Cardinal Ratzinger’s culpability

Someone sympathetic to the Cardinal could, for example, argue that Ratzinger was preoccupied with academic and administrative matters during nearly the whole of his priestly life; hence, he never had any reason to suspect that persons like Martha and Mary even existed.  Thus, one could argue that the Cardinal’s ignorance of “holy sex” between same-sex couples was regrettable but excusable.

Furthermore, since Cardinal Ratzinger entered seminary at a young age, he himself would have been largely or entirely a stranger to sexual experience as well; hence, he would have had no way of knowing that “in practice” sexual encounters were a blessing or a curse depending upon the degree to which mutual respect, mutual caring, and mutual affection were operative prior to, within, and after the sexual coupling.  Only a narrow legalistic mentality could imagine that sex between an engaged couple, for instance, could be entirely evil and sinful before their wedding night while, after their marriage, every sexual act would be judged to be entirely holy and grace-filled.  Priests who have done a measure of marriage counseling know full well that marital sex can sometimes be cruel, manipulative, and painful–far away from the “love making” normally expected.

Giving Cardinal Ratzinger the benefit of the doubt

So, I want to give Cardinal Ratzinger the benefit of the doubt.  I want to say that his ignorance (as described in the two paragraphs above) is excusable.  What is not excusable, however, is that Cardinal Ratzinger went ahead and made terrible judgments about the moral worth of same-sex unions when he was blissfully ignorant about these matters.  A doctor who made a medical diagnosis of a patient without personally examining him would be held as culpable.  In the same way, Ratzinger’s diagnosis of the worth of same-sex unions is culpable because he acted recklessly and irresponsibly.

The fact that he sent out letters to the bishops all over the world mandating that they would apply his diagnosis as irrevocable and definitive makes him all the more culpable.  Why so?  (a) Because he arrogantly imagines that his own judgments have nothing to gain from consultation with others; and (b) because he mistakingly imagines that neither he nor his staff at the CDF are in any way limited by their own culturally conditioned experiences and their past theological training; and (c) because God himself consulted with Abraham regarding his plans on how to deal with the sins of Sodom (Gen 18:17ff).

And God said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham?”  With even greater necessity, Cardinal Ratzinger should have revealed to representative bishops and theologians thoughout the world what he was about to say and to do relative to homosexual unions.  Had he done this, he might have sent out his tentative pastoral letter of 2003 with the following safeguards:

  1. To acknowledge that he has arrived at his own moral judgment on the worth of homosexual unions [based upon his own limited and culturally conditioned experiences];

  2. To insist that bishops, as true teachers, have the right to make their own diagnosis based on their own particular pastoral experiences and theological training;

  3. If they should arrive at the same informed diagnosis as his own, then they should go ahead and instruct their priests to act likewise;

  4. However, should they arrive at a diagnosis different from his own (esp. one that conflicts with his own), then they should NOT instruct their priests to act likewise.  Rather they should communicate to him in detail how they arrived at their unique findings;

  5. Why so?  (a) So that he [Cardinal Ratzinger] might better take into account data and judgments emerging from cultural situation different from his own.  (b) So that he [Cardinal Ratzinger] might entertain the possibility that he needs more prayer, reflection, and dialogue in order prudently to modify his original assessment [such that it might take into account a cultural situation previously unknown to him].

But Cardinal Ratzinger did not consult with the world-wide bishops.  He could have done this easily and face-to-face by making his anticipated pastoral letter the topic for the tri-annual  meeting of representative bishops in Rome.   Likewise, he could have consulted….

I leave aside my personal judgment of Cardinal Ratzinger.  I focus entirely here on the fact that he did not consult with other competent and informed bishops.  What his motives were need not enter here because these remain hidden to us.  The fact that there was no public consultation, however, is alarming.  It hints at Cardinal Ratzinger’s incomprehensible sense of self-sufficiency.  At no point does he ever hint that he has any major or minor natural limitations–limitations in terms of the impoverishment of his personal experiences with same-sex couples, limitations in terms of his nearly non-existent pastoral care of homosexuals, and limitations in terms of his impoverished training in the varieties of moral reasoning and in the dependence of moral theology upon the bible.

The immediate result is that his 2003 letter to the bishops receives poor marks.  He seems incapable of functioning outside of an authoritarian and essentialist moral analysis.  His pastoral index is dangerously low.  He wrongly presumes that those bishops, priests, and nuns who are ministering   to gays and lesbian Catholics have nothing to offer him.  His moral analysis is entirely negative.  He says nothing about the faith, hope, and responsible love that characterizes so many same-sex marriages.  Without saying it, he makes the fatal error of imagining that all the varieties of homosexuality practiced today are no different than what was being narrated in the story of Sodom (Gen 18) and in the condemnations of Paul in Rom 1:24-26As a result, the cardinal’s  biblical analysis is naive and amateurish.

More importantly, given all the errors named above (biblical, moral, and pastoral), why didn’t a storm of protest emerge?

#1  Why did the world-wide bishops not take issue with Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2003 letter in the same way that the bishops took issue when Paul VI published Humanae Vitae?  Did their silence signal assent?

#2  Why did the world-wide moral theologians not take issue with Cardinal Ratzinger’s analysis of same-sex unions in the same way that moral theologians took issue when Paul VI published Humanae Vitae?   Did their silence signal assent?

#3  Why were the challenges leveled by DignityUSA never acknowledged by the US bishops?  . . . never acknowledged in diocesan newspapers and journals.

If you wish to address one of these, please click on the link associated with each of the questions above.

How bishops are expected to function

Various mandates have been published respecting the proper functioning of bishops.  More importantly, in 2004,  the Congregation for Bishops prepared and disseminated “Apostolorum Successores” (Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops).   Here are three sections that I have selected because they specify the conduct required of bishops.  With even greater force, therefore, they apply to the conduct of Cardinal Ratzinger.

#1  Good government requires the Bishop to do all in his power to seek the truth and to make every effort to perfect his teaching, attentive not only to the quantity but also to the quality of his pronouncements. In this way he will avoid the risk of adopting pastoral solutions of a purely formal nature which fail to address the substance of the problems (sec. 57).

#2  The Bishop should make it his business to acquire accurate knowledge of the common good of the diocese. This knowledge should be continually updated and confirmed through frequent visits among the people of God entrusted to him – so that he comes to know them – and also through study, socio-religious research, the counsel of prudent persons and constant dialogue with the faithful, since modern life is subject to such rapid changes (sec. 58).

#3  The Bishop will judge all things with prudence. . . .  With a merciful and benign yet firm spirit, he will rise above personal interests, avoiding undue haste or partisan spirit, and will be sure to listen to the interested parties before reaching a judgement on their actions (sec. 65).

I leave it to my readers to give a grade to Cardinal Ratzinger relative to these three segments of Apostolorum Successores.


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