“Non Prævalebunt.” How and Why Benedict XVI Is Standing Up to the Attacks

Earlier this year we posted on ‘Why they attack the Pope’. Sandro Magister (www.chiesa.espressonline.it) continues looking at the attacks on our Holy Father from both within the Church, and outside the Church.

The crisis of the Church is not resolved with the practical changes requested by its critics, but with a more lively and more real faith. Joseph Ratzinger was absolutely convinced of this as already as a cardinal. A memorable clash between him and a French archbishop helps to explain his current conduct as pope

by Sandro Magister

ROME, August 1, 2011 – In the heart of this summer, the attacks against Benedict XVI have suddenly picked up steam again, from outside and inside of the Church.

From the outside, there has been the frontal attack – of unprecedented harshness – of Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, who accused the Catholic hierarchy, even at the highest levels, of protecting pedophile priests from the rigors of earthly justice. Kenny even found a guilty seat for Joseph Ratzinger, because of this statement when he was a cardinal: “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.”

In an editorial, the “Financial Times” also sided with the Irish prime minister and against the Catholic Church. In Ireland, a law is being considered that would require priests to inform state agencies of any sexual abuse of minors learned about in the sacrament of confession.

From within the Church, meanwhile, a new onslaught of demands has emerged on the part of droves of priests in Austria, the United States, Australia, and little by little in other countries, calling for the abolition of clerical celibacy, the conferral of priestly ordination on women, communion for divorced and remarried persons.

What ties all of these attacks together is the pressure to make the Church conform to the practices of the modern democracies, and imitate the dominant cultural currents.

At closer inspection, the reform of the Church demanded by these accusers has at its center not doctrinal changes, but the modification of its organization and discipline. Orthodoxy does not matter to them, but orthopraxy does: it is the practical rules of the Church that must be changed and brought into step with the times.

It is precisely of this that Benedict XVI is accused: of insisting on the truth of doctrine, and rejecting the practical innovations that the Church needs.


In reality, the current pontificate is also characterized by an important series of normative changes in the areas of liturgy, finance, law, ecumenism, to the point that authoritative scholars of ecclesiastical law dedicated a recent conference precisely to “Benedict XVI, canonical legislator.”

The conclusions of the conference are found in this article from http://www.chiesa:

> Six Years on the Throne of Peter. An Interpretation (1.7.2011)

But in what sense does Benedict XVI see himself as a “legislator”?

To answer this question, it is helpful to go back to before his election as pope: to a talk given by Cardinal Ratzinger in Paris, at the Sorbonne. A talk that was followed by a lively debate between himself and the archbishop of Bordeaux at the time, Cardinal Pierre Eyt, also a member of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith of which Ratzinger was prefect.

It was November 27, 1999. Ratzinger entitled his talk “Truth of Christianity?” And anyone who rereads it will find it in extraordinary harmony with the lecture he gave as pope in Regensburg on September 12, 2006.

In Paris, approaching his conclusion, Ratzinger said:

“Looking at the past, we can say that the power that transformed Christianity into a worldwide religion lies in the synthesis that it achieved among reason, faith, and life, briefly indicated with the expression ‘religio vera’.”

And he continued:

“All of the crises within Christianity that can be seen in our day can be reduced only secondarily to problems of an institutional nature. The problems of both an institutional and a personal nature in the Church are derived, in the final analysis, from this question and from its enormous weight.”

That is, precisely, from Christianity’s “claim of truth,” at a time in which for many men there are no longer certainties, but only opinions.


Cardinal Eyt reacted to these theses a few days later, in the December 9, 1999 issue of the Catholic newspaper “La Croix.”

He objected that the “institutional problems” of the Church are not at all secondary, as Ratzinger had maintained.

Bishops and cardinals, in Eyt’s view, must every day “decide and take positions with urgency.” They cannot dawdle, because every day “their backs are against the wall.” Under the provocations of the sensibility of today, “we must put our conceptions and practices to the test a little bit more.”

Which practices? By way of example, Cardinal Eyt cited the remarks of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini at the synod that year, which had indicated the following questions as requiring change: “the role of women in society and in the Church, the participation of laypeople in some ministerial responsibilities, sexuality, matrimonial discipline, the relationship with the sister Churches of Orthodoxy, the need to revive ecumenical hopes, the relationship between democracy and values, between civil law and morality.”


Ratzinger counterreplied on December 30, in “La Croix.” And the first two points of his reply were the following:

“1. The cardinal [Eyt] says that, in the analysis of the decisions of the ancient Church, I should not only have taken into consideration the relationship between faith and rationality, but should also have highlighted the relationship between faith and Roman law.

“I cannot agree on this point. The relationship between faith and reason, in fact, is an original option of the Christian faith already formulated clearly in the prophetic and wisdom literature of the Old Testament, and then revisited decisively by the New Testament. The claim, in the face of mythical religion and politics, of being a faith in relationship with the truth and thus responsible with respect to reason, belongs to the essential self-definition of the biblical heritage, a heritage that preceded Christian mission and theology and that, even more, made them possible.

“The relationship with human law, instead, was developed only gradually beginning in the fourth century, and, with respect to the decay of the structures of the empire, was never able to attain in the West the same significance that it had in the Church of the Byzantine empire. This is a matter of a secondary option, which was introduced in a particular era and could also disappear again. It is certainly true that there is a fundamental mutual relationship between law and the Church, but this is a question independent of the other.

“2. My confrere of the college of cardinals maintains that I undervalue the meaning of the institutions. It is an indisputable fact that the Christian faith, from its origins, did not want to be only an idea, that it entered into the world endowed with institutional elements (apostolic function, apostolic succession) and that, therefore, the institutional form of the Church belongs by essence to the faith. But the institutions cannot survive if they are not sustained by common fundamental convictions, and if there is not an emphasis of values that establishes its identity.

“The fragility of this emphasis is – I repeat – the specific reason for the current crisis of the Church. Cardinal Eyt is right to remind me of the institutional decisions that I must make on a daily basis. But it is precisely here that the connection becomes clear for me. Wherever the decisions of the magisterium on values decisive for the identity of the ecclesial institution can no longer count on a common conviction, they are necessarily perceived as repressive, and remain, in the final analysis, ineffective.

“Those who defend the Trinitarian doctrine, the Christology, the sacramental structure of the Church, its origin in Christ, the function of Peter or the fundamental moral teaching of the Church etc., and must combat the negation of these as incompatible with the ecclesial institution, are shooting in the dark if the opinion spreads that all of this [truth as a whole] is without importance. In this way, an institution becomes an empty shell and falls into ruin, even if it remains powerful on the outside or gives the appearance of having solid foundations.

“Because of this, the institutional decisions of the magisterium can become fruitful only on the condition that they are connected to a serious and determined fight for a new emphasis of the fundamental options of the faith.”


Returning to today, in seeing Ratzinger at work as “legislator pope,” it might seem that he has changed his mind: that is, that the institutions, systems, and canonical norms are no longer something “secondary” for him.

But that’s not the case. Every time that Benedict XVI legislates – for example, by liberalizing the Mass in the ancient Roman rite or reinforcing the norms against the “delicta graviora” – he does everything he can to demonstrate both the foundation of truth of the decisions made, and their specificity with respect to the laws of the earthly city.

Where this “emphasis of the fundamental options of the faith” is lacking, he is careful to avoid complying with the “provocations of today’s sensibility.”

For him, orthopraxy cannot be separated from orthodoxy, just as “caritas” is such only “in veritate.”

The final paragraph of his 1999 talk at the Sorbonne said exactly this:

“The attempt to restore, in this crisis of humanity, a global significance to the notion of Christianity as ‘religio vera’ must aim simultaneously at orthopraxy and orthodoxy. Its content, now as before, must consist, more profoundly, in the correspondence between love and reason as fundamental pillars of the real: true reason is love, and love is true reason. In their unity, they are the true foundation and the end of all reality.”



About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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19 Responses to “Non Prævalebunt.” How and Why Benedict XVI Is Standing Up to the Attacks

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    What is troubling about much of this article is that differences of opinion, disagreement, and dissent are characterised as “attacks”.

    Such an attitude shows clearly that nothing has been learned.



  2. toadspittle says:

    “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.” said Cardinal Ratzinger apparently.

    We can only can imagine the screams of, “Horror!” “Persecution!” “Lies!” “Rubbish!” “Dstortion!” that would have followed if Toad had dared to comment that: “The Church believes that it is neither subject to the standards of conduct appropriate to civil society, nor is it answerable to the workings of a democracy.”


  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Goodness gracious – when I read the compendium of 100 comments it seemed to say –

    “How and Why Benedict XVI is Standing Up to the Attacks by Toadspittle.”

    Kath may have words about this……


  4. joyfulpapist says:

    But the good Toad, had he still been a working journalist, would have checked the context of the quote he objected to – a 1990 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called ‘Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian‘. He would have found that the Pope was not talking about the legal or illegal actions of priests or bishops, but about the view of certain theologians that they must be right (and the Church must be wrong) about theological opinions, because others agree with them. He was saying that the Truth cannot be decided by democratic vote.

    He goes on to say, in the same paragraph, “Polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a “consensus” among theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a “base” or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth, all this indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church.”

    Presumably Kenny or his speechwriters were aware of the context, but decided to use the quote anyway, in a way that makes it sound as if it was about the Irish sexual abuse situation. An attack? A justifiable use of the term, in my view.


  5. toadspittle says:


    “39. The Church, which has her origin in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (39) is a mystery of communion. In accordance with the will of her founder, she is organized around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of the first community, all the baptized with their own proper charisms are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship (cf. Acts 2:42). This is a rule which flows from the very being of the Church. For this reason, standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church. Even less can relationships within the Church be inspired by the mentality of the world around it.”

    Ex-hack Toad, having read the above, rests hs case. What the nice old Cardinal, as he then was, is saying in blunt terms – is shut up, do as we tell you, keep your heads down, and don’t rock the boat – on any topic. That is to say, although Ben was referring to theological matters here, the same ukases are applicable in all areas. Thinks Toad, anyway.

    (That’s why ‘life’ is highlighted. That’s where the pedophilia comes in.)

    Might suit Joyful. Doesn’t suit Toad. Oh, well, that’s horse racing.


  6. toadspittle says:


    And the reason Pope Benedict is being ‘attacked’ is the same reason Rupert Murdoch is being ‘attacked.’

    He’s the boss. He’s in charge. It’s his dog and pony show.


  7. joyfulpapist says:

    I note, Toad, that you stop the quote before the part of the paragraph that puts it in the context of the theological debate the Cardinal was addressing. I see nothing objectional in suggesting that we should all strive for a harmonious unity. In my view, your conclusion about what he actually meant comes from your mind, not the text.


  8. joyfulpapist says:

    The paragraph Toad and I have been discussing comes under the section heading “The Magisterium and Theology”. Now it may be true – I think it certainly is true – that some high churchmen have held the view that they should do all the thinking and the rest of us should just “shut up, do as we tell you, keep your heads down, and don’t rock the boat”. And I agree that such thinking is wrong and stupid.

    But it is downright dishonest to use a sentence out of a document about valid and invalid forms of theological disagreement in a way that makes a claim that Pope Benedict is in favour of protecting paedophiliac priests.


  9. toadspittle says:


    “In my view, your conclusion about what he actually meant comes from your (Toad’s) mind, not the text.” Says Joyful.

    Naturally it does. Toad uses his mind ( ot at least tries to) to interpret the text.

    What approach do you employ, Joyful?


  10. toadspittle says:


    That’s odd.

    For once, Toad wasn’t trying to be.

    That’ll learn him!


  11. Srdc says:


    The Pope has a point. Sacraments must not be confused with socio-poliitcal issues.


  12. toadspittle says:



    “The Pope has a point. Sacraments must not be confused with socio-political issues.”

    Well, Srdc, Toad doubts that happens very often. But maybe you can give us an example?

    It strikes him that marriage, for example, is both a sacrament and a scocio-political issue. Which doesn’t help, he supposes.


  13. Gertrude says:

    Toad: I’m intrigued as to why you think marriage a socio-political issue. I had never thought of that (only insofar as advising my late husband which party to vote for in a general election!).


  14. toadspittle says:


    Toad suspects Gertrude is spot on, as usual.

    He has never actually considered what a socio-political issue might actually be, never actually having heard of such a thing before. He just rather guessed that marriage might be such a fabulous beast, on account of it being ‘social,’ (the reception, and bad champagne, and horrible things toothpicked onto little bits of bread, and idiotic speeches, and drunken friends of the groom, and hideous bridesmaids’ dresses, and futile promises, and all) and ‘political’ – well, because everything’s political, isn’t it?

    Best to stick to subjects one is comfortable with, Toad agrees – like pedophile priests.

    (Hope you didn’t ‘advise’ your hubby to vote “Red!” Bet he did what he was told!)


  15. Gertrude says:

    Oh dear, do you really think ‘he did what he was told’. I can’t imagine why you would think that! (lol)


  16. toadspittle says:


    Anyway, Srdc is – even now – about to enlighten us on the arcane mysteries of ‘socio-political issues.”

    Sounds a bit posh for Toad, but we’re never too old to learn, are we?


  17. Srdc says:


    A wedding is a social issue. A marriage is not, esp. not a church marriage. It’s first and foremost a sacrament. The same with the priesthood. It may be a public ministry, but is first a sacrament of Holy Orders. The same with the other sacraments. If you can have a politically correct baptism to fit this age, you can have another one to fit the next age. The result is that you will be left with nothing, because your house is built on sifting sands and not on the rock.


  18. toadspittle says:


    Yes, Srdc, but what is a politically correct baptism?

    Toad has never heard of such a thing.
    Using EPA approved water, he supposes?

    Well why not?



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