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Church Talk: Benedict XVI: Focusing on Jesus

Friday 20 January 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Church Talk: Benedict XVI: Focusing on Jesus
Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Cook Islands Catholic Church meets Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. SUPPLIED/23011912

Within the excitement of Christmas and New Year, the Catholic Church had to deal with the death of a former Pope, Benedict XVI, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.

Josef Alois Ratzinger was born in 1927 in Bavaria, Germany and as a child grew up under the shadow of the Nazi government. Along with Queen Elizabeth II who died earlier in the year, Ratzinger was amongst the last world leader who personally experienced World War II.

The siblings of Joseph were a brother, George, who was also a priest in Germany and an unmarried sister, Maria who spent her life caring for either of her brothers.

Josef Ratzinger was a lifelong scholar

After the war in 1945, Ratzinger trained as a priest and was ordained in 1951. He quickly showed his teachers he was a capable student and undertook doctoral studies in Theology, focusing very much on St. Augustine and his theology of the church. Josef was a professor at many German universities from 1959 and was considered a subtle thinker and engaging teacher by his students. During this time, he became a bishop and cardinal.

Closeness to Jesus was central to Benedict

Throughout his writings, Benedict shows how we see the world differently when we are able to speak with God and be near to Jesus. The very first book he wrote looked at Jesus at the centre of history. When the church had major assemblies in Rome Josef Ratzinger stressed that Jesus is at the heart of divine revelation. His final books were a trilogy on Jesus which he called, “My personal search for the face of the Lord”. Being in touch with Jesus was the beginning and end of Josef Ratzinger’s ministry. Benedict wanted us to experience Jesus before anything else, and then share that experience of Jesus with the world.

Benedict’s last words heard a few hours before his death, took many Catholics by surprise for their simplicity. “Lord, I love you.”  The words appeared too simple for such a brilliant mind. Given he was on his deathbed, it was clear to whom he belonged. Beautiful.

God’s Rottweiler

Pope John Paul II brought Cardinal Josef Ratzinger to the Rome to be the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. In this post he was responsible for enforcing theological orthodoxy and was in general assertively uncompromising re Catholic teaching and as a result of this profile became well known throughout the catholic world as “God’s Rottweiler”.

Benedict as Pope. 2005 – 1013. 265th Pope

As the successor of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI continued the same policies of Pope John Paul. Surprisingly he laid aside the “rottweiler” image and became a gently loving father of his sheep. During the time of these two Popes considerable progress was made in dialoguing with the Muslims resulting in improved relations.

Benedict engaged the modern world, and he was never afraid to challenge the modern world. He often called attention to the problem of policies that had no deeper goal than furthering the interests of those in power, or that had no substantial consideration of ethics or reality.

The most difficult issue that Pope Benedict had to deal with was that of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church by the clergy. Despite changes he made and insisting on guidelines to be followed on how to handle abuse cases, he and the church were heavily criticised at the way the church was handing the abuse, particularly by the victims.

Benedict: The Pope who resigned

In February of 2013, at the age of 85 Pope Benedict resigned as Pope. This came as a tremendous shock in the Catholic World as a Pope had not resigned in 600 years. In explanation, Pope Benedict said “that the modern world was changing so quickly and profoundly that someone of his age and era was no longer suited to the papacy”. Resign he did and he spent 10 years in a small monastery within the Vatican spending most of his time praying for the church. He continued to write too.

Personal involvement of myself with Pope Benedict

In 2011, I was going about my priestly work in Fiji, when I got a phone call from the Pope’s representative in New Zealand informing me that Pope Benedict had chosen me to be the Bishop in the Cook Islands. I can tell you the Cook Islands was not on my agenda and this came as complete surprise to me. Why me? How did my name get joined to the Cook Islands when I had never worked in the country? You can imagine my confusion. Today I thank Pope Benedict for the decision he made. Certainly, I have no regrets that Pope Benedict brought me and the Cook Islands together.

Late in 2011, I visited Pope Benedict in Rome. Every five years a bishop has to travel to Rome and report over a week on what is happening in your diocese. It means a one on one session with the Pope. Pope Benedict opened my interview with a plea that I be honest in my conversation. He said he needed to know both what is going well and not so well if he was to respond in any way helpful.

Late 2012, I was back in Rome for a workshop and the 80 participants, all bishops, were addressed for a time by Pope Benedict. When he came into the room, he was walking with two people at his side holding him up. In body he was struggling; but not in his mind. In February 2013 I was not surprised he resigned.

I am uncomfortable using the term God’s Rottweiler of Cardinal Ratzinger. What is important to me is that each religion does have its personal set of beliefs and these have to be safeguarded and preserved. Those today who say because we worship the same God we all believe the same thing. Benedict XVI found it a heavy cross that the Christian world is splintered into so many religions. Because of this splintering we have to be like Benedict focusing on Jesus. And if we are preaching his gospel that it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that we are proclaiming.  Many people in the Cook Islands quote scripture, when it supports what they think. But have they asked themselves first, am I preaching what God would say and do?

The Rottweiler image is a powerful reminder that if we are using scripture that we have to ask ourselves that it is indeed God’s word and not my own that I am preaching. My point here is not to stop you using scripture. But use it as God intended.  In my 12 years in the Cook Islands the best use of scripture that I heard was that of the former prime minister Henry Puna speaking at the 50th anniversary of Self Government in the Cook Islands when he spoke on family. The use of scripture was excellent because it was used as God intended it to be used.

Pope Benedict was laid to rest in the basement of St. Peter’s Basilica. If in later years he is proclaimed a saint of the Church he will be moved upstairs into a grave in the main church. May he rest in peace.