Benedict XVI's Papacy a Failure?

Not Even by Society’s Standards

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By Carl Anderson

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, APRIL 12, 2010 ( In early April, the German Magazine Der Spiegel weighed into the recent attacks on the Church with the following headline: «The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI.»

Failed papacy? Not by a long shot.

Even by this world’s standards, the papacy of Pope Benedict has been remarkable. He has led the Church forward with a focus on engaging the culture around us with love. His two encyclicals on charity, his encyclical on hope, and his letter on the Eucharist — Christ at the center of our faith — have taken us back to the most basic and profound message of Christianity — faith, hope and charity. Benedict’s Christianity is the Christianity of the Beatitudes.

The reason some see a «failed papacy» is that they want to see just that. Too many in Europe want to see this papacy fail — any papacy fail — because the Church stands counter to their secularist agenda.

What some cannot tolerate is the vision articulated in Pope Benedict’s most recent encyclical, «Caritas in Veritate,» in which the pope reminds us: «Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is» (No. 78).

This week we will hear the Gospel proclaimed in which Christ asks Peter, «Do you love me?» And Peter replies that he does. But he can only reply that he does because Christ has loved him first. The secularist turns his back on God’s love. He refuses Christ’s invitation to love him in return.

We should remember that the two great commandments of Christ are to love God wholeheartedly — and our neighbor as ourselves. The first must lead to the second. But eliminate the first commandment — love of God — and the execution of the second — love of neighbor — will be unable to fulfill its promise.

The dream of the utopian secular society is a dream at best.

In «Caritas in Veritate,» Pope Benedict reiterated his point from «Deus Caritas Est» — that no state would ever be so perfect as to eliminate the need for charity. He wrote: «When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have.» (No. 7)

The idea that solutions to the world’s problems are to be found in the Gospel not in secularism has long been a theme of this pope. He has consistently maintained that the Church is different from secular society in that it does not seek a political messiah, but calls people to constant conversion.

A society that has no room for God — and the media outlets of such a society — also appear to have no room for this message, and so some have attacked the messenger, grasping at any straw to discredit him.

The Pope who has called us to charity in truth, who warned us that the economy would collapse if religious values were excluded from the marketplace, who did so much to address and put right the actions of those priests who have caused scandal — this man has been targeted, because he believes that we can only authentically love our neighbor if we have first allowed God to love us.

That idea — no matter how often it is proven correct by circumstance — is something that some secular minds just cannot tolerate. So there is a rush to judgment, a jumping to conclusions, an attempt to discredit the pope.

The champion of charity in truth has received neither charity nor truth at the hands of too many in the media.

There is a culture of suspicion against the Catholic Church today in which virtually any accusation is given credibility by the critics of the Church, while no amount of explanation in defense of the Church seems to be sufficient.

How else to explain the media frenzy now against the man who has done more than almost anyone else to deal effectively with those who abuse children?

The Holy Spirit will continue to lead Pope Benedict to the great work we have come to know him for, for his great witness to the love of Christ.

It is up to us today to follow our pope’s witness. We must stand with Pope Benedict and say yes to Christ’s love, and then bring that love to our neighbor, to our society. We must evangelize by our witness.

The poor witness of a few — their manipulation and abuse rather than love — have been seized upon by some trying to discredit the authentic Christian message and way of life. This is why scandal is so harmful, but also why our witness today is so important.

Speaking in 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger said that the art of living “can only be communicated by one who has life — he who is the gospel personified.”

We must be that gospel personified, and in saying yes to Christ’s love, and yes to loving Christ, we must then extend authentic charity in truth to our neighbor. Then the world will see that we are Christians by the way we love one another — and the way we will love one another will be the way we were first loved by God.

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Carl Anderson is the supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus and a New York Times bestselling author.

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