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Artillery Row

Why they hated Benedict

He defended tradition against modernity

About two hundred thousand people have flocked to see Pope Benedict XVI lying in state in St Peter’s Basilica, ahead of his funeral which occurs today. It illustrates the treasured place he occupies in many Catholics’ hearts, including my own.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by much of the British media’s coverage of his passing. (Granted, the bar was not set very high.)

It’s no secret that Benedict, who embodied Catholic tradition and orthodoxy in a way which the modern world saw as anachronistic, was no media darling in life. But in death, he almost seems beyond reproach by serious-minded people. Two of the nation’s most reputable papers, The Telegraph and Times, wrote particularly moving pieces about the great man. 

Unfortunately, there are some out there who are not serious-minded when it comes to Benedict. Take Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror Kevin Maguire. I don’t single him out to be unpleasant, but because his tweet, posted shortly after the Pope Emeritus’ death, expresses some of the most unjust accusations commonly levelled against the former Pope.

Maguire tweeted: 

Did the “Panzer Pope” ever explain and apologise for his wartime Hitler Youth service?

Deeply conservative, the cover-up of priests who sexually abused children was also dreadful.

The fact that “deeply conservative” is considered to be negative is revealing. But putting that to the side, what about the other two objections: that he was part of the Hitler Youth and the alleged “cover-up” of sexual abuse?

The first is easily answered by a quick Google search. Benedict came from a family of anti-Nazis. His policeman father objected so strongly to the Brownshirts, including at public meetings, that he was demoted, and according to the Sunday Times, the family had to move several times as a result of his views. 

Benedict was conscripted in the Hitler Youth in 1941 at the age of 14. Membership was required by law at that point, but he refused to attend meetings. He was drafted into the army in 1943, deserted after hearing of Hitler’s death and never fired a gun during the war.

His 14-year-old cousin who had Down syndrome was also murdered by the Nazis. So painting him as someone who had Nazi sympathies is deeply uncharitable and verifiably false. He was a child victim of a murderous regime, whose ideology he and his family hated.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Jewish human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has corroborated this view. He said: “If you were a young child during the Third Reich and you didn’t go, you’d be condemned. He didn’t volunteer. That’s not a blemish.”

What about the allegation that he covered up sexual abuse? The abuse scandal is deeply serious — and something that Popes Francis and Benedict have both rightly apologised for. On top of the horrendous nature of the crimes themselves is the added dimension that they were committed by people in positions of authority, which makes the sense of betrayal even worse. 

With Benedict though, there is no evidence that he covered up abuse and much evidence that, in the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent words, he “courageously acknowledged” and confronted what he called “filth” in the Church. 

In the last two full years of his pontificate, he defrocked nearly 400 alleged child abuser priests. He was the first Pope to meet victims of abuse, including in this country, and he reportedly wept when he expressed his “shame and sorrow” to victims in Malta. 

During his official visit to this country in 2010, he spoke against the “unspeakable crimes” of clerical sexual abuse at Westminster Cathedral. He also removed from active ministry Father Marcial Maciel, a prominent Mexican priest and fundraiser who it emerged had abused minors.

In 2010 it was revealed that in 1995, Ratzinger — then a cardinal — had pushed for a full investigation into accusations of abuse against former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër. The investigation was reportedly blocked and Groër died denying the accusations and was never charged. 

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who succeeded Groër, praised Benedict during his pontificate: “The days of cover-up are over. For a long while the Church’s principle of forgiveness was falsely interpreted and was in favour of those responsible and not the victims.”

He did not hide abuse in the Church

A cover-up is the deliberate attempt to prevent people from discovering the truth about a crime. Can any honest person say that Benedict’s actions fit into that category? He did not hide abuse in the Church — he exposed it. That there is more he may have been able to do at various points just shows that he was like the rest of us: a limited, imperfect human being. 

The accusation against Benedict most recently in the media came in the year of his death, when he was accused in a report commissioned by the German Church of “misconduct” in dealing with four cases of abuse when he was Archbishop of Munich between 1977-1982. 

The report alleges that Benedict failed to take appropriate action against the priests under his authority who had committed abuse. In two of the cases, priests committed abuse while Benedict was in office and continued to perform pastoral duties, without canonical action being taken against them. They were later criminally sanctioned. In a third, a priest who was convicted of abuse abroad was transferred to the diocese. 

One of the report’s lawyers, Martin Pusch, alleged that Benedict knew about this priest’s past, but this has been vehemently denied. The fourth is that of Peter Hullermann.

Benedict admitted to accidentally saying he had not attended a meeting in 1980 where Hullermann, a priest who had committed sexual abuse, was discussed. According to the minutes of the meeting, they spoke about granting Hullermann accommodation in Munich during his therapeutic treatment there, which was approved. 

Hullermann had been transferred from the diocese of Essen after not denying allegations that he had abused a child there. He was later reassigned to pastoral ministry by another priest in Munich, Fr Gerard Gruber, who did not consult Benedict about the decision. Horrifyingly, Hullermann was convicted of committing further abuse in 1986.

Fr Gruber took full responsibility for the decision to reassign Hullermann, and Benedict denied any knowledge of the accusations or decision to re-admit.

When he gave the mistaken testimony, the Pope Emeritus was 94 years old, had gone through 8,000 pages of documents with the help of advisers, and wrongly answered, due to what these advisers say was a “transcription error”, one answer in his 82 page statement about a meeting which had occurred more than 40 years prior. A meeting which he was already known to have attended. That is hardly evidence of a cover-up. 

Furthermore, there is no evidence that he knew this priest, or any of the other priests he is accused of “misconduct” in regard to, were accused of abuse. Many have conveniently forgotten about the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”. 

But if the accusations of cover-up and Nazi-sympathies are so clearly baseless, why do people continue to make them? It’s because Benedict embodied traditional Catholicism, and there is an anti-Catholic sentiment that is never far beneath the surface in the post-Enlightenment West. 

This is not just another boring claim of victimhood. It’s a statement of fact: the entire post-Enlightenment Western project is explicitly anti-Catholic in its worldview. 

Take two iconic Enlightenment philosophers, René Descartes and David Hume. They were intellectual revolutionaries who, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, sought to overthrow the previous philosophical inheritance of Catholic Europe, which was Aristo-Thomism. 

They each denied different aspects of this worldview. Descartes began with radical scepticism — with the instruction to doubt everything capable of doubt. This naturally included the reigning philosophical worldview of the day. This tendency has continued to the present — with the young encouraged as a matter of course to doubt all sources of authority and tradition. 

He also located man’s essential nature in the mind, and proposed a complete separation between mind and body, contrary to the Aristo-Thomism view of hylomorphism (that there is a union between soul and body). Transgenderism is one modern-day result of this. It is only possible to be “born into the wrong body” if there is a complete separation between soul and body. Descartes endorsed this separation, but Thomas Aquinas stood against it. 

David Hume attacked from another direction, denying the Aristo-Thomist categorisation of man as a “rational animal”. He argued instead that man is essentially a creature of instinct, and that we come to know things primarily through sense perception and only secondarily and less concretely through the intellect. He certainly did not see man as created in the “Image of God”.

If Hume is right we can say goodbye to the notion of objective truth — which we all access through reasoning. And hello to a “dictatorship of relativism”, which Benedict spoke about as characterising the modern age, “that does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”. The era of “my truth”.

Both Hume and Descartes denied the Thomist conception of man’s nature and purpose, which is achieved through virtue. The modern day progeny of this is social liberalism: the idea that people can act however they want and invent their own purpose. 

This is perhaps one of the sources of the deepest ire towards Benedict. The traditional worldview which he stood for maintains that human behaviour must be constrained in order for us to be fulfilled. This is anathema to modern man who despises constraint. 

Now we can understand why Kevin Maguire considered “deeply conservative” to be something which counted against Benedict. And now we know the real reason why so many disliked him.

The revolution doesn’t like those who stand against it. Pope Benedict did.

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