Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI vs. the Theologians

The criticisms of Pope Benedict XVI from certain segments of the theological community are becoming hard to ignore. While many would look at the names and say "well, what would you expect?", it is worth pointing out that all of these men in the past enjoyed a respectful, though distant, relationship with the pontiff. Not any more. They are disgusted with how the Church has been handling the pedophilia scandals and want a thorough purge -- starting at the top.

Leading the pack is Dr. Hans Küng who drafted an open letter to all Catholic bishops excoriating the Pope's record on multiple fronts and encouraging the bishops to call for reform and re-take responsibility for the Church. Küng starts by reminding the bishops that he and the Pope were the youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council and that now they are the only ones still fully active. But, Küng argues, the Pope missed "the opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church...Time and again, this pope has added qualifications to the conciliar texts and interpreted them against the spirit of the council fathers. Time and again, he has taken an express stand against the Ecumenical Council, which according to canon law represents the highest authority in the Catholic Church..." "Pope Benedict XVI seems to be increasingly cut off from the vast majority of church members who pay less and less heed to Rome and, at best, identify themselves only with their local parish and bishop." The letter is available in Spanish here.

Another prominent Catholic theologian, Leonardo Boff, follows. In an interview in German with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Boff offers a harsh assessment of Pope Benedict XVI's rule: "The five years of his pontificate have been characterized by conflict: with Muslims, with Jews, with the non-Catholic faiths that he has characterized as not being true churches, with the Anglican church, Lefebvre's followers, women and homosexuals." Boff said he admires virtually nothing in the pontiff, whom he again characterized as conservative and fearful. He reiterated that the Pope has never really understood liberation theology and reminded his interviewer that during the Pope's tenure as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he condemned more than 100 theologians.

When asked at the end of the interview what he would say to the Pope, Boff replied: "I would just say: 'Your Holiness, you are an old man, tired and quite sick. You have served the Church with the best intentions, despite the opposition that you have provoked. The hour has come to prepare for the great encounter with God. Take refuge in a monastery, sing the Gregorian chant that makes you so happy, celebrate your Mass in Latin and pray more for the Earth, which is threatened by global warming, for humanity, which may be wiped out, particularly for the suffering and for the children who are victims of pedophilia in the church and society. And pray that the Creator Spirit may never leave you."

Finally, the Spanish Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII has joined in the fray. It is significant because this 30-year old association brings together over 100 of Spain's leading theologians, including people like Federico Pastor, Juan José Tamayo, Alfredo Tamayo Ayestarán, José María Castillo and Máximo García. The association has published a statement on the anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate, endorsing Dr. Hans Küng's public letter and adding their own perspective. They take it a step further, calling for the pope's resignation:

Nos parece que el pontificado de Benedicto XVI está agotado y que el papa no tiene la edad ni la mentalidad para responder adecuadamente a los graves y urgentesproblemas que hoy tiene que afrontar la Iglesia católica. Pedimos por ello, con el debido respeto a la persona del papa, que presente la dimisión de su cargo.

"We believe that the papacy of Benedict XVI is exhausted and that the pope is too old and doesn't have the mentality to respond adequately to the serious and urgent problems that the Catholic Church has to deal with now. We therefore, with due respect for the person of the pope, ask that he resign from office."

We need to pay attention because these are leading theologians, most of whom are Catholic, not ignorant outsiders. Their assessments should give us pause.

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