Pope Benedict’s Legacy.
Published in Reality Magazine, April, 2013
When Pope Benedict V1 announced his resignation, there was shock, and surprise around the world. On the Eve of the Conclave to choose the next Pope, it’s time to reflect on Pope Benedict’s Legacy.
We asked prominent Catholics, and Churchmen to look back on the last papacy, and to look forward to what is to come.
Fr Paddy Byrne, Priest in Kildare and Leighlinn
“When I first heard that Pope Benedict had beel elected, I held my breath. I wasn’t sure what to expect. He’d been painted as a conservative and doctrinare; a defender of the faith, and I was wondering what leadership he would bring.
“In many ways, I was pleasantly surprised. I read a lot of the writings he produced during his pontificate, and found them pleasantly insightful, and intellectually pleasing. I was in his prescence twice, and I found him very gentle. He was a humble man.
“He was, though, overawed, and burderned, I feel. The Church was in crisis, and he was only able to engage on an intellectual level. I think it was a brave decision to resign; I think it was neccessary and courageous, and by resigning he is pointing the way to the Conclave, for the attributes of the next Pope. The new Pope has to have a certain amount of health and energy; and charisma and leadership.
“If we can, now, take Pope Benedict’s teaching, from his three volumes on Jesus Christ, and use it in terms of human expression, justice, human sexuality, and all those important things, I think change will, naturally happen. I don’t think the new Pope needs to have an ‘agenda.’
“I think we now need a Pope who is able to communicate. We need someone who embraces Jesus Christ and his gospel vision, and who is intimately aware of Jesus Christ in their personal life. We need somoene with a broad sense of the pastoral and the intellectual, and with an understanding of the traditional church, and the reality of church; and somoene who can embrace the richness and variety of cultures in the church.
“I think we need someone from one of the younger churches, from South America, Africa or Asia. Europe is where the crisis is, and someone from outside Europe can come in and view the situation objectively. They can view it with newness, and freshness, without being emeshed in the whole culture and traditional institution of the church. I think that would bring a rich dynamic.
“I hope that it is a prolonged Conclave. And that the Holy Spirit comes to the fore, and that ambition and political agenda are put to one side. And I believe the voice of the Spirit will emerge.”
Mary Kenny, writer, commentator, and journalist.
“I appreciated the fact that Benedict was (and is) an intellectual: steeped in German philosophy and high thinking. He found his solace in music – especially Mozart – which he played himself, and rather endearingly, liked cats, and rescued strays.
“But as some commentators have pointed out, the Catholic Church is like a multi-national corporation of a billion souls, and being the CEO of a multi-national is a challenging role. Possibly an intellectual is not best suited: intellectuals have vision, but can’t always command the practical side.
“Now that Pope Benedict has set the sensible precedent of a Pope being able to retire, perhaps, too, the Conclave will feel freer to elect a younger man. One does lose vigour with age. It would serve the faith well if the next Pontiff were to be an energetic person in his late fifties or early sixties.
“There’s a huge amount to be done in the Catholic Church, and as many others have pointed out, the abuse scandals must be rooted out radically. The Church should move forward, too, to ordaining more married men. Perhaps the ordination of women will come in time, but you should never try and do everything all at once.
“Benedict always said we must have beauty in worship. I hope very much that his legacy in this will endure. There is much ugliness in the world, and we need beauty, culture, art – all part of a historic Catholic legacy – in church.”
John F Deane, Poet.
“I feel that Pope Benedict has left the Church in such a state, that I feel myself now unhappy to call myself a Catholic. His time as Cardinal and then as Pope, has seen all possible debate quashed. A Church that refuses to see the world as evolving, and to accept that the human spirit must develop and grow as the world itself develops, is a church in denial. Instead of letting the church grow towards human and spiritual unity, the Church, as I see it, is now regressive.
“Thought and debate between human beings is essential to us, and to find that this is denied, indeed that it is seen as wrong, is simply unacceptable to me. The effort to stifle all debate, is to stifle the words of Christ himself. The fact that the Church denies all Church authority to women is a further negative, a negative that goes against all that, I believe, Christ himself stood for.
“The early Church was presided over by women alongside the apostles. Gradually this was eroded. Pope Benedict has been guilty of further eroding all decency in our Church living. For me, his offer of resignation was and is the best thing he has done. I accept his excellence in his writing; his work on Jesus Christ is marvellous, but it lost all its truth for me when his words and actions as Cardinal and Pope denied what he has written.
“I feel sorry, too, that I have to react in such a harsh and uncharitable way, but this man has seriously hurt my hopes and faith in the Catholic Church. I am glad indeed to see him go, though I wish him well in the privacy of his retirement.
“As for the future, I haven’t much hope. Pope Benedict elevated such an array of elderly, conservative cardinals, that I can’t see much change happening.”
Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy, a member of the Sisters of Charity, Social Innovator, who founded FOCUS Ireland.
“Pope Benedict is a deeply spiritual man. He radiated that. He’s a man of great faith, and he’s a great intellectual. He did a lot to promote caring for the environment, but he didn’t communicate this well. Equally, he had good things to say about the need for a social policy as well as an economic policy, but he talked about it as economic units, He didn’t take humanity into account.
“Maybe Pope Benedict meant to talk about the poor and the marginalised when he spoke about economic structure, but he didn’t communicate that to the world. We need much more clear guidance given from a Pope about care for the poor, and the need for a more equal, just and fair society.
“He was an intellectual, but he wasn’t pastoral in the way he communicated, or in his approach to things. We need pastoral care, and we need clear communication. We need ordinary people to understand what the Pope’s teachings are.
“I would like to see a new Pope going out into the world. I’d like him to see places where there is suffering; where there is hunger, famine and where there are gross inequalities. I want him to be seen to be on side of the poor. That is really important.
“I’d also like to see the role of the laity embraced. The Catholic Church is all of us; lay people and priests, and I didn’t get that impression from Pope Benedict. The Second Vatican Council was great for that. Back then, lay people were involved in every possible way.
“There must now be big changes in the Church. Doors and windows must be opened again. There has to be more transparency. Cardinal Carlo Martini said the Church was two hundred years behind the times. I think the same. To be relevant to people, the Church has to have an impact. There had to be reformation. And I am hopeful for the future.”
Rev Steven Neil. Church of Ireland Rector in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary.
When Pope Benedict was first elected, one expected him to be a conservative Pope. And that’s exactly what he has been. We’ve seen a retreat to a smaller church, rather than a reaching out, embracing, and engaging with modern society. That’s my impression, but it’s no real surprise bearing in mind his pedigree.
“I was a little surprised when Pope Benedict was chosen. Pope John Paul 11 was also conservative, though much more charismatic. I thought the pendulum would swing the other way. But with the college of Cardinals stacked the way it is, perhaps it was inevitable John Paul 11’s successor would also be a conservative.
“Pope Benedict was largely responsible for the Dominus Iesus; the document which basically confined all non-Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to a diminished status, in which they were no longer true churches, but diminished communities. That came out before Benedict was Pope, but I think a cold breeze has blown over ecumenical relations since he came into office.
“That hurts me. I attended a Roman Catholic School for a while. At my ordination, the entire front row of Christchurch Cathedral, comprised of nuns from that school. They were a huge personal spiritual support to me, and they fostered my vocation more than any other ordination in any school I attended.
“The Roman Catholic Church is hurting, grievously at the moment. The hurt was inflicted by the centre. And when one part of the church hurts , we all hurt. I think church is inseparable; I see myself at one with my brethren in the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
“I find Pope Benedict’s inability to discuss church issues extraordinary. He is feted as an intellectual, yet he closed down discussion. I find it hard to find compatibility to being a true intellectual, and yet have an inability to discuss certain issues. I was surprised he wasn’t open to engaging with opinions among those who disagreed with him. If he was confident of his own opinions, I’m amazed he was not willing to discuss them.
“I would hope to see a Pope who is more open to listening to what is happening in local churches, and who is willing to take on the experience of the local churches. I don’t mean he must be open to all the whims of modern society, but he must engage more, and be more confident. Retreat, it seems to me, is borne out of fear.
“I am hopeful for the future of the Church. When the Holy Spirit is at work, everything is possible. Where people pray together anything can happen. I would be prayerfully hopeful to have a leader – somebody who can represent all the positive things Christianity has to offer. There’s too much negativity at the moment.”
Claire Deane. A Belfast based teacher.
“My broad view of Pope Benedict, is that he has been a quiet Pope, and he’s not had any impact on my life. That was a surprise, because when he was elected everybody gasped. He was considered a hugely controversial figure from the past and it was assumed he would have a huge impact on the papacy.
“Pope Benedict was careful and quiet. He kept to himself and was neither a global figure, nor was he controversial. I felt, maybe, he felt out of place in his job. He didn’t seem comfortable as Pope. But having taken it on, he became very tied into the notion of duty. He’d been chosen by the Holy Spirit and it was a job he had to do. I think it must have come as a great relief to him, to have made the decision to step down.
“Has the Church suffered because of him? I don’t know how much impact he had on events. He seemed a prayerful intellectual man, who kept himself to himself. I’m not sure how many agendas Pope Benedict pushed, but I suspect things went on around him, regardless. I think what comes out of the Vatican is bigger than one man. I don’t believe he was party to everything that happened, but as boss, he was ultimately responsible of everything that went on in the ten years.
“I felt shocked when Pope Benedict resigned. He always seemed so dedicated to orthodoxy, and to what had been ordained by the Holy Spirit. I’d thought he would have felt he had to carry the duty through. I think he was brave to walk away from it, and I had never imagined that he would be. He was courageous to recognise his frailties and limitations. I respect him for that.
“It’s naive to think the election of a new Pope will usher a new era of structural change and a willingness to engage on large moral issues. I think the current Cardinals are all cut from the same cloth as Pope Benedict.
“But I hope the next Pope will have some understanding with the need of the Church to change. I’d like him to engage with the two emerging Catholic identities; the traditional one and the more liberal one. I hope he has dialogue with both sides, and that he can bring people together again.
The gulf widened under Pope Benedict. The new Pope has to have a more pastoral approach. He has to talk with people, and find out why so many people still want to engage with Catholicism, yet have such widely different views from what would be the orthodox position. If he has dialogue with that, I hope change might come.
“I don’t believe the issues of married priests will change soon. It might change down the line, but we need talk first, and an understanding of alternate opinion. Then we can tackle the huge issues.”
Ger Gleeson. A lay Catholic from Limerick.
“I wasn’t happy when Pope Benedect was elected, because he came from an religious background. He was schooled for the Church, virtually from birth. If you haven’t had lived in the big bad world, and haven’t experienced ordinary life, I don’t think you can be an effective Pope. And whereas Pope John Paul 11 adapted to the job, I don’t think Pope Benedict did.
“Pope Benedict was a traditionalist; he stuck with the things he had always done. He was right wing in all his actions, and in most of his statements. There was no room for manoeuvre, and most of the time, there was no room for discussion either. As for the Redemptorists he silenced; they are a phenomenal group of people. I cry for them, and the way they were treated.
“When I was brought up in the forties, we had a blind obedience to the church. We questioned nothing. The Church was a beacon of light. Catholics have evolved. The world has evoleved. I learned to question things and did not see eye to eye with the church on certain aspects. And certainly not with Pope Benedict.
“I hope we will get a Curate of a Parish Priest. As I understand it, the Pope doesn’t have to be a cardinal. I would love the new Pope to be a man of fifty or fifty five. I don’t want to see a career priest who entered at sixteen. Or someone from a theological background, who sees the whole host of rules and regulations, and who interprets God’s rules as if he is the only one who can interpret it.
“We need someone who has worked as a parish priest or curate in a pastoral situation. Someone who has worked in disadvantaged areas, who ministered to single parents, lesbians and gay people, the physically handicapped, and so on. Someone who has knowledge of humanity.
“I’d like a Pope who is open to bringing in married priests. Especially as, at the moment we have this huge hypocritical situation, with the Ordinates. How can you have Anglican Ministers who grew dissatisfied with their church, allowed to act as Roman Catholic Priests, being accepted with their wives and children, yet not allow a Roman Catholic priest to marry?
“I know several priests who were kicked out because they fell in love and married. They would love to celebrate mass, with their wives and children in the audience. I think and hope we will get a Pope who has an open mind, and who brings in the changes that are needed. And who is open to married priests and who changes the role of women in the church. If our Lady came back, she could not be a priest. That’s not logical.”
© Sue Leonard. 2013