Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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BY The Editors
To hear some
tell it, you’d think that Pope Benedict XVI’s Lent has been a long and
difficult one, filled with controversies, missteps and misinterpretations.
The Holy See has, no doubt, been hit
by a number of media storms lately. But storms are only damaging if you don’t
weather them properly.
As Easter comes, with spring, we
thought we would point out that the storms the Vatican has faced may not have
done as much damage as some would want to think.
That’s because Pope Benedict
continually defies expectations. He is deeply pastoral in a way that we might
not expect from a man who has worked so long in curial offices. He is, above
all, a shepherd of souls, and, when difficult situations arise, they don’t
become showcases of his weaknesses but showcases of his strengths. Here are a
The Bishop Williamson controversy.
An unexpected international uproar
erupted over Pope Benedict’s decision to lift the excommunications of four
Society of St. Pius X bishops. And the uproar wasn’t about the validity of
their episcopal ordinations. It was about the remarks one bishop had made in
denial of the Holocaust.
The pain of the attacks on the
Church and the Pope that resulted were acute, as the Vatican again and again
explained that the Pope had been unaware of the Holocaust remarks.
But attacks on the Pope are not
rare. On March 12, the whole controversy did produce something rare: a general
letter from the Holy Father that was collegial, almost conversational, in
The letter was frank and forthright.
The Pope was contrite about specific mistakes but firm about what was no
The letter may have the affect on
the controversy other papal actions have had. Regensburg’s uproar led to
unprecedented Vatican-Muslim dialogue; an American media fulminating outrage
about sex abuse before Benedict’s U.S. visit ended up impressed with his candor
and caring afterward. The excommunications story may have started out suggesting
that Benedict was out of touch. In the end, it showed him to be more personable
than we knew.
Father Maciel and the Legion of Christ.
Benedict’s pastoral approach is a
great help amid the turmoil caused by the news about the serious misconduct of Father
Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi
movement. (That news which was especially painful to the Register; we are
published by Circle Media, which is affiliated with the Legion).
In 2006, following an investigation,
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith invited Father Maciel “to a
reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing all public ministry.” More
recently it became clear that he had a relationship with a woman and fathered a
The Holy See’s response has been to
order an apostolic visitation of the Legion. But in ordering it, Vatican
Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone again showed Benedict’s pastoral
“The Holy Father is aware of the
noble ideals that inspire you and the fortitude and prayerful spirit with which
you are facing the current vicissitudes, and he encourages you to continue
seeking the good of the Church and society by means of your own distinctive
initiatives and institutions,” said Cardinal Bertone. “You can always count on
the help of the Holy See, so that with truth and transparency, in a climate of
fraternal and constructive dialogue, you will overcome the present
The Africa visit.
Benedict’s ability to see — and draw
out — the best in people was also on display in his trip to Africa.
The trip was really made up of two
stories. One was the story Americans and Europeans saw. In that story, the Pope
spoke about AIDS and condoms on the plane, and what he did after the plane
landed was an afterthought.
The other story was the real story,
the one people who saw the Holy Father in Africa experienced. This was the
story of an unprecedented outpouring of love and affection from the African
Giant crowds gathered to see the
Pope; they were energized by and energizing for the Holy Father. The Holy
Father spoke forthrightly about the difficulties in Africa, and called the
nation, beset by AIDS and economic woes, a “continent of hope.” More than a
million people attended his last Mass in Africa.
The AIDS comments.
That’s not to say that the Holy
Father’s comments about AIDS didn’t reflect his pastoral touch.
His is the truly loving response to
the epidemic. He said the hard, true thing that saves lives. But that’s not all
he said. “I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with
advertising slogans,” he told reporters on the plane. “If the soul is lacking,
if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by
distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The
solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization
of sexuality … and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are
Year of the Priest.
The Year of the Priest is an example
of Pope Benedict’s specifically papal pastoral care. Many of us associated the
practice of declaring special “years” for the Church a John Paul practice. He
declared a special Marian year, the Great Jubilee Year 2000 and the three years
leading up to it, and then the Year of the Rosary and the Year of the
Pope Benedict is on track to outdo
He declared the Year of St. Paul and
now, the Year of the Priest. Not cowed by attacks on the priesthood, his
response is to promote what is beautiful and necessary about it.
There is much else that could be
mentioned. Pope Benedict XVI’s brief encounter with Nancy Pelosi serves as a
model of the shepherd reprimanding politicians who have gone astray. He spoke
to the moral roots of the economic crisis on several occasions, most recently
in a letter to Britain’s prime minister in response to the G20 summit. His
appointment of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to lead the Archdiocese of New York was
Don’t underestimate Pope Benedict
XVI. Or, better, don’t underestimate the force that compels the Church: Christ
himself. That, after all, is the lesson of Easter.
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