Friday, February 06, 2009

Benedict's Understanding of the Church

Over at Religious Dispatches, Paul Gorrell has an insightful article entitled, “The Incredible Shrinking Catholic Church,” in which he examines the “focus of Pope Benedict’s reign,” i.e. “the draw[ing of] sharp boundaries that strictly define what it means to be a Catholic, what it means to be a priest, and how the Church should reconfigure itself in order to exile members who are not true believers.”

Following is a brief excerpt:

Benedict’s understanding of the church—his reinterpretation of the reforms of Vatican II in particular—erases the power of local culture in the experience of Catholicism. It also undermines the ecumenical movement by claiming that Protestant churches are not “true” churches, judges priests on their identity (gay priests must leave) rather than their actions, stops dialogue on any topics that do not meet the Pope’s approval (such as the possibility of women priests), sheds gay people from its ranks and fights against their rights, ignores the diminishing number of priests and the effects of this shortage on Church communities, and calls on Catholics to form the “perfect society” resembling the ecclesiology of Opus Dei. It is no surprise that Pope Benedict comes from a country — Germany — where the percentage of Church members attending Sunday mass is one of the lowest in the world. Strict adherence to orthodoxy will not be popular.

Gorrel goes on to make the argument that:

[R]econciliation with [the] Lefebvrite bishops [including the Holocaust-denying Richard Williamson], as well as the resurrection of the Tridentine Mass, shows that in the eyes of the current papacy, orthodox belief in traditional dogma is more important than the church’s relationship with other religions and the rest of the world. Put simply, these men think like Benedict when it comes to the church’s relationship to the world. This is underlined by Benedict’s revision of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, a move that mirrors the thinking of Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the renegade church with whom these bishops are attached.

Benedict makes it clear who is part of this more tightly circumscribed church and who is not. While many people are troubled by the Pope’s embrace of Holocaust-deniers and saddened when priests ask folks to step out of communion lines because of how they vote, Benedict believes that those who value spiritual sentiment over orthodoxy do not fit the mold of what it means to be Catholic today. They must see the church and Catholicism the way he sees it or leave the fold.

To read Paul Gorrell’s article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
“The Real Battle”
A Smaller, Purer Vision of Church – and Why It Won’t Work
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
What It Means to Be Catholic
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs

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