Faith and Reason – Thoughts about Peter Seewald’s Book “Benedict XVI”

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

End of April an extensive biography “Benedikt XVI – Ein Leben” (Droemer Verlag, München, 2020) was published by the journalist and author Peter Seewald. Seewald is an expert concerning the works of former theology professor Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI, who since 2013 lives as “Papa Emeritus” in the monastery Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican. The 1100-page biography outlines Ratzinger’s youth during the Nazi dictatorship, his career and activities as professor of theology at various German universities and his life and work as Pope Benedict XVI. Much is based on several interviews which he made with the former Pope. It is a fascinating book since Seewald is able to take apart many of the “stereotypes” that have been used against Ratzinger and the Church. He also succeeds to expose the essentially “banal” views of the most important critics of the former Cardinal and Pope.

In his book, the author outlines the cultural, religious and theological fault lines that shaped the life of Ratzinger from 1927 to the present. It is not surprising that most of the book reviews by the German press have been extremely meagre and superficial with the exception of an article by Christian Geyer ( May 28th ) in the FAZ feuilleton, who considers the “narrative” about Benedict XVI  to be a “legend,” which was spread by his main critic, the former Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng. This narrative is based on the “line” that the 1968 events which Ratzinger experienced first-hand as university professor in Tübingen, had become a personal crossroad for him. Following the narrative, his life was split into a liberal “before” and a conservative “after.”  According to Geyer Ratzinger’s early texts talk about the need for an inner-church reform, and warn at the same time about a falsely conceived Christian “secularization.”

Life and career of Joseph Ratzinger

Ratzinger was born in Marktl (Bavaria) on April 16, 1927. He was the youngest of three children (Maria and Georg) of the police officer Josef Ratzinger and his wife Maria. The Ratzinger family was a devout catholic family. Joseph Ratzinger already experienced in his youth the cultural-political terror of the NSDAP, which at that time spread throughout Germany. It’s interesting to read about the historical observations in this context, which the author makes in respect to the two People’s Churches (Protestant and Catholic) and their attitude towards the Nazis.  For example, the “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen) who were close to the Nazis and from whom many joined the Nazis with the aim of establishing a “German national church” while the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference branded the program of the NSDAP as “false doctrine”. Joseph’s father saw Hitler as “an evil criminal.”

Hitler’s seizure of power on January 30, 1933, which the president of the Reichstag Paul Hindenburg had helped to bring about, marked the beginning of a series of measures that within a few months paved the way for Germany’s entry into dictatorship.  These included: February 1, 33 dissolution of the Reichstag; the crackdown of the freedom of the press and free assembly; introduction of general conscription and the proclamation of the “ conquest of new living space in the East” with the aim of “Germanizing” it; generous financial aid for Hitler from German big industry. On February 27, 1933 the “Reichstag fire” occurred, followed on February 28 by the “Reichstag fire decree”, which abolished all basic rights. On March 22nd, the Dachau concentration camp was opened for the imprisonment of political opponents and resistant priests. On 3rd of March the “Law against acts of subversion” (Heimtückegesetz) was passed, which made critical statements against the government punishable. On March 23 the “Enabling Law” (Ermächtigungsgesetz) followed. At the beginning of April, boycott measures were imposed against all Jewish shops and in May 1933 books were burned. All parties except the NSDAP were banned at that time.

Seewald points out that about 1 million members of the protestant “Movement of the German Christians” (Deutsche Christen) fully supported the Nazi movement and its ideology. In the 1932 elections, the “Movement of German Christians” received an average of 41% in areas with 80% Protestants; in Catholic areas it was only 24%. The Protestant theologians Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Swiss Karl Barth belonged at that time to the “Confessing Church” (Bekennende Kirche), a minority within the Protestant movement. “While approximately 1500 Protestant magazines with a total circulation of 12 million copies’ had almost unanimously welcomed the national awakening of the Hitler movement, the opposition of the Catholic magazines to the Nazi regime was despite some initial concessions here and there, unmistakable,” the book states. “Three quarters of all Protestant regional churches founded in Eisenach (1939) the “Institute for the Research and Elimination of Jewish Influence on Church Life” which existed until 1945. The author also refers to the “morality trials” against Catholic members of religious orders and priests, which began in 1936, which were acclaimed by the chief Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg.  The aim was to “generally portray Catholic clergymen as spoilers of the youth,” which was followed by the banning of Catholic youth organizations and the dismissal of female teachers who belonged to Catholic school communities were dismissed.

On March 21, 1937 the encyclical letter “With burning concern – the situation of the Catholic Church in the German Reich”, written by the then Papal Nuntio Eugenio Pacelli (from 1939 Pius XII), was distributed in 11,500 Catholic churches in Germany. This was classified by the Nazis as an act of public hostility and high treason, followed by house raids, shut down of confessional schools and the ban of Catholic press. The encyclical had clearly condemned the National Socialist racial teachings at the time, underlining that the Church was a refuge for peoples of all times and nations. Only a Christianity anchored in charity would be able to serve as model for the sick world, it stated.

World War II and its devastating consequences

May 2, 1933 is Joseph’s first day of school. The young pupil was generally described by his classmates as quiet, timid and very intelligent. There was a lot of musical activity in his family and since early childhood the enthusiastic pianist player Joseph always deeply identified with the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Throughout his life, his distinct musicality helped him, not least in encouraging artists to contribute to the deepening of the great question of “faith and reason”. (At a meeting with international cultural artists in November 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared: “What can encourage the human spirit to find its way, to raise its eyes to the horizon worthy of its vocation, to dream – if not art?”) .On April 12, 1937, Joseph was enrolled at the humanistic grammar school in Traunstein followed by his attendance at the Freising seminary.

With Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, a total disaster began to strike Europe and the world. It was marked by Hitler’s extermination wars in Europe and the Soviet Union, the systematic persecution and murder of political opponents and the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews in the concentration camps. Towards the end of the war, in 1944, the young Ratzinger got deployed for a short period of time as a Flak Helper and at the South East Wall. He was then in American captivity for 40 days.

The Second World War left behind a gigantic field of devastation, both physically and in the souls of people. There was an “apathetic silence over the country,” apart from hunger, fear, destruction and death. The result of the war was shattering: 50 million dead, 6 million Jews had been exterminated, about 19.75 million homeless roamed throughout Europe. Germany was divided into four zones of occupation – the country was to be denazified, democratized, decentralized and decartelized.

At that time, however, the churches began to reflect on the origin and cause of the catastrophe.  Many church representatives were convinced that a new vision was needed for the development of a humane future, which should be based on a “religious renewal.” Among the influential thinkers of the Catholic Church in Germany at that time there were Cardinal Clemens Graf von Galen (Münster 1978-1946), Cardinal Josef Frings (1887-78)  from Cologne and Cardinal Graf von Preysing (1880-1950) from Berlin, alongside Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) and Karl Barth (1886-1968) on the side of the Protestant Church.

In 1947 Joseph Ratzinger began to study philosophy and theology at the Philosophical-Theological College in Freising and then at the University of Munich. At that time there was a great hunger for knowledge among students and professors.  “The personal experience of the atheistic terror system and the absence of God in the dark night had a major influence on   Ratzinger’s development and work.” In his memoirs he speaks of the “years of indigence, emaciation, the mindless juggernaut of power.” He sees history as an eternal struggle between faith and unbelief, “a struggle between the love of God to the point of self-renunciation – and self-love to the point of denying God.” (Seewald) The “engaged” Catholicism which he demanded at the time was aimed at creating a society which was to arm itself against mass manipulation, mass thinking and any kind of hubris, where man wants to become the autonomous designer of an earthly paradise. Great models for Ratzinger were the writings of St. Augustine – about whom he wrote a dissertation in 1953 with his mentor, Prof. Alfred Söhngen, “People and House of God in the Augustine Teaching of the Church.” This was followed in 1959 by his habilitation thesis on “The Revelation and Historical Theology of St. Bonaventure,” accompanied by the two professors Alfred Söhngen and the dogmatics professor Michael Schmaus.

Closely acquainted with the ancient philosophy, the Church Fathers, especially the work of St. Augustine and Bonaventure, Ratzinger, like many of his contemporaries, was in respect to literature influenced by the works of Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Claude Bernanos, François Mauriac, Gertrude von Le Fort and Paul Claudel. Like his father, he felt a great affinity for France and its literature.  He was likewise inspired by Edith Stein, Father Alfred Delp, Father Rupert Mayer, the French theologian Henri de Lubac and by Josef Piper.  At that time Ratzinger saw his task -on the basis of his personal experience of the Nazi dictatorship – to lay the ground for a new future as well as the foundation for a new understanding between Christianity and Judaism.

Time of fermentation and departure

The period of Joseph Ratzinger’s studies was characterized by fermentation, passionate philosophical debates and the search for knowledge. Important physicists suddenly spoke about a Creator God. These included Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein (who had written in the NYT in 1950, “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind”); or Max Planck, who explained that there is no contradiction between religion and science, but there is full agreement on the crucial points. A key for Ratzinger at that time was his study of the work of the Jewish philosopher of religion Martin Buber. He was also deeply impressed by Romano Guardini’s “Vom Geist der Liturgie” (About the spirit of liturgy) and learned from him as a student in Munich that the apparent contradiction between science and reason in Christianity cancels itself out. Equally important for him was the thinking of St. Augustine.

In 1951 Ratzinger was ordained priest together with his brother Georg. In Europe at that time Konrad Adenauer (Germany), Alcide de Gasperi (Italy) and Robert Schuman (France) discussed the foundations of a United Christian Europe. The ideas of the Catholic theologian, national economist and social philosopher, Oswald von Nell-Breuning S.J. (1890-1991), who at that time created the foundations of a social doctrine based on the common good and solidarity, were also very much studied and well received.

Towards the Second Vatican Council

At the age of 24, Josef Ratzinger was one of the youngest lecturers, who was extremely popular among students and who attracted attention with his lively lectures.  It was Ratzinger’s inner conviction that after such devastating war, accompanied by complete godlessness and hopelessness, a new beginning within the Church and faith was needed.  From 1959 to 1963 he was professor of theology at the University of Bonn, where he generated great enthusiasm with his inaugural lecture “The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy.” At that time he was also in intensive dialogue with the Indologist Paul Hacker, who taught as professor at the University of Bonn; likewise he was in contact with the French Catholic Theologian Henry de Lubac, with the  Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans -Urs von Balthasar (1905-88), and with the Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth.

On February 21, 1961 Ratzinger on invitation of the Thomas Morus-Academy in Bensberg (near Cologne) held a much noticed lecture “Zur Theologie des Konzils” (About the theology of the Council).  The Church according to him was by nature “Communio” and not “Consilium,” i.e. some kind of council of bishops. Among the audience at that time was Cardinal Frings from Cologne, who was so impressed, that he asked Ratzinger to prepare a lecture for him, which Frings was supposed to give in Genoa in the context of the then beginning preparations for the Second Vatican Council.  This speech, drafted by Ratzinger, was published in the Genoese magazine “Spirit and Life.” Ratzinger derived the requirements of the Council from the social changes since the end of the war. According to Seewald, he sees the world shaped by globalization, mechanization and belief in science. The reason for the modern atheism is the “self-divinization of mankind.” The task of the Council was to formulate in dialogue with a “profane modernity the Christian faith as a genuine and livable alternative (…) Today’s man should be able to recognize again that the church is neither afraid of science nor does it need to fear it, because it is hid in the truth of God, who cannot contradict any genuine truth and progress.”

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), in opening the Second Vatican Council, had identified three objectives: Inner-church renewal; Christian unity; and the Church’s contribution to social problems and peace in the world. In the preparations for the Council, according to Seewald, two different approaches became apparent between the faction around Frings and the Central European bishops and some members of the Curia (among others Cardinal Ottaviani), some of whom were rather hostile to the Council. In the time of preparation of the Council, in which Ratzinger as Cardinal Frings’ advisor as well as the French theologians de Lubac and Yves Congar (Nouvelle Théologie) were substantially involved, it was discussed that the Scripture and the Fathers should have a stronger say while the teaching authority of the church should be less dominant. In Rome at that time a very optimistic culture of debate and a spirit of new beginning prevailed among the theologians. They were determined to lay with the Council the foundations for a real change in the Church.

The Council opened on October 9, 1962. 133 bishops solemnly entered St Peter’s Cathedral at that time, including for the first time representatives from China, Japan, India and Africa. The Council Fathers represented almost 540 million Catholics. John XXIII had chosen as motto for the Council the word “aggiornamento” (“bringing up to date”, defining the relationship of church and modernity afresh), with which the church should be enlightened. The Council was at that time overshadowed by the looming Cuban crisis, which brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union. It was in Rome that Pope John XXIII signed his eighth encyclical “Pacem in Terris”, in which he passionately advocated peace and justice in the world.  His death in June 1963 was followed by the pontificate of Paul VI, who, after a brief interruption, continued the Council in various sessions until 1965.

At the Council, Ratzinger was the youngest theological advisor and “Spiritus Rector” of the largest most important church assembly of all times, according to Seewald. At the same time he notes, one of Ratzinger’s weaknesses was, that he did not “recognize the desire of people who want to deconstruct the Catholic Church, nor was he conscious of the effect of those forces that developed from the media society.” It was therefore one of the most bizarre consequences of the Vatican that the advisor of Frings was portrayed as “a traitor to the Council,” who in the years after began a real “Herculean task” in order to implement the legacy of the Council.

In the meantime Ratzinger was professor at the Westphalian Wilhelm University of Münster, where also Karl Rahner S.J., known to him from the debates at the Council, taught as professor. In 1965 the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng who for some years was teaching as professor inTübingen, visited Ratzinger in order to discuss with Ratzinger a possible transfer to the University of Tübingen.  Ratzinger had known Küng since 1958 and, as he later reported, was in good contact with him at the time. Küng, as was noted by some observers of the time, had a chic life –style (he liked to drive an Alfa Romeo and loved to be elegantly dressed). He was judged by some German theologians as someone who had “a very high opinion of himself”. The French theologian de Lubac and also Karl Rahner looked at Küng’s approaches to ecumenism rather critically, says Seewald.  Küng had neither participated with any document nor directly as advisor to the Council. But with the help of the media he tried since the time of the 68’s to build up a position within the German theological scene. Küng was considered by the media as the leading head of a new, cosmopolitan church, speaking the Christian faith in a language that exuded an aura of freedom and independence.

Also Ratzinger was “progressive,” Seewald remarks, “the difference to other theologians was however, Ratzinger argued with the faith of the church and never against it.” Thus he had said in “Word and Truth”:  “It is important to awaken the statements of faith and break out of the rigid system, without surrendering their true validity and bring them back to their original vitality.” He warned that the Fathers had wanted to “aggiornize” the faith and present it in full force.  Instead, the impression was created (an indirect reference to zealots such as Hans Küng) that reform consists of throwing off ballast, that we make it easier for ourselves, so that actually reform does not consist of  a deepening of faith  but consists of thinning out faith.

At the Catholics’ Day in Bamberg 1966 Ratzinger gave a speech “Catholics after the Council,” where he warned against leaving the church to the demon of a time whose eclipse of God is consequence of its wild obsession with the earthly life, that a false modernity would threaten the identity of faith. Many of the progressive forces that had decisively influenced the Council, such as de Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar (Institut Catholique de Paris), as well as Hans Urs von Balthasar, shared his ideas. In Tübingen, contrary to the “legend” that Ratzinger under the pressure of the 1968 revolt had hastily left the University of Tübingen, in reality never avoided any discussions with the students. According to a statement from Peter Kuhn, Professor for Jewish Studies in Tübingen, which Seewald refers to, at that time during the storm of the revolt: “Küng nobly retreated and waited until the storm had passed. The students wanted to take their exams at his place, but Küng was absent and sunbathing in Florida’s sun with some female teachers.”

At that time Ratzinger wrote his “Introduction to Christianity” (1968) the result of a Studium Generale Seminar in Tübingen, which appeared in millions of copies and was eagerly read by many intellectuals all over the world. The book got published 2006 in Russian translation with a foreword by Cyril, Patriarch of the Russian- Orthodox Church. The book was a huge success.

After one year in Tübingen Ratzinger accepted the offer to go to the University of Regensburg. In a conversation with Seewald, he later remarked when the latter asked him about Tübingen: “Well I had the naive assessment that Küng had a big mouth and said cheeky things. But that he basically wanted to be a Catholic theologian. There were also indications for this. But I didn’t foresee at that time, that he would break out further and further.”

In 1970 Küng published his paper “Infallible?” with which he wanted to “serve all frustrated people and blow up the Roman system,” Seewald writes. At the request of Pope Paul VI, Ratzinger was appointed bishop for the diocese of Freising and Munich; in 1977 he also became cardinal.

Pontificate of Pope John Paul II (1979- 2005)

An epochal change began when in 1979 for the first time a Cardinal from Poland, Karol Wojtyla, was elected Pope John Paul II. Both personalities, the dynamic, sporty Wojtyla from Cracow, and Ratzinger, who had already met during the Council, harmonized excellently. At the beginning of his pontificate, which was one of the most extraordinary in the history of the 20th and 21st centuries, Küng again wrote a preface for the book by Swiss theologian and historian August Hasler, which contained a scathing criticism of John Paul II. “How the Pope became infallible.”This then led to Hans Küng’s removal from office by the Vatican. According to Seewald a press release of the German Bishops’ Conference on December 15, 1979 stated: “Professor Küng deviates in his writings from the complete truth of the Catholic faith. Therefore he can neither be considered a Catholic theologian nor teach as such.”

Küng qualified this as “inquisition,” a term which he would use repeatedly later also against Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. Küng then became holder of a chair which was especially established for him by the Tübingen University and began to publish books on the dialogue of world religions etc. In an interview with the FAZ on January 11, 1980 Ratzinger conceded that Küng basically made all dogmas revisable, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of the sacraments and the mariological dogmas.

In 1981 Ratzinger was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope Paul John II. He hoped, after initial resistance to accept this post, that this office would be temporary. At 54 years of age, he is the youngest chairman of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and has an important staff at his disposal. Under his leadership important initiatives on ecumenism, the relationship between Catholics and Anglicans, the dialogue with the Orthodox, texts on Freemasonry, but also dialogue with Jews and Muslims was strengthened.

At that time Ratzinger observed with concern that discipline in the clergy was being threatened due to secularization. In an interview with the FAZ 1984 he spoke about the “unleashing of latent, aggressive, centrifugal tendencies that can perhaps be attributed to irresponsible forces”. Outside the church he observed what he called a “cultural change”:  the self -assertion of a middle upper class in the West, the new bourgeoisie of the tertiary sector with its liberal-radical philosophy, its individualistic and hedonistic orientation. The main task of the Church was to assist in the search for a new balance, orientation and values within the Catholic whole.

Liberation Theology

In 1984 Ratzinger gave an interview about liberation theology to the “Spiegel”, in which he stressed that the church in Latin America took up growing social responsibility and tried to limit dictatorships by morally objecting it,  that the Church was anxious to establish justice, because otherwise there was no peace. But it was something else “when with some theologians Christianity evaporates and is melted into Marxism.” In this way, “the moral power of the Gospel is annulled again.” At that time Pope John Paul II “urged” Ratzinger, according to Seewald, to intervene in the debate about liberation theology in South America, where an alliance of Christians and Marxists had formed in Chile, Peru, Argentina beside tens of thousands of base groups that dreamed of a socialist-Christian model and took also into consideration the use of violence in the fight for the poor and disenfranchised.

On August 6, the Prefect signed the “Instruction on Some Aspects concerning the Theology of Liberation.” Among other things, it stated that the blatant injustice between rich and poor should find an echo in the hearts of Christians. But “uncritical borrowings from Marxist ideology and a rationalistic interpretation of the Bible threatened to spoil what was genuine about the initially generous commitment for the poor.”  The statement was opposed to politicize statements of faith and falsify the figure of Jesus into a political rebel. The class struggle had proved to be a myth that only made the misery worse. Revolutionary violence did not automatically lead to a more just society, let alone God’s kingdom. He also added that liberation theology was the creation of intellectuals who belong to the rich West and who were trained by them. Europeans were the one who started it, or students educated by European universities that spread liberation theology in South America. The political myths and utopia of this theology were “a form of cultural imperialism.” It was a “theologically unacceptable” mixture of Bible, Christology, sociology and economics.

The Brazilian Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff, who was a former pupil of Rahner, travelled to Rome in May 1985 to discuss his book “Church, Charism and Power.” He was asked to take a sabbatical year but in 1992 he resigned and founded a family.  Before the press Ratzinger distinguished at that time between “legitimate”, “necessary”, “questionable” and “unacceptable” liberation theology.  An “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation” followed. The prefect went to Lima to present at the Catholic University his paper which stated explicitly that the Church was on the side of the poor, that the striving for liberation was part of the Christian. At the same time he warned against the path of violence.

Epochal Change in Eastern Europe – New Pope Benedict XVI

Far-reaching upheavals in Europe began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.  What had first been initiated in 1988 with a letter from the Pope to Secretary General Gorbachev, developed from then on into a fruitful diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and Russia.

On April 2, 2005 Pope John Paul II died after a long and serious illness. Like no other Pope, he had travelled across the continents of the world to proclaim the need for new Evangelization. After a long battle within the Conclave, Ratzinger was elected Pope. German media, above all “Der Spiegel” and “Süddeutsche Zeitung”(SDZ), spoke of a “negative” signal. In his speech before the Conclave Ratzinger had pleaded that he would engage for restoring the full unity of Christians and “implement the Vatican Council.” He undertook many journeys – among them trips to Poland, Israel, England, France, Spain, USA, Ireland, Africa, Brazil and Germany. His first encyclical was published on January 25, 2006 under the title “Deus Caritas est.” Already having been the central theme of his doctoral thesis, he placed love at the center of evangelization. At the same time he warns of the abysses of capitalism.  “Love is ultimately the only light that constantly illuminates a dark world and gives us the courage to live and act. Love is possible and we can do it because we are created in God’s image.” At the same time he began his work on the three books of his Christology (“Jesus of Nazareth”- 2007-12), which constitute one of the most fundamental works of modern Catholic theology. He discussed with atheists during his Pontificate, such as the philosopher of the Frankfurt School Jürgen Habermas (published in a book under the title “Dialectic of Secularization. On Reason and Religion”, 2005); as well as with the Italian professor of philosophy and politician Marcello Pera (presented in the book “Without Roots”, 2004); he was also passionately working in order to deepen the dialogue with Judaism, between Muslims and Christians and between  Christians- Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans. At that time he worked intensively for the restoration of visible and invisible unity with the Orthodox Churches (under his successor Pope Francis this led to a spectacular meeting in Cuba with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Cyril I).

Pius Brotherhood Affair, abuse scandals and resignation from the pontificate

During his visit to the USA in 2008, reports of abuse scandals surfaced. They were cases dating back to the seventies and eighties. Ratzinger was horrified and at that time gave a very emphatic speech in front of the assembled bishops in Baltimore against the attempt to cover up those scandals, about which he demanded rigorous clarification.

The case that then led to a breaking point of his pontificate was the Williamson case. Originally it was a canonical matter concerning the revocation of the excommunication that had been imposed in 1988 against 4 bishops from Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s schismatic Brotherhood of Pius X. According to Seewald the Williamson affair was a “disinformation campaign” comparable to the Dreyfus affair. Within the Vatican it was connected with mismanagement and sloppiness. The trigger was an interview which the journalist Ali Fegan conducted for the Swedish TV in November 2008 with the British bishop Williamson at the seminary in Zaitzkofen. In the interview Williamson flatly denied the Holocaust.

On January 20 the director of the Pius Brotherhood in Zaitzkofen, Father Franz Schmidtberger distanced himself from the statements of the Holocaust denier Williamson. The Swedish bishop Aborelis had in November already informed the Papal Nuncio for the Nordic Catholic Churches and warned against it. But the whole thing remained without consequence. On the contrary Cardinal Castrillon de Hoyos, the head of the “Ecclesia Dei” and negotiator with the traditionalists, called Aborelis’ statements “dubious.” In a meeting with Papal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, De Hoyos, Levada and others, the issuing of the decree to lift the excommunication was discussed and a date was set.  According to the secretary of the then Pope Georg Gänswein, an attempt was made to prevent the publication of the paper January 24, with no success.

But then an unspeakable press campaign began; the sharpest attacks came from the German press against Pope Benedict XVI, including SDZ Pope brings back Holocaust denier; by BILD Pope inflicts great damage on Germany in the world and Der SPIEGEL A German Pope embarrasses the Catholic Church. Several representatives of Jewish institutions were sharply critical, and Chancellor Merkel demanded immediate clarification from Pope Benedict XVI. While de Hoyos still claimed on January 30th that he knew nothing about all this, it was only on February 4th that the Vatican Secretariat of State provided clarification in response to the protests, stating that the statements by Williamson were unacceptable.  For Pope Benedict XVI it was, as he later said in an interview with Seewald, “a dark hour that was difficult.” Under a professional Secretary of State, the affair would never have broken out this way, Seewald comments.  For some unknown reason, Pope Benedict XVI, despite well-meaning advice from friends among the Cardinals, had stubbornly clung to the Secretary of State.  As the former Papal Nuncio Cardinal Josef Rauber remarked in a conversation with Seewald, the highly intelligent Benedict XVI, who would have preferred to be a professor and scholar, had shown a certain “weakness of decision.” While Cardinal Koch stated that Benedict XVI had been “too good-natured and mild.”

The third encyclical “Caritas in veritate” will follow on June 29, where in reference to Pope Paul VI’ “Populorum Progressio” and on the background of the 2008 global financial crisis, new economic models were demanded. The encyclical criticized too much dependence on the international financial system and demanded a dual strategy of “solidarity and subsidiarity.” Once again, however, there were publications of abuse scandals in Ireland, where, according to a report by Judge Ryan, 2500 young people were victims of assaults of physical punishment and physical violence over a period of 50 years. In 2011/12, the Pope suspended 384 priests and senior officials.  At the same time, the abuse scandal exploded in Germany, starting from the Berlin Jesuit Canisius- College and brought to public attention by Klaus Mertes, the rector. As in Ireland, most of the cases go back to the 70ies and 80ies. There was report about 547 cases of abuse and until today the Catholic Church is trying to work through these scandals. In addition, there was the Vatileaks affair, where the Popes personal butler Paolo Gabriele, who was in contact with the investigative journalist Nuzzi, stole documents from the Pope’s desk, some of which had been published by Nuzzi.  In July 2012 Benedict XVI was still working on the 3rd volume of the Jesus books, which deals with the new evangelization.  On February 13, 2013, during a consistory with Cardinals from Rome, he resigned from the pontificate, which caused consternation worldwide, and withdrew at the time to Castel Gandolfo.  On March 13, 2013, after a conclave, the election of the Argentinean Cardinal Bergoglio followed. Like his predecessor, he opposes the dictatorship of relativism and has ushered in a new era of evangelization.

Peter Seewald’s book highlights the major historical fault lines that emerged after the Second World War. These included the Second Vatican Council, which laid the foundation for a fascinating development of the universal Church with “Gaudium et Spes”, the “Pastoral Writing on the Church in the World Today”, which was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI at the end of the Council on December 7, 1965. On the other hand, as Christian Geyer, who has a very critical view on the Catholic Church, wrote in his FAZ commentary, the Second Vatican Council expressed its determination “to pursue theology again on the basis of all its original sources; not only to study these sources from the standpoint of interpretation of its official teaching of the last hundred years, but to read and understand them from within themselves.” The counter-movement which began at that time gained momentum in a growing “secularization” of faith, the denunciation of essential dogmas of the Church followed by the 68th revolt.  The very instructive book makes clear that Ratzinger’s theology points far beyond our time into the future.

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