On 1 April 2017, OnePeterFive reported that Pope Francis chose Professor Anne-Marie Pelletier to write this year’s Via Crucis Meditations which will be read on Good Friday by the pope himself at the Colosseum in Rome. Pelletier was a speaker at the highly controversial May 2015 Day of Study at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome which had been organized by the German, French, and Swiss Bishops’ Conferences. As we then reported, this conference promoted progressively liberalizing ideas with regard to the “remarried” divorcees, as well as to the matter of homosexuality.
Pelletier herself made similar comments in her own presentation at that Day of Study, arguing that the Catholic Church should now make use of “her power to bind and to loosen,” thereby giving more scope now to those whose first marriages had somehow broken and who had then entered into a new civil bond. Pelletier then said, as follows:
But according to the New Testament, God Himself can dissolve a marriage – if the bond of the faithful with Him which has been concluded in baptism cannot at all be saved otherwise [sic]. Consequently, the Church has to make use of her power to bind and to loosen, and to do so in more cases than [were done] in the past – for the sake of the Faith. [emphasis added]
The French professor also argued that it was “a rather rigid interpretation” by the Church to have “interpreted the 6th Commandment expansively [sic] and in such a way that any sexual intercourse outside of a validly contracted marriage is judged as being licentious.”
In the face of such an heterodox speech, readers of OnePeterFive were astonished to learn that Pelletier was the first woman to receive, in 2014, the Ratzinger Prize, which was established in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI, and with the further help of his own monetary donation. The Ratzinger Foundation which issues the yearly prize has a board that chooses the person to be awarded. This decision is, however, always made in cooperation with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Thus it is even more astonishing that, even after her scandalizing 2015 remarks critical of the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage, she would still be invited to contribute to a book initiated by the Ratzinger Foundation and honoring Benedict XVI himself.
Unfortunately, this is now the case.
As Radio Vatikan, the German branch of Vatican Radio, reports on 5 April, Anne-Marie Pelletier is one of the contributors to a book honoring Pope Benedict upon his 90th birthday. Radio Vatikan writes:
Internationally renowned theologians, biblical scholars, and philosophers honor the retired German pope: on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Benedict XVI on 16 April, the Vatican Publishing House (LEV) publishes the collection of essays which is entitled Cooperatores Veritatis and which has been initiated by the Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI Foundation.
Additional information can be found on the official website of the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/ Benedict XVI where the following is stated with regard to this new publication:
The volume Cooperatores Veritatis. Scritti in onore del Papa emerito Benedetto XVI per il 90° compleanno, edited by Pierluca Azzaro and Father Federico Lombardi and published by the Vatican Publishing House, will be held on April, 6th at 5,30 p.m. at the Augustinian Patristic Institute of Rome (via Paolo VI, 25) […]
In order to celebrate the 90 years of the Emeritus Pope, the 13 scholars who had received Ratzinger Prize since 2011 offered their contribution – in a lot of languages and topics – and took part in this collective work.
The celebration volume – a proper “Festschrift” according to the German academic terminology – “is an original way to gather an international group of important scholars, who shared their views on Ratzinger’s thought” Father Lombardi wrote in the introduction to the work.
While it thus can be said that Professor Pelletier necessarily became a contributor to this book — in virtue of her being a Ratzinger Prize recipient — a certain atmosphere of scandal remains.
How is it that, in this time of turmoil within the Catholic Church — especially with regard to marriage — such an additionally confusing message has now to come to us from this unexpected direction?
One explanation could be that Pope Francis — who now as the new pope is ultimately in charge of this Ratzinger Foundation — himself might have effectively insisted upon her contribution, even (or especially) after her 2015 Day of Study remarks.
But then, we have also received some confusing messages from Joseph Ratzinger himself over the years. As OnepeterFive recently reported, it was Cardinal Ratzinger himself who, in 1972, considered that there might be an opening toward “remarried” divorcees with regard to Holy Communion:
Ratzinger himself displayed this interplay between critical thinking and obedience, being adventurous enough in his questioning to present in a 1972 essay an argument for Communion being given to the divorced and invalidly remarried – an immoral act (though he did not yet know it to be immoral, of course) – yet humble enough in his faith to later retract it in submission to the Magisterium. Concerning his essay’s suggestions about this immoral act, he explained in 1991, “Their implementation in pastoral practice would of course necessarily depend on their corroboration by an official act of the Magisterium to whose judgment I would submit [….] Now the Magisterium subsequently spoke decisively on this question in the person of [Pope John Paul II] in Familiaris Consortio” – and it spoke against Ratzinger’s 1972 argument, which he consequently edited out of future editions of the essay and consistently condemned in his future statements.
Then we also have the fact that several of the authors highly admired and promoted by Cardinal Ratzinger himself — such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, Adrienne von Speyr and Henri de Lubac — have come under increased criticism. Here we point to a recent OnePeterFive essay written by H. Reed Armstrong in which he shows that Hans Urs von Balthasar has made some troubling supportive comments about major promoters of the occultist worldview when writing a foreword to Valentin Tomberg’s 1985 book titled Meditations on the Tarot, a Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Armstrong also shows how de Lubac and some of his new doctrines had been in the 1940s and 1950s under papal criticism (to include disciplinary actions), especially for a “false mysticism.”
It was Joseph Ratzinger who, in 1990, helped to set up the Casa Balthasar in Rome which is a place of study especially attentive to the spirituality of von Balthasar, de Lubac, and von Speyr. As the official website of the Casa Balthasar says:
Casa Balthasar is a house of spiritual discernment and studies, located in Rome (Italy). It is intended primarily for young people of all nationalities who aspire to give themselves to the Lord in some form of consecrated life and who are convinced of the world’s need for radical Christian commitment.
Founded in 1990 under the patronage of Cardinal J. Ratzinger, it is a work of the Lubac-Balthasar-Speyr Association at the service of the universal Church, directed by Jacques Servais SJ.
The house draws its inspiration from Hans Urs von Balthasar, Adrienne von Speyr, and Henri de Lubac, three great teachers of the spiritual life for our time, deeply imbued with the Ignatian spirit of contemplation, discernment and social awareness. [second boldening added]
To add one other more disturbing and equivocal aspect of the Ratzinger legacy, we might mention that only a few months ago, OnePeterFive reported on the latest interview book published by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI (Last Testament: In His Own Words, 2016) which makes it clear that he himself (then as a counsellor to Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne) played a major, largely progressive, role during the Second Vatican Council in mildly helping to change the Council’s tone and atmosphere.
In his retrospective recent interview, Ratzinger then even admits to have had, as a young man,
A sort of an anti-Roman sentiment. Not in the sense that we denied the primacy – the obedience toward the pope – but, rather, that one had, after all, a certain inner reserve with regard to the theology made in Rome. In this sense, there was a certain distancing. [my emphasis]
Looking back, Benedict admits to have been glad when the original (and conservative) schemata of the Second Vatican Council were rejected (also, in part, due to his own role, as becomes clearer in this interview book):
We were then all very interested in seeing what the pope would do [after the vote which showed a slight majority in favor of the more traditionally prepared schemata]. And very glad that he said we will start all over again, even though the pure legal situation would have allowed us to preserve the old state. [my emphasis]
The original schema on the “Sources of Revelation” which Ratzinger considered to be “influenced by the anti-modernist way of thinking” and filled with a “frigid, yes, nearly shocking tone,” was subsequently rejected.
Moreover, Pope Benedict explains his progressive leaning when he tells the journalist that, during the Council, he himself was part of the “Progressives,” even though “then ‘progressive’ did not yet mean that one breaks out of the Faith, but, rather, that one learns to understand it better and lives it more correctly, out of the origins [which implies a criticism of the heretofore practice of the Catholic Faith].” Ratzinger continues:
At that time, I was of the opinion that that is what we all want. Famous Progressivists like Lubac, Daniélou et cetera thought alike. The change was palpable already during the second Conciliar year , but it became clearer only in the course of the following years.
Once more, when asked by the journalist Peter Seewald about his actual influential role, Benedict admits his desire for change at the time and that, even though he does have now some slight qualms of conscience, he still thinks that the change was necessary:
One does indeed ask oneself whether one did it the right way. Especially when the whole thing [after Vatican II] went off the rails, this was certainly a question that one raised. Cardinal Frings later had very strong qualms of conscience. But I always had the consciousness that what we had factually said and implemented was right and that it also needed to happen. In itself, we acted correctly – even if we certainly did not correctly assess the political effects and the factual consequences. [my emphasis]
Fifty years later, the Catholic Church is in a disastrous situation. Vocations in the West are plummeting — so that, in Germany, the Diocese of Munich received in 2016 only one new candidate seminarian — and both the knowledge and the practice of the Faith are diminishing. The Catholic Church is being currently eroded by aggressive forms of moral relativism (and multiculturalism) and Islamism, as Professor Roberto de Mattei just recently said in Washington, D.C.
Some thus believe that it is time for a sort of spring cleaning in the Catholic Church. It is time to make an honest assessment of how we got to where we are now, without still trying to preserve the reputations and honoring approbations of certain people. Why is it that still those who wished to preserve the Catholic Faith in its entirety — with all of its traditional devotions, prayers, practices and liturgies — now still have to defend themselves? Where is the “burden of proof,” the “Onus Probandi“? Why is it not so that those who actually helped to change the Catholic Faith in so many facets within the last decades should be now on the bench, instead, to explain and justify themselves? Why do some people, for example, endorse von Balthasar’s having written a foreword to an occultist book — and rebuke those who criticize him for it — instead of letting von Balthasar justify himself (or have his followers do it) for “dabbling in the occult and hermeticism”? Such a thing is only further confusing the minds of Catholics. In a time of an immense increase of the penetration and larger problem of occultism, may we not ask the question whether this dabbling and select approval were not themselves a gravely culpable act, at least by way of negligence?
Moreover, Robert Hickson has just published an essay on Catholicism.org in which he analyzes some of Cardinal Ratzinger’s own 1982 words about the traditionalists who had tried to resist the novelties coming out from Rome. Ratzinger wrote such things also in the 1987 English translation of his 1982 original German:
Among the more obvious phenomena of the last [post-Conciliar] years [1965-1982?] must be counted the increasing number of integralist groups in which the desire for piety, for the sense of the mystery [sic], is finding satisfaction. We must be on our guard against minimizing these [more traditionalist] movements. Without a doubt, they represent a sectarian zealotry that is the antithesis of Catholicity. We cannot resist them too firmly. (Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (1987), pp. 389-390–my emphasis added)
Is it so that we traditional Catholics have still to be so thoroughly and so firmly resisted? Is it not getting more and more clear that the wholesome growth in the Catholic Church which is taking place is largely linked to Catholics who are loyally returning to Tradition — also to the Traditional Gregorian-Tridentine Mass? Is it not so that those who helped to “modernize and update” the Catholic Church some fifty years ago should now themselves make a candid examination of conscience, realizing that, once one opens up an equivocal, deliberately ambiguous discussion about one aspect of Catholic dogma or “irreformable doctrine” and morals, other decompositions of Catholicism will follow and will tend to unravel the whole edifice?
(To give here a small, but apt, example. The promoter of female priests and of married priests, Bishop emeritus Erwin Kräutler, made in 2016 the following significant comparison. With regard to the question of women priests, Bishop Kräutler first responds with the answer: “Nothing at all is here impossible!” He compares this possible change with some of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council: “The Second Vatican Council made several decisions which would have been considered to be heretical around the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). Let us only think of the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae (7 December 1965) on Religious Freedom.” [emphasis added])
These varied questions that I have posed here certainly come from someone who is not a specialist in such matters. I thus now invite others who are much more soundly formed and erudite than I to continue this proposed discussion. But, for sure, we have to ask these “searchlight” questions, candidly, and without false loyalties. The salvation of souls is often at stake, and our final loyalty should be first and ultimately to Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. It seems that the doctrinal confusion has been creeping and seeping into the Catholic Church for quite some time now. While some of the protagonists of the last fifty or sixty years might have kept up certain essential parts of Catholic doctrine and morals, they might have slipped or drifted too far and too laxly in other areas.
Here, I would like to add one last question. How is it that, in 2000, the Vatican would declare that the Protestant and Orthodox churches are still, somehow, members of the Catholic Church, while these same churches do not abide by Our Lord’s specific teaching on marriage? Neither its indissolubility nor its sacramentality, for instance?
For, this is what the CDF document Dominus Jesus — signed by Cardinal Ratzinger himself and even likely largely written by him — had actually said in 2000:
Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist [e.g. Orthodox churches], are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church. […] On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, [e.g. Protestant churches] are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. [emphasis added]
How is it that we fight this combat now within the Catholic Church, defending Christ’s Own Words on marriage, when all along other Christian churches were disobeying Him, and for many a year, but were ecumenically declared by the Catholic Church to be somehow still in good standing with God? Do we perhaps now have to deal with this spreading relativism about marriage because we did not earlier resist the then-increasing relativism concerning the membership in the Church — and even about the very nature of the Church herself (i.e., de Ecclesia)?
Do these Words of Christ still objectively matter or not?
Jesus answered, and said to him: If any one love me, he will keep my word [My Will, My Commandments], and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him. (John 14:23) [emphasis added]
The article has been updated with the link to Robert Hickson’s recent article “The Incarnation and Grace.“
Update 9 April: The Ratzinger Foundation has made a statement in which it expresses its gratitude for the fact that Professor Pelletier has been chosen to write the Via Crucis Meditations for this year’s Good Friday thus further supporting a woman who undermines Christ’s teaching on marriage. The statement says: “Professor Pelletier, an important scholar of contemporary French Catholicism, received the Ratzinger Prize in 2014. The Joseph Ratzinger –Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation is grateful to know that the estimated professor was entrusted with such an important task.”