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Notes on the
recent book
by Benedict XVI

The Enlightenment Pope? Peter Seewal with Pope Benedict XVI

An commentary by Fr. Nicolas Portail on the book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (Ignatius Press, 2010) that provides a deeper analysis than previous commentaries offered by the SSPX 5-19-2011

Bishop Bernard Fellay Superior General's Letter, #78

This article proves that the following quotation from Bishop Fellay's Superior General's Letter #78:

The few reassuring developments of the past few years are not enough to allow us to say that things have really changed fundamentally [as shown by the commentary below—Ed.].

They give us great hopes for the future, but like the light that one perceives while still in the depths of the tunnel. And so with all our hearts let us ask our Heavenly Mother to intervene so that this terrible trial may be cut short, that the Modernist cape muffling the Church—at least since Vatican II—may be torn in two, and that the Authorities may perform their salvific duties for souls, that the Church may regain her spiritual splendor and beauty, that souls throughout the world may hear the Good News that converts, receive the Sacraments that save, and find the one sheepfold. Ah! How we would love to be able to use less dramatic language, but it would be a lie and culpable negligence on our part to soothe you by letting you hope that things will improve by themselves.

Interest in the interviews of Benedict XVI with Peter Seewald in July 2010 at Castel Gandolfo, published as, quickly subsided; that is a shame, because the book provides a very interesting retrospect on the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

A few reading notes:

The literary genre

Never before has a pope decided to open his heart to all, not setting any question aside,” the book cover of the French edition announces. This is not correct, since Paul VI, in The Pope Speaks: Dialogues of Paul VI with Jean Guitton (1968; original French edition 1967), and John Paul II, in Be Not Afraid! by Andre Frossard (1982; original French edition 1982), and Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Vittorio Messori (1994; original Italian edition 1993), already submitted to such interviews. Yet although Light of the World is not really innovative, it again raises a question as to the authority of the pope’s answers: Is it part of the Magisterium or not? Benedict XVI speaks about the faith, theology, morality, ecclesiastical discipline—all eminently Catholic subjects, but outside of any papal framework. Hence there is a certain uneasiness: is it right for the Vicar of Christ to let himself be quizzed like a pop singer? The book suffers from the start from this structural ambiguity.

But Benedict XVI is “in top form”. This is the impression that one gets from the “Curriculum Vitae and a Brief Chronicle of the Pontificate” in Light of the World (pp. 195-219). How many “firsts” are explicitly mentioned in it! This insistence is not inadvertent, of course: for the pontificate of Benedict XVI very much resembles that of John Paul II (20 international journeys, a dozen visits to non-Catholic places of worship, ecumenical meetings, J.M.J.), but the novelties also allow us to say that Benedict XVI is not an understudy of Karol Wojtyla.

Pope Benedict's coat of arms with tiara in the Vatican Gardens
Pope Benedict's coat of arms
with tiara in the Vatican Gardens

What are these avant-garde acts?

The reader will remember his removal of the tiara from the papal coat of arms, “which among other things is a symbol of the secular power of the Church,” replacing it with a simple bishop’s [Light of the World, p. 200] (May 2005), and his suppression of the title “Patriarch of the West” (March 2006). Now using only the simple pallium of Metropolitan Archbishops, the pope has reduced himself to a simple Bishop of Rome as an “expression of sympathy” (p. 201).1

An unheard-of number of ecumenical meetings: with the Mennonites (who had been forgotten by John Paul II) on October 19, 2007; with the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, “protector of the holy places of Islam” (November 6, 2007); for a joint declaration of rapprochement with Bartholomew I (November 21, 2006); with King Abdullah of Jordan (May 8, 2009), the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (May 12, 2009)…. “First papal visit to a Jewish house of prayer in Germany” in Cologne (August 19, 2005), or in Jerusalem for the Muslim Dome of the Rock (May 12, 2009); “the second papal visit ever to an Islamic house of prayer,” the mosque in Istanbul (November 30, 2006); and in Westminster for an ecumenical celebration (September 17, 2010)…

The same can be said of his diplomatic activity: resumption of official relations with Medvedev’s Russia (December 3, 2009), the obliteration of a twenty-year chill with the Italian government (June 24, 2005), two first public Masses in Jerusalem and Nazareth (May 2009), a motu proprio visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland because “It was impossible for me not to come here as Pope” (May 28, 2006), and granting an audience to President Shimon Peres who assured him that [Israeli] relations with the Holy See are “the best since the time of Jesus Christ” (September 2, 2010), then to Mahmoud Abbas, who invited him to the Palestinian Territories (December 3, 2005)…. These are courageous feats the pope is accomplishing.

Finally, the earth-shaking declarations: first the Regensburg lecture on Islam and human reason (September 12, 2006), then the “unjustifiable crimes” of the Christian colonization of America (May 23, 2007), the call to a “profound solidarity with the Jewish world” (November 9, 2008) for the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht, and also the plea for forgiveness for the sexual crimes of Catholic priests and religious (in Australia on July 19, 2008, for Germany on January 15, 2010, or Ireland on March 19 of that same year). Earth-shaking gestures, too: the first meeting with victims of such abuse in the United States (April 17, 2008), the lifting of the excommunications of the Traditionalists (January 21, 2009), four hours with Hans Küng, who had been condemned by his predecessor (September 24, 2005), attending the largest global gathering of Catholic priests (June 10-11, 2010).

Hans Küng
Hans Küng:
a leading Modernist
and notorious dissenter
of the Catholic Faith

If God grants him many years, his pontificate could be even more “fruitful” than that of a Paul VI or a John Paul II. In what direction? Let’s quickly review several points.

Ecumenism: preferential field of the pontificate

The pope praying with Islamic leaders
The pope praying with Islamic leaders


The pope with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I
The pope with Orthodox
Patriarch Bartholomew I


The pope and the Anglican “Archbishop” of Canterbury
The pope and the Anglican
“Archbishop” of Canterbury

Islam, “a great religious reality with which we must be in dialogue” (p. 98), gets preferential treatment from the pope, who carefully distinguishes within it the religion from the political fact: Benedict XVI believes in tolerant Islam. Back in the sixteenth century, Islam had been used by the Ottoman Empire in its conquests: then the Crusades were justified. Not today. Furthermore contemporary Islamic intransigence is just a reaction to the apostate West and, according to the pope, Islam is “the defender… of religion against atheism and secularism” [p. 101]. An opportunity for Christianity, in other words. Perhaps the current Arab ferment will enlighten the pope’s judgment…

Orthodoxy is a priority of this pontificate, and the pope has already met its principal leaders. But the obstacle of the pope’s universal jurisdiction has not been overcome, far from it (pp. 202, 203). Nevertheless for Benedict XVI, “in a globalized society, in our need for the world community to have an interior unity, it is becoming evident that these [centrifugal] tendencies [i.e., national Churches of the Orthodox and Anglican type] are actually anachronisms” and that “the Church needs an organ of unity” (p. 138-139).

Thus globalization must extend also to Christianity, for since Vatican II it has been attentive to the “signs of the times”. Church unity thus depends on current historical conditions: it must follow the evolution of the world. How can she who is essentially one and holy thus follow in the wake of the world and secularize herself to that extent? A secularization which, in other statements, Benedict XVI deplores.

The election of Benedict XVI was greeted by Jewish organizationswith an enthusiasm second to none” [p. 81, the interviewer’s expression]. His first letter was to the Jewish community of Rome. He has visited more synagogues than his predecessors (Cologne, Manhattan, Rome) and had the Good Friday prayer for the Jews modified. The theological reason? They are our “fathers in faith” (p. 82). Hence this new relation between Israel and the Church, “where each respects the being and distinctive mission of the other”. Strictly speaking, there is no apostolate planned with regard to Israel.

Similarly vis-a-vis the Anglicans. The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (November 4, 2009) reintegrates them as an organized body, with a hierarchy and parishes: hence the system of personal ordinariates. But we must “examine to what extent they might be able to preserve their own tradition, their own inherited form of life, with all of the riches it contains” (p. 96). This is setting up a Church within the Latin Church.


The lifting of the excommunications of the bishops of Tradition (January 21, 2009) makes Tradition comparable to… the schismatic Church of China. And Benedict XVI explains that it was because “they violated papal primacy”, that the Chinese and the Traditionalists were excommunicated, although this “had nothing to do with Vatican II” [pp. 22, 120].

Operation Survival: the 1988 Episcopal Consecrations
Operation Survival:
The 1988 Episcopal Consecrations

This abridged version of the story ignores Ecclesia Dei adflicta (July 2, 1988) condemning Archbishop Lefebvre, since “the root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition” opposed to that of the Council.

Moreover it is impossible to compare with the Chinese Patriotic Church, which is separated from Rome and on the payroll of Mao, with the consecrations of 1988 which only bestowed the episcopal character, without ordinary jurisdiction or the intention to form a parallel Church. Archbishop Lefebvre said this explicitly, though. One cannot help being astonished at such an oversight by a shrewd man like the pope.

Bishop Richard Williamson
Bishop Richard Williamson

But he contradicts himself by declaring that once the four bishops had recognized papal jurisdiction, the excommunication could only be lifted, “justly,” and then answering that if he had known about Bishop Williamson’s statements, it would have been necessary “to separate the Williamson case from the others”. If we understand Benedict XVI correctly, it is not enough to recognize the primacy of the pope, if one utters some unfortunate words about the Holocaust. There is therefore the Catholic faith, and more than the Catholic faith.

Unfortunately,” the pope continues, “none of us went on the Internet to find out what sort of person we were dealing with.” These admissions leave us perplexed about the present seriousness of the Roman Curia, which is reduced to looking to the Internet for news about its internal affairs; another symptom of the secularization of the Church in the world’s tow.

And that is not all. To finish washing his hands of this episcopal “Holocaust-denier”, the pope explains that “Williamson is an atypical case, in that he was… never Catholic in the proper sense. He was an Anglican and then went over directly to Lefebvre” (pp. 121-122). Benedict XVI is rewriting history.

St. Pius X International Seminary in Econe, Switzerland
St. Pius X International Seminary
in Econe, Switzerland

In fact, Richard Williamson renounced Anglicanism and applied to St. Pius X Seminary in Econe, which at that time was quite thoroughly recognized and encouraged by the Roman Congregations. He made his first promise on December 8, 1973, more than two years before the (illegal) suppression of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X. To anyone who is trying to be objective, these three pages in Light of the World are at most conjectural and, alas, unfair. One would think that the pope was better informed than that about Traditionalism.

Affidavit of failure

Courageously, the pope allowed himself to be questioned about the wounds of the Church in this never-ending post-conciliar crisis. A few topics:

The crass ignorance of the youth after years of catechesis (9 to 13 years in Germany): “How is it possible?” Answer: “This is a question that I also ask myself, too…. [It] is incomprehensible.” When the supreme leader of the Church, which is “the teacher of truth” and infallible by the grace of her Founder, admits his ignorance about the very purpose of his mission—to transmit the faith which saves—then one may reasonably conclude that the Holy Spirit has gone on a long vacation. A solution? “The bishops must seriously reflect on ways to give catechesis a new heart and a new face.” In the 1950’s, all the little Catholics in the world knew their doctrine and had it at their fingertips. What if we readopted the good old methods?

Catechism of the Council of Trent; Angelus Press
The Catechism
of the Council
of Trent
(aka, The
Roman Catechism
); available from
Angelus Press

Considering those who are divorced and remarried, Benedict XVI upholds “monogamous marriage” which “is indissoluble” [pp. 143-144]. But in today’s world, “divorce is supposedly normal”; the validity of marriages is therefore called into question by the pope, who is open to marriage annulments in our opinion.... As for a man who was truly married, divorced, then entered a new civil relationship, the pope recommends spiritual direction which assures him of the love of Christ and tells him to think: “The more I remain in the Church, the more I am sustained by Him” (p. 145). To say, in a situation of cohabitation of adultery, that one is “sustained” by the Savior is a serious illusion, which encourages the sinner to remain one. And what about fidelity to the vows of the first marriage?

Ultrasound of an unborn baby
Ultrasound of an unborn baby

Abortionis a huge question.” [Actually that remark refers to “premarital sexuality”.] Benedict XVI proposes responding by reflecting that “society robs itself of its greatest hopes when it kills human beings through abortion. How many children are killed who might one day have been geniuses, who could have given humanity something new…? [G]reat human capacity…is being destroyed here....

And then “unborn children are human persons whose dignity and right to life we have to respect” (p. 146). Such humanistic or sociological reasons explain why the Church has lost the fight against abortion everywhere. Should it not be mentioned that God has inscribed in the soul of every human being by natural law and by Revelation the fact that He has reserved to Himself the right to make life-or-death decisions about a human being and consequently has forbidden us to kill the innocent?

As for contraception, Benedict XVI upholds the prohibitions by Paul VI in Humanae vitae, but “Finding ways to enable people to live the teaching, on the other hand, is a further question.” Why should it be? The Church’s teaching is clear. Nevertheless Benedict XVI wants “to express the teaching pastorally, theologically, and intellectually in the context of today’s studies of sexuality and anthropology so as to create the conditions for understanding” (p. 147). And with that, we don’t understand anything at all—unless it is that the Church is afraid of telling the truth?

Pedophilia in the clergy:Yes, it is a great crisis, we have to say that” [p. 23]. But for ten years Rome has reacted with stronger norms against those who are guilty and stricter requirements for future priests. But the pope also admits: “We must examine thoroughly how it was possible for that to happen” [p. 25]. When Peter Seewald insists, “One wonders most of all how someone who reads the Gospel every day… can go astray in this horrible way,” Benedict XVI can only admit his incompetence: “It is a mystery.... How can someone then fall so far? We do not know” (pp. 35-36). So he does not know the reasons for such moral deviancy among the clergy.

Or rather, he does not perceive them, because on the next page [sic] he reports the opinion of the Archbishop of Dublin: “Ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s.... After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied any more. The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish” (pp. 25-26). What event in the Sixties could have changed the Church’s practice in such a serious matter in this way? Thus it is still true: “They have eyes and see not” (Psalm 113).

The Sixties
The Sixties: merely a social revolution?
Or was Vatican II a primary culprit for social unrest and revolutionary ideas?

Finally, with regard to cohabiting priests, the pope again appeals to the “climate of the time”. “When a priest lives together with a woman, one must examine whether a real will to marry is present and whether they could build a good marriage. If that is the case, they must follow that path.” So the priest should break his vows?! And the pope adds that “The fundamental problem is honesty.” But didn’t the priest embrace celibacy for love of God and souls? Yes, but you have to keep in mind “respect for the truth of the two individuals and of the children…” [pp. 39-40]. And if there is no hope of a serious marriage, “one must try to find paths of healing for him and for her.” It seems that they have already been found: separation.

The quotations given above are significant in more than one respect: they allow us to gauge the disarray in which the highest authorities of the Church find themselves, the loftiest authority on earth, behind a discourse that purports to be reassuring. In comparison, the affair that the media pounced on in November 2010 seems almost secondary, even benign....

These few notes show how the conciliar Church today has failed on all the fundamental points of faith and morals. It has no concrete, effective solution whatsoever to propose. And the reason is that in the present crisis there is no other choice but to carry the cross, and valiantly; now this is totally absent from the dialogue in Light of the World. All told, never in her history has the Church deserved that title less.


1 There are five patriarchates in the Church. After the Orthodox schism of 1054, the four Eastern Patriarchs joined forces in opposing the Patriarch of the West; then in 1589 a fifth schismatic patriarchate was founded in Moscow, as a replacement for the one in Rome.
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