Then came Benedict XVI, the first Pope to be elected during my adulthood. I remember wanting to park in front of the TV during the conclave and watch for the white smoke and see the announcement of the new Pope, but my court schedule would not allow it. As I meditated later upon the above image of him showing himself to the crowds for the first time as Pope, I found myself being filled with a personal affection for the man that I never felt for his two predecessors under whom I had lived. I actually hung this picture up in my house. As an added bonus, all the right people were wailing and gnashing their teeth over the election of Ratzinger. He on his part asked us to pray that he would not flee for fear of the wolves. When he abdicated less than eight years later, my first thought was: I didn't pray for him enough. Then we got...what we got.
I have never lost my personal affection for Benedict XVI. He is a scholar and a gentleman, a father of such tenderness as his wayward children did not come close to deserving. The Church and indeed the world owes him a great debt for having opened the road home for Anglicans by creating the Ordinariates, and especially for having brought back the Mass of Tradition and many of the things that go along with tradition. But, as Pope, he should have been able to entirely correct the course of the Church and turn her off the path of self-destruction she has been on for at least a century, and certainly since Vatican II. As we find ourselves almost entirely leaderless while the world launches a frontal assault on the Church and on her members in particular, it cannot be denied that he failed to do this.
Was this because of the wolves that Benedict saw around him everywhere he turned? Partly. But now, in the light of the post-conciliar hierarchy's massive and blatant failures over the last year and a half, something seems clear to me that I never more than half-realized before now: how handicapped Benedict XVI was as Pope by the fact that to some extent, he still bought into the wolves' ideology. Josef Ratzinger was a child during the Nazi era and the Second World War, during which life was held cheap, and then grew up under the harsh American occupation of his country, during which the immortal souls of his people were held cheap. He spent his formative years and his young adulthood marinating in trauma and modernism. Trauma has the power to make us doubt settled principles, seeing that they have appeared to fail us in our particular case. As for modernism, it has been in the air we breathe, and the water we drink, for decades. Without a special grace from God, it's impossible not to be touched by it. Modernism trains us to set aside our common sense, doubt known realities, and hold entirely contradictory ideas simultaneously.
I can only speak to my own perceptions and conclusions on this. Why didn't I see before now how greatly influenced Pope Benedict was by the poison in the Church's bloodstream? Partly because I have not entirely escaped it, either. Partly because, though I knew the young Fr. Ratzinger was a peritus at the Council, and that he had some rather eccentric ideas in his youth, I believed he had outgrown them. He was, after all, orders of magnitude more orthodox and traditional than anybody else in the Church I had to deal with on the ground, in my own diocese. The liberals thought so too, and so did not trouble to disguise their hatred and contempt of him. But while Benedict clearly recognized many of the bad fruits of the Council and its aftermath, he still dreamed of being able to salvage the Council and its underlying ideologies, and reconcile them with the authentic doctrines and traditions of the Church. Immersed in the "hermeneutic of continuity," Pope Benedict was apparently not troubled by the co-existence of contradictory things or ideas, and even thought this could somehow redound to the benefit of the Church. Thus, from within this ideological and philosophical quicksand, he was unable use decisively his power as the Supreme Pontiff and Shepherd of the Church and put the wolves to flight. Instead, he tried to co-exist with them and with their noxious notions. Today, we live with the results.
Whether he intended to or not, Pope Francis has done a great service to the Church by at last nailing his colors to the mast and proving decisively that there is no middle course we can take in dealing with our opponents. We can't "dialogue" with them, because they don't mean the same thing by words that we mean, and because to them "dialogue" is just a tactic to waste our time and exhaust our energy until we cave. We can't compromise with them, because to them compromise means we give up everything and they give up nothing. We need to be as committed to defeating them as they are to defeating us. And we can't do that by remaining mired in the muddy, slippery slime of modernism.
I still love Benedict XVI (not the true Pope any longer, since Jesus Christ cannot be hindered or stymied by any man's loopy ideas, grammatical errors, semantics games or crooked intrigues in conferring or taking away papal jurisdiction). I still believe he is a good man, that his intentions were good, and that he did his best as Pope, within his limitations. But we cannot deny the limitations, and should not miss out on the lessons those limitations have for us and how we ought to carry ourselves in the continuing crisis.