In an article published yesterday by L’Osservatore Romano, historian and member of the Institute of France, Alain Besançon, offered an analysis of the first five years of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. He noted that the media campaign against the Holy Father and the Church reveals a hatred for Christianity, and that the Pope is confronting the “self-destruction” of society, nature and reason.
“Benedict XVI has fought untiringly for clarity and accuracy. For him there is nothing more dangerous than the relativism that is fused with modern democratic society: any organized group can legitimize an opinion merely because it is their opinion without the need to support it with reason,” Besançon said.
After praising the Holy Father for “restoring intelligence to the heart of the Church,” the French historian referred to two “accidents of this pontificate.” The first was the Pope’s discourse at Regensburg, Germany: “It was very scholarly, moderate, benevolent, but it caused very violent reactions.”
“The disproportionate reaction,” he explained, “revealed above all the dramatic ignorance of the clergy and the faithful about the message of Islam, and undoubtedly about their own (faith), because you can understand one without the other. Thus there is an absolute need for re-directing Christian knowledge.”
The second “accident,” Besançon said, has to do with the media attacks on the Pope and the Church, which aim to portray the Holy Father as covering up the abuse committed by some members of the clergy, when that has never been the case.
The French historian also made two observations, one about societal history and the other about the Church's understanding of the relationship between sins and crimes.
In the last 50 years, he explained, the definition of sexual crimes has undergone a transformation, with many consensual acts that beforehand were punished severely now often being considered a right. All of the outrage over the sexual crimes of the past is now concentrated completely on the act of pedophilia, Besançon suggested.
Second, he said, is the fact that the Church sees a distinction in how it treats sins and crimes. “The Church does not forgive crime, it leaves to the judge the task of punishing it, but the assessment of sin falls to her and is under her jurisdiction. She has the keys to bind or to loose it.”
Besançon went on to say that the Church holds that man is a sinner and that reality is present in all of her prayers.
“There exists thus a strange prejudice that causes us to be surprised by the fact that some men, merely because they have embraced the clerical state, are not different or necessarily better than anyone else. Up to now no one has found out how to make men into something other than what they are: proud, greedy, lustful, angry, sinners always. They do not cease to be such just because they undergo a psychological or medical exam beforehand,” he said.
However, he argued, this does not “prevent the media campaign from dragging with it things that will never be accepted: marriage for priests, the ordination of married men, and other such things.”
These things “reveal hatred for the Christian name or a loss of authority and trust in the Catholic Church,” Besançon said. “In any case, the Pope must bear the brunt of this confusion. After five years, to me his pontificate is sorrowful.”
“John Paul II fought against a monstrous political regime: Communism, but he had society and all of humanity on his side. Benedict XVI has the whole of modern society, born out of the crisis of the 60s, with its new morality and new religiosity, against him.”
Pope Benedict “finds himself in a situation similar to that of Paul VI after Vatican II, in confronting what he called ‘the self-destruction’ of the Church. This time the self-destruction is of all of society, nature and reason. The glory of his pontificate is not visible: it is that of martyrdom.”