1 March 2008

Building Up by Tearing Down

Vox sent me a link to an article in the Remnant. I won't quote the entire article here. For the most part, the author is complementary of Benedict XVI and supports him completely. That is well and good, and had he stuck to that, I would have praised the article without qualification. But he fills his praise with condemnation for John Paul II. Take these selections from a list of achievements of Benedict's reign. Even when JPII is not mentioned by name, he is implicitly criticized:

-the coming issuance of new and stricter rules for beatification and canonization, accompanied by the near shut-down of the “saint-making factory” that operated during the prior pontificate (a stupefying 483 saints in 27 years, as compared with 14 canonizations overseen by Benedict since his election nearly three years ago);

-the Pope’s wearing of the miter of Blessed Pius IX and his return to the usage of a papal throne, instead of the upholstered chair favored by his predecessor;

-the Pope’s abstention from the “ecumenical liturgies” and other ecumenical and interreligious spectacles of which the last Pope was so fond;

-the absence of any “cult” of Benedict, who shuns the limelight, yet is attracting more Catholics to his audiences than John Paul II did;

-the dramatic reduction in papal travel to mass events of dubious accomplishments;

He goes on from there:

Even the world can see the dramatic difference, a difference it fears, between this papacy and the last one.

and finally:

and we have long been waiting—haven’t we?—for a Pope willing to govern the Church and at least attempt to restore good order, instead of frittering away the Church’s credibility with cheap apologies for the sins of dead Catholics who cannot defend themselves, dialoguing endlessly with people who have no interest in the truth, and hailing a conciliar “renewal” that was never anything but a delusion fed by cheering crowds of teenagers who liked the Pope who liked rock music. Now we have a Pope who needs defending by militant Catholics against the very forces that only yesterday were hailing the crowd-pleasing novelties of his predecessor.

Now, I love tradition, and I love the Tradition. However, I am getting the impression from the article that the author believes that the previous pontificate was by and large a prolonged mistake. Let's look at a few of the examples:

Benedict's review of the saint making machine. Okay, since the number of Saints canonized by JPII was 'stupefying', there must be a few who were made saints by mistake. Name them. Were Brebeuf and the martyrs a mistake? Was Escriva? Maximilliam Kolbe? Edith Stein?

Benedict prefers a throne over the upholstered chair. Now, I love the throne on many levels. It's a powerful symbol and a beautiful example of the cabinet maker's art. But, at the same time, the Pope's a Pope, whether he's on the throne, or a bench, or on a stool.

Absence of the cult of Benedict. Hmmmm, this is a toughie. I would say, judging from a lot of blogs, that there is a cult of Benedict, especially among the conservative bloggers.

And so on. The previous Pope made "cheap" apologies. He "frittered away" the Church's credibility. He travelled too much. And so on. He also kicked the Soviet Union to the curb, fought communism within the Church, and brought some order to the chaos that followed the council. He also raised a little guy from Germany up to one of the most prominent positions in the Curia, and put him in a position to be the most prominent Cardinal coming into the last conclave. In short, intentionally or not, JPII is responsible for the pontificate of BXVI.

This article gives me the impression that Popes need our approval, or their authority answers to our judgement. Here's the rub: They are ordained and chosen to exercise that authority. We aren't ordained to be their critics. Quite the opposite, as Peter at Utter Mutterings pointed out last week:

Canon 1369 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that "a person who . . . in published writing ... expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty."

Canon 1373 states that "a person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry . . . is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

In short, criticism that turns into ad hominem insults- and this piece is walking a fine line- can bring about an interdict, which could mean, among other things, refusal of christian burial.

What I think, personally, goes like this: the Pope is either chosen through the action of the Holy Spirit, or he isn't. That means John Paul II was chosen by the Spirit, or he was not. Benedict XVI was chosen, or he wasn't. If he was chosen, then his predecessor was chosen. If his predecessor wasn't chosen, then neither was Benedict. That means the Spirit wanted John Paul II on the throne, knowing full well what he would do. To condemn John Paul II for being the Pope he was is tantamount to saying the Spirit made a mistake in choosing him, and exacerbated that mistake by granting him so long a life.

It is not necessary to tear down one to build up another. The entire article could have been written without a single reference to JPII. Benedict's virtues are such he does not need a straw man. Incidentally, Benedict is still making use of the Saint Making machine, and has on at least two occasions so far, waived the waiting period- once for his predecessor. Benedict, the admired Pope, saw fit to recognize the virtue of his predecessor in the most prominent and highest way possible. Unless, of course, you wish to call that a mistake as well. I won't. I want to have a Christian burial.

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