CathBlog - Benedict's reform of the reform gathers pace


Pope Benedict XVI, inspired by the initiative of his predecessor, has made the New Evangelisation a key feature of his pontificate. The primary intention of this vision is to affirm in emphatic terms the identity, message and mission of the Church in the modern world.

In order to give precise focus on and to provide the necessary energy for this program, Benedict has announced a Year of Faith to begin in October to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II and the 10th anniversary of the launching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The linking of these two landmark events takes on a more complete significance when one reads the program for the celebrations in the recently published Nota prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

The Nota envisions a number of doctrinal and pastoral emphases: that Pope Benedict’s teachings on the Reform of the Reform in Continuity along with the Magisterium of John Paul II constitute the principal and authentic interpretation of Vatican II as well as the Documents and the directions which emerged from them; that the CCC is will assume the critical and key role for authoritative catechesis on these definitive teachings.

It might be useful by way of preparation for the Year of Faith for Catholics to examine more closely what exactly the principle of Reform of the Reform in Continuity actually means and where it came from. The notion of Continuity with the Tradition is central to the Magisterium of Benedict XVI.

John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, published a long article in Commoweal some time ago in which he documents the thoughts, judgments, estimations of a young Father Joseph Ratzinger who was a theological advisor at Vatican II.

Wilkins then tests these against Cardinal Ratzinger’s and later Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of Continuity. This is instructive when it is realised that on being questioned many years ago about his perceived shift in theological views and positions, Cardinal Ratzinger insisted that he hadn’t moved, they had 

His post-Vatican II  receipt seems to have changed quite dramatically on quite a number of issues. The long term future of the ordinary form of the Mass of Paul VI is a case in point.

Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation of the Faith in a June 23, 2003 letter to Dr Heinz-Lothar Barth of Bonn revealed his personal views on, and dreams for, a single Rite in the Latin Church. It appears that this is now a work in progress as the new term for the desired accommodation of the Novus Ordo to the liturgy of Pius V is ‘mutual enrichment’.     

Wilkins offers other important examples of the rather strained attempts at demonstrating a sound continuity between the rather enthusiastic conclusions of the young theologian and the older Cardinal Ratzinger and a still older Pope Benedict XVI. 

At least for the first half of the Council, Father Ratizinger celebrated a Church which embraced a renewed sense of episcopal collegiality with its shift away from Papal centralism and Curial power, the principles of subsidiarity as embodied in the life of the local Church, the affirmation of the laity and the prospects of full and active participation by the faithful in vernacular litugy. The latter Benedict now regards as something of a limited concession, the former exist pretty much only in name.

It appears more and more plausible that the real work of the Reform of the Reform had actually been completed by Cardinal Ratizinger when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of John Paul II.

His own pontificate has been marked by the his personal retreat into his beloved world of scholarship while the Curia, so well trained to read his mind, has continued to govern the Church according to the manner in which he had trained them all those years.

The value of a well regimented Vatican bureaucracy cannot be underestimated, especially during the crises and scandals that have made, and continue to make, inroads into credibility of the Papacy and weaken its authority and prestige. 

Despite the fact that there is a serious turf war raging at the moment as Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone attempts to control Vatican communications and regiment the Curia, of which he is not a member, the principal task of both the manipulative Bertone and the feckless Curia is presently and most urgently, as Sandro Magister explains, ‘to create scorched earth around the Pope.’ 

We may all well pray that at the next conclave the Holy Spirit spring some genuine surprises and renew not only the face of the earth but all of the Church as well.

David TimbsDavid Timbs blogs from Albion, Victoria.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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