March 1, 2013


Happy retirement, Pope Benedict

If anyone deserves a happy and peaceful retirement after a long life of service to the Catholic Church, it’s certainly Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, his retirement is coming almost eight years later than he expected and wanted. However, the cardinals who elected him pope, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knew what they were doing.

Many people, we believe, were surprised by this mild and introverted intellectual, who succeeded the charismatic and extroverted Blessed John Paul II. However, we also believe, most Catholics grew to love this man who assumed the arduous labors of the papacy when he was 78.

His influence on the Church, though, began at least 50 years ago when, as Father Joseph Ratzinger, he was selected by Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne, Germany, as his peritus—theological adviser—at the Second Vatican Council. He contributed greatly to some of the documents of Vatican II, especially those regarding the liturgy and revelation.

Following Vatican II, he resumed has teaching and his writing while helping to found the journal Communio to foster what he and the journal’s co-founders believed was the authentic interpretation of Vatican II.

After serving as Archbishop of Munich and Freising for four years, during which time he was made a cardinal, in 1981 he accepted Pope John Paul II’s invitation to become prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He worked closely with Pope John Paul and oversaw the writing of numerous official teaching documents.

One of the most important of those documents was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger headed the commission that prepared the catechism from 1986-92. It is now considered the major catechetical achievement of Pope John Paul’s pontificate.

During those years, Cardinal Ratzinger got a reputation of being a stern enforcer of Catholic doctrine, especially when his congregation felt it necessary to discipline certain theologians who taught things contrary to the Church’s doctrine.

Thus, many were taken by surprise when his papacy turned out to be more pastoral than some people expected.

Cardinal Ratzinger also wrote a phenomenal number of theological books. Even today the catalog for Ignatius Press, which publishes most of his work in the United States, takes five pages to list his books. Included is Milestones, his autobiography from 1927 to 1977.

He continued to write constantly after he was pope, not only his lectures for his Wednesday audiences and messages for the numerous meetings popes have to have, but also three encyclicals.

The first, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”), published in 2006, was about the true meaning of love and how we are to live a life of love for God and others.

“Spe Salvi” (“Saved in Hope”), published at the end of 2007, was basically an extremely optimistic encyclical, but it took issue with those in the modern world who separate reason from faith and hope.

The third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate”(“Charity in Truth”), published in 2009, was a social justice document that addressed a long range of economic issues.

With everything else he had to do, Pope Benedict also somehow found the time to write three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth, all immediately becoming best-sellers.

Well before he became pope, Benedict was concerned about the secularism of modern society, especially in the West. He called for a “new evangelization,” a phrase first used by Pope Paul VI, and established a permanent office in the Vatican to oversee it.

This past October, he inaugurated a Year of Faith, to continue until November, as part of the new evangelization.

He did not travel as much as Pope John Paul did, but he made 24 trips outside of Italy, plus 30 more inside Italy. He visited the United States in 2008, during which he spoke at the United Nations. He also met with some victims of clergy sex abuse.

His trip to England in 2010 was a masterpiece, as he met with the queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He even won over the secular media that had been skeptical of the visit. He established a cordial relationship with the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Speaking of Anglicans, one of Pope Benedict’s great accomplishments was the establishment of a new ordinariate for Anglican communities to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

During Pope Benedict’s pontificate, the new vernacular translations of the Mass and other liturgical rites were approved and, in the United States, went into effect during Advent of 201l.

Unfortunately, Pope Benedict’s pontificate will also be associated with the clergy sex-abuse scandal. The pope received a lot of criticism from people who didn’t realize that it was the pope, while still at the CDF, who was one of the first high-level officials of the Church to realize the seriousness of the scandal and to do something about it.

The pope has completed his pontificate with the courageous, prudent and humble decision to resign for the good of the Church. He will continue to serve the Church, as he has done throughout his long life, through prayer.

We wish him many more years.

—John F. Fink

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