While he has written and preached volume upon volume, we today look at just 10 particularly notable declarations.
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Many are already sure that Benedict XVI will one day be recognized as a Doctor of the Church. While he has written and preached volume upon volume, we today look at just 10 particularly notable declarations.
1. “A pedophile cannot be a priest.”
Many now acknowledge Benedict XVI’s fundamental role in combatting pedophilia in the Church, a scourge that the pope took pains to denounce. On the plane that took him to Washington in April 2008, when asked about the sexual abuse committed by some American priests, he said he was “ashamed” of these acts. “We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” he said.
2. “In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dreadful silence – a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent?”
These words were spoken by Benedict XVI at the Birkenau extermination camp in Poland. It was “as a son of the German people” that he had gone there to pray on May 28, 2006. This visit, as well as his many gestures of dialogue towards the Jewish community, placed Benedict XVI in continuity with John Paul II. Moreover, because of his nationality and his enlistment against his will in the Hitler Youth, this trip left its mark on people’s minds.
3. “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
During the homily at the Mass Pro eligendo Romano Pontifice, a few hours before the conclave that was to elect him, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger distinguished himself with these words which drew thunderous applause from the cardinals. Even before his election, he set the tone of his pontificate: That of a cooperator with the truth, his episcopal motto. The fight against relativism would punctuate many of his future speeches.
4. “I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome (…) by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”
These “shocking” words of the German pontiff on the plane taking him to Yaoundé (Cameroon) on March 17, 2009, caused many media outlets and African prelates to react. A few days later, the Holy See published a softened version of these words. The second part of the pope’s statement, often cut, shed light on this statement. For Benedict XVI, the fight against AIDS is twofold: it involves “bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal” as well as “true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practice self-denial.”
5. “The sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely technical progress (…) but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good.”
In the midst of the economic crisis, the Pontiff published his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) on July 7, 2009. Forty years after Populorum Progressio, which reflected on the consequences of globalization on human development (among other things), Benedict XVI updated the Church’s discourse on the world of economics, which was particularly impacted by the financial crisis of 2008. He emphasized the primary character of love at the heart of the economy, enlightened by the prism of reason.
6. “Religions have nothing to fear from a just secularity, one that is open and allows individuals to live in accordance with what they believe in their own consciences.”
In a video message given on March 25, 2011, in Paris, the Pontiff spoke in these words to French Christians on the subject of secularism. The French government was then preparing to open a heated debate on the subject.
7. “It is time to vigorously put a stop to prostitution, as well as to the widespread dissemination of material with erotic or pornographic content.”
Also in 2011, in an address to the new German ambassador, the Pope strongly emphasized the need for the Church to commit itself “with regard to fundamental questions of human dignity.” In addition to the need to fight against prostitution, the Pontiff spoke of respect for all stages of life, another subject that was dear to him.
8. “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Taken out of context, this sentence caused one of the biggest media crises in the history of the Vatican. On September 12, 2006, Benedict XVI was invited to the University of Regensburg to speak on the theme “Faith, Reason and the University.” The Pope Emeritus quoted the words of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus to a Persian interlocutor. These words did not reflect his own thoughts but were part of a more general reflection on the link between religion and violence, he explained. “Here, certainly, the pope doesn’t want to give a lesson, let’s say, an interpretation of Islam, as violent. He is saying, in the case of a violent interpretation of religion, we are in a contradiction with the nature of God,” the director of the Press Office of the Holy See declared at the time, when questioned following the polemic which had generated strong reactions in the Muslim world.
9. “I have come to the certainty that my strength, due to an advanced age, is no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
On February 11, 2013, before the cardinals gathered in consistory, Benedict XVI became the first pope in modern history to resign. With this revolutionary sentence, according to many observers, Joseph Ratzinger certainly transformed the Petrine ministry.
10. “I have felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee (…) I have always known that the Lord is in that boat, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine, and not ours, but his. Nor does the Lord let it sink; it is he who guides it …”
These words from the Pontiff’s last general audience seem to conclude his pontificate on a note of hope. A few days before his election, on March 25, 2005, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger had delivered a meditation on the theme of the barque-Church during the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. His words betrayed his concern. “Your Church seems to us a boat ready to sink, a boat that is taking on water on all sides,” he wrote, addressing Christ directly.