While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion. It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine. Read More
In today’s world where child soldiers are cannon fodder for countless civil conflicts, where troubled teenagers are induced to volunteer for ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations, where poor mothers have their children implanted with hardware to increase their value on the mercenary market, Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.
The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2007 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”
From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. A letter from a boyhood friend in Germany, a fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. He flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.
“He needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. It was not for me to grant absolution. We wept together and asked God’s forgiveness. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were deluded by sin.”
The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His anti-war stand, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, became more clear. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.
“We had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth even at the cost of his life. We failed to take up our cross and follow him."
The Pope’s visit to Brazil, where he met with some of the poorest of his flock without fanfare or entourage, celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as one of the great expressions of the Catholic faith.
Since that visit, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”
But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII, and the loss of membership of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.
The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.
Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.
Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.
Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns, and lay women’s societies operate with a freedom unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children they have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.
‘Space Your Children’ a pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been ignored by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.
And it is a change with implications for history. Benedict’s conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Solomon Masisi, a former child soldier from Congo, is still being processed three years later.
This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible. ...
Back in 2008---
VATICAN CITY – When President Bush pays a visit to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Friday, [the 13th, 2008] it will be his sixth meeting with a pope, and his third meeting with Benedict in just over a year.
Never in U.S. history has a president consulted so often with the leader of the Catholic Church. Carl Anderson, a former Reagan aide who now heads the Knights of Columbus, calls it "remarkable."
Bush delivered his address after calling at the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, who recently visited the United States. The two leaders took a stroll through the lush Vatican Gardens on Friday, stopping at a grotto where the pontiff prays daily.
"Your Eminence, you're looking good," Bush told the pope.