Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. was constantly misinterpreted and slandered no matter what he did, said Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone news week following the death of the former Pope at the age of 95.
In 2013, Benedict became the first pope to abdicate in almost 600 years. For critics, he was tarnished by an uncompromising stance as a traditionalist, as well as leaks of Vatican insidiousness and corruption that surfaced during his reign and later accusations of overlooking priestly sexual abuse early in his career — for which he apologized, and said he did was not aware at the time.
But for many conservatives he was a staunch defender of the church, Christian faith and morality as they faced an unprecedented onslaught of secularism and moral relativism.
“He was the most misunderstood major figure of our lives,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco news week. “There was this public perception and then there was the real Joseph Ratzinger, who was the opposite.”
Cordileone, who was appointed Archbishop of San Francisco by Benedict on July 27, 2012, said he had worked with the late pope on several occasions as bishop, “but I didn’t know him personally.” He first heard Benedict speak at a priests’ meeting in the late 1980s, when then Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s agency for enforcing Church doctrine.
“You heard those phrases about the ‘Panzer’ cardinal, but he was the opposite,” Cordileone said, using a phrase that referred to the Nazi-era Panzer when Ratzinger was growing up in Germany.
“He was kind, humble and gentle. He listened well and respectfully to the other person’s point of view. I was shocked at how much he contradicted public perception.”
Benedict – whose election on April 19, 2005 was so controversial that the American cardinals who helped elect him held a press conference the next day to explain their choice – paid a price for not distinguishing themselves from the main Christians teachings touched, said the Archbishop.
“He stood for certain truths that aren’t popular today, but he articulated them really well that people had to think about, like the beginning of life, marriage and family, sexual morality,” he said.
“I think he was the right man at the right time for a very difficult job.”
Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, also described how the late Pope was grossly misunderstood.
“Often pilloried by his opponents as a fire-breathing conservative, he was indeed one of the most balanced, nuanced and stabilizing figures within the Catholic realm,” Barron wrote Saturday.
“I alluded to his reputation in some circles above as tank cardinal (the Tank Cardinal), an uncompromising, even cruel, reactionary. Anyone who knew Joseph Ratzinger personally could only shake their heads at such a characterization.”
Benedict was also celebrated by non-Catholics, including Andrew T. Walker, professor of Christian ethics and public theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, following his death in a Vatican residence on Saturday.
“Protestants have their strong disagreements with the papacy” Walker tweeted early Saturday, “but Pope Benedict XVI. was a global bulwark that heroically and prophetically opposed moral relativism.
Archdiocese of San Francisco
Benedikt’s childhood experiences in Nazi Germany gave him a taste of what happens when a country abandons moral principles. He himself was forcibly recruited into an anti-aircraft unit as a youth.
After he and his brother Georg became priests in 1951, his star rose rapidly until he became theological adviser to German cardinals at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.
Known at the time as a church liberal, he drifted towards conservatism in the decades that followed. His reputation as a brilliant priest-academic led him to be appointed Archbishop of Munich by Pope Paul VI in 1977. one who elevated Ratzinger to cardinal three months later. In 1981 he was appointed head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Benedict spent much of his career under the ultra-popular John Paul II and bore the brunt of enforcing the Polish pope’s conservative policies. Dubbed “God’s Rottweiler” in the media, then-Cardinal Ratzinger was known for drafting documents that were unpopular with some, such as a 1986 Vatican directive “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” Homosexual inclinations resulted in “an intrinsic moral evil,” the document says; All anti-gay violence, however, “deserves condemnation by the pastors of the church wherever it occurs”.
He recognized the need to address sex abusers by priests before many other church officials did, Cordileone said.
“When he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he worked hard to eliminate this problem in the Church,” the Archbishop said. “In 2001, the congregation issued a directive on the sexual abuse of minors, which reserved the handling of all sexual abuse cases by clergy of the congregation. He saw that as a problem at the time.”
Before the congregation took over, some individual bishops flouted canon law by allowing credibly accused priests to go unpunished. Many sex offenders were simply transferred to another parish until the Vatican ordered all of their cases sent to Rome.
But Benedict himself was condemned in a 2022 church report – which comprised 92 pages of his written testimony – for having overlooked at least four cases of sexual abuse by priests during his time as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. Benedict later asked for forgiveness for “abuses and errors”, but continued to assert that he was not aware of the criminal acts of his priests at the time.
Archdiocese of San Francisco
“People handled these things differently back then,” Cordileone said of Benedict’s response. “He handled the issue as best he could with what he knew.”
Where Benedict shone — in the eyes of many Catholic conservatives — was his 2007 Apostolic Exhortation, which allowed priests to use the Tridentine — or traditional Latin Mass — of 1962 in worship. Previous popes had discouraged or restricted its use after Vatican II.
“Benedict saw that there was a divergence in the continuity of Church tradition and an enduring value in the traditional form of the Latin Mass,” Cordileone said. “He said what was sacred and beautiful in the past is sacred and beautiful today.
“Catholics loved their tradition and wanted a greater return to doctrinal appreciation and clarity, and a return to greater reverence and beauty in worship. That’s what he stood for.”
In 2021, Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, reversed the ruling and imposed further restrictions on the use of the Latin Mass, claiming the ancient rite divided Catholics rather than uniting them.
Benedict remained a mysterious figure to much of the world because people didn’t study what he actually wrote, Cordileone said.
“I don’t think people bothered to read it,” he added. “He was a brilliant communicator. He had an amazing ability to encapsulate volumes of wisdom into one succinct phrase, like his famous “dictatorship of relativism,” a phrase Benedict coined in a 2005 speech just before he was elected pope.
“He had a remarkable understanding of our tradition and a way of conveying it that was accessible to everyone.
“People need to see the real Joseph Ratzinger. Approach him with an open mind and understand the truths he was trying to articulate. I think people instinctively didn’t like what he stood for and believed in a stereotype rather than engage with his teachings.”
https://www.newsweek.com/vilified-pope-benedict-was-most-misunderstood-archbishop-says-1770604 The maligned Pope Benedict was “most misunderstood,” Archbishop says