He even offers an alternate reality:
Now, consider how this paragraph of “reporting”…
He has made clear he wants to continue the strict doctrines of John Paul, who muzzled theologians he thought blurred the lines between Catholicism and politics, opposed the use of condoms to fight AIDS, refused to reconsider the tradition of priestly celibacy and dismissed out of hand the notion that women be allowed to become priests.
… might sound if written in a different way:
He has made it clear that he will continue to uphold and teach Catholic doctrine, as did Pope John Paul II, who corrected theologians who dissented from established Church teaching, insisted that fidelity and chastity were the best way to combat AIDS, upheld the Church’s perennial teaching, based in the example of Jesus, that only certain men are called to be priests (contrary to popular belief, some priests are married, as in the Eastern Catholic churches), while encouraging the laity to live out the universal vocation to holiness as articulated by the Second Vatican Council.
Oh, sure, I’m a dreamer. But, really, it’s so pathetic. And, of course, there has to be an obligatory complaint issued by Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J.:
But Benedict, however “charming,” is still stifling theologians who challenge ideas about Catholicism, says Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and former editor of the Jesuit-owned magazine America. Reese lost that job just after Ratzinger was elected pope; conservative Catholics had long complained that America gave too much voice to dissenting views on sensitive issues from sexuality to salvation.
Reese, now a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, says Catholic theologians are concerned that “the Vatican insists we continue to explain the gospel in the language of the 13th century.”
No, not at all, Fr. Reese: the Vatican simply asks that you proclaim the gospel in keeping with the clear teaching of the Church. And the comment about the 13th century is nonsense, as Fr. Reese has to know (and if he doesn’t, well…). Has he read anything by the Holy Father? For example, Pope Benedict wrote the following in Spe Salvi:
A self-critique of modernity is needed in dialogue with Christianity and its concept of hope. In this dialogue Christians too, in the context of their knowledge and experience, must learn anew in what their hope truly consists, what they have to offer to the world and what they cannot offer. Flowing into this self-critique of the modern age there also has to be a self-critique of modern Christianity, which must constantly renew its self-understanding setting out from its roots. (par 22)
A couple of weeks ago, I penned a post in which I wrote that those with criticisms of Benedict should be asked to be specific in their criticisms. (A post which was bizarrely picked up by Andrew Sullivan to make essentially the opposite point, somehow. Mark Shea remarked on this and I wrote to him, saying, “Well, at least he didn’t quote me out of context to berate me” (which would be par for the course) and Mark wrote back saying, “No, he just took you out of context to ignore you.” True!)
These remarks from Reese are a good example. Reese should be asked to give specifics – names, positions, incidents of stifling – of “theologians who challenge ideas about Catholicism.” As far as I know, the major cases that have come to public notice via the CDF and bishops’ conferences have centered on the divinity of Christ and the unique role of Christ in the redemption of humanity. The logical follow-up question is, “So, then, what are the boundaries for a self-proclaimed Catholic theologian? Are there any? Why is it not okay for the Church to draw boundaries?”
And yet another follow-up might be, “What does it mean to “stifle? May these theologians no longer publish with any publisher on the face of the earth? May they not teach in any educational institution? May their books not be read by any human beings ever again?”
Simply: Why shouldn’t the teaching office of the Church draw boundaries as to what is authentic Christian teaching?
And this “language of the 13th century” business is, frankly, disingenous. It’s either also ignorant or dishonest, and in either case, it’s hard to see one who makes such a statement as being actually suitable to comment on Benedict’s own theological trajectory, either on his own or in terms of his influence on the CDF for the past decades. As Carl notes, Ratzinger/Benedict is known for his interaction with non-Catholic and non-Christian thinking, both personally and in his work. And if part of the point is that Benedict wants Thomism to rule, well, that’s wrong too because Benedict is no Thomist.
Again, reporters – when a source says something about the Vatican insisting that theological language be that of the 13th century – push . Ask what exactly that means. Request specific examples. Be conversant enough with recent documents – say, the last few encyclicals, from both Benedict and John Paul II – to question that statement in light of those documents. Know that Benedict’s encyclicals sell in the hundreds of thousands when they are published, his books are best sellers for any publisher who gets them and the Vatican website gets millions of hits a day.
Are all those people conversant in 13th-Centuryese?
And once again, add new names to the Rolodex. Flesh it out – there are several new books that have been written about Benedict, exploring his theology and life. Here are three recent releases, by authors who, very helpfully, speak English and probably have telephones:
Here’s another great resource – via Brian Saint-Paul at Inside Catholic, a link to an interview at Spero News with David Schindler, editor of Communio.
The German philosopher Robert Spaemann has spoken of Benedict’s theology as a retrieval, a mutual enrichment between old and new; he says Ratzinger the theologian never felt the need to reconstruct theology from the ground up via a new schema, as, for example, Karl Rahner did, because Ratzinger was too historically grounded to go that way. In what sense is Benedict retrieving something that was both already there, and, in a sense, lacking in our times?
SCHINDLER: Newness and oldness: a beautiful point. To me, this is again the greatness of Benedict. He’s simply doing what every saint and doctor of the Church has done. He has gone back to the roots of his being and of the Church’s being: the Gospel.
And he’s done it entirely naturally, in the sense that he recovers it precisely in the context of his own historical being. That is, he recovers it while living in the 20th century and today in the face of the problems of Nazism, Communism, and liberalism.
What results is a development. So the idea that his emphasis on, say, the structure of being as centered in God and filiality were somehow recent inventions is nonsense. These things are the heart of the Gospel. In other words, this recovery and development is what real theologians do.
This is epitomized in Benedict, as Spaemann observes, and also can explain why so many theologians become very obscure: they want to be new. Benedict has no interest in being new.
He has an interest in being faithful. And the creativity takes care of itself because we’re historical beings. Everyone, especially the theologian, has to look at his own work in this way and to ask: What is the cause of the obscurities?
There can be difficulties in someone’s thought and so on, but what is remarkable in Benedict’s work, and what is really one of his great gifts to the Church, is that his thought is jargon-free.
And it’s jargonfree because he has no interest in speculation, in the sense of saying, let’s speculate on this without regard, say, for the integrity of human life and ecclesial life. He says what he has to say to keep alive the memory of what has been given.
Could you say something about his way of engaging people in conversation?
SCHINDLER: He’s very simple and gentle, always curious about the world. Always very much full of wonder at things. He has a great capacity as a listener. If you do not interrupt him during a conversation, you can easily end up spending the entire time speaking mostly about yourself, responding to his questions about you and your work.
How does he deal with people with whom he disagrees?
SCHINDLER: People who disagree with him are often a bit disarmed to discover how respectful he is of what they have to say. In any conversation he is concerned about the truth, but it’s always clear that in defending the truth, he’s defending something that is integral to the dignity of the other person. He’s not defending his ego, but rather something that is greater than himself and that is necessary for the realization of the dignity of both himself and the interlocutor.