Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Times has today carried a feature entitled "The Pope's first four years have brought a fine crop of surprises and controversies". It allowed "five Roman Catholic observers [to] give their verdicts on the papacy of Pope Bendict XVI, so far". The electronic version misses out the contribution from John Allen, which appeared in the print edition, and which was the longest of the contributions.

More than one contributor suggested a need for a rather better PR machine at the Vatican so that some of the media controversies - not justified by the substance of Pope Benedict's remarks or actions - could be avoided.

The Good: John Allen, jr.
The spirit of Benedict's papacy can best be expressed by the phrase "affirmative orthodoxy"...

While Benedict XVI obviously sees secularism and relativism as enemies of the faith, for the most part he has chosen to do battle not with the weapons of anathema and excoriation, but by attempting to reintroduce Christianity as a positive cultural alternative.

In that spirit, devotees of papal pronouncements - not just the high profile examples, but the Pope's routine teaching during his Wednesday general audiences, his Sunday addresses, and so on - say that if you close your eyes when Benedict is on stage, and forget who is speaking, you could easily believe you are listening to one fo the great Fathers of the Church ... Benedict's material is almost always inspiring, spiritually rich, and rhetorically well crafted, leading some analysts to declare him one of the greatest "teaching popes" in Church history.

The Bad: Luke Coppen
It's tempting to judge the first four years of Benedict XVI's papacy entirely in terms of his tortured relationship with the Western media. But I suspect that in 100 years that will only be a historical footnote.

O, alright, I'll let Luke get away with that as a good point. But not this:
His key decisions - the liberation of the traditional Mass, the lifting of the SSPX excommunications - are fiercely misunderstood today, but look ahead ...

Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter to bishops made it juridically easier to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form than before, but "liberation" is not really an accurate word to describe that. And, post Summorum Pontificum, it is not legitimate, from a juridical point of view, to talk about one form of the Roman Rite as being any more or any less traditional than the other. And, indeed, according the the accompanying letter, it is the Missal of Pope Paul VI that is envisaged as uniting parish communities. The misunderstanding occurs from both directions ...

The Ugly: Sir Stephen Wall
His theological pronouncements have been inaccessible, his comments on other faiths provocative, and his views on sexual morality a mixture of the extreme and bizarre.

One of the things about Pope Benedict's theological pronouncements is precisely that they are so accessible! And, in the wake of the Regensburg address, for example, the level and extent of Catholic-Islamic dialogue has been quite unprecedented.

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