Wednesday, July 14, 2010

He's "The Pope's Favorite Rabbi" ... for a Reason

We have long believed that many of Benedict XVI's missteps as Pope, typified by Regensburg, have been the result of a long academic career. In the classroom, a professor can tease, provoke and sometimes bully, all within the true spirit of his profession. Even the best of them play to a comparatively small audience.

In a HuffPo piece, the comically prolific Jacob Neusner offers a scholar's take on the Ratzinger papacy. Bottom line: he agrees with us. So much so, indeed, that he doesn't see the missteps as missteps; he sees them as guarantors of integrity:

The first five years of the papacy of Cardinal Ratzinger have revealed these traits along with abundant humility and kindness and love. But the world will take some time to get used to its scholar-pope, who speaks forthrightly about fundamental issues and lets the chips fall where they may.

The Muslims learned that fact in Regensburg, when the Pope in a profound lecture called into question the contribution of Islam to civilization.

The Anglicans learned that fact when the Pope in a gesture of honesty invited the Anglican priesthood to join the Church.

The Jews learned that fact when the Pope reverted to a liturgy that called into question the faith of Judaism.

In all three cases ... the scholar-pope had told the truth as Catholic Christianity at heart sees it: Islam cannot compete with Christianity for moral insight, the Anglicans will be welcome home, and the Jews would be better off in the Church. Pope Benedict spoke like a scholar and pronounced Christian truth as the infallible Bishop of Rome pronounced it. A scholar could do no less.

The pressing issue, of late, is sexual molestation. The debate over the pre-pope's handling of one case may well color the remainder of his papacy. We continue to believe that the Church of Rome has been institutionally crippled by both bad customs (sacerdotal clubbiness and fear of cleansing sunlight), bad psychology (the myth that child molesters can be "cured") and bad theology (the mistaken focus upon individual acts of sin, rather than upon the alien power of same). Neusner, however, gives a sensitive description of the matter as many Roman Catholics surely perceive it:

The current issue that troubles the peace is Cardinal Ratzinger's prior disposition of the case of a priest guilty of sexually abusing children. Christian charity called for forgiveness of the priest, a broken dying penitent. Justice demanded excommunication. Cardinal Ratzinger withheld the rites of humiliation that formed the just penalty. The man died in the bosom of the Church. Benedict VI showed the meaning of repentance and Christian love.

Read for yourself, and decide.

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