In response to Richard McBrien, NCR, 10 May 2010
Fr. McBrien's assessment of Papa Ratzinger's pontificate over the years and now has been both fair and forbearing. Many of us who knew Josef Ratzinger as a young and progressive theologian in Tuebingen and as a peritus to Cardinal Frings, one of the large group of northern European progressive bishops, and as an astute commentator and supporter of the decrees of Vatican II wondered what had happened to turn him into the perfect foil for Papa Woytyla in his tireless campaign against the reforms of Vatican II. He had become the sworn enemy of the progressive theologians and bishops with whom he had been closely allied. At Woytyla's death and during the conclave that followed, it seemed to many observers that Ratzinger and Cardinal Martini had become "stalking horses": Ratzinger for the anti-Vatican II forces and Martini of Milan for those cardinals who wanted to carry the conciliar reforms forward. It was not to be. The preponderance of Woytyla-appointed cardinals became clear in the almost immediate election of Ratzinger as pope. Even at the beginning of his pontificate, despite gestures such as the fraternal supper with Hans Kueng, he surrounded himself with supporters and protagonists of the anti-Vatican II movement already ensconced in the papal curia; his first encyclicals were theologically interesting but had little bearing on the plight of the post-Woytyla church. And, like George Bush with September 11 and Barack Obama with the recession, he was confronted almost immediately with the pedophile epidemic that many--erroneously--had thought to be confined to America. Suddenly, his beloved "Christian Europe" was deluged with the most sordid stories of children victims and the attempts of the institutional church to deny and sweep under the carpet one of the most vile episodes in the Church's history. Somewhere between an innocent bystander and an active participant in his own episcopate in Munich and his early years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was totally unprepared to find himself at the center of the present uproar.
Perhaps, if he had been able to clean out the corrupt upper levels of the curia and the equally corrupt bureaucracy that served that corrupt elite, he would now have people around him who could have given him better advice than that which he appears to be following. But, after all, they are the people who put him in power in first place.
Let us all continue to hold Papa Ratzinger in our prayers and to leave some room for God the Holy Spirit to work in the Church--She doesn't need all that much room to do her work. Maybe that once courageous and hopeful young Vatican II reformer-theologian is still in there somewhere and will come to the aid of God's church.