When Popes Were Popes

The year 2022, now mercifully passed and past, was more than anything else a year in which we lost many that could be counted as “best in breed”.  Just think of Shane Warne, Queen Elizabeth II  and now, alas, Pope Benedict XVI.  Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, to lose one of true greatness might be regarded as misfortune.  To lose two looks like carelessness.  What about three?  All of these giants among humankind transformed their day jobs in immense ways, such was their peerless performance of their craft.  We should not expect their like again.  Certainly not if you look at their immediate successors.

It is difficult to write about Benedict without reference to the man who unfortunately took his place, but one must try.  Comparisons can be odious.  Like his predecessor, St John Paul the Second, Joseph Ratzinger, the German Shepherd (and not God’s Rottweiler, after all), combined saintliness with consequence, though his tenure was much shorter.  He resurrected theology as a core concern of modern Catholicism, regarded by many who should know as the best at this craft in the twentieth century.  The best since Cardinal Newman, as one observer has noted.

Speaking of Benedict’s predecessor, the two of them were active collaborators and dear friends.  Benedict was clearly 2-IC for twenty-seven years, a genuine vice-pope.  What John Paul did for philosophy, Benedict did for theology.  Between this holy top team, they corrected course in the Barque of Peter after some of the sillinesses of the Sixties and Seventies, which had included rabid experimentation with all things liturgical, radical Church feminism and liberation theology.  If the smoke of Satan entered the Church in those times, as Pope Paul the Sixth suggested, then it might be said that popes John Paul and Benedict chased at least some of that smoke away.

Benedict gave precedence to restoring the lost beauty of the Catholic liturgy.  His superb 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, was a masterpiece and gave those of us who seek actual beauty in worship – believing, as we do, that God wishes us to accord worship appropriate deference – hope that all had not been lost since 1969.  Benedict’s revival of the Mass of the Ages provided a pathway to holiness and devotion for many young people, and some that are not so young. Benedict’s views on the liturgy and the priority he gave it demonstrated his recognition of the closeness of the relationship between beauty and goodness and truth.  This was also reflected in his declared number one enemies of the age, secularism and “the dictatorship of relativism”.

Benedict gave tradition due recognition.  Now, of course, the past is the enemy, as someone wise noted recently.  And Benedict was paid due recognition by both Neocon Catholics like George Weigel and by the soldiers of tradition like Michael Matt of The Remnant magazine.

And Father Z.  Quite a feat, to unite these often-warring parties.

He even brought restless Anglicans on board (via the Anglican ordinariate) with Anglicanorum Coetibus, in an outstanding result for Christian unity.

Benedict also gave Islam a touch-up, in his (in)famous Regensburg lecture of 2006.  Only a scholar of Benedict’s towering intellect could pull off what many regarded as a slap in the face for those who read the Koran with deference.  For a scholar he was, a man of the deepest and broadest learning, who once went toe to toe (or brain to brain) with Jurgen Habermas, a fellow German and the doyen of the leftist Frankfurt School. They even co-authored a book following their debate.

Benedict’s scholarly output was immense and profound, and when he wrote for the punters, immensely accessible.  His disquisition on the Church Fathers is but one example among many, distilled from some of his Wednesday audiences which typically attracted pilgrims and locals in their tens of thousands.  He drew half a million to Randwick Racecourse during the final Mass at World Youth Day in 2008.  As someone once said, people flocked to see John Paul.  In the case of Benedict, they came in droves to hear him.

Contrary to those who think they know the minds of Benedict and his many followers, the German Pontiff did not disavow the work or the results of the Second Vatican Council, whatever one might think of its fruits.  He saw Vatican II not as a fissure but as an extension of the true Church.  This as the so-called “hermeneutic of continuity” and not of rupture.  He was, after all, one of the Council’s young architects.


No, Benedict didn’t fix the Vatican, if that was considered to be part of his mission.  (One has cause to wonder who on earth could.  Our greatest religious pugilist, George Pell, tried to fix one part of it, to fulfill the pledge of Benedict’s successor, and look what the Mafia did to the Cardinal.  The result of his endeavours?  More than 400 days in jail and being awfully close to losing his reputation, possibly his life, on trumped-up charges dreamed into existence, at least at the Australian end of the operation, by an unholy cabal of fembots, corrupt politicians and crooked cops). 

Indeed, it might be argued that the Vatican did Benedict in. In Pell’s view (The Australian, paywalled), he was not interested in governance.

It certainly messed with his head, probably causing him to resign as Pope, not something one sees every day.  You have to look up Celestine the Fifth, in fact.  Benedict’s resignation was his most controversial act, and his most disappointing for his many friends.  The rag-tag bunch of miscreants, communists and homosexualists that inhabit the darker corners of the little kingdom across the Tiber are still in place, alas.

In an article published the day before Benedict died, Kennedy Hall (at Crisis) suggested that “a storm is coming when Benedict dies”.  We shall see.  Hall (more critical than I of the late Pope) notes, in relation to Benedict’s failure to unite the Church, which Hall describes as a “dysfunctional family”:

Remember, he knew all too well how bad things were. He told us, upon his election, to pray for him that he ‘may not flee for fear of the wolves.’

Benedict knew there were wolfish hirelings masquerading as shepherds; ultimately, it seems, he was not able to withstand their attacks. I understand that partisans of Benedict might be uneasy to hear him spoken of as if he failed in any capacity, but it is simply a fact that he told us he was worried about fleeing, then he ultimately fled.

Yes, in the end he did, in fact, flee the wolves. The enemies within. There are no wolves, though, where Benedict undoubtedly now resides. Hall is worried for the future, anticipating Benedict’s passing:

Personally, I believe that Benedict’s presence in Rome—even if passive and symbolic—has acted as a sort of stopgap against the worst onslaughts of neo-modernism set to be unleashed after his death. As long as he is alive and wearing white, he is like the dying patriarch that his progeny largely despises but to whom at least a bit of honor must be feigned for matters of decorum.

When he dies—which will likely happen very soon—all honor and decorum will be a thing of the past.

These are ominous words.  Are they perceptive?  Hall’s fear is that the gloves will come off, absent Benedict’s fairly benign presence in the background in Rome.  Some might reasonably argue, though, that so much damage has already been done to the Church since Benedict’s untimely resignation that a little more rampant modernism won’t make much difference.  Not when there are now Prayers of the Faithful at Mass (in Wyoming Parish, New South Wales, on January 1, 2023, to be exact) praying for the adoption of the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament.  Prayers about action on so-called climate change are routine. 

Were there other downsides during Benedict’s pontificate? 

Alas, we are all far too human to achieve perfection.  Christ, after all, could hardly be said to have chosen the crème de la crème as His apostles.  The usual suspects critical of Pope Ratzinger point to sex abuse among priests.  (Those that don’t emphasise his membership of the Hitler Youth, compulsory, of course, for all the German children of his time).  Despite the best efforts of some, Benedict had a clean bill of health on the moral panic of the age.  He described abusing priests, just prior to his election in 2005, as “filth” in the Church in a homily that some at the time regarded as his plea to the College of cardinals not to make him Pope, for it was, I am guessing, a job he never wanted.  The professor, the gentlest of men (a “Christian gentleman of the old school”, as George Pell has described him in his own obituary of Benedict), wished to be a contemplative scholar, the sort of thing he eventually did in his highly productive retirement.  (Of course, the Conclave of 2005 didn’t grant him his wish, despite the best efforts of the nefarious St Gallen mafia, as the progressive liberal Cardinals are known).

Above all, when Benedict reigned, it still made sense to regard the question, ‘is the Pope a Catholic?’, as a joke.  Now, not so much.  Crisis magazine simply called Benedict “a man sent from God”.  Of his successor, people of faith are largely reduced to sighing and, perhaps, concluding that “God’s ways are not our ways”.

What of Benedict’s legacy?  In the words of The Remnant:

♦ An entire generation of young Catholics were reconnected to the Mass of our Fathers, thanks to Benedict.

♦ As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he was instrumental in the founding of the Fraternity of Saint Peter.

♦ He made it clear that the Latin Mass was never abrogated, and never could be.

♦ He lifted the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X.

♦ But in the end he left the Church in the hands of the worst pope in history.

All but the last are incontestable statements.  The last point is, at the very least, a plausible hypothesis. A good Pope but not a great one, was Pell’s considered verdict upon Benedict’s death.  Leaving a “mixed legacy”.

Nonetheless, the world’s deep loss is Heaven’s massive gain.  As Father Z stated, we shall not see his like again.  A little like Shane and Elizabeth II, perhaps.  We know, of course, that Benedict and Elizabeth struck up quite a rapport during his historic visit to Britain.  I am not aware of what he thought of Shane Warne.

23 thoughts on “When Popes Were Popes

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    Its a bit premature to write off our present Pope as not being as good as the best.
    One of his recent dissertations is a real corker.
    Sure it does mention ‘Climate Change’.
    The parish I now sometimes frequent, Jesuit, has published an amended version of the above, cut for clarity, managing to leave out the bit about ‘climate change’.
    The prayers of the faithful have not recently mentioned the GBR and its ‘need to be saved’.
    In fact Nietzsche and superman was discussed in the context of the European war.
    The MSM is running out of targets, so now it is the alleged pedophile, the Tip Top Man or the latest bikie boss brawl that hits the press.
    Although the ABC, much to its shame, did run some ribbons saying that Benedict failed in a pedophile case without running another ribbon saying he had written a 1000 word rebuttal and apology, for what he saw as manifest failing.
    The man was exemplified by enormous humility.

    Warne has been sanctified and no doubt has already explained to the angel at the pearly gates about those alleged Indian discussions about the state of the match and how many runs, about ,would be made by the third over. Not that those Indians liked to take a punt that he was right. He was cleared.
    Unlike Trump, he had a full head of hair, or at least, that’s what the ads said.
    The Vatican secretariat has been at internal war since at least the 70’s.
    All the Popes from then must have had some inkling.
    This was told me by a missionary Polish priest while I was his guest in the Upper Chimbu.
    The late Fr Ollie made allegations along the lines that they would kill each other if they could, ie did not think they would avoid Hell.
    This has always coloured my appreciation of Vatican affairs.
    So Ratzinger is the be the ‘Fall Guy’, because he knew the problem and assessed it as being out of his league.
    Ratzinger was indeed God’s guard dog, but gentle, loyal and clever.
    He had the insight to know that he was not across what had to be done, you know, the known/knowns, the unknown /unknowns, and deferred to the next option.
    If you are a Catholic, if the Holy Spirit has anything to do with it,only manifest good will emerge from Francis.
    As George Pell opined, in the context of present litigation,Francis plays the ‘long game’.
    On another occasion Pell gave the reason for the Conclave’s decision on choosing Francis, ‘Because he is wise’.
    Francis may be the instrument to dissect out the harmful players we pay for that run the Vatican Bureaucracy and squander our funds.
    But for Ratzinger, Francis could not have done it, in that Ratzinger, like Warne, kept the eye on the Game.
    “Benedict XVI will be remembered for many different reasons; however, I will always remember him for his work of uncovering the truth. Not some subjective opinion dressed up as ‘truth’, but the objective truth, who is Christ Jesus.”
    George Pell

    • christopher.coney says:

      And hopefully cases that are currently running in the Vatican courts will reveal more information about the $2 million or so that was sent to Melbourne around the same time that Cardinal Pell was being investigated. The public record shows that the Vatican paid it to an IT firm in Melbourne to register a domain name, which usually costs a pittance, and nothing like $2 million. I wonder if Austrac or the federal police investigated this oddity?

      • colin_jory says:

        I think there have been hints — very oblique ones — emanating from the Vatican that the money might have been merely routed through Australia to somewhere else where, according to those responsible for the dodge (cross their hearts and hope to die!), it was used to pay a ransom. I have never believed that Cardinal Pell’s enemies in the Vatican paid a cent to get international or Australian mafiosi to help rig fake evidence against him so as to have him falsely convicted of paedophilia . Why would they have bothered when the likes of Louise Milligan, Tim Minchin, and virtually the entire media Left in this country were fanatically exerting themselves in their every waking moment, for no payments except their undeserved salaries, to get the Cardinal convicted? Why would Pell’s Vatican enemies have needlessly subsidised this jihad when they could spend any money which they could have used for the purpose on corruptions more customary for their ilk, such as sumptuously redecorating their Roman palaces and apartments, throwing lavish dinners and parties, enriching their relatives via fake contracts, and buying the devotions of mistresses or (much more commonly these days) toy-boys?

  • padmmdpat says:

    Ratzinger’s influence at the beginning of the Second Vatican Coucil was profound but towards the end of the Council he was dismayed to see how many of the bishops and clergy were high jacking the documents and interpreting and implementing them in ways they were not intended. That and the 1969 student revolts made him aware that so called attempts at reform and the desire for freedom and equality, when divorced from the bedrock of western religious and cultural continuity, inevitably lead, not to reformation and renewal but to destruction and the imposition of an intimidating, ruthless, hectoring authoritarianism posing as tolerance. Thus in Pope Francis we find, despite his woke cliches, the most authoritarian pope since Gregory XVI in the 1840’s. Anyone who disagrees with ‘tolerant, progressive, inclusive ‘ Catholics will soon experience the meaning of the word dread.

  • GG says:

    The Church and the religion are two totally separate things. Religion and belief exist in peoples hearts and minds, and require no external management.
    The Church is just a bureaucracy designed to grasp and confer power. It is an irrelevance to people’s Catholic faith. Hence the Leftist twit who currently occupies the big chair is ignored by all Catholics as an irrelevance. Rarely, a seriously good Pope arrives – John XXIII, John Paul I and to an extent, his successor. Benedict was okay but too frail to have much impact.

    • lbloveday says:

      I’ll likely resume attending Mass when a new pope is elected.

      • christopher.coney says:

        It is likely that there will be another Pope sooner rather than later. But who can be confident it will be man more like Benedict than the incumbent? I think that if Pope Francis is replaced by someone equally or more radical the unity of the Church will be tested to breaking point.

    • padmmdpat says:

      GG, if the Church is irrelevant to people’s faith, then why did Jesus found it? As the gospel tells us, ‘Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church…..” And St Paul tells us, ‘He (Christ) is the head of the body, the Church…’ Perhaps your opinion is influenced by many of the scandals that one encounters in the membership of the institution which can give rise to disillusionment, understandably. But one lives in hope, and reality. I manage to cling on by remembering the words of Blessed Dorothy Day who said, “The Church is my mother, and sometimes my mother is a whore. ” And I’m a bit of a whore too.

    • christopher.coney says:

      There are separate in a sense, but in a strong sense they are related – at least for Catholics.
      When you deny the need for a central authority, as the protestants have done for hundreds of years, you end up with hundreds of churches. The distinguishing thing about the Catholic church is that the papacy does not have ultimately dominant power; it’s power exists along with the power of scripture and the traditions of the church. If a pope did something that was obviously offensive to either scripture or tradition, or both, it could not really be his act, and thus would be invalid, and would be corrected after he was no longer pope.

  • mrsfarley2001 says:

    Talk about a curate’s egg! Poor old Benedict. Sincerely grateful, though, for the good he did. At Mass, I detest the silly singing & rarely join in with the so-called “Prayers of the Faithful”, too often windy & leftist. Sometimes, they take so long to recite, one wonders just what the heck we are actually praying for. These are merely two of the current obstacles to the practise of the Faith.
    May Benedict rest in peace. May God grant him a merciful judgement.

    • christopher.coney says:

      Why not talk to your priest about the prayers that he permits and to which you object?
      And why not make your own suggestions?

      • mrsfarley2001 says:

        Why not, indeed? Perhaps “tolerance, progressiveness and inclusiveness” might work in an unbiased way: miracles do happen.
        Christopher, been there, done that. Far too many times to count. Shan’t provide a longer version. Charity forbids.
        However, if these things go in fifty year cycles, then your advice is just so crazy that it might work!

        • guilfoyle says:

          I did a great deal of research when Traditionis Custodes was handed down and I discovered that many of the deletions in the Novus Ordo reflected changes made to the Catholic Mass by Thomas Cranmer when he developed the Anglican service under Henry VIII. Henry VIII also included ‘petition prayers’ which sounded very similar to the dreaded ‘prayers of the faithful’. The petition prayers were developed for political purposes and for the specific objective of drawing the attention of the congregation away from the supernatural and towards the temporal power of the king. Thomas Cranmer was criticised by the puritans for developing a service that was ‘too Catholic’. He defended himself by saying that the changes he had made (which included standing to receive communion and receiving in the hand), were designed specifically to disabuse any belief on the part of the congregation in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

          • mrsfarley2001 says:

            And now, we simply have “perdition prayers” in which I flatly refuse to join. Politics divide congregations, rather than unite ’em. Wise priests used to understand this rather better.

  • christopher.coney says:

    Thank you for this good article.

    I attend the Traditional Latin Mass nearly every Sunday and regard myself as a traditional Catholic but it distresses me that traditionalists and moderns find it so hard to speak to each other; they pretty much ignore each other, or even shout at each other.

    You make a joke about recent prayers of the faithful for the so-called Voice and for action on climate change. This is a surprise to nobody of course. But it hardly rises to the level of an abuse. The Voice referendum will be vigorously contested and the climate change activist lobby have their arguments. As a traditionalist, I would prefer not to have prayers for actions that are obviously so contested and contestable, but as I say, this is not serious abuse. If the prayers were modified to seeking to alleviate the poverty and degradation of many indigenous people and to clean up the environment nobody would blink an eye I suspect.

    I think it was great that Benedict and Habermas had their debates all those years ago now, but they did not deal substantially with two important but big themes. The first is the contradictions that are built into the structure of capitalist economic objectivity as firmly today as they were when Marx wrote Capital 150 years ago. And the second, from a Weberian perspective, is that recent weird attitudes to the forms of human excellence (such as changing gender) make even the perennial lusts for eternal fountains of money, power and fame look quaint. The traditionalists dismiss Marx with a sneer and by quoting his empty condemnations of religion, and the moderns embrace Marx and Gramsci as if nothing has happened since 1917. In my view, there is need for much learning and openness on both sides.

    It is obviously important that traditional clerics continue to preach scripture and that traditionalists in church hierarchies keep a leash on the excesses of the modernists, and that we do our best to restrain our politicians in future when they try to lock us down, tie us up with bureaucratic ropes, permit easier killing of the unborn, sick and aged, and restrict the proper roles of parents. The deeper, longer term efforts will be in education – our schools and universities cannot get much more bereft of reason one would expect, so let’s hope that the smaller institutions and schools that are popping up around the place that are centered on the achievements of Western civilization will prosper, and that home schooling families can get the support they need to raise a generation of excellent young men and women. God help us all if we cannot raise the current generation of children better than those of the last 50 years.

  • Max Rawnsley says:

    This is a wonderful article.
    I felt the loss of Benedict as a ‘traditional ‘ Catholic who does deplore gratuitious delving into politics via the ever convenient ‘social justice’ theme. We are mimicking those Anglicans who put blatant political signs at their churches front door and have moved to political leftism as their creed. Maybe business development?

    The Church need not follow or reflect conservative politics or any other.The Church lost its way in medieval times, lets not do it again. Christians, nominal and otherwise are heading the same way.

    Our template should be the ever simple Ten Commandments How politicians and other choose to relate or not to them we may determine ourselves, in faith. And there is much that can and should be done in our Australian democracy, My hope is that Commandments are recognised as a blueprint for a civil society and we refrain from the seemingly endless mantra of climate change, ‘One’ Voice, constituency pandering etc

  • PT says:

    I admire St John Paul II. But whilst he and our late Queen were both true believers they had another thing in common: they saw their roles as lifelong vocations, duties in fact,, not “jobs”. The Queen was working right to the end, as was St John Paul II – I well remember him appearing on the balcony for his Easter Blessing, despite the great effort that it clearly was.

    Ratzinger blotted his copybook in my mind for abdicating after a very few years, clearly abandoning the example of his truly great predecessor (and our late Queen), and leaving the show to the current PC Pontiff (who seems to be trying to live down his association with the Argentine Junta with wokeness).

    The former Pope’s positive aspects are sadly cancelled by what was ultimately not merely abdicating St Peter’s throne but all responsibility vested in him in pursuit of a quiet life.

    • colin_jory says:

      My thought, for what it is worth, regarding Pope St John Paul II, is that although he was truly a very great pope he missed doing the one thing which might have prevented the satanic phony-renewal of the Church from continuing and reaching the catastrophic level of destructiveness which it now has, and that was to issue an Encyclical within a few years of his election (1978) telling the whole sad truth of the ugliness and evil which was swamping the Church from within, and calling on the faithful everywhere to rally vigorously to restore Catholic integrity.

    • Pablo07 says:

      There has been a word going around.
      …you shall not be able to buy or sell…
      Vatican bank accounts were blocked
      so it was impossible to transfer funds to anyone anywhere
      Then Pope Benedict made the decision

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘Ratzinger blotted his copybook in my mind for abdicating after a very few years, clearly abandoning the example of his truly great predecessor’
    But then again, if he was not cut out for the job he was better to exit.
    As a frail aged he was wasting away.
    Just an exercise in reality, continuing would have intrenched the Vatican Mafia.

  • STD says:

    A wonderful example to all men on how to exact being Christian, God is ,should and can be a part of me….if I let it be so- without denial.
    A wonderful man..
    An intelligent man..
    A very interesting man..
    And a gentle man.
    As for retirement- to where- a place of solitude!
    Peace at any price – God and his relationship with God – uno- as 1
    And just as Einstein intimated ,by alluding to the fact he liked his own company and the composure of ideas away from others -one contemplates with clarity, away from the numbing noise of the crowd.
    That is away from the worldly foolish pride that emanates in the voice of sound that drowns out the pristine clarity of the ‘moment’ – of heart and mind.

  • STD says:

    For his critics.
    Pope Benedict,” only a permanent formation of the heart and mind can actually create intelligibility and participation, which is more than one external activity”.
    In the following Pope Benedict makes clear what he knows is the way forward for the Church – I believe that the thrust of his message, at this gathering, is an understanding of what renewal is and how interpretation and vigour are key.
    The Church recognises the problem pragmatically- but I believe the unsaid Question he poses is how do we arouse the interest and the ENERGY ( pronounced inner G) in this new and in the dynamism of the age?……………

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