The Church did not start in 1965
The publication of From the Depth of our Hearts, where Benedict XVI appears as co-author, is de facto an act that carries a constitutional weight, which was immediately understood by all the progressive commentators catholic and non-catholic alike. In this book, the request of Cardinal Sarah (“I humbly beg Pope Francis to protect us, once and for all, from such eventuality by putting his veto to all weakening of the law of the priestly celibacy, even limited to one region or an other”), becomes first a request of Benedict XVI.
During his renunciation in 2013, Benedict XVI had solemnly declared that he “would not intervene regarding the pontificate of his successor. And yet, he had retired in the very State of the Vatican, kept the white cassock of the popes and gave himself the title of “pope emeritus” and is addressed as “holiness”. All this could definitely render his silence difficult to keep.
We saw it clearly when he had published a preface for the edition in Russian of his book The theology of the liturgy, in 2017, where he decried the forgetting of the priority of God in the liturgy, and most of all when he had published, in April 2019, a long analysis on the pedophilia crisis. Also, it was known he often mentioned to his visitors his worries, notably during the brutal transformation of the John Paul II Institute on marriage and family.
Furthermore, on 20th May 2016, Mgr Gänswein, Prefect of the Pontifical house and secretary to the pope emeritus, in a conference at the Gregorian University, had talked about the “expanded Petrine ministry”: since the election of 13th May 2013, he says, “ there are not two popes but an expanded ministry, with an active member and a contemplative member”. Two forms, ordinary and extraordinary, of one pope, if you wish…
In this way, the intervention of Benedict XVI next to Cardinal Sarah takes a particular importance. While including all possible forms of respects, he imposes limits to the pontifical teaching of his successor. In the perspective of the not so distant future, that is to say the future conclave, this can only appear as a tentative to counteract a line of liberal transformation of the Church.
We could certainly put into perspective the stance taken by the pope emeritus, by noticing it appears in the context of the debate circumscribed by the post-council: since a half century, two interpretations of Vatican II oppose each other, qualified by the same Benedict XVI, in his speech to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005, of “hermeneutic of renewal in the continuity” which wants to moderate it, and the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and of rupture” which wants to push it to its maximum. Actually, the pontifical documents mentioned in From the Depth of our Hearts, in favor of the priestly celibacy, are those of Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. But one could invoke the encyclical of Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, of 20th December 1935, the encyclical of Pius XII, Sacra Virginitas, of 25th March 1954, and many other popes and councils. For we must, more than ever, hold firm that the Church did not start in 1965.
Especially, since the conciliar era was one of a very great commotion for Catholicism. In its intervention April 2019 regarding the pedophilia crisis, Benedict XVI incriminated the “social havoc of May 1968 with its complete sexual freedom, a freedom that no longer tolerated any norms.” Wouldn’t it be opportune to examine – in the sense of an examination of conscience – the chaos in dogma and moral which was the tangible consequence of Vatican II taken as a global event, as soon as its completion in December 1965 ? Indeed, the theoretical and practical questioning – these “departures” from the priesthood, which have constituted and still constitute a catastrophic loss – of priestly celibacy historically started at the end of the council. This is indisputable. As Guillaume Cuchet writes it in his book How our world has ceased to be Christian (Seuil, 2018), the texts of Vatican II have been heard, according to the author, wrongly, as an invitation to freedom for Catholics in relation to the institution.
So that, at some point, we will not be able to avoid radically reconsidering an aggiornamento which really presented itself like a new and very completed version of liberal Catholicism, looking to adapt Catholicism to modern society which founding characteristic is the marginalization, then the obliteration of the religion of Christ. And of its priests.