My go to guy when it comes to analysis of what is going on at the Vatican has always been Italian journalist Sandro Magister. In a column today he explains the great gap between Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors on the Chair of Peter:
There is nothing in this program of the pontificate that could turn out to be unacceptable to the dominant secular opinion. Even the judgment that John Paul II and Benedict XVI did “very little” in opening to the modern spirit is in line with this opinion. The secret of the popularity of Francis is in the generosity with which he concedes to the expectations of “modern culture” and in the shrewdness with which he dodges that which could become a sign of contradiction.
In this he decisively separates himself from his predecessors, including Paul VI. There is a passage in the homily that then-archbishop of Munich Ratzinger pronounced at the death of Pope Giovanni Battista Montini, on August 10, 1978, that is extraordinarily illuminating, in part on account of its reference to conscience “that is measured by the truth”:
“A pope who today would not undergo criticism would be failing in his task in the face of these times. Paul VI resisted telecracy and demoscopy, the two dictatorial powers of the present. He was able to do so because he did not take success and approval as the parameter, but rather conscience, which is measured by the truth, by the faith. This is why on many occasions he sought compromise: the faith leaves very much open, it offers a wide spectrum of decisions, it imposes as the parameter love, which feels obligated toward everything and therefore imposes great respect. This is why he was able to be inflexible and decisive when what was at stake was the essential tradition of the Church. In him this toughness did not derive from the insensitivity of one whose journey is dictated by the pleasure of power and by disdain for persons, but from the profundity of the faith, which made him capable of bearing the opposition.”
In confirmation of that which distances Pope Francis from his predecessors has come precisely the letter with which Ratzinger-Benedict XVI – breaking his silence after his resignation – responded to the book “Dear pope, I write to you” published in 2011 by the mathematician Piergiorgio Odifreddi.
Both of the past two popes have dialogued willingly with professed atheists and secular opinion leaders, but they have done so in very different forms. If Francis dodges the stumbling blocks, Ratzinger instead emphasizes them.
It should be enough to read this passage of his letter to Odifreddi:
“What you say about the figure of Jesus is not worthy of your stature as a scholar. If you pose the question as if ultimately nothing were known about Jesus and that nothing were ascertainable about him as a historical figure, then I can only invite you in a decisive way to make yourself a bit more competent from a historical point of view. For this I recommend to you above all the four volumes that Martin Hengel (an exegete of the Protestant theological faculty of Tübingen) published together with Maria Schwemer: it is an excellent example of precision and of very broad historical information. In the face of this, what you say about Jesus is careless talk that should not be repeated. That in exegesis there have been written also many things of scarce seriousness is, unfortunately, an incontestable fact. The American seminar on Jesus that you cite on pages 105 and ff. confirm only once again that which Albert Schweitzer had noted with regard to the Leben-Jesu-Forschung (research on the life of Jesus), and that is that the so-called ‘historical Jesus’ is for the most part the reflection of the ideas of the authors. These maladroit forms of historical work, however, do not in any way compromise the importance of serious historical research, which has led to true and sure knowledge about the proclamation and figure of Jesus.”
And further on:
“If you want to replace God with ‘Nature,’ there remains the question of who or what this nature may be. In no place do you define this, and it therefore appears as an irrational divinity that does not explain anything. I would like, however, above all to note also that in your religion of mathematics three fundamental themes of human existence remain unconsidered: freedom, love, and evil. I am amazed that with a single comment you would dismiss freedom, which nevertheless was and is the foundational value of the modern age. Love, in your book, does not appear and also about evil there is no information. Whatever neurobiology may say or not say about freedom, in the real drama of our history it is present as a decisive reality and must be taken into consideration. But your mathematical religion does not acknowledge any information about evil. A religion that overlooks these fundamental questions remains empty.
“My criticism of your book is in part a harsh one. But frankness is part of dialogue; only this way can understanding grow. You have been very frank, and thus you will accept that I should be so as well. In any case, however, I consider very positively the fact that you, through your engagement with my ‘Introduction to Christianity,’ should have sought such an open dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, in spite of all the contrast, in the central field of interest convergences should not be entirely lacking.”
So much for the words. But to distance the last two popes are also arriving the facts.
The ban imposed by pope Bergoglio on the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate against celebrating the Mass in the ancient rite has been an effective restriction of that freedom of celebrating in this rite which Benedict XVI had guaranteed for all.
It emerges from conversations with his visitors that Ratzinger himself has seen in this restriction a “vulnus” on his 2007 motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum.”
Go here to read the rest at Magister’s blog Chiesa. I would suggest that you bookmark it. It will come in handy during the turbulent days for the Church that are coming.