A couple of weeks ago La Croix International published an important article by Massimo Faggioli under the title, “The Peculiar Benedict Complex.” It explored some of the psychological and ecclesiological effects that Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papacy has had on the Church.
Faggioli, an LCI featured columnist and Commonweal contributing editor who now teaches historical theology at Villanova University in Philadelphia, wrote:
“The post-Benedict Church has only just begun to deal with the newly created institution of the ‘Bishop-emeritus of Rome’. The ‘Benedict complex’ tends to pit Pope Francis against his predecessor in a rivalry, if not a hostile relationship, which ends in a zero-sum game.”
A prominent member of the so-called “Bologna School” of ecclesiastical history (especially of the reforming nature of the Second Vatican Council), Faggioli argued that this new “Benedict complex” was being advanced by certain journalists and—my words now, not his—Catholics nostalgic for a rigid doctrinal conformity and black-and-white clarity that they, rightly or wrong, identify with the theology of the former pope.
“Even though some in Benedict XVI’s entourage have used the ‘pope emeritus’ to further their own personal agenda (and this is a serious issue), the ‘theological-industrial complex’ is not primarily a product of the theology of Ratzinger or his followers (the Ratzingerians),” Faggioli wrote.
Yes. And no.
Long before serving as Bishop of Rome (2005-2013), Joseph Ratzinger steadily consolidated his mark in contemporary ecclesiastical history as arguably the single most influential theologian in the post-Vatican II Church.
Beginning in late 1981 when John Paul II appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger’s carefully circumscribed theological views gradually became all but normative for the rest of the Catholic world. The Bavarian prefect was, in all but a few important areas, the theological spinal cord of the long, restorationist pontificate of the now-sainted Polish pope.
Then, during his own eight-year pontificate, Benedict XVI went even further to impose some of his most controversial positions on the entire Church. One of the most serious was the publication of the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which gave priests unfettered permission to celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments in the Tridentine Rite.
One effect of this motu proprio has been the deepening of divisions between reform-minded Catholics who have embraced Vatican II and the self-described traditionalists who have contested many of the reforms that followed the Council.
But another consequence of the document has been the legitimization of the neo-Tridentinists (some who are quasi-Lefebvrists)—priests and entire religious orders that had been on the fringes of the Church in the decades following the council they so dislike.
But once he was pope Benedict gave them new prominence, even appointing some of their most ardent supporters to key posts. There is no better (or worse) example than the American ultra-traditionalist, Raymond Burke. The former pope made the man who today is one of Pope Francis’s most prominent critics head of the Vatican’s top court in 2008. Benedict then made him a cardinal two years later.