Saturday, February 5, 2011

Would Pope Benedict XVI have excommunicated himself?

Last week the German newspaper, Die Sueddeutsche, reported on a letter sent to German bishops in 1970 that encouraged permitting Catholic priests to marry.  Several German priests signed the letter, including a few future cardinals and a 43 year-old man named, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger.  Yes, that would be the same Joseph Ratzinger who is now Pope Benedict XVI.

Also last week, numerous Roman Catholic German politicians encouraged the church to permit married clergy.  Additionally, yesterday 144 Roman Catholic theologians in Germany issued an appeal for church reform.  Specifically they suggest the church permit:
  • Married priests
  • Women priests
  • A return to laity selecting church leaders
  • An improved acceptance of same-sex couples
This is a curious set of circumstances.  Under Pope Benedict XVI’s reign, people like Fr. Roy Bourgeois are excommunicated for “dissenting” from church teaching, and theologians such as Hans K√ľng (a peer of Joseph Ratzinger) continue to endure censure.  I dare say that under Pope Benedict XVI’s reign, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger would be excommunicated or at least censured from teaching.   Fr. Joseph Ratzinger certainly could not get a job or volunteer in my diocese where one, “must not teach, advocate, model, or in any way encourage beliefs or behaviors that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church” (Catholic Diocese of Lansing Employee Handbook p.5).

As pope, Joseph Ratzinger leads the church’s Magisterial teaching office.  Given that Pope Benedict XVI would have excommunicated or censured himself for his "dissent" had he been the pope when he signed that letter, should he recuse himself from the papacy now?   Had he been handled “properly” as a young priest according to his own beliefs as pope, he would have been silenced when he was a priest teaching at university, never ordained a bishop, named a cardinal or elected pope.  I can’t imagine a man such as Pope Benedict XVI, who harshly detests “relativism”, would want rules relatively dismissed or applied to him just because he’s pope. 

Therefore, should we see Pope Benedict XVI as a moral authority since he would have censured himself decades before he became pope?   How should Pope Benedict XVI handle the “dissenters” in Germany today who express themselves much like he did when he was a "dissenting" middle-aged priest, 19 years into his priesthood?  Might he risk depriving the world of a future pope if he dismisses any in this group of "dissenters"?  Will Pope Benedict XVI recall the parable in MT 18:23-33?  

Most puzzling though, why do bishops and cardinals censure people who "dissent" but follow a pope who was a "dissenter"?  Isn't this an example of moral relativism?

Amended 7 February, 2011
Thanks to "AW" for inspiring the following additional excellent questions.
What caused Joseph Ratzinger's movement from a position aligned with Jesus, who selected married men as apostles, to his current stance as Pope Benedict XVI?  What might today's church leaders learn from the pope's pre-pope days of Christ-like inclusiveness?

1 comment:

  1. The more interesting questions are what influences have changed the pre-pope's welcoming position toward married clergy to the now-pope's rather conservative, close-minded image? What changes could the church embrace under the leadership of such an inclusive man as the pre-pope might have been?