For Conservative Catholics in U.S., Pope Benedict’s Death Is Loss of a Hero

As a young priest and theologian in the 1960s, Benedict attended the Second Vatican Council, where he was perceived as a relative liberal at a time of dramatic change to the church’s liturgy, rituals and approach to the secular world. He later became alarmed by what he perceived as a leftward theological drift in the church, though he said that his theological positions did not change.

“You might say this is the definitive drawing down of the curtain on Vatican II,” said Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota, and the influential founder of the Catholic media organization Word on Fire.

The fact that Benedict’s post-papacy lasted almost a decade surprised many observers, Bishop Barron said, describing Benedict as a fundamentally introverted intellectual. “The way he lived the last 10 years was probably the way he wanted to live his life,” he said.

Benedict’s retirement, unprecedented in the modern era, was a bombshell that has softened with time. “For a lot of Catholics, he might be a pretty distant figure,” Bishop Barron said.

For others, the loss is that of an intellectual giant and beloved pastoral figure.

Helen Alvaré, an associate dean at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, has been studying Benedict’s work since the 1980s.

Just this week, she said, she was reading from “Truth and Tolerance,” a compilation of the former Joseph Ratzinger’s lectures on Catholic teachings in the context of contemporary global religion.

Benedict was “the continuity between Vatican II and today,” she said, describing him as an “encyclopedia” of church history.

“We feel like we’re losing a grandfather,” she said.

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