Friday, May 18, 2007

Allen's imaginary papal paradox

Much has been made this morning of John Allen's weekly column, entitled The pope's communication paradox, describing what he sees as a flaw in the communication of the papal magisterium of Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger. I greatly admire John Allen and often, even usually, agree with him, but I'm going have to give him an assist in resolving this so-called paradox, which is illusion and not reality. I agree with Allen that the Holy Father is "an exceptionally lucid communicator." However, contra Allen, the Holy Father is not tone deaf.

Going back to his days as a professor of theology, Pope Ratzinger has been concerned with speaking the truth as clearly and as unambiguously as possible, often letting the proverbial chips fall where they may. As evidence, I offer the CDF's Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. Hence, a major concern of the Holy Father, going back beyond his twenty-plus years of close collaboration with Pope John Paul II, has been and remains speaking the truth in love because the Truth is Love. In other words, he would never say something for the express purpose of offending any group, be it Muslims in his magisterial Regensburg address last September (which Allen continues to see as some kind of a mistake, which it most certainly was not, neither were his statements, whether what he said or left unsaid, at Auschwitz) or native groups that took offense to comments he made in Brazil last week. So, while we can be certain that it is never his intent to offend, fear of offense is not going to keep him from seeking to communicate the Truth, especially when speaking to the Church on a continent that is undergoing a crisis of the proportions the Church in South America is currently experiencing.

Make no mistake, whether it has to do with the differences among Christians, or between the Church and non-Christian religions, Pope Benedict XVI continues to see relativism, particularly the ontological and fundamental relativism that is becoming so prevalent, as the challenge facing the Church (i.e., his "dictatorship of relativism" homily just prior to the conclave). One result of this relativism is religious indifference.

By saying that native religions of Latin America were purified by the light of Christian faith, Benedict is saying what he also would and, in fact, has said, regarding the pre-Christian paganism of Europe and the Mediterranean basin, to include the Christian purification of Hellenistic Philosophy, which he sees as essential to the articulation of Christian faith. He also insists on seeing in Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the Covenant into which God entered with Israel, as delicate as that question understandably is. Put simply, contra Allen, Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger is not tone deaf to those "who don't share his intellectual and cultural premises." He simply and deliberately refuses to allow such groups to set the agenda for his papacy and to dictate the la règle du jeu, the terms of engagement and dialogue. No matter what non-Christian religions may profess that is good, true, and beautiful, none of which he would ever deny these traditions, they lack Christ, or at least an appropriate understanding of Christ and His Church.

So, rather than the Holy Father being tone deaf, it seems to be that groups with axes to grind are often obstinately obtuse and/or deliberately deaf to his words and make what amounts to wild and ignorant claims about what he says or implies in his statements. To take the case at hand, there is nothing in what the Holy Father said in Brazil as regards native religions that even implies that he endorses what Pope John Paul II acknowledged were mistakes in the evangelization of the Americas, to include slavery and genocide. To be fair, Allen acknowledges the fact that there was no intent to offend in what the Holy Father said. Rather, Allen asserts, as he continues to do regarding Regensburg and Auschwitz, that the Holy Father did not fully understand or carefully consider what he said. We must keep in mind, however, that in his writing and speaking about inter-religious dialogue going back many years, the Pope has always been quick to point out that there are fundamental areas of divergence and that these have to be taken seriously. If these fundamental differences are not taken seriously, according to Ratzinger, no true dialogue occurs. The fundamental profession of Christian faith is the profession Jesus is Lord. This central Truth can never be negotiated away or left ambiguous.

The only paradox that exists, therefore, is that in the minds of commentators, like John Allen. We can be quite certain there is no paradox to be resolved in the mind of Pope Benedict XVI, who is the Doctor Caritatis because, in the first instance, he is the Doctor Veritatis.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post!

    Thank goodness we have a pope who is not afraid to call a spade a spade.