Benedict XVI according to conservative Italian journal: “Traditionalist but not deaf”

Source: FSSPX News

Many observers were surprised that Benedict XVI, during his first allocution as Sovereign Pontiff, put the accent on the reunification of Christians and the continuation of dialogue with other religions. They would have been less surprised had they not made a superficial judgement of the previous positions of Joseph Ratzinger, in which he emphasized the essential role of the Catholic Church for eternal salvation, and more generally for his constant role as guarantor of the fundamental dogmas of the faith. The only thing which has evolved, in reality, is that in changing “profession,” Ratzinger will be able to approach this subject differently.

As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he devoted himself to defending orthodoxy, whereas now that he is pope, he will be able to consecrate himself more openly to it. Which does not mean that he will be more accomodating: Ratzinger, for example, has always been fiercely opposed to relativism – each to his own – and it does not seem very likely that he will change his opinion as Benedict XVI. Speaking about ecumenism some time ago, he said: “When one strays from the straight and narrow path, the more one runs, the more distant the finishing line becomes,” adding that, “in the field of ecumenism, ambiguous words, impatience, excessive optimism keep the goal at bay, rather than bring us nearer to it… Clear definitions of one’s own faith are helpful to everyone, even to those who express them.” Words which summarize perfectly the fight which Cardinal Ratzinger has been waging all along against the tendency to give the same importance to all parties, which he considers to be false ecumenism, in order to open up the long and difficult road to a genuine rapprochement. The opinions of Ratzinger on this question, for a long time considered to be a sign of his indifference to the ecumenical question, are in reality a sign of his concern to “not run in the wrong direction.”

We recall in particular his opposition to those who supported “intercommunion,” that is, the possibility of seeing the Eucharist given indifferently by Catholic priests or by Protestant ministers. What poses a problem for Ratzinger on this question lies in the “Apostolic continuity,” that is to say, a priesthood which is born of the ordination administered by bishops historically descended from the apostles. If he accepts intercommunion practiced by Orthodox priests, who are descended from generations of bishops who go back to the Apostles, he refuses it to the Protestants, who do not recognize the priesthood as a sacrament and whose pastors are merely officials of the congregation.

The main obstacle to reunification with the Orthodox is due to the “autocephalous” character of each national church. While they are linked to each other, they do not recognize a unitarian hierarchy, like that of the Catholic Church, which is obedient to Rome. It concerns genuine difficulties, concepts of the Church which find their origins in the interpretation of Scripture and the sense which tradition confers on them: decisions taken during two thousand years of councils, which remain valid and have not been effaced by Vatican II, as the more extreme conciliar movements claim.

It was to the Council which Benedict XVI wanted to refer during his first sermon as pontiff, no doubt also in order to refute the critics who portray him as the destroyer of decisions which were taken there. Furthermore, he had already asserted that “there were dangers in the preliminary discussions , marked by closemindedness and intransigence, which left little room for fraternity.” The key to ecumenism, Ratzinger style, can be summed up succinctly in the word “fraternity”: a difficult challenge, rational, but sincere. For him, the division between the Churches is the fault of all Christians, and he speaks with anguish of “the infidelity to Christ on the part of all Christians, and not only the Catholics.”

What Ratzinger could not support was “the behavior of a certain Catholic post-conciliar ecumenism, marked by a certain masochism, like a somewhat perverse need to feel responsible for all the disasters of history.” It is not very likely that Benedict XVI has changed much on this point. He will put the accent on fraternity, on the practical coexistence of the Churches, on the search for common solutions to the questions which divide them, but for all that, having no delusions on the differences, the real problems. In short, he intends to head in the right direction, knowing perfectly well that the way is long and difficult.

Il Foglio of Milan, in the international edition of April 28, 2005