Pope Gregory XIV once said that “a lifetime is not enough” to see all of Rome. Similarly, the contributions of Pope Benedict XVI will last far beyond our lifetimes—yet their most lasting impact might be barely visible today. Take his “Regensburg Lecture,” delivered in 2006. The media huffed that the address offended Muslims, and wrote off the rest. It should not be surprising that their postmodern mentality chose to ignore the lecture’s fundamental theme: that rationality is required of all men—not just of Muslims but also of those who are deconstructing the dessicated remains of Western Civilization from within. In Benedict’s long view, whatever becomes of the West, Islam and Christianity are going to be around for a long time, and the only possible conversation between them will have to be a rational one. When that time comes—perhaps in the far future—both Islam and what Pope Benedict has called the Dictatorship of Relativism that dominates the West will have to confront that challenge with equal intellectual vigor—and honesty.
Solzhenitsyn once observed that “falsehood always brings violence in its wake.” Catholics recognize the pope as the Vicar of Christ on Earth, and Christ as the Prince of Peace, as well as “the way, the truth, and the life.” For Catholics, truth and peace are intimately connected; hence, in a world where falsehood thrives, so too does violence. And it’s not just Marxists who believe in endless war as the engine of progress: Benedict recognized that advocates of violence come in all colors and time zones, and he never bought into the slogans of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth—especially “War is Peace.” He knew the difference.
We Catholics also owe Pope Benedict a debt of gratitude for rescuing the Sacred Liturgy, and restoring the Latin Mass that prevailed throughout the Roman Rite for hundreds of years before the Second Vatican Council. In fact, Benedict rescued the genuine Council from the hands of those who had emptied it of its content and used it as a symbol (and often a bludgeon) to advance their pet plans for “reform.” He has patiently insisted on the teaching of all Catholic doctrine, even the unpopular parts—and he recognizes that young people long for the moral truths of the faith, and need them desperately.
Those truths are just as true today as they were fifty years ago. And just as essential.
Fortunately, the bogus “Spirit of Vatican II” and its dwindling gaggle of dissident left-wing cheerleaders is giving way to a generation of younger priests and laity who have chosen to confront the perilous times with fortitude, rather than selling out to the pop culture for a few flattering mentions in the New York Times. The results of Benedict’s “Liturgy Rescue Mission” will be ever more visible in decades to come, and they will be profound.
The Restoration of Voluntary Christian Charity
Many leftists cheered when Benedict issued his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est in 2005. They ignored most of the document, naturally, which insists that true charity is inseparable from Christ and His Church. They focused instead on his condemnation of “unbridled capitalism with its cult of profit.” The leftist progeny of earlier Liberation Theologians deny what Benedict affirms: that his critique is inseparable from what he calls a “Christian anthropology,” a view which is threatened by the modern resuscitation of an “ancient material hedonism” that flows from “a purely horizontal and materialistic view of life.”
Was Benedict overstating the issue? Hardly. That ancient and noxious aroma is everywhere. Witness the recent remarks of Mr. Taro Aso, Japan’s finance minister, who said last month that old people on government-funded medical care should “hurry up and die.”
Of course, any finance minister should worry about money. But Benedict has noticed that many Catholic “charities” might be preoccupied with money too—even permitting financial need to give a back seat to what true Christian “Caritas” is all about. Hence, in 2012 he promulgated Intima Ecclesiae Natura, a law whose consequences will have a serious and lasting impact, especially in the United States.
In the next twenty years, we will witness one of the biggest shifts in Church’s educational and charitable activities. When Intima Ecclesiae Natura, is fully implemented, the Church will have to sever its ties with an increasingly hostile, even hedonistic, secular government, and cease accepting government funding for its charities, its educational institutions, and its hospitals. The results will be revolutionary—and liberating.
No “Catholic” charitable activity is to be conducted outside the authority of the bishop, the document states. “In particular, he is to take care that their activities keep alive the spirit of the Gospel.” (Article 6).
And how should the bishop exercise that authority?
“In particular, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that charitable agencies dependent upon him do not receive financial support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching. Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.” (Article 10, § 3)
In Charity and in Truth
It is no accident that, in the past fifty years, countless Catholic institutions have diluted, ignored, or even defied Catholic teaching, as the amount of government funding they receive has steadily increased. Catholic universities made their move rather dramatically, renouncing the authority of the Church in the famous “Land O’Lakes” statement of July 1967. This “declaration of independence” from Rome made it possible for them to receive federal funding made available in Lyndon’ Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965. Since then, they have received billions in taxpayer dollars.
The same conundrum faces Catholic Charities, USA, and Catholic Relief Services, both of which receive a majority of their funding—billions of dollars a year—as federal contractors, often operating alongside, or even cooperating intimately with, organizations whose principles “are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.”
The implementation of Benedict’s new law will resuscitate true voluntary charity after a century-long Church alliance with a government that has now turned against it in fury. But do not expect it to be welcomed. Leaders of these Church bureaucracies (including the colleges and universities) will undoubtedly insist that Intima Ecclesiae Natura changes nothing, that they need the money, and that they are already obeying it anyway.
Unfortunately, they aren’t. But it will be a brave bishop who will hold their feet to the fire; and it will take a brave pope who will guide, support, and instruct those bishops with love, fortitude, and perseverance. After all, billions and billions of dollars are at stake—a drop in the bucket to the feds, but critical to funding Church institutions as they are run today.
And that is why those institutions will change dramatically as Intima Ecclesiae Natura is implemented in coming years, and the Church renounces government funding (as bishops in Illinois and Oklahoma already have). Once those “golden handcuffs” are removed, liberated Catholic bishops will also be able to implement existing Canon Law regarding public scandal. Raymond Cardinal Burke, who heads the Vatican’s highest court, insisted earlier this month that, if a Catholic politician “support[s] legislation which fosters abortion or other intrinsic evils, then he should be refused Holy Communion.”
Such steps are taken not only to bring the supporter of “grave moral evil” back to the Church, but also to avoid “the grave sin of sacrilege,” as well as to prevent public scandal, since failure to act “gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm.”
The contributions to the Church of Pope Benedict XVI are immeasurable indeed. As the years go by, he will be fondly remembered, and increasingly appreciated. Let us pray for him, for his successor, and the Holy Mother Church.
Editor’s note: This recent column by Dr. Manion is reprinted courtesy of the Bellarmine Forum. The image above is a detail from the “Parable of the Good Samaritian” by Domenico Fetti painted in 1623.