Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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January 7, 2007

Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future,
by Robert Blair Kaiser 2006

The author, a journalist and Jesuit who left before ordination, has presented a highly readable book that provides a context around the death of John Paul II and the accession of a new one. It is a story of personalities and politics, papal and ecclesiastical. He sees two parties in play: the party of change that seeks a degree of freedom for the faithful to grow in the understanding and application of their faith to their lives; the party of no change clings to the notion of pope as monarch, who provides the answers and structures that give security to all.

John Paul II, the dominant personality throughout, has centralized the Church and the power of the pope to the highest degree in its history. Kaiser recognizes the accomplishments of this larger than life pope but does not neglect the blemishes. Among these he lists his attitude towards women, best illustrated by his stony silence towards Sister Theresa Kane who spoke up to him in 1979, the women-diminishing “complementarity” status throughout his encyclicals, his prohibition of even discussing women’s ordination, his refusal to grant the requests of many bishops to ordain married men, and his lack of collegiality towards his bishops, evidenced so egregiously in the Synods of Bishops. His undoubted ability to charm millions of the faithful on his travels may not be matched by lasting results. An Italian newspaper flashed the headline, “Full Squares and Empty Churches”. Hans Kung observed that during this pontificate millions of people had left the Church.

Joseph Ratzinger’s writings, actions, and policies are explored as signs of what to expect after he became Benedict XVI. As head of the Holy Office, his disciplining of many theologians, including liberation theology exponents from Latin America, may indicate the tone of his papacy unless as pope he takes a somewhat different orientation. His “Dominus Jesus”, proclaiming Jesus as the unique savior, was seen as opposing those Asian theologians intent on accommodating Eastern religions and as a setback to ecumenical efforts in the West. He has been outspoken in opposing the death penalty, most recently in the case of Saddam Hussein, and against the development of nuclear weapons. In 1995 he seriously diminished the authority of national conferences of bishops by requiring a unanimous vote to issue a decree. Otherwise, Rome must approve the actions of a majority of the bishops. In 1995 he ordered the bishops of Austria to deny the use of church facilities to the liberal “We Are The Church” organization. After an outcry from people and priests, he acceded to their wishes. In 2005, he endorsed several right wing groups and showed opposition to others, such as “Call to Action” and the Voice of The Faithful. He orchestrated the departure of Tom Reese, SJ. From the editorship of “America Magazine”. Kaiser declares that despite their warm endorsements to Vatican II, both John Paul and Ratzinger were intent on turning back the clock.

A description of the conclave, its politics and its voting, concludes with the election of Ratzinger as pope. The author describes several events that he interprets as efforts by Ratzinger to secure the election for himself, including allowing his supporters to circulate a sign-up sheet among the cardinals at a morning meeting before the conclave began to determine if he had sufficient backing, without which he would withdraw. He did not withdraw. A number of cardinals were stunned by this tactic. Subsequently to the election Benedict hosted a dinner party for the cardinals. Godfried Daneels of Belgium and nine other cardinals declined and left immediately.

The author encounters several unusual situations: a Jesuit who had become a Muslim at heart, a Catholic nun in Jakarta who worshipped five times a day at a mosque, and a president of a college in Manila who gathered her community of nuns to celebrate their own Mass. Kaiser’s sympathy for these situations shows him to be an extreme member of the party of change.

Msgr. Harry J. Byrne
June 5, 2006



AMERICAN MASSACRE: The tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857, Sally Denton, Knopf, NY 2003, 306 pp. $26.95

This is an absorbing account of what followed the founding of the Mormon Church, the doctrines of polygamy and blood atonement, the hostility generated by Mormons against themselves in Illinois and Arkansas, the treks to Utah, the establishment of the Mormon theocracy under Brigham Young. The hostility they generated against themselves coupled with the assassination of Joseph Smith, the founder instilled a sense of persecution directed against themselves. Efforts of the US government and the US army to establish proper government were viewed by the Mormons as acts of hostility. Those outside the fold, the Gentiles, were similarly viewed. When a wagon train of settlers entered their territory, it was viewed with hostility and attacked, its members slaughtered.

The efforts of the US attorneys and judges to bring to justice the murderers were resisted by the church authorities – claiming the Indians had massacred the emigrants - and only after twenty years were some of them brought to justice. John D. Lee, a major culprit in the events, was convicted and executed. The story of the trials is quite fascinating.

Msgr, Harry J. Byrne 11-14-05