Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

A strange grief: Losing Pope Benedict XVI

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, February 14, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) – If our readers will forgive the self-indulgence, I thought I would talk frankly about my feelings, for a change, since I suspect that I am not alone in them. There have been few newsworthy events of the last ten years over which I have felt more at a loss than Pope Benedict’s announcement that he will renounce the papal throne at the end of the month. Catholics all over the world were as stunned and speechless as were, reportedly, the small group of cardinals to whom he made his brief announcement on Monday morning. 

And, as the world’s news cycle turns back to its daily amusements, there are some of us, perhaps many, who are left as though beached and stranded by this momentous and unprecedented tidal shift. In the last few days, I have found myself among those still grappling with the implications. One of the rules by which we understood the world, or at least the Church that makes up much of our personal world, seems to have been broken. Popes do not resign. There can be no such thing as an ex-pope.

After a few days of putting a brave face on things, trickles of writing, mostly from ‘bloggers, who don’t mind letting the world in, are expressing our shock and dismay, sadness and even anger. Pat Archbold wrote in the Catholic Register, “Orthodoxy aside, there is one thing and one thing only that I would demand from our new pontiff. Holy Father, when you die, you must die as Pope.”

“So my advice to the future Pope is simple. Make it clear early and often that as long as your are able to blink instructions in Morse code, you will not be leaving the Papacy by any means other than [a] sarcophagus. If Popes do not leave town in a coffin, they will eventually be driven out on a rail.”

Since Monday, I have struggled even to understand my own feelings. These have ranged, honestly, from shock to a kind of dread not only at the ominous question of what happens now, what is coming next, but at the very great strangeness of breaking of this ancient precedent. How can it be right? And why now, when the world seems to be sinking into an unimaginable darkness?

Today I put some of these questions to a cleric who has been in Rome and around Vatican circles for many years. He said that, though they would not dare to breathe a word of criticism, many inside are also feeling a gamut of emotions, not restricted to shock and bewilderment but also grief and even anger. In frank and pastoral terms, my wise “source inside” assured me that I and people like me are not over-reacting or “over-thinking”. And that our feelings are natural and even a sign of real fidelity, of genuine Catholicity.

“We normal Catholics are reacting so strongly because, simply, we love him. It’s a very personal and natural thing; we gave him our hearts. How am I to react when our father, or step-father, the one given to us to protect us, says he will leave us?

“And we do love him. We’ve loved him since the day his name was announced. And we feel like our father is leaving us. And we’re completely at wit’s end because even if we don’t want to think ill of Benedict, we still don’t have a natural outlet for our feeling of loss."

He called it a “strange and confusing grief,” because though we have lost him, Benedict is not dead. This is why the situation “for many Catholics is surreal, almost dream-like.”

“When a pope dies we can have a funeral, we can have requiems in black. But in this strange situation, we have no natural way to express the grief we feel at having lost our father. And we have. We’ve lost someone that we love.” 

“The papacy is an absolutely unique institution in this world. In many ways he is like a father, because he is our Holy Father. In some ways it’s like a step-father, because he is there taking care of us when we can’t see our real father, our Heavenly Father. And the papacy, until very recently, until three days ago, was for life, and we trusted it to remain so. And now we say to ourselves, well, he can never stop being a father. So we are confused by our own feelings.” 

The Church makes distinctions for papal infallibility, and Catholics are free to disagree with the pope’s “prudential decision” while remaining perfectly faithful. We can legitimately feel, he said, that the pope is making a prudential mistake. This isn’t a lack of fidelity or love, or even of trust. We have to accept the decision, he said, but we don’t have to agree or like it.

My inside man strongly denied the rumours swirling around the internet that somehow the pope has been forced or coerced into making this decision by dark and nefarious forces. “It’s perfectly in character for him,” he said. “Nothing in Benedict’s character, that we have all observed very publicly for decades, has indicated he would ever bow to such pressure.”

Ruling out a palace coup, he said that we can accept the decision because it was also not immoral. “It was done humbly. It was not an act that is intrinsically evil. He’s doing it because he thinks it’s what God wants him to do. It’s one of the few things he’s done entirely on his own and he’s in complete control. No one can stop him. 

“He is very dedicated to the Church, and he wants to do what is best. And he saw first hand the problems with a largely incapacitated pope, and it may have frightened him. He really does believe that he has a ministry, the Petrine ministry, that is not for himself but for others, for us. And he really believes that if he cannot fulfill that duty he should step down.

“And because the papacy is not precisely fatherhood – it’s an analogy – he sees his own weakness, he sees a way that he can take away his weakness and provide for his children, by letting someone else take up the mantle and take up the sword and the shield.”

But he assured me that we have no obligation to think this is a good idea, or even that it will not damage the Church. Popes have made bad decisions in the past, even good popes: “If the Church has or has not done something for 600 years, there’s usually a reason for it. I myself think that popes should stay on until they’re dead, and let God remove them.” 

“I think he has taken into account the wisdom of the world to achieve those otherworldly ends. This is not all bad, but you also have to look to the supernatural considerations. I think it is good for the pope to let God to determine the time when he leaves ministry. Because God is the pope’s only superior.”

Catholics doubting the decision, he said, “may simply not be convinced that he can’t protect us any more.”

“I’m not convinced of this. But we know we must accept the decision, not just because he’s the pope and we have to defer to his judgment, but also because we can’t see inside his soul, and we can’t enter into that decision.”

What aspect of Benedict’s intellect does this decision come from then?

“There is,” he answered, “a very worldly sense that entered into the Church with the ascendancy of the liberal faction in the post-Vatican II era, and Benedict was part of that. He was a centrist liberal, a Catholic liberal and he shifted to the right. But he still embraced a lot of this-worldly prudence from that time. A kind of utilitarian idea that things that are not absolutely essential are ultimately disposable.”

“It’s not absolute worldly prudence because it’s not directed towards worldly ends. But men like John Paul II and Benedict XVI have looked at the supernatural with prudential, pragmatic, this-worldly eyes.” 

“There’s a degree to which this is necessary. You have to be as wise as serpents. But you also have to be willing to lose everything. I think there really is a need for someone with a more otherworldly focus. And someone who is a more of a hero than a manager or even an academic. A paladin.” 

“And we mustn’t forget that there is such a thing as the grace of the state. The pope gets special gifts from the Holy Spirit.”

The reasons people are angry and upset, or at least disconcerted is perhaps an intuitive worry that this decision comes from emphasizing the wrong aspect of the papacy, the institutional character of it at the expense of the fatherly, incarnational, supernatural aspect of it.

The pope’s decision is unsettling those who look upon the papacy as more than merely the function. It has appeared to further that ominous modern tendency to push the papacy down from its supernatural heights, to the level of mere functionalism.

“The papacy has these different layers of meaning, similar to a monarchy, where you have, united in one person, both the natural aspects of being a ruler and a sovereign and a leader, and the supernatural aspects of being a father and a person to love. It’s why the papacy is about more than what the pope can do.”

I said I was confused about the sudden outpouring of hatred for him in the press, now that he is no longer any threat to the “progressive” or “liberal” end of the Church?

“A lot of Catholics, good, bad, indifferent, liberal, traditionalist, charismatic, have a visceral attachment to the pope as a father. That’s why some of them can be dissidents, because they all love their father. They can disagree with their father, but he’s still their father. 

“People can’t leave it alone, they can be overflowing with vitriolic hatred, and people ask them, ‘Why don’t you leave the Church,’ and they can’t. They can’t ever stop being the children of their father.”

As for the sudden explosion of hatred from the non-Catholic, secularist world, he said, the answer is much easier: “The world always hates the popes.”

“Now sometimes that doesn’t show as much, but even with the popes who are well respected by the world, you don’t have to scratch too deep to find that bitter hatred. It’s true of anyone who follows Christ, but even more towards his Vicar. And the more the pope conforms to Christ, the more he will be hated with that blistering hatred that he still inspires in some people.”

And they particularly hate Benedict XVI because whatever the prudential problems with his resignation, he is “clearly not acting from a selfish motive”.

“He’s not seeking self-aggrandizement, he is healthy enough that it’s not something he has no choice about. He could keep going if he chose. And that strikes the world where it hurts, in their pride.

“We live in a world of reality TV shows where fame is so desperately important that you would humiliate yourself for it, and this is a man who is more photographed than anyone on the planet, and three weeks from now, no one is going to see him ever again.

“They all believe, wrongly, that the papacy is this great, powerful Emperor Palpatine sort of position. And the ones who hate him really believe that he is a power-hungry, power-obsessed old man. And here he is, the head of this huge, immensely powerful organisation, voluntarily setting aside that power. Not out of cowardice, but out of humility and meekness. The world hates that. With a passion.” 

“And they hate him, because, quite frankly, he’s one of the best popes we’ve had in the last 70 years. He’s been doing incredible things. Incredible good for the Church. And they hate him all the more because he was a good pope.”

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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