Helpless in the Vatican The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI
Part 5: The False Life of Man
Ratzinger has always been a shy person. But he came away from his experiences in Tübingen with an insurmountable fear: a fear for the wellbeing of the Church. Ratzinger wrote his dissertation on St. Augustine, the church father who imagined Christ wandering through the world as a stranger, driven by the constant endeavor to work toward a theocracy.
He also took on Augustine's repression of sensuality, which the church father made socially acceptable in the church in the 4th century, and his pessimism and rejection of the things of this world. It is a way of thinking that assumes that little good can be expected from the world beyond the walls of the Church and the Vatican. It also holds that if there is a true life within the false life of man, it only exists inside the Church, and that only the walls of the Vatican offer protection.
Those days are gone. Today, outrage directed at the Church can no longer be kept within the affected dioceses. The public is also demanding an explanation from the spiritual leader in Rome, particularly as the pope himself was confronted with these problems during his spiritual career. During his time as archbishop of Munich, there was the case of the priest Peter H., which has come back to haunt the pontiff in recent weeks.
The priest had attracted attention in the Diocese of Essen because of child molestation, and the diocese recommended that he undergo therapy under the care of the Archdiocese of Munich. Ratzinger agreed. But after the therapy, his vicar general assigned the man to another parish, allegedly with Ratzinger's knowledge. Peter H. molested more children in the ensuing years and was only banned from providing pastoral care in 2008. Last week, the Archdiocese of Munich even had to send a priest to the towns of Garching and Bad Tölz to help repair the trail of emotional destruction left by the erring priest.
'Too Much Failure'
The pope's most recent pastoral letter on sexual abuse in Ireland was a source of disappointment. "What would it have taken to devote a few sentences to the dramatic developments in Germany?" complained members of the German Catholic youth organization BDKJ. Even the archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, made a penitential pilgrimage through the streets of the German capital. "We suffer from the fact that there is too much failure in the church," Sterzinsky said.
For Ratzinger the man, the world outside the Church and the Vatican, the world of power and the power of the worldly, has always been something sinister. Even during his time as prefect of the CDF, he did not take the trouble to develop the network of supporters considered normal for a senior member of the Church. He was not interested in intrigues and tactical maneuvers. The theology professor, who accepts no contradiction between reason and faith, was always confident in the power of arguments.
He knew that it wouldn't be easy. "Society hates us because we stand in its way," he once confided in his biographer, Peter Seewald. Given this mindset, he could not have been truly surprised by the uproar of the past few weeks.
But it has affected him.
'The Human Flesh'
In particular, it pained Ratzinger that the person who is probably closest to him, his brother Georg, was cast in a bad light. Georg Ratzinger was director of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir in the Bavarian city of Regensburg, from 1964 to 1994. He was strict and sometimes used corporal punishment. Critics allege that Georg Ratzinger must have known about sexual abuse cases in the boarding school associated with the choir.
On his name day, the feast of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger was sitting with his brother Georg in the ceremonial hall of the Palace of the Vatican, the Sala Clementina. The pastoral letter to Irish Catholics had just been signed. The two brothers looked fragile, their white hair slightly tousled. The Henschel Quartet was playing Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross."
"It would have been better to preserve the silence," the younger of the two brothers, the pope, said after the performance. He was referring to the customary moment of silence after the music ends. But he could not remain silent, and instead spent a full eight minutes talking about doubts and forgiveness and committing oneself to a higher purpose. He spoke about beauty and that difficult material, "the human flesh." It's a material which is very foreign to him -- and yet it will shape the last years of his papacy.
It was a moving moment, probably one of the few moments in which the pope was not being driven by his official duties.