Rorate Caeli

“A Tragic Pope” - A Great Intellect is Important; an Iron Hand Even More So - by Juan Manuel de Prada


This is how the tragedy came about of the clairvoyant man, capable of diagnosing the causes of the evil that was leading to the gangrene of the Church

Juan Manuel de Prada
January 2, 2023

The papacy of Benedict XVI was perceived by many Catholics -among whom I count myself- as a precious gift. It was -saving the differences- as if John Henry Newman had acceded to the Petrine ministry. Not only because Ratzinger was a man of high intellectual stature - even if he did not reach Newman's unattainable heights* - but also because from a 'past' prone to the shadow he had embraced the light.

 Ratzinger, in fact, had been a stooped theologian, as moderate as you like (just as Newman had been an Anglican, as 'high church' as you like); and from a timid Vatican II enthusiasm he had evolved admirably, aware of the "process of decadence and self-destruction" (to use his own words) that "aggressive, polemical, centrifugal latent forces" were unleashing within the post-conciliar Church. Moreover, his time in the Roman Curia allowed him to become closely acquainted with the "filth" that nested in the ecclesiastical structures, which he denounced in a memorable Stations of the Cross, while his predecessor was dying.

Subsequent episodes, such as the scandal caused by his famous "Regensburg speech" or the rabid smear campaign he suffered for his extreme zeal in the scrutiny of religious vocations (to put an end to pedophilia in the clergy), as well as the internal boycott campaigns against all his attempts at doctrinal and liturgical restoration, gradually disintegrated him. Here it was proven that Ratzinger was a weak man with a somewhat pessimistic background; also that his intellectual vocation was too strong, so strong as to become a tempting refuge in the midst of the storm. Thus was forged the tragedy of the clairvoyant man, capable of diagnosing the causes of the evil that was causing the gangrene of the Church, but without the resolution to attack that evil with the precise remedies, without sufficient courage to tackle the surgical reforms that the Church needed. Thus it was once again demonstrated that, to steer the ship of Peter, it is not enough to be a brilliant intellectual, not even a sage; it also requires an outstanding practical intellect, an intelligence that is not only applied to the ends, but also to the means, endowed with the ability to command and a will that does not tremble when the reeds become spears and it is necessary to strike the table with an iron fist (even if it is gloved in velvet). 

Benedict XVI had, of course, the most beautiful and softest velvet glove, but his hand was weak and it did not take long for his wrist to break. It did not help him, of course, to have surrounded himself with collaborators who, far from making up for his shortcomings, exploited them to their advantage.

His weakness led to a resignation, the consequences of which are well known to those spirits that do not dabble in 'mediocre sanctimony'. And among those perceptive spirits was yours, lucid and sorrowful: Rest in peace, beloved Benedict.


*Rorate note: that seems debatable, they were both intellectual giants.