Monday, January 31, 2011

David Berger on Benedict's Legacy: Lavishly Pulling Extreme Forces to Very Center of Church

I just wrote about how, as a voice speaking about the Catholic experience in the U.S. considered authoritative by the mainstream media, John Allen has consistently sought to move the defining center of Catholicism more and more to the right.  And how he is now defending a new president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, Timothy Dolan, as non-extreme, when Dolan has taken positions on a number of issues that place him far to the right in the American political and religious sphere.  And has allied himself with people widely considered to be religious and political extremists.

And here's German theologian David Berger, author of a recent insider's tell-all exposé of right-wing Catholicism in Europe, The Holy Illusion: Being a Gay Theologian in the Catholic Church, talking  about how the legacy of Pope Benedict is likely to be viewed by historians.  Berger is responding to a lively discussion of his book at the Pray Tell blog (I'm grateful to an outstanding reader of Bilgrimage, Conrad Noll, for directing me to this discussion):

Above all history will speak of a tragic Pope who, because of his love for the aesthetic of the traditional liturgy and its milieu, and for whatever deeply personal reasons, lavishly pulled extreme forces to the very center of the Church. For this he has accepted that Catholicism in Europe and the U.S. is increasingly transformed into a fundamentalist sect, a “holy remnant,” and distances itself ever more from the rest of society.

Benedict has "lavishly pulled extreme forces to the very center of the Church." And for that, historians and any Catholics who happen to remain around in the future will, Berger thinks, look back at this restorationist moment in Catholic history as a period in which Catholicism was redefined by its chief pastors as "a fundamentalist sect," a "holy remnant" distant from (and at war with) the social mainstream.

That's the ultimate outcome of the process of redefining the center that John Allen is promoting in his reading of Timothy Dolan.  This is where today's centrism (which was yesterday's extreme right) promoted by Catholic authority figures is heading.

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