Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Catholics Out of Control

Benedict XVI’s spokesman, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, issued a statement at the request of the Pope emeritus asking that the book not identify him as a co-author. Cardinal Sarah later announced that he would respect Benedict XVI’s request and that Benedict XVI would not be listed as a co-author, but as a contributor.

Judging by the accounts out there, Benedict XVI had written a small piece on priestly celibacy and okayed it being used in Cardinal Sarah’s book. So there’s no question of the Cardinal “hijacking” the piece. My guess is that Benedict XVI was concerned that some Catholics and the secular media would use this to create a myth of a “counter-magisterium” and asked that his role in the book be clarified. Both he and Cardinal Sarah§ have reiterated their obedience to the Pope. 

You might think that this was simply resolved and whatever confusion existed between the two men was cleared up. You’d be wrong, because the Catholic Internet went berserk. Not just on one side either. Some Catholics—on both sides—are falling into rash judgment.

English language publisher Ignatius Press announced (in something that struck me as problematic reasoning) that they would not change the identification of Benedict XVI as co-author. Apparently their reading of the Chicago Manual of Style overrules Benedict XVI’s express wishes. Some opponents of the Pope also treated criticism of how publishers handled it as if they were accusations of disloyalty (unfortunately, some criticism did sink to this level. See below) and attempting to stir up attacks on those defending the faith. Those hostile to Pope Francis claimed that Archbishop Gänswein was lying about it, delivering a message contrary to what Benedict wanted—some claiming this was ordered by the Pope, implying it was at the orders of the Pope.

At the same time, some supporters of Pope Francis tried to portray Benedict and Cardinal Sarah as disloyal, even part of a cabal. The two stand accused of deliberately trying to preemptively undermine Pope Francis’ final decision on whether married priests would be allowed, trying to “rally support” against the Pope. They are accused of hostility to the Eastern Rites which do have married priests. There is no evidence for this of course. Just some excerpts that sound harsh, though we have no sense of context. Then, once Benedict XVI asked that his name be removed as co-author, some turned and started portraying Cardinal Sarah as dishonest, misrepresenting his book to the Pope emeritus.

Catholics should not be rushing to judgment. We might say that some of the excerpts seem to be harsh, while remembering we have no sense of context to claim certainty. There’s no basis to accuse Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah of disloyalty. There’s no basis to say Archbishop Gänswein issued a false statement or that the Pope was “furious.” While we may later find some of our suspicions may turn out to be true, we have no basis for those claims now.

We need to stop looking for heroes and villains in this story and start doing research unclouded by our personal likes and dislikes. Otherwise, we’re damaging the Church and causing scandal.


(§) Cardinal Sarah’s writings sometimes strike me as blunt to the point of being a bit over the top, but I have never read anything of his that struck me as disloyal to Pope Francis. I think this is simply a matter of his temperament. I don’t say this as a condemnation. All of us have things we need to deal with in our lives. Moreover, we certainly should not make any accusations before the book is published. Cardinal Sarah has stated his obedience and fidelity to the Pope. I will take him at his word unless credible evidence to the contrary emerges (none has yet).

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