The Saint Benedict Center and the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are mourning the death of Pope Benedict XVI, who departed this life on December 31st.
Pope Benedict was a fatherly prelate and and a dedicated pontiff, whose writings reveal an intense devotion to the Person of our Blessed Savior. Under trying circumstances, he did much to unshackle the practice of authentic Catholicism in the wreckage of the post-conciliar Church.
There are two initiatives of Benedict’s papacy which will be remembered in the annals of Catholicism. The first is his 2007 Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, which made possible the restoration of the traditional Mass.
This ended the unprecedented, unnatural and un-Catholic regime, of nearly four decades, where the ancient Latin liturgy of the Roman Rite — which had done so much to define and enrich Catholicism, and Christian Civilization itself, for two millennia — had been, effectively, suppressed by Pope Paul VI.
In his letter to the world’s bishops which accompanied Summorum, Benedict refuted assertions that the old rite had been made illicit after the Council, clearly stating that the traditional Missal was “never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.”
Nor did he consider the relaxation of restrictions on the traditional Mass a mere concession to those on the margins of ecclesial life. Reaffirming the continuity of the Church’s liturgical heritage, Benedict made clear that,
What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.
At a time when Catholic numbers were declining, this decree proved extraordinarily fruitful in increasing Mass attendance — particularly among young families with children — and in attracting vocations to the priesthood. Benedict’s liberation of the Traditional Mass and Divine Office, is now, sadly, being reversed by the current pontiff, but its widespread success means that it will not be easily undone.
The second historic achievement of the Benedictine pontificate was his 2009 Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, which erected the Anglican Catholic Ordinariates of England, Australia and America. This allowed Anglicans seeking union with Rome a corporate existence within the Catholic Church, while retaining their cultural and liturgical patrimony.
Benedict’s far sighted decision laid the foundation for a future Uniate church and, potentially, a second Western Rite of Catholicism. In this single action, Benedict did more to promote the unity of Christendom than sixty years of ecumenical meetings, commissions, and dialogs.
Benedict’s courageous candor also violated the norms of ecumenical diplomacy during his famous speech at Regensburg on the relationship between Faith and reason. Decrying the use of force in religion, he quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II, who wrote “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Benedict was much maligned in the secular media over clerical sexual abuse, but even Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press admitted that Benedict was “responsible for turning the Vatican around on the issue”, describing as “revolutionary” his 2001 decision, while still head of the Holy See’s doctrinal office, “to assume responsibility for processing those cases after he realized bishops around the world weren’t punishing abusers….”
Benedict went on to defrock more than 800 molesting priests, including the notorious and previously untouchable Reverend Marcial Maciel Degollado of the Legionaries of Christ.
In one dramatic episode, Benedict rebuked the entire Irish hierarchy in a 2010 meeting in the Vatican, where the Pontiff demanded that each bishop give an account of his handling of clerical abusers. Benedict told the bishops that child abuse was “a heinous crime.”
None of this stopped the usual bigots from using the homosexual molestation crisis in the priesthood to ventilate their longstanding and pre-existing enmity towards Catholicism.
During the Pope’s state visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, the hate mongering atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins organized demonstrations calling for the Pope’s arrest. Dawkins called him “a leering old villain in a frock.”
Sex abuse victim activist Phil Saviano, an open homosexual and a self described “recovering Catholic,” demanded that Benedict be indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Margery Eagan, of the Boston Herald, baited local Catholics by insisting that ‘The Pope should resign. He should offer himself up to authorities for prosecution,’ while the ex-Catholic Joan Vennochi of The Boston Globe, claimed that Benedict was more interested in cracking down on feminist nuns than pedophile priests.
Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI was forthright and unyielding in his defense of the sanctity of innocent life, the immutable character of marriage, and an objective moral order founded upon Sacred Scripture, natural law, and 2000 years of magisterial teachings.
Benedict was one of the few Catholic prelates to address the scandalous opposition of Catholic political leaders to the Fifth Commandment. In 2004, the then Cardinal Ratzinger sparked international controversy when he issued a statement declaring that Catholic public officials who support abortion and euthanasia should be refused Holy Communion because of their formal cooperation with evil and their obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.
In 1985, our illustrious Founder and Superior, Brother Francis, along with Brian Kelly, traveled to Rome to plead the cause of Father Feeney and that of the doctrine he defended, extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
Informed through official channels that a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger was impossible, they providentially encountered His Eminence in Saint Peter’s Square. Courteously, the Prefect of the CDF granted them a brief interview. Cardinal Ratzinger listened to their concerns with interest and solicitude.
The future pope advised them that the best way to navigate through multi-layered bureaucracy of the Vatican was to communicate directly with his English language Secretary, Monsignor Henry Docherty. The following year, Msgr. Docherty would assist in the canonical rehabilitation of one of the Still River, Massachusetts communities loyal to the memory and mission of Father Feeney.
Future Catholics will judge Benedict XVI to have been a Roman pontiff unjustly maligned for those very things that marked the high points of his ecclesiastical service. It is to be hoped that the very best features of his legacy will be restored — along with so much more that is true, good and beautiful — after a brief interval.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.