Monday, January 26, 2009
Dear Pope Benedict: Your "Dictatorship of Relativism" Is Getting Old. Try Getting Real.
Dear Pope Benedict:
On April 18, 2005, using your homily at a mass after John Paul II's death to promote your own candidacy for pope, you said:
"How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.
"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine," seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."
It certainly impressed Catholic conservatives at the time. And it so impressed the College of Cardinals that they did indeed elect you pope.
Isn't it curious, then, that your papacy to date has so often been one that "does not recognize anything as definitive" with papal pronouncements that often reflect only your "own ego and desires"?
The latest example is your decision, announced over the weekend, to reverse Pope John Paul II's 1988 excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, ordained by schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to advance his denial of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council and even the church's authority to convene it.
So much was this decision a matter of your "own ego and desires" that you made it and announced it without consulting other top Vatican officials. Analysts expressed concern that you are increasingly isolating yourself within the Vatican and seriously undermining the credibility and moral authority of the papacy.
It did not help, of course, that one of the excommunicated bishops, British-born Richard Williamson, had already angered Jewish officials around the globe for denying the reality of the Holocaust. The Vatican insisted that rehabilitating Williamson was in no way an endorsement of his Holocaust-denial. In fact, however, one of the Vatican II teachings which the Lefebvre crowd denies was the council's condemnation of anti-Semitism and regret for the church's historical involvement in persecution of Jews.
It turns out too that the Holocaust is not the only area where Richard Williamson suffers serious detachment from reality. The National Catholic Reporter has links to documentation that Williamson has said that: pedophiles are merely lonely men who deserve comfort rather than condemnation; women who wear shorts or pants sin; for all sorts of reasons, almost no woman should go to a university; and airplanes did not take down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
This, of course, is not the first time you have attempted to let your "own ego and desires" over-ride the clear teachings of Vatican II.
You did it when you tried to deny that other Christian denominations are actually churches.
You did it when you condemned theologians who upheld the idea that non-Christian religions should be respected as worthwhile approaches to the Living God.
You did it when you allowed wider use of the Old Latin Mass, without requiring those who value it to agree that it is one valuable liturgy among several others and not the only legitimate one the church may have.
As John Paul II's dogmatic watchdog, you did it when you tried to foreclose discussion of women's ordination by making ordination of males a matter of faith, rather than the accident of history and church discipline which it is.
You did it when you tried to silence liberation theologians and others who were faithfully spelling out the implications of Vatican II's Declaration on the Church in the Modern World.
But your gravest self-worship has been your failure to respect the multiple ways Vatican II said God's Spirit leads the church. The council introduced a healthy, accurate relativity by balancing Vatican I's emphasis on the authority of the pope with two other authorities: the authority of the body of bishops and the authority of the faithful as a whole.
Of the bishops, the council said: "The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of the bishops when that body exercises supreme teaching authority with the successor of Peter. To the resultant definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, whereby the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith."
Of the People of God as a whole, the council said: "The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. Jn. 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. Thanks to a supernatural sense of the faith which characterizes the People as a whole, it manifests this unerring quality when, 'from the bishops down to the last member of the laity,' it shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals."
No one pretended after Vatican II that these sources of authority could never be in conflict, or that how the church should move forward if they were in conflict had been resolved. That became apparent with the controversy over birth control, a scant few years after the council's end. But Vatican II's bottom line was that all three authorities were entitled to consideration and respect by everyone in the church.
Yet the bulk of your ecclesiastical career has been devoted to disrespecting and diminishing the authority of the bishops as expressed at Vatican II, and to denying the authority of the People of God as a whole to balance your own. Is it any wonder that Catholic observers and Protestant observers and Jewish observers and academic observers regard this latest Vatican aberration as more of the same?
Perhaps you could explain where you get the authority to lord it over the other bodies by which the Spirit has chosen to lead the church. Perhaps you could explain what gives you the right to make common cause with those who have spent decades denying the very legitimacy of Vatican II.
Perhaps, in short, you could explain how your behavior and actions are anything other than "a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."
Gerald T. Floyd, Ph.D.