowledge or expertise) Pope Benedict had a lot to say on all these issues, which didn’t much please I would imagine these PC groups, as it tended to be rather “traditional” or what they like to call “hard line” – an interesting term.

The problem for the Churches is the same as for the law in general – how to interpret law, in this case, “the law of God.”

The difficulty with intellectual argument, which is the only visible tool available to debate law it appears, is that it is possible to make plausible arguments for almost any position one wishes to take.

For example, a “conscientious objector” can merely state the law of Moses as his/her protection as defined by the commandment “Thou Shalt not Kill.”

As I am not a great Bible scholar, I do know if there is any “small print” attached to that commandment.

But one could argue for example that Solomon and others were “ordered by God” to go into battle and kill people, so Moses must not have meant “not in any circumstances.”

So it is easy to see already from this brief example, with a book as enormous as the New and Old Testament, that by choosing an appropriate quote one could probably argue the case for or against just about anything.

For example it appears Pope Benedict regards prostitution as “gravely immoral.”

But when we have Jesus in the New Testament defending the adulteress with his famous “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

In fact, there’s an argument even that if we are going to accept sin as a concept that we can judge others upon, then an adulteress is possibly a “greater sinner” than a prostitute.

As the prostitute never pretended fidelity, so broke no “covenant”, nor committed a “sacrilege” (marriage being regarded as sacred or a sacrament), so Jesus in fact defended someone who was even a “greater sinner” than a prostitute.

We also have the case of Mary Magdalene, who as the central female figure in Jesus’ life apart from his mother Mary it appears is also a figure of uncertain original morality.

Though allegedly not a prostitute according to modern views, still had “seven demons driven out of her” by Jesus, according the gospel of St Luke, so presumably those demons must have been causing her to err in one way or another one would imagine.

Yet she ends up as perhaps the most privileged of all the apostles or disciples, as the first one to see him after his alleged resurrection.

Then there’s an awful and possibly irresolvable problem in terms of interpretation in that statement of Jesus “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Which in theory would at first sight appear to put an end to our judgements on other people about anything.

One wonders in fact if the problem is often that we make pronouncements aloud, or formal rules and laws at all, apart from the law of the land itself, and even that too at times.

e.g. take the case of euthanasia, which the Church is against.

Or is it?

That is to say, I am personally against a law permitting euthanasia, which I think is too open to abuse by for example greedy relatives wanting to murder somebody effectively to get their hands on their money or property, usually their home in particular.

But in reality, I believe that doctors in hospitals carry out euthanasia on a regular basis on those whom they consider “terminally ill.”

If however we look too closely at the details of that activity of doctors and sometimes maybe nurses too, if we start making rules and regulation about it, we might firstly get a lot of otherwise valuable doctors struck off.

And secondly, we might cause a lot of terminally ill people (including quite possibly ourselves, when the time comes) to suffer in their last short time on earth far more than they would otherwise have done, because the doctors may then be too scared to “help the nearly dead and gravely suffering on their way” for fear of such striking off or ending up in court even on murder charges.

The same may be the case with priests.

It may be that an unknown percentage have homosexual tendencies, but as long as they don’t do anything illegal or even have a “scandalous homosexual affair”, they might be perfectly good priests.

The point is, by drawing this issue out into the light as is being done by possibly unwise persons, we may create problems that don’t and wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Just as (dare I mention it) regarding this current covid-19 crisis, Boris Johnson (as are also other world leaders generally) is now in a terrible dilemma how to get out of a lockdown, which he wouldn’t have had to, if he either hadn’t started it, or had made it only a moderate one, as in Sweden.

Sometimes, the best policy in dealing with a so called “problem”, is to do nothing about it, because like the proverbial “sleeping dog” (or snake) it is not a problem at all unless one wakes it up or pokes a stick at it.

I also can’t resist out briefly pointing out that, though the abortion issue is in theory also covered totally by “thou shalt not kill”, that while the irreligious regard it as a “women’s rights” issue, it has always mystified me that it is not also viewed as a “child’s rights” issue (as opposed to a religious one you see, dealt with therefore merely on the secular level).

So for example, let us take the appointment of priests, bishops, cardinals and indeed even Popes.

Is it actually “wise” to have “a modern inquisition” into somebody’s sexuality, given the fact they may not even be fully clear on it themselves?

For the psychological reality seems to be that this drive is so powerful in humans, particular male ones it would appear, given for example the far higher average consumption of pornography by males, that it appears to put the strangest ideas into our heads regarding how to satisfy this desire, most of which it would be better left unheard and unsaid.

That is, perhaps one of the problem with sexuality per se, is that there seems to be this incessant modern trend of “publicly displaying it” whether it is of a hetero or homosexual nature.

Whereas it might be better and more respectful and civilised in our behaviour to other persons, if we all “kept it in the closet”, meaning kept it a private and personal matter instead of “shoving it in everybody else’s faces.”

So if it were just left to clergy individually of whatever rank to appoint those they saw fitting of a lower rank, but with a simple rule that if they exposed the Church to scandal, they would be out regardless of their sexuality, that might be the best way.

And for those who wish to practice their homosexuality in public view or adopt real life relationships of that kind, then perhaps a separate

Church merely for “practicing homosexuals” would do.

I think it already exists in the form of the non-Catholic church.

But my own personal major grievance with the Church however, is over the issue of so called celibacy for priests of the heterosexual variety.

I think from my brief survey of his views that Pope Benedict does approve of what we might call “healthy sexuality”, meaning that which is confined within a moral framework, whether that be “civil” or Christian marriage.

But my grievance is how this idea of “celibate priests” arose in the first place.

As my guess is, that leaving aside the debate as to whether homosexuality is inborn or inborn in some, history, including modern events, appears to suggest that homosexual behaviour develops more readily in situations in which females are not available to boys (for example in boarding schools) or men, including as everybody know in prisons.

I also find it concerning that (as far as I know), while the Catholic Church is so under attack over sexual misbehaviour within it, it apparently does so little to fight back.

For example here is an article from the Independent from March 2014 which states:

“Human Rights Watch estimated in 2010 that 140,000 US inmates have been raped.”

https://www.independent.co….

We hear almost nothing about this mass rape of men in prisons worldwide in the media generally, but only the unproven allegations that women are being raped incessantly but only a tiny number of men ever get convicted of it.

Which amounts to mass prosecution of men by the media, but without proof, without evidence, without court trials.

As we seem to have entered this era now of trial and sentencing by rumour, or as in the case of President Trump, by multiple accusations, even those accusations may all be false (as he claims) and be motivated by numerous other factors, such as money, attention, or political motivation to get rid of either President Trump or indeed a religious figure of any kind.

But really the RC Church is shooting itself in the foot (or even groin, one might suggest) by not allowing priests to marry.

As otherwise it appears by failing to deal with the frustrated and too powerful to suppress natural urge, not able to be controlled apparently by any but a few genuine (I mean maybe one in a million, or less) saints – not to say that one cannot express sex without a partner of course, so keep it outside of the scandal zone unless one uses child porn or whatever – the Church is making “a rod for its own back”, by not allowing priests a “normal married sex life.”

As to what is “normal” in sex, again we have a tortuous debate, which personally I would say was “sex activity that does not (as far as one knows) harm others.”

Though even consent may not prove that, as for example in the case of prostitutes themselves (or husbands or wives) they may consent to things they find abusive “to please their partner.”

I think in the final analysis, we can only answer these questions with the heart rather than the mind – i.e. if we are sensitive enough to the feelings and suffering of others (which is not easy to do, as we are mainly concerned with our own feelings of which we are easily conscious, and those of others we have to try to imagine) we will know what is abusive to them or not so.

Human justice and peace will not ever be achieved until or unless we learn to “feel other people’s pain”, to “put ourselves in their shoes” as much as possible.

So I think that by seeking to trial marriage for priests in South America, as I have heard Pope Francis is looking at, this is probably fundamental change that is needed in the Catholic church.

But perhaps it is wise also not to look too deeply into the sexuality of its members as things stand, given that scandal is avoided, and that this fundamental step of allowing priests to marry is allowed, which in any case appears to have had as far as I can see an extremely flimsy theological basis.

Though as I’ve already admitted I am no Bible expert, I am certainly familiar with the gospels of the New Testament, and I cannot recollect anything from Jesus saying his disciples were not married or should not be allowed to marry, and it appears Moses was married as were many other prophets or figures in the Bible upon whom “God bestowed his grace”, like King David.

As far as I can see the only theological reference to that is as an answer to the question asked about the seven brothers who died having consecutively married the same woman, asking which would be married to her in heaven.

And Jesus answered that there is no marriage in heaven.

But not a word did I notice about marriage on Earth being forbidden to followers of Jesus, and obviously – echoing perhaps Pope Benedict with his “stein” (and should any of us get to 90, we’ll probably need one of those) – Jesus even provided the wine at one marriage ceremony, so clearly didn’t disapprove of marriage or indeed wine itself it appears.

Finally, I would point out that I find more comprehensive explanations of religion generally, including Christian religion, only when combined with the ideas of Eastern philosophy, such as in the theosophists like Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant, and later writers like Benjamin Creme, and others writing in a similar vein, who claim personal encounters with the prophets – whom they term Masters – in modern times.

As personally I don’t actually believe that Jesus or Moses or the other “Prophets”/founders of other religions like Buddha have “gone away” but are ever with us, if we are able to find a means of connecting with them in modern times, as it appears to me that a significant number of individuals have done in the 2000 years since Jesus ascended, and especially so in more recent time, in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries.

My main reason therefore for supporting the Catholic Church or any other, is that it provides a structure for support of the God idea and a moral basis for society, that even if in a corrupted from, is far better than atheism.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
2 years ago

I think it’s unfair to accuse the churches of preoccupation with sex. It is serving in a society which at the moment is sex obsessed and it has some important things to say. It is criticised often because its contributions are counter-cultural and challenging to the current secular prejudices.
Jesus was only judgemental of the political and religious elites of the time. The only time He is recorded as commenting on someone’s sexual behaviour was to say to someone involved in adultery that He did not condemn them but they should sin no longer.

Marco Federighi
Marco Federighi
2 years ago

IVF and same-sex marriage are about sex, the usual preoccupation of organised religion (not just of Roman Catholicism). I wish churches would talk as prominently of other things every now and then. I can’t recollect Jesus being over-preoccupied with matters sexual.

cjhartnett1
cjhartnett1
2 years ago

Correct, our sex lives were of supreme indifference to Jesus, Paul said more, but Corinth and Rome etc were known for their perversions, cult worship of sex objects and reflected the symptoms of godless corruption , more than giving him offence.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago

IVF and same-sex marriage, whether you approve of them or not, are more importantly also about family. And I think that’s a pretty damn good thing in this changing world to be preoccupied with. Helping to sustain and create healthy and happy families may seem a bit passé to us modern liberals, but it may be more vital than we’ve been lead to believe . I’m no Catholic, but good on the old b****r for speaking his mind, and not pandering to the temptation of being the “cute nice old priest” you can invite to afternoon tea.

John Alyson
John Alyson
2 years ago

I rarely here any discussion of sex in actual church. The fact that we have that perception relayed to us by our mass media should cause us to reflect on who it actually is that is over-preoccupied with matters sexual. It certainly doesn’t seem to be the Church.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
2 years ago

Oh dear when will all this stop? “whose voice carries the authentic, unmistakable note of wisdom”!
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought you had been paid to write that.
Ratzinger represents an organisation that has burnt and butchered its way through history, for the past two thousand years.
Garibaldi was being restrained when he said “
“that pestilential institution which is called the Papacy”. His further exhortation to give “the final blow to the monster”, is long overdue.

Andrew McGee
Andrew McGee
2 years ago

Brilliant thinker??? Suely not. It’s just the same old outdated repressive narrow nonsense that we get from senior people in the catholic church (and from many lower down. He can express what views he likes, but there is no real prospect that sensibl people in the 21st Century will take a blind bit of notice of him.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

I fail to see how anyone who believes in a non-existent God can be described as a ‘brilliant thinker’.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

maybe that failure reflects on your own brilliant thinking

cjhartnett1
cjhartnett1
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Newton? Faraday? Maxwell?
Hmmm…..

David George
David George
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

God isn’t revealed by thinking Fraser, neither is beauty or love.
“In the realm of the material, science reigns supreme, in the realm of values we have to look elsewhere”
J B Peterson.

lizzzygoode
lizzzygoode
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Is that really the limit of your contribution to the debate? Have you read anything at all written by the Pope Emeritus?

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Many greater thinkers than you or I have been the most pious believers in the most irrational (and sometimes wonderful!) things.
As good old Moondog said all those years ago:

“What I say to you I say without volition,
That science is the latest superstition”.

Plenty of evidence of that today, my friend.