This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 16 -- Happy Birthday, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Volumus laetum diem natalis, Papa Emerite!
Two years ago, I posted a snarky contrast between two Benedicts, one a nineteenth century ascetic and the other a twenty-first century pope.  I've learned a little more about Benedict (and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) since then.  I won't take the post down, but neither am I especially proud of what I wrote.  It's not that is is wrong, except the part about the red shoes being made by Prada.  They were from a small, family-owned Italian company, according to Rocco Palmo, whose Whispers in the Loggia blog is a clutch source for all things Vatican. At the time of the Holy Father's retirement, he debunked the Prada story and other misconceptions about Benedict in an NPR interview

John Thavis, another Vatican blogger, published a book of extended anecdotes from his thirty years as a correspondent in Rome.  His portrait of Benedict is quite different from the popular conception.  Thavis lays a lot of blame all over the place, from the Pope himself and his administrators (e.g. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi and Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone) to the gullible, lazy, and shallow members of the press corps.  Savvy antagonists like the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) get a heaping helping in one chapter.

With his birthday cake at the White House (POTUS at right)
Perhaps the most enlightening chapter was the one about Father Marcial Maciel and the Legion of Christ.  Father Maciel's story is appalling.  He was living double or perhaps triple lives, fathering children in and out of wedlock while still officially celibate.  He funded his extravagances through an order he founded, the Legion of Christ.  I won't dwell on that, except to say that the Legion had all the elements of what we used to call cults, including the sexual abuse of its acolytes by the founder.  His Holiness John Paul II was slow to take action against the Legion, in part because it was thriving where other orders are withering.  Well, that's probably one reason -- judgments are necessarily speculative with popes.  Another reason is that John Paul II was seriously slowing down -- age and Parkinson's demanded a heavy toll.
Blessed Pope John Paul II in his last year

When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, he moved quickly (by Vatican standards) to shut down that particular problem.  Granted, it was a closed-door maneuver that left many victims unsatisfied.  Yet Thavis has much praise for the decisiveness and force shown by the Pope in this case.  And lest you think Thavis is just an admirer or apologist for Benedict, he comes in for criticism in other chapters.  Yet the contrast between the inaction of JPII and the smackdown (by Vatican standards) delivered by Benedict is unpleasantly sharp. 

The quilted jacket says a lot
As I say above, I am not retracting what I wrote two years ago.  The Pope (and his liturgists) wanted to convey the Magisterium (Authority of Catholic Doctrine, especially as dictated by the Pope) through his wardrobe.  Authority and humility are tough oxen to yoke together.  Pope Francis, whose first signals were all about humility, may find it tough to invoke the Magisterium someday without seeming like he has been corrupted by power.  No, this is not a retraction, but it is an admission that I was missing a big part of the Benedict story.

If nothing else, a pope who has the wisdom, courage, and flexibility to admit that he's no longer up to the job deserves a lot of praise.  Hell, I'll go so far as to say that he will merit beatification, though obviously that doesn't get declared (even here) until after one dies.  And today, sincerely, I wish Pope Emeritus Benedict a very happy birthday. 

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