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Anyone who has had even the slightest contact with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would immediately sense a very gentle, serene and quiet personality, very far from the image of a bulldog or a rottweiler. Why is it then some of his critics even go to the extent of calling him a “Nazi”? As an academician who has followed his career over the last forty years or so, I will try to explain why people with a liberal agenda (in the American sense) would object to his insisting on some absolute and unhanging truths about the nature of man and society. It is obvious that the strong positions he took, both as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as Pope Benedict XVI, against abortion, birth control, same sex marriage, and divorce, among others, would not sit well with the liberals who are now wrongly interpreting certain statements of Pope Francis as representing a departure from what the Catholic Church has invariably taught about these moral issues since time immemorial.
First, a quick look at what Wikipedia can tell us about the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The very first line about him in Wikipedia already betrays a bias: “He is best known for his rigid views on Catholicism and topics such as birth control and homosexuality.” Another way of expressing this characteristic of Pope Benedict would have been: “He is best known for his fidelity to the unchanging moral doctrine of the Catholic Church on topics such as birth control and homosexuality.” When Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, he clearly stated that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” For more than two thousand years, the world has witnessed how the Successor of Peter, even when the position was occupied by scalawags and scoundrels, by divine guidance never changed even an iota of doctrine relating to dogma and morals. Pope Benedict was no different nor shall Pope Francis depart from this tradition, no matter how different the two are in their personalities.
Let us try to understand why some modern critics unthinkingly call Pope Benedict a Nazi! He was born on April 16, 1927 and, therefore, grew up under war reparations from World War I, as the Nazi regime was gaining power. As a youth, he had no choice but to belong to the Hitler Youth as membership was mandatory for people his age. It was like belonging to the ROTC during my own youth in the Philippines. I had no choice. The young Ratzinger entered preparatory seminary in 1939. In 1943, Ratzinger and his fellow seminarians were compulsorily drafted into the anti-aircraft corps. After a year in this it, he was drafted into the regular military. He was sent home and then called up again before deserting in late April 1945. He was captured by American soldiers and held as a prisoner of war for several months.
Ratzinger returned to the seminary at the University of Munich in the fall of 1945 and was ordained a priest in 1951. Two years later, he earned his doctorate at the University of Munich. He earned his teaching licentiate in 1957 and became a professor of Freising College in 1958. He then became a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959. He later moved to the University of Muenster (1963-66) and was given a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tubingen. Alienated by the student protests at Tubingen, he returned to Bavaria, to the University to Regensburg. Because of his outstanding reputation as a professor of dogmatic theology, he was recruited by Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne to be his chief theological expert at the Second Vatican Council (1963-65). Ratzinger was viewed as a reformer at that time. In 1972, he helped found the theological journal Communio, which became one of the most important journals of Catholic thought. In March 1977, he was named archbishop of Munich and Freising and, three months later, was named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI. In 1981, Pope John Paul II named Ratzinger Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1998, he became Vice Dean of the College of Cardinals and was elected dean in 2002. He was elevated to the papacy in 2005 and in February 2013 he resigned from his position as pope.
It is obvious from this very brief biographical profile that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI served the Church primarily by explaining, defending and spreading the authentic teachings of the Church throughout his entire ecclesiastical career. He did not have the same intense pastoral work, especially among the poor, that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had as a Jesuit in Argentina. It is only natural that the two would have different strengths which they contributed to the building of the mystical body of Christ which is the Church. As an academic myself, especially in the very complex field of economics during the last fifty years, I can attest to how the role of Cardinal Ratzinger as teacher, interpreter and defender of the true doctrine of the Church helped me and numerous others weather the doctrinal and moral storm that the Catholic church had to go through after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
When I returned from my studies in the US in 1964, I became the Head of the Economics Department and Dean of the Graduate School of Business in a Catholic university in Manila. During the next ten years, I would find myself in the midst of so much doctrinal confusion among some leading Catholic priests was well as theology and philosophy professors. I learned that such a state of confusion usually follows a major ecumenical council. I already had an inkling of this doctrinal storm while at Harvard when some influential people in the Catholic circles there were already questioning what Pope Paul VI would eventually declare in Humanae Vitae, i.e. that artificial contraceptives are intrinsically evil. Things got worse after Vatican II. There were those questioning the need for personal confession; or even the possibility of committing a mortal sin; or the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. But what concerned me most were teachings affecting the subjects I was teaching which had to do with the problems faced by developing or what then were called Third World countries. As one of the first forms of what Pope Francis would eventually tag as “ideological colonization,” a few influential clerics were contaminated by some Latin American religious priests who were preaching the doctrine of Liberation Theology. Their intentions were good: to work for liberating the poor from dehumanizing poverty. But the means they wanted to use was suspect: class struggle as borrowed from Marxism. They wanted to do the impossible: to marry Christianity and Marxism. They did not realize that Christian Marxism is an oxymoron. As a materialist, Karl Marx denied the existence of God. It is, therefore, impossible for a Christian to embrace marxism and still remain a Christian. (To be continued).