Blaming Benedict ... Or John Paul II?


This reader has a point:

My take is Ratzinger was John Paul's enforcer in this case. He was following John Paul II's order to staunch the tide of defecting/laicizing priests after Vatican II.  The order was out to cut down on the numbers of priests who would be allowed to leave their vows.  He was following JPII's orders in dragging his feet, and you surely don't expect him to rat on his former boss now. 

In that respect, Benedict is the suffering servant, taking all the heat because he is too loyal to put the finger on his predecessor's orders.  This is not to justify his dragging his feet; either he was too in love with the power of his position or had a misplaced loyalty to the Pope. But someone has to follow the trail to John Paul II in all of this, and hopefully the wind will be taken out of the sails of "santo subido". John Paul was a reactionary during whose reign Europe was lost and many of the potentially beneficial reforms of Vatican II were stymied. 

The chickens have come home to roost.

The indictment of Ratzinger in the Kiesle case nonetheless stands. This was not just laicization of any priest trying to get dispensation from his vows. It was laicization of a man who had tied up and raped two children.

The reason to get him completely out of the church was well understood by Ratzinger - and yet even a case of this "grave significance" had to take second seat to John Paul II's broad counter-counter-cultural agenda, his fear of losing too many priests (especially as young as 38), and his assertion of total control. If you have followed Ratzinger's theology for years - and I have - you can see that this is the central fixation of his career: restoration of total papal authority and doctrinal uniformity in the church. As I wrote in 1988:

The metamorphosis of Joseph Ratzinger from Augustinian theologian to Augustinian policeman, and finally to policeman, may in part be due to the metamorphosis of the Church itself. The forces of change have been so great in the Church during the past two decades that some form of simple assertion of authority may have a prudential justification. John Paul II, however, has balanced Ratzinger's zeal with a more humane approach. Together, they have played a "good cop, bad cop" routine with recalcitrant faithful. 

Ratzinger's great gift to a Church all too easily distracted by the world is to call the faithful back to the fundamentals. But it is difficult not to feel dismayed by the way in which his earlier inspiration has ceded to the dictates of coercion, and his theological distrust of fallen man has translated  so easily into disdain for Christians trying to live obediently in modernity.

The man who might have guided the Church through reason has resorted to governing by force.