Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

A strange grief: Losing Pope Benedict XVI

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website, www.babycaust.de, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” Katholisch.de editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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