As of 2 PM Eastern (8 PM Rome), His Holiness Pope Benedict will now be called the “Pope Emeritus” of the Roman Catholic Church. I think it’s appropriate that we take a moment to recall the many fruits of Pope Benedict’s eight years as our spiritual leader.
The Traditional Pope
Pope Benedict XVI has been the much needed traditional pope in an era of liturgical experimentation, disobedience, and [often willful] ignorance of our rich Catholic heritage. Evidence of this can be seen in his revival of the six candle altar arrangement with crucifix nicknamed the “Benedictine arrangement”, the restoration of kneeling for Communion at papal Masses, and the use of papal attire that was abandoned several papacies ago. Our Holy Father frequently made reference to the “hermeneutic of continuity” vs. the “hermeneutic of rupture,” or false Spirit of Vatican II. The significance of this can’t be under-emphasized, as we’re now asked to look at the Second Vatican Council in light of Catholic tradition, rather than apart from it as many bishops and priests tried to do in the wake of the Council. One of Pope Benedict’s most important acts as pope was the publication of his moto proprio, Summorum Pontificum, and its accompanying letter. As a result, priests everywhere are free to offer Mass according to the 1962 Missal, called the “Extraordinary Form” by our Holy Father. No longer does a priest require the permission of his diocesan bishop to offer the traditional Latin Mass.
The Ecumenical Pope
Bringing back lost sheep to the Catholic Church has been a priority of Pope Benedict’s papacy. In 2009, Pope Benedict issued an apostolic constitution entitled Anglicanorum coetibus in an effort to welcome back to the Church disaffected Anglicans, many of whom were associated with the Traditional Anglican Communion. As a result of this effort, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was established wherein Anglican converts can celebrate the sacred liturgy in familiar traditions and language. We are witnessing the fruit of this right here in the Diocese of Rochester where the Fellowship of St. Alban was established and now worships at the former Good Shepherd church in Henrietta.
The return of the Society of St. Pius X to good standing in the Catholic Church has been a high priority for Pope Benedict. Ecclesiae Unitatem details some of the pope’s efforts to bring these sheep back into the fold, including the revocation of excommunications and establishment of doctrinal talks with the Society. Though the society has not been regularized, their reunion seems more probable going forward. The expulsion of controversial Bp. Williamson from the SSPX may assist in future conversations with the Holy See.
Pope Benedict has also walked carefully with the Neocatechumenal Way to ensure they remain in the fold.
The Reformer Pope
Pope Benedict XVI has made several important reforms to the Catholic Church. First, the Holy Father has appointed orthodox men to lead dioceses and archdioceses as bishops. Take a look at the bishops in the United States today and compare it to 20 or 30 years ago to see the difference. Hopefully these faithful bishops will better defend the Catholic faith in a world where secularism and cafeteria Catholicism is on the rise. On a local level, Pope Benedict swiftly accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark, thus limiting the bishop’s impact to do further spiritual harm before a successor is named.
The gradual transformation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been an important, if often controversial focus in the pope’s effort to bring about reform. It’s uncertain how fruitful this will be considering these sisters are up there in age and hardened in their dissenting positions. A copy of the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR is available online.
The Holy Father has made several efforts to stamp out sexual dissent in the clergy. This was seen early in his reign when the Vatican declared that those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be ordained to the priesthood. If one believes recent news stories that there is a secret dossier concerning homosexual clergy working in the Vatican, then this document becomes all the more important going forward. Another matter of sexual dissent that Pope Benedict has addressed is clergy sexual abuse. In 2010, the Vatican issued a document outlining the Church’s procedures for dealing with abusive priests. After revelations of sexual abuse in the Irish Church, the Holy Father ordered an investigation and removed at least three bishops alleged to have protected abusive priests. He also issued a pastoral letter for the people of Ireland to aid in the healing. Just this past week, the Holy Father accepted the early resignation of a Scottish cardinal alleged to have had sexual encounters with seminarians.
The Teaching Pope
If there’s one way to best describe Pope Benedict (Card. Ratzinger) is that he’s an excellent teacher of the faith. The Holy Father has published three encyclicals during his pontificate: Deus Caritas Est (begun by Pope John Paul II), Spe Salvi, and Caritas in veritate. The pope was working on an encyclical for the Year of Faith before announcing that he would step down. It’s possible that Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will continue to work on this document and publish it under his own name. In addition to these three encyclicals, there have been countless apostolic letters, apostolic exhortations, homilies, and writings by the Holy Father available on the Vatican website.
Pope Benedict has spent considerable time on his three volume masterpiece about the life and teachings of Christ entitled Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, and Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. All three are available on Amazon and can be found in your local bookstore.
The Holy Father, both as Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ratzinger, has published numerous books worthy of attention. Be sure to read The Spirit of the Liturgy if you haven’t already done so.
Though he may not have many friends in the liberal media or secular politics (for example, Cokie Roberts thrice criticized the pope for not allowing the ordination of women priestesses on ABC’s news coverage today), he is beloved by millions of Catholics throughout the earth.
We will miss you, Pope Benedict. God bless you in your remaining years!