Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Passing It On” first appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Touchstone.
Passing It On
Benedict XVI's Fidelity on Behalf of the Faithful
At the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the Touchstone editors rejoiced because no one among the other candidates had made a firmer name for himself in standing for the "permanent things" of the Christian faith, the things that have always been our collective first concern, the things of "mere Christianity"—the doctrines of the Creed and their moral accompaniments, things that have been, according to the Vincentian canon, believed everywhere, at all times, and by all Christians.
The Christian faith itself in all these matters is an enduring offense, an offense that begins in our day with its unnegotiable patriarchalism: the insistence that the Father Almighty is Maker of heaven and earth, and going on from there through every scandal the confession of Christian belief has presented to the world from its earliest days. We knew Cardinal Ratzinger as a strong and reliable witness to these things, willing to be ill spoken of by the class of people—many of them claiming to be Christians and even Catholics—who hate not just traditional Roman Catholicism but all Christianity and all Christians, through the high and easy mark of the papal office.
Pope Benedict has now retired. The reason he gives is that he is too weary to perform the duties of his office properly. Clearly, he looks for a successor with the vigor that has fled him in old age. He has been, we think, quite careful not to say anything that would imply that the man who follows him should pursue any essentially different course than he or John Paul II have attempted.
One is not, perhaps, surprised to find that a good number of writers on religion do not believe him, and seem anxious to think this is some sort of admission of defeat in the face of overwhelming opposition to Benedict's own rejection of the anti-Christian aspects of modernity. Many speak of this rejection as though it were something new and not a concern of the papal office since the formal opening salvo was fired in Pius X's 1907 Pascendi Dominici Gregis, and indeed, found whenever and wherever, from the New Testament forward, the spirit of some age or place has provoked the opposition of the apostles and their heirs. Inflexibility in these matters is and has always been found in every Christian pastor worthy of his title.
Nor should it be a surprise to those who have witnessed the behavior of the mainstream media during the last American presidential campaign how such remarkable levels of careless aggression and supercilious ignorance have immediately been brought to bear by hostile journalists upon the pontificate of Benedict and the election of the next pope. Readers are faced with a wearisome barrage of changes rung on a failed papacy, summarized in the observation that the world has moved forward and the conservative old celibates who run the Catholic Church still cling to outmoded beliefs and make foolish and unnecessary demands, many of which have been rejected by their own captive audience, the Catholic laity.
It is therefore time, the pundits declare, for a pope sensitive and responsive to the beliefs of the new age: it is time for birth control, acceptance of gayness, of priestesses, the phasing out of patriarchal hierarchies, less concentration on doctrine and a damn sight more inclusiveness (presumed by people who have never read the Gospels to be the essential moral quality of Jesus), and a more realistic and forgiving attitude toward people trapped in unpleasant situations who feel they must commit what used to be called sin to make themselves happier. In other words, Catholics would have their Christianity greatly improved, and increase traffic in the aisles, if they became ceremonial Unitarians.
At the accession of Benedict XVI, Touchstone ran a View on the disappointment of progressive Catholics in particular that yet another "conservative" pope had been elected. In that View the author said,
Fidelity Under Pressure
Benedict's pontificate is being heavily criticized for ineffectuality in dealing with the scandal of sexual abuse by priests. It is particularly galling to see this spill from the pens of so many who are anxious to sanctify homosexuality in society, feigning indignation at the church's failure to control one of sodomy's most ancient and characteristic expressions, the taste of adult homosexuals for pubescent boys, obscured and falsified under charges of "pedophilia"—sexual attraction to children. If Benedict's dealings in that area have not been appropriately decisive—one might ask if decisive action against homosexuality is what the blighters really want—it can hardly be clearer that his retirement is in favor of someone who has the energy to take up cudgels he can no longer carry.
In what he has believed and taught, which is above all things what his enemies hate, Pope Benedict has held firm, as we hoped he would, under the kind of terrible spiritual pressures known only to faithful pastors, and been true to his magisterial responsibilities. From these he has not wavered, and has consistently given firm support to the faithful who desire to follow obediently the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as to those outside the Roman fold who hear his pastoral voice and have followed him gratefully in all things merely Christian.
—S. M. Hutchens, from the editors
S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor of Touchstone.
“Passing It On” first appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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