Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy and his name choice

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2011!

My last blog posting reflected upon Pope Benedict XVI’s Urbi et Orbi address where he spoke about the world’s suffering while dressed in ermine trimmed wraps.  According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, the pope chose the name Benedict inspired by St. Benedict, the founder of Benedictine spirituality in addition to Pope Benedict XV’s example as a peacemaker and reconciler.

So far, in the “reconciler” category, the pope has some successes, making small steps reconciling with clergy abuse victims.  However, thus far in his papacy, I see an increase in tension with other religions due to things like the pope re-instating a holocaust denying bishop and making gaffs about Islam.  I see a decrease rather than increase in Catholic unity.  I see a decrease in dialogue between differing opinions within the church and an increase in hierarchical assertions, commands and judgments.  Consequently, I see an increase in neo-Pharisees believing their piety rituals and dogmatic barking on a few issues make them better than others and make their sins less severe than others.  I see an increase in arrogance and false pride about Catholic identity and a decrease in humility, compassion and service.  Are these signs of peace and reconciliation?

I am reading a book about St. Benedict’s spirituality, specifically about the Rule of St. Benedict.  When I learned of the pope’s speech made while dressed in fur-trimmed robes, I was reading the chapter on humility.  In his rule, St. Benedict outlined 12 degrees of humility.  Briefly, the degrees are:
1.  Fear (love) God.
2.  Love not your own will.
3.  For love of God and in denying self-will, submit yourself to a human superior.
4.  Be patient and meet difficulties, contradictions and injustice without growing weary or running away.
5.  Confess everything; hide nothing.
6.  Be content with the worst and poorest of everything.
7.  Consider yourself lower and lesser than everyone else.
8.  Follow the “Rule” and the advice of elders.
9.  Restrain your tongue and keep silent.
10.  Don’t be quick to laugh lest you make folly of something serious.
11.  Speak in few but sensible words.
12.  Maintain humility inwardly and outwardly, in heart and external appearance.

I struggle seeing a connection between St. Benedict’s directions on humility and his papal namesake’s actions as well as the greater church’s tone set by Pope Benedict XVI.  In particular:

  • How would St. Benedict view infallibility doctrine and its use to justify one’s opinion, in light of the 1st, 3rd and 7th degrees of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view the hierarchy’s indignation over cries for bishop accountability, in light of the 4th, 5th, 7th and 12th degrees of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view demonizing the press for airing stories about clergy abuse, in light of the 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th degrees of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view handling of clergy abuse, enshrouded in secrecy, in light of the 1st and 5th degrees of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view the absence of women from church hierarchy and governance structures, in light of the 7th degree of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view threats and use of ex-communication to try controlling other people’s behavior, in light of the 4th and 7th degrees of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view using an ermine-trimmed cape and related clerical fashion trends, in light of the 6th, 7th and 12th degrees of humility?
  • How would St. Benedict view prolific writings and the establishment of a foundation to promote one’s own theological thought, in light of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 11th and 12th degrees of humility?


  1. Wonderful post. One that is very much needed, in my humble opinion. I believe that the shift in papal power from that of one member of a structural governing body to that of primacy and infallibility has been insidious and destructive. This shift is especially destructive when humility has vanished and compassion has been replaced by preservation of power.

  2. Thanks Louise, St. Benedict would be proud! I plan to go on a few days' silent retreat to St. Benedict's Monastery where Kerry and I were married sometime next week. Peace to you.