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Benedict Emerges From The Shadows

April 20, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

On April tenth, an essay by the Pope Emeritus appeared in print in several languages. Clear and candid, it was more coherent and perceptive than anything else that has appeared from the Vatican since Pope Benedict’s departure six years ago.
The essay’s beginnings prompt more than a tad of curiosity. “After the meeting of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences was announced, I compiled some notes by which I might contribute one or two remarks to assist in this difficult hour,” Benedict writes. Perhaps he had in mind a brief address that he might deliver to the assembled prelates, many of whom he had named to their first see.
However, as we now know, Benedict was not invited to address the assembled prelates at all when they met in Rome in February, even though he had appointed many of them. On reflection, it’s not hard to see why. With his usual understated insight, Benedict employs his essay to address precisely the “forbidden question” that was avoided like a dread disease throughout the February meeting: What about homosexuality and its role in the abuse and coverup scandals?
Benedict focuses on the twin cataclysms of the ’60s: first, the sexual revolution, introduced and spurred on by the introduction of the birth control pill. And then came Vatican II. “Until the Second Vatican Council,” he writes, “Catholic moral theology was largely founded on natural law, while Sacred Scripture was only cited for background or substantiation. In the Council’s struggle for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was largely abandoned, and a moral theology based entirely on the Bible was demanded.”
On reflection, we can consider the promulgation of Humanae Vitae in July 1968 as sort of a “Last Hurrah” for natural law; immediately after it appeared, the document was securely locked in the bottom desk drawer of virtually every theologian, bishop, priest, and seminarian worldwide. Students at prestigious Rome theologates in the 70s and 80s were bluntly told to ignore it, since “it would soon be overturned.”
Benedict doesn’t blame the collapse of theology on the sexual revolution. Rather, it had been a long time coming in the work of a generation of dissidents. The ’60s merely supplied a massive supporting cast. He recounts how “[t]he long-prepared and ongoing process of dissolution of the Christian concept of morality was…marked by an unprecedented radicalism in the 1960s,” a spirit that had a profound impact on priests and the seminaries that taught them.
While some bishops showed pornographic films to seminarians, students who read Ratzinger’s books were sent home. “In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established,” Benedict serenely reports, “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”
This refreshing honesty shines the bright light of truth through the fog that envelops the Vatican, revealing the virulent scum lurking in dark corners.

A Living Witness To Truth

Benedict’s clear and penetrating observations have prompted a wide array of commentary. None is more poignant than that of Dr. Janet Smith, a moral theologian and the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
“The loving concern behind Pope Benedict’s essay on the sex-abuse scandal is touching and comforting,” Smith writes. “He is no longer acting Pope, but he remains a holy father, a father who is himself experiencing intense pain and who is worried about the intense pain that his children are experiencing — the pain of wondering how we can remain in the Church we so love but which we have found corrupt to the point of being criminal…he understands the profound disappointment we have with our leaders and does not in the least dismiss the magnitude of our distress.”
Professor Smith’s reputation as a valiant defender of Humanae Vitae is well-known and well-earned. Her indispensable contributions to the Church flow from her brilliance, her focus, her energy, and her endurance, reflecting her cheerful and heartwarming love of the Church. She does admit that, while events of the past year have been, to say the least, somewhat daunting, her faith is steadfast. But don’t ask her to ignore reality.
“For some time, I have thought the Church had turned a corner and the damage done by the dissent after Vatican II had waned. The scales have painfully fallen from my eyes,” she writes. “I am far from optimistic now, and have come to see that the rot in the Church is not just on the plane of dissent but began long before the ’60s and has permeated the Church like mold that is sucking the life out of the Church through the shocking dissolute lives of so many priests and bishops, lives marked by homosexual activity, luxuriousness, mendacity and narcissistic wielding of power, the cause of which has yet to have been satisfactorily explained.”
Millions of Catholics — perhaps fifty million — have left the Church since 1965. Is it time for us to join them? Smith resonates Benedict’s sadness as well as his realism: “The rhetorical question he offers in response is wincingly poignant: ‘Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out?’ That query seems to reflect a wish that we could start all over, but as he notes with almost amusing understatement: ‘Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed.’
“He then gives us a catechesis on why we can’t live without the Church,” she continues, “the Church that a loving, all-powerful God gave us, the one of His making, not ours, the Church that gives us Christ in the Eucharist, no matter how deviant are some of those who consecrate it.”

Words, And The Work To Match

“If we look around and listen with an attentive heart,” Benedict writes, “we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people.” We dwell on Janet Smith’s commentary here because not only her words but her work reflect the resilience invoked by Benedict — and it is hardly “ordinary.”
In the 1980s, when she was a young professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame, Janet was aghast to find that an abortuary was located just down the road from the university, which has begun to admit women as undergraduates ten years before. So she founded the Women’s Care Center in a little house on Notre Dame Avenue. Since then, the WCC has grown, and today offers services to women and families at 28 pregnancy resource center locations in 11 states. WCC serves more than 26,000 women annually, making it the largest network of pregnancy resource centers in the United States.
We don’t often have good news to report from Notre Dame, so we are pleased to report that, on April 27, the Women’s Care Canter will receive the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal, named for St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical.
“The medal is the nation’s most important lifetime achievement award for heroes of the pro-life movement, honoring individuals and organizations whose efforts have served to proclaim the Gospel of human life by steadfastly affirming and defending its sanctity from its earliest stages,” the university’s announcement states.
“Women’s Care Center is honored to be the recipient of this year’s Evangelium Vitae Medal,” said Ann Manion, who has served as volunteer president of the Women’s Care Center Foundation for thirty years. “We are grateful to the University of Notre Dame for including us among the heroes of the pro-life movement who have received this award in the past.
Grateful indeed. And grateful to WCC’s foundress, Janet Smith, as well. She is a true Heroine of Life.

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