Monday, April 19, 2010

Leonardo Boff on Benedict's Legacy at the Five-Year Mark: A Failed Shepherd

Bishop Accountability published a link yesterday to an interview with Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, in which Boff reflects on the track record of Pope Benedict on the occasion of Benedict's fifth anniversary as pope.  For non-German speakers, the interview in Süddeutsche Zeitung is unfortunately in German.  But the Bishop Accountability summary of the article (scroll down the page at Bishop Accountability to which the preceding link points, and you'll find it) has a partial summary.


1. Boff maintains that the current pope takes his cue far more from Vatican I than from Vatican II.

2. He makes the papacy and not the people of God the center-point of the church,

3. In his time as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he drove away (by officially silencing them) more than 100 theologians.

4. His papacy has been a record of strife with one community after another, including the Islamic community, the Jews, Protestant churches and the Anglican communion, women, gays, etc.

5. He has made one mistake after another in dealing with the challenges facing the church.

6. Boff, who studied in Munich and heard Ratzinger lecture when Boff was a student, finds Benedict completely unsuited to lead the church.

7. Above all, he has failed, Boff charges, as the pastoral leader of the church, as its shepherd.

8. Re: the sexual abuse of minors, the church hierarchy seeks falsely to turn this issue into a matter of sin rather than of crime, and in this way seeks to deceive the public and Catholics themselves--vastly undermining the credibility of the church in the process.

Several points that strike me as I read Boff's statements:

1. The witness of theologians like Hans Küng and Boff is extremely important in the current crisis.  Küng knows Benedict more intimately than the vast majority of those commenting on him, and his assessment of the current pope (and Boff's) ought to be taken very seriously.

2. But (and this is typical of the English-language media on the whole) neither Küng's recent open letter to the bishops of the church nor Boff's interview has, to my knowledge, been given much play at all in the media in the U.S. (but Küng's letter was published in Ireland).

3. The mainstream media in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries tends to be 1) theologically tone-deaf, and 2) enamored of a "both-and" narrative that dismisses the insights of theologians silenced by Ratzinger (e.g., Küng and Boff) as special pleading by those who have axes to grind with the current pope.  Our media's pretense to provide both sides of the story inevitably ends up protecting and defending those who have power, while giving little voice at all to those who have been made marginal and powerless.

4. And we have entered into a damage-control cycle with the most recent round of revelations about the abuse situation in the Catholic church, in which the mainstream media will begin to play a mop-up role, helping to hide the situation and discussion of it all over again, and helping Catholic leaders and their apologists clean up the image of the pope.

All the more reason, it seems to me, that those of us concerned to see real healing and real reformation should pay close attention to the voices of the many theologians who have been marginalized by the man now leading the church--voices that have long been essential to the healing and reform of the church, and whose removal from our midst is partly responsible for the mess we're in now.  And voices which were silenced precisely because they spoke of the need for continued reform of the church . . . .