Friday, June 19, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI, the Reformer

Comment: Luke Coppen makes a good case for Benedict XVI being what commentators said before his election, a man who cracks down on abuses. The Holy Father is doing it in different places and on different subject with seriousness, but no fanfare - sometimes even with a degree of necessary secrecy. As Coppen points out, this means that his reforming zeal has gone largely unnoticed; it also fails to fit the stereotype of a liberal reformer which many commentators assume is the only kind.

We should qualify what we said about the foccacia episode in the diocese of Linz. It is not that the Pope is doing nothing about Linz - as noted below he's just had an emergency meeting with the Austrian bishops to talk about it, and other matters. Nevertheless he doesn't feel able to do what many frustrated faithful Catholics assume he should do, which is simply remove the bishop, because of the nebulous concept of 'collegiality' which descended like a miasma onto the Church after Vatican II. However, even that needs to be qualified, since he has removed an African archbishop who tolerated concibinage among his clergy. Since this is one of the problems in Linz, is sauce for the African goose going to be sauce for the Austrian gander?

Coppen's article is worth reading in full but here's the key passage:

The Maciel affair: In May 2006 Pope Benedict took the highly unusual step of ordering one of the world's best-known priests to retire to a life of prayer and penance. His decision followed a Vatican investigation into allegations that Fr Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement, was a sexual abuser who had fathered at least one child.

Investigating America's seminaries: Not long after his election Benedict XVI oversaw an apostolic visitation of seminaries in the United States. The investigation was inspired by the clerical sexual abuse crisis of 2002 and covered all schools of theology as well as college-level seminaries, houses of formation, and academic institutions that form future priests.

Scrutinising American female religious orders: The Pope has also ordered a wide-ranging investigation of American women religious. The apostolic visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States, which is currently underway, covers approximately 400 apostolic religious institutes of women and approximately 59,000 women religious. It is likely to lead to a shake-up of American female religious life.

Deposing the leader of an African Church: Earlier this month Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo of Bangui, the most senior Catholic cleric in the Central African Republic (CAR). The resignation followed a visit to the CAR by a papal emissary, Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, in March. It is widely thought that the Pope requested the archbishop's resignation because he tolerated priests keeping mistresses.

Calling for a thorough accounting of abuse in Ireland: Also this month Pope Benedict called for a profound examination of the state of the Irish Church following a damning report into "endemic" abuse in schools run by religious orders.

Crisis talks with the Austrian bishops: And this week Pope Benedict held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the Austrian Church. The gathering followed the appointment and subsequent resignation of Gerhard Wagner as auxiliary Bishop of Linz and reports that priests in senior positions in the diocese live with mistresses. The Pope reminded the bishops of "the urgency of going deeper in the faith and the integral fidelity to the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium of the Church" - a coded message that the Austrian Church is in serious need of reform.

These events together show the determination with which Pope Benedict is confronting the gravest scandals in the Church today. They have all had considerable publicity, but nevertheless have not created the perception that Benedict XVI is a bold reformist pope.

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen