In the February issue of Commonweal, Massimo Faggioli criticized Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for his collaboration with Cardinal Robert Sarah on a book titled From the Depths of Our Hearts, which argues that there is an intimate link between the priesthood and celibacy. The scriptural, theological, and pastoral positions espoused by each man can, of course, be challenged and debated. Faggioli himself laments the absence of reference to the documents of Vatican II. One could, by way of counterargument, contend that Benedict, at least, is attempting to develop and deepen the claims of Vatican II’s “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests” (Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 16) which states that “celibacy is in very many ways appropriate to the priesthood” (“multimodam convenientiam”), because it makes priests “more equipped” (aptiores) to exercise “fatherhood in Christ” (paternitatem in Christo).
But Faggioli’s indictment of Benedict is much broader than a disagreement about the reasons for clerical celibacy. For Faggioli, Benedict’s intervention on this topic is but the latest example of his abandonment of both the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. In Faggioli’s reading, Ratzinger’s theological and pastoral career has been nothing less than a decades-long “repudiation of Vatican II.” To be sure, Faggioli makes this accusation with a certain sadness, acknowledging that “Ratzinger was one of the most important theologians of Vatican II.” But, for Faggioli, that only makes Benedict’s subsequent betrayal of the progressive camp all the more tragic.
Faggioli’s article is rather imprecise as to when the pope emeritus is supposed to have turned his back on the council. Faggioli vaguely identifies “a pattern of theological drift” that may even stretch back to “August 1965”—before the last session of the council! Without saying so explicitly, he implies that Ratzinger’s defection may have been occasioned by the conciliar debate over the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et spes). He does not mention that Karl Rahner and Hans Küng, among other theologians, joined Ratzinger in expressing misgivings about some elements of the draft text of that document.
Faggioli also mentions the student riots of 1968 as an influence on Ratzinger’s “distancing himself from the Council,” noting that, in the wake of those riots, Ratzinger moved from Tübingen to the “quieter” precincts of Regensburg in Bavaria. But the connection between Ratzinger’s commitment to the council and his academic location is left obscure; readers are asked to infer that no one who left Tübingen for Regensburg could have much good to say about Vatican II.
In a quite remarkable manoeuver Faggioli seeks to distance Benedict not only from the council, but even from his predecessor John Paul II. Little attention is paid to the intimate collaboration between the two men, which lasted for almost twenty-five years. One of the most important fruits of that collaboration was the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose purpose was to set forth the church’s two-millennium tradition, including the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
Only when Faggioli arrives at Benedict’s own pontificate does he become somewhat more specific, appealing, for example, to Benedict’s well-known address to the Curia in December 2005 and to his farewell address to the clergy of Rome in February 2013. Purportedly, both addresses demonstrate “his disappointments with the Council.” I cannot stress sufficiently that neither address supports this claim.