Cardinal Michael von
for the vocation of Josef
Once upon a time Pope Benedict was Josef Ratzinger. Josef was born on April 16 1927 in Marktl, Bavaria (Germany), the son of a local police officer. As a young boy he met Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, then Archbishop of Munich. Upon seeing the Cardinal’s distinctive robes of scarlet silk, he knew he wanted to be a Cardinal. (I am not making this up—Ratzinger himself tells the story.) It would launch the young Ratzinger off on a life-long hunger for the vesture of pomp that would result in fabulous hand fashioned (but not by Prada) red leather heeled pumps. Von Faulhaber of course was a member of the old Bavarian nobility—as all archbishops of principal sees were in those days; Ratzinger was a blue-blood wanna-be from a family of civil servants. During the years of World War II he, like other German young men, had been conscripted into the German army at age 14 and it was only after the war that he could begin his studies for the priesthood. To be fair to the man, it was a horrible way to grow up with the unimaginable suffering of those war years. When the war was over Josef entered the seminary at age 18.
Ratzinger was recognized early on as being exceptionally gifted intellectually, and shortly after his ordination in 1951 was sent on for his doctorate (1953) and his habilitation (a post-doctoral degree required of those who were to teach at university level) 1957. He taught at Freising College (a secondary school) before moving on to the University of Bonn and then the University of Münster. His big break came when Cardinal Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne and a leader at Vatican II, brought Ratzinger to Rome as his theological advisor during the Second Vatican Council. In those Vatican II years, Herr Pater Doktor Ratzinger was part of the theological circle of the nouvelle theologie led by Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeecxk and Hans Küng. These were the men who shaped the Council—some say hijacked it—to be a radical breakthrough in Catholic thought and practice. Though he lacked the intellectual audacity of Küng or the cerebral depth of Rahner, Ratzinger emerged from Vatican II with a well-deserved reputation as a first-rate theologian. After the Council he was appointed to a chair of dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen, the premier faculties of both Catholic and Protestant Theology in Germany, if not the world.
The cultural disruptions of the late 1960’s and in particular the political and social turmoil that marked the year 1968 shocked the somewhat naïve Ratzinger and made him begin to re-think the liberal idealism that had characterized his work during and immediately after the Council. This launched him in an increasingly ever more cautious direction intellectually. He left Tübingen and joined the theological faculty at the University of Regensburg in his native Bavaria. Here he was among the founders of a theological journal, Communio. One of his fellow founders of this theological journal was the dean of the theological faculty at Westphalian University, Walter Kasper, who was soon to become Dean at Tübingen before being named Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart and then being advanced to Rome and a Cardinal’s hat. Communio was meant to be a balance to the theological journal Concilium which had been established several years earlier by Küng, Rahner, Johannes Metz, Marie-Dominique Chenu and others who had played a key role at the Council. Communio should, however, by no means be seen as a “conservative” journal as its editors are some of the brightest and most creative minds in Christian thought. It is ironic that some of Ratzinger’s closest associates and friends of those days, men such as Walter Kasper and Christoph Schönborn, will later play the roles they have more recently played in dismantling the Ratzinger heritage in the reign of Pope Francis.
In 1977 Ratzinger was plucked from academia by Paul VI and named Archbishop of Munich-Freising—the same title held by Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber, the prelate of Ratzinger’s youth who inspired his ambition to the Cardinal’s scarlet. Three months after being installed in his see, Ratzinger’s youthful ambition was realized when he was named to the Sacred College as a Cardinal-Priest. Sadly, however, Paul VI had meanwhile simplified the elaborate dress of Cardinals leaving the new prelate in middle-class broadcloth rather than ducal silk. By this point Ratzinger seems to have matured beyond an attraction to the effeminate furs and lace of old-school prelatry and was so steeped in his intellectualism that he was being wasted in the pastoral work of an archbishopric. John Paul II brought Ratzinger to Rome and named him as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981.
By this point, Ratzinger seemed not only questioning of his past role in creating the Church of Vatican II but almost repentant of it. He seems to have had considerable reservations about the liturgical developments after the Council as well as the implementation of the Council’s ideals on Ecumenism and Inter-religious dialogue. He did not want to undo the Council, but along with his Boss—Pope John Paul II—to apply a different hermeneutic (interpretation) of the Conciliar decrees to take the Church in a direction that was not backwards into the days of Pius XII but somewhat less trusting of liberal agenda than the path of Paul VI.
John Paul and Josef Ratzinger had a somewhat symbiotic relationship. John Paul was a philosopher, not a theologian, and he knew his limitations. Ratzinger pretty much had free rein over doctrinal matters. The Pope allowed the Cardinal to check his agenda several times. Ratzinger blocked the Pope—tactfully but firmly—from the theological morass of dogmatically defining the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the “Mediatrix of All Grace” or “Co-Redemptrix.” Moreover, by declaring that the teaching of the Church that only men could be ordained to the priesthood was infallible because it had “always and everywhere been believed,” he carried out a pre-emptive strike against Pope John Paul explicitly and de fide defining it as infallible—something that would be extremely difficult (though not impossible) to change down the line should future Popes so choose to do so. On the other hand, as Prefect of the CDF, Ratzinger presided over a theological reign of terror over any and everyone who did not agree with him from liberation theologian Leonardo Boff to his old friend and colleague, Johannes Metz. In a scenario reminiscent of the Cadaver Synod of 897, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith posthumously attacked the work of Karl Rahner. (You can find out more about the Cadaver Synod by clicking the link with that title under the labels column to the right of this posting. ) There were times, such as the interfaith meetings in Assisi, where John Paul did not take Cardinal Ratzinger’s advice to heart and pursued his own policies. Ratzinger distanced himself from John Paul especially on inter-religious dialogue where he thought the Pope crossed the line of what praxis was consistent with doctrine. Meanwhile, Ratzinger wrote extensively (and sometimes imprudently) on the Liturgy, making his unhappiness with much of the liturgical developments after Vatican II more than obvious. I say “imprudently” as his introduction to Monsignor Klaus Gamber’s critique of the Novus Ordo Liturgy of Paul VI, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: It’s Problems and Background is riddled with historical inaccuracies that betray its polemical bias and compromise its—and by extension Ratzinger’s—academic integrity.
Sometime in the 1990’s Ratzinger realized that he was in a position to be a possible candidate to succeed John Paul II as Pope and correct the Church’s course. He had been particularly disturbed by the 1986 World Day of Prayer in Assisi where religious leaders from a host of different world religions gathered together for prayer for peace. The Cardinal had serious reservations about people of diverse creeds—and worshippers of diverse deities—praying together for fear of it leading to a certain religious indifferentism. When John Paul initiated another Assisi inter-religious gathering in 2002, Ratzinger declined (read: refused) to attend. Moreover, while Pope John Paul permitted a limited use of the pre-conciliar liturgical rites in the 1988 motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei, many bishops still thwarted efforts to revive the older rites. Ratzinger saw that if he were Pope he could set a clearer policy on how the vision of the Second Vatican Council was to be implemented.
As Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was uniquely positioned to increase his visibility as a potential successor to Pope John Paul. Every bishop in the Catholic World, including the Cardinal Archbishops, as he came to Rome had to visit Ratzinger’s office to make his report and answer questions that had been raised by the CDF. Ratzinger used these visits to get to know Cardinals and potential Cardinals, to hear their ideas, and to let them know his stance and vision for the Church. In 2002 Cardinal Ratzinger was elected (by the six other Cardinal Bishops and at the behest of Pope John Paul II) Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. As Dean he presided—and preached—at the funeral of Pope John Paul and also presided—and preached—at the opening Mass of the Conclave.
There were, at the time of his election, the usual stories of how Cardinal Ratzinger had not wished to be Pope, but only to be allowed to resign his various responsibilities and return to academic life. The behavior of Cardinal Ratzinger before and during the inter-regnum following the death of Pope John Paul tells a very different story, but it was not for personal ambition that Josef Ratzinger sought the papacy. He was motivated by a sincere desire, indeed a profound sense of responsibility, to clean up what he perceived to be the mess left by a charismatic but theologically eclectic predecessor and to set the Church on a clearly defined path of doctrinal, liturgical, and canonical discipline. He is, after all, a German. Alles in ordnung!
During the inter-regnum a very different picture emerged of Josef Ratzinger from the inflexible Prefect of the CDF. Perhaps most notable was the discrete directive given to the priests distributing Holy Communion during the funeral of Pope John Paul. No one was to be refused Holy Communion. Tony Blair, then an Anglican, was present. Bill Clinton, the American former President whose receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass in South Africa in 1998 triggered a firestorm of Catholic protest was present. Many in the diplomatic section were not Catholic. Cardinal Ratzinger himself gave Holy Communion to the Protestant Prior of the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé, Brother Roger Schütz. It was a warm and friendly Ratzinger as the Cardinals were about to elect a new Pope.
It was also a sly Ratzinger. At the daily morning consistories where the Cardinals set the policies to lead the Church through the sede vacante period until a new pope would be elected, Ratzinger persuaded the Cardinals each to take an oath that they would not speak to the press or publicly discuss matter pertaining to the upcoming election. All the Cardinals took the oath. None of the Cardinals pro-actively appeared in the various newspapers or electronic media. Then, in the middle of the interregnum, Ratzinger published a book On the Way to Jesus Christ. He appeared on television. He was quoted in the Press. His picture was everywhere. One Cardinal emerges to stand in the limelight. Of course, since the electorate was limited to his fellow Cardinals, the public relations coup had limited effect, but the response was one that showed the other Cardinals that Ratzinger was an effective communicator of the Gospel Message as well as a serious scholar. It put the question: if not Ratzinger: why not? If not Ratzinger, who?
OK, so far we have talked about one pope. We still have two cardinals and another Pope to talk about. Not all members of the Sacred College were thrilled at the idea of Josef Ratzinger becoming Pope. There were more than a few who felt that, despite all the talk of a “hermeneutic of continuity,” the Church had veered away from the original intent of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and were anxious to return it to that direction. The Americans and the Germans in particular were among those Cardinals who wanted to find an alternative to Josef Ratzinger. The leaders of the anybody-but-Ratzinger move were his old colleague from Communio, Walter Kasper and (from the American side of the aisle) the Machiavellian Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington. They needed a candidate to be an alternative to Ratzinger. They needed someone who wasn’t tied to the Roman establishment and its culture of intrigue but an outsider. They needed someone who represented the new face of the Church—not another European from a country where Catholicism was old and tired.
One interesting sideline to the Conclave was that Walter Kasper preached a sermon in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere the Saturday night before the Conclave opened the following Monday morning. This was the weekly Mass for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a strong and popular lay movement that includes among its friends and supporters a wide variety of Cardinals, Bishops, religious, and priests and is widely known for both is work among the poor in Rome and its international efforts for peace and justice. The weekly Saturday evening Mass is usually celebrated by a guest prelate and is always packed out. It was the Sunday of the Good Shepherd Gospel and Cardinal Kasper preached a homily on the characteristics of a Good Shepherd. What did the Church need at this moment for its chief Shepherd? The answer was clear from the questions posited by the preacher: the Church did not need Josef Ratzinger for its next chief shepherd. The qualities Kasper listed for the Church’s chief shepherd were distinctly lacking in Josef Ratzinger. That was Act I. Act II was 36 hours later with the homily for the opening Mass of the Conclave. Cardinal Ratzinger answered Cardinal Kasper’s objections point by point. It was clear that Cardinal Ratzinger saw himself as the answer to the Church’s needs of the time and was presenting himself as a candidate. I was fortunate enough to be present and hear both sermons.
It only emerged in the 2013 Conclave that the runner-up to Josef Ratzinger in the 2005 Conclave was one Jorge Bergoglio, the Jesuit Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The attempt to derail the Ratzinger election failed, of course, and sadly Benedict’s papacy was to prove he was not up for the job. It wasn’t a dismal failure—by any means—but neither was it a success. His hopes to re-evangelize Europe by reviving the Catholic heart of European Culture went nowhere. The Vatican Bureaucracy remained every bit beyond his ability to control with the Curia acting independently of his authority at any chance they got. Curia officials bullied bishops, American nuns, theologians, and any other victims they could trammel beneath their purple stockinged and silver buckled shoed feet. The Vatican Bank enmeshed itself in ever grater scandals. Benedict did manage to bring the Legionnaires of Christ founder Marcial Maciel to account and in general made significant steps forward in reining in sexual abuse scandal. He gave great leeway to the pre-conciliar liturgy but in the process created even more dissension and confusion. It was a mixed bag of a papacy, but over all not a happy one. But the Conclave that elected him had forged an alliance between Walter Kasper and Jorge Bergoglio that would have great impact for the Church after Benedict.
Ok, now two popes (Benedict and Francis) and one Cardinal (Kasper) down, one Cardinal to go. Raymond Leo Burke. I really need to do a posting on Burke. Burke is a peculiar man. He doesn’t have friends. Or rather, as one person put it: he doesn’t acknowledge peers, only protégés. Usually somewhat younger and somewhat handsome protégés, whom he has used his position to advance to positions in the Church—protégés like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco or Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City. (Neither of whom, I would say in order to hold off the critics, have done a great job of retaining their once youthful good looks.)
Burke was bishop of Lacrosse from 1995 to 2003 when he was named Archbishop of Saint Louis. Both in Lacrosse and Saint Louis, Burke worked hard to earn the reputation of being a bully. In Saint Louis he antagonized the parishioners of the ethnic (Polish) parish of Saint Stanislaus Kostka who judged that Burke was trying to wrest control over the parish from its trustees in order to gain hold of their financial assets. He also took on the Jesuits at Saint Louis University over a number of issues, including the liturgy in the University Church which, the Jesuits claimed, is under the authority of their Order and not that of the Archdiocese. The situation became so untenable in Saint Louis that the Holy See had to resort to one of its tried and true solutions: rimuovere con la promozione: to remove by promotion. Cardinal Burke’s cultivated ties to Cardinal Law, another American who found refuge from disgrace in America by exile in Rome, assured him of a soft landing in his banishment and he was moved from Saint Louis to an administrative position in the Vatican as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. This position carries with it a Cardinal’s hat and Pope Benedict named Burke to a number of Vatican dicasteries.
Cardinal Burke was very much in line with the Benedict XVI approach to the Church. Like Benedict Burke is a strong proponent of the pre-conciliar rites. He also shares Benedict’s taste for high ecclesial fashion and a certain elegance in his surroundings. Burke lacked Benedict’s personal humility and kindness however and is generally regarded as a social boor, pompous and opinionated. He was never very popular in the Vatican among his fellow Cardinals.
In the 2013 Conclave when there was a general revolt among the Cardinals against Benedict’s style of papacy, Burke was appalled. It was not so much a defensiveness of Pope Benedict as much a fear of returning to the somewhat déclassé egalitarianism of the days of Paul VI that scared him. When he heard other Cardinals express their frustration over Summorum Pontificum’s removing control over liturgical policies from the local bishop and giving priests an unrestricted right to celebrate which form of the liturgy they preferred without reference either to diocesan policy or pastoral needs of the people he feared restrictions might be placed on the older liturgical forms. When he heard calls for simpler taste in liturgy and vesture, he became anxious about what simplifications might be imposed on him and other prelates. When he heard talk of recovering the Social Justice emphasis of the magisterium and even of recovering the respectability of Liberation Theology, he feared the displeasure of those on whose generosity he depends to maintain his own gracious lifestyle. In the final matter, he was disgusted with the election of Jorge Bergoglio and has not been discreet about it. An impolitic “I didn’t vote for him” is his much quoted response when asked about what he thinks of Pope Francis.
Burke is twelve years younger than Francis. He will undoubtedly vote in at least one more conclave. He has distanced himself increasingly from Francis in a not-so-loyal opposition. He is surely smart enough to know he cannot be Pope—no American (i.e. USA American) can be elected Pope given the geo-political complexities of our contemporary world. But he can be a king-maker. Should the Cardinals have had enough of Francis’ reform agenda by the time of the next Conclave, Burke will be well positioned to play the sort of role that Kasper played in god-fathering a successful candidate. In some ways, Cardinal Burke reminds me of the old axiom: if you can’t be the best student in the class, be the worst; it gets you at least as much attention. He certainly got attention at the recent Synod. While he now goes into exile over on the Aventine with the Order of Malta, he will not go into obscurity. You will see him continue to emerge as a vocal critic of this papacy and perhaps as kingmaker for the next. It will not be easy for Francis and, given Francis’ age and health, it is likely Burke will have the last word. As to who has the last laugh, however, we will have to wait for the Final Judgment. In the meantime, I personally think that Francis should have thrown him under the bus—literally. There is an old axiom among sportsmen: never leave a wounded animal, they can come back to harm you.