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MALTATODAY 8 January 2023

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BENEDICT XVI leaves behind a complex legacy as a Pope and theologian. To many observers, Benedict, who died on Dec. 31, 2022 at the age of 95, was known for criticizing what he saw as the modern world's rejection of God and Christianity's timeless truths. But as a scholar of the diversity of global Catholicism, I think it's best to avoid simple characterizations of Benedict's theology, which I believe will influence the Catholic Church for generations. While the brilliance of this intellectual legacy will certain- ly endure, it will also have to contend with the shadows of the numerous controversies that marked Benedict's time as pope and, later, as pope emer- itus. Priest and professor Benedict was born Josef Alois Ratzinger on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Germany. During World War II, he was required to join the Hitler Youth, a wing of the Nazi Par- ty. He was later drafted into an anti-aircraft unit and then the infantry of Nazi Germany. In 1945, he deserted the Ger- man military and was held as a prisoner of war by the Amer- icans; he was released when World War II concluded. In 1946, he went to study for the priesthood and was ordained five years later. He completed his doctorate in theology in 1953. While teaching at the Uni- versity of Bonn, Ratzinger was chosen as a theological advis- er to Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne, a strong critic of Nazism, for the Second Vati- can Council held between 1962 and 1965. The Second Vatican Council attempted to renew the Catholic Church by engag- ing the modern world more constructively. At the council, Ratzinger argued that Catho- lic theology needed to develop a "new language" to speak to a changing world. As pope, Benedict would lat- er reject more progressive in- terpretations of the council as a revolutionary event that was intended to remake the Catho- lic Church. While the council did bring substantial changes to Catholic life, particularly by allowing mass in local lan- guages, Benedict resisted any suggestion that the Second Vatican Council was calling for a fundamental break with cen- turies-old Catholic doctrine and tradition. And during his pontificate, he would permit wider celebration of the old Latin Mass – a decision that his successor Pope Francis would later reverse In 1966, Ratzinger accepted an important teaching position at the University of Tubingen. During the late 1960s, Tubin- gen saw widespread student protests, some of which called for the Catholic Church to be- come more democratic. When protesting students disrupted the Tubingen faculty senate, Ratzinger reportedly walked out instead of speaking with students as other faculty did. Ratzinger was disturbed by what he felt were dictatori- al and Marxist tendencies among the student protesters. Ratzinger then moved to the University of Regensberg. In 1977, he was named bish- op of Munich and Freising by Pope Paul VI. Soon after, he was named a cardinal, a mem- ber of the administrative body that elects the pope. Cardinal and pope As a skilled theologian, Ratzinger was chosen by Pope John Paul II to head the Con- gregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees and enforces Catholic doc- trine. In this position, Cardinal Ratzinger disciplined a number of theologians. Most notable was the case of American priest and theologian Charles Cur- ran, who was fired from The Catholic University of America because he challenged official Catholic teachings on sexuali- ty. Ratzinger was also chosen to head the committee drafting The Catechism of the Catho- lic Church. Published in 1992, The Catechism remains an important foundation for any understanding of Catholic thought and practice. After John Paul II's death in 2005, Ratzinger was elected pope. He chose the name "Ben- edict" in honour of Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism, a religious move- ment that preserved Western culture after the fall of Rome. The name "Benedict" also ac- knowledged Benedict XV, a much-overlooked pope who tried to broker a peace agree- ment to end the First World War. Controversies in the pontificate After his election, Pope Ben- edict XVI had to confront a growing sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. While a cardinal, he had publicly downplayed the extent and se- riousness of the crisis. And it was under his leadership that The Congregation for the Doc- trine of the Faith decided not to remove Lawrence C. Mur- phy from the priesthood, even though Murphy had been ac- cused of molesting more than 200 boys at a Catholic school for the deaf in Wisconsin. As pope, however, Benedict did take some strong steps that his predecessor, John Paul II, did not. Most significantly, Benedict punished Marcial Ma- ciel Degollado, an incestuous bigamist, serial paedophile and the powerful founder of the Le- gionaries of Christ, an impor- tant Catholic religious order, by taking away his permission to preach or to say Mass pub- licly. He also criticized Irish bishops for their mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis. For many survivors of cleri- cal sexual abuse, these actions were not nearly enough. Bene- dict did not move to open Vat- ican records to public inves- tigation, and he also failed to discipline cardinals and bish- ops who reassigned paedophile priests. Beyond the sexual abuse cri- sis, Benedict's pontificate had other controversies that drew worldwide attention. During a lecture in Regensberg in 2006, Benedict seemed to criticize the Islamic view of God and the legacy of the Prophet Mu- hammad. This lecture led to protests in the Middle East and South Asia. However, his offi- cial visits to Beirut and Istanbul repaired some of the damage. Benedict also reached out to Catholic splinter groups. In 2009, he lifted the excommu- nication of bishops of the or- der of St. Pius X, a breakaway Catholic sect that rejects the reforms of the Second Vati- can Council. After doing this, Benedict learned that one St. Pius X bishop, Richard Wil- liamson, had made antisemitic comments and denied the hol- ocaust. Benedict said his lack of knowledge about Williamson's views was an "unforeseen mis- hap" due to a lack of familiarity with the internet as a "source of information." Theological writings As pope, Benedict continued his theological writing and pro- duced three important encycli- cals or papal letters. The first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, or "God is Love," defends "charity" as love that is freely given. Charity is not sim- ply a good deed but an act that changes both the giver and the recipient. The second encyclical, Spe Salvi, or "Saved in Hope," re- flects upon the hope that God gives human beings in a world that often seems hopeless. In the third encyclical, Cari- tas in Veritate, or "Charity in Truth," Benedict argues that charity is fundamentally re- lated to justice. And when it comes to questions of human progress and fulfillment, we cannot place our trust in the nation state or market econ- omies because "without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is." These papal letters attempt to defend Christianity in a world that Benedict believed was growing increasingly hostile to religious faith. What was strik- ing about Benedict's thought – even to his theological critics – was how elegantly he presented his case for Christ and Christi- anity's transforming power as sources of truth, beauty and love. But long before he be- came pope, Benedict admitted that Christianity would con- tinue to lose cultural ground and dwindle to an ever small- er group of faithful believers. Writing in 1969, Ratzinger pre- dicted the Church would have "to start afresh from the very beginning," which meant that someday Christianity would have to build itself up again from its foundations. The legacy of Benedict XVI When Benedict resigned as pope in 2013, it took the world by surprise. In saying that he could no longer bear the bur- dens of the Papacy, Benedict promised to live in seclusion. His official title became "Pope Emeritus." But controversy also followed his resignation. For example, he gave interviews and put his name on writings that ap- peared to criticize the reforms of Pope Francis, who succeed- ed him. Most recently, a January 2022 report on sexual abuse in the diocese of Munich criticized Ratzinger's "inaction" regard- ing four cases of sexual abuse during his period as archbishop from 1977 to 1982. In reaction to the report, the pope emeri- tus apologized but did not ad- mit to any administrative fail- ures. Benedict XVI's writings will be relevant decades from now, but his pontificate will inevi- tably be associated with con- troversies. As for his own per- sonal legacy, that will likely be defined by the one issue that concerned Benedict the most: how the Catholic Church can still make a difference in the modern world. 12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 8 JANUARY 2023 OPINION Mathew Schmalz is Professor of Religious Studies, College of the Holy Cross Ratzinger: at odds with modern world Matthew Schmalz

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