Benedict ‘Deceived’ as Churchmen Demolished Orthodoxy?

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by James Baresel  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 12, 2020   

Pope emeritus distances himself from Integrated Catholic Community

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FREIBURG, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a rare communication with German journalists, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recently informed the magazine Herder Korrespondenz he was unaware of and deceived about abuses which, according to a report by the archdiocese of Munich, took place within the Integrated Catholic Community — an organization of diocesan priests and laymen canonically established by cardinals Johannes Degenhardt and Joseph Ratzinger, and with whom the latter maintained close links throughout his years as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as pope.

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Cdl. Johannes Degenhardt and Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger

The facts alleged by the archdiocese are straightforward enough: The community at times exerted control over who members married; whether they cohabited with, separated from or even civilly divorced their spouses; their places of residence; when they tried to conceive or avoid conception of children (one former member claiming an artificial form of birth control was recommended). Other allegations include foregoing sacramental confession in favor of "public penitential discussions," encouraging financially crippling levels of monetary donation and mistreatment of those who left the community.

Ratzinger's Connection

It is known that in the year 2000 an official of the archdiocese of Munich discussed certain allegations against the Integrated Community with then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was also independently contacted by some of its former members. Details concerning the communications made to Ratzinger have yet to emerge, but he has admitted to having been deceived by Integrated Community members, of whom he appears to have been too trusting while excessively suspicious of those who left it.

The Integrated Community attempted to position itself as a faithful alternative both to longstanding Catholic practice and to the radical forms of dissent.

Two facts seem particularly pertinent for examining the relationship between the former pope and the organization in question: 

  • Community members claimed his approval for practices he never authorized and took advantage of their relationship with him in their dealings with other ecclesial authorities
  • Serious investigation of the Integrated Community was initiated by no less notorious a subverter of Catholic orthodoxy than Cdl. Reinhard Marx, suggesting that attitudes towards the credibility of the Community's members and opponents may have been prejudiced by its relationship to theological disputes and politics within the German Church

The latter point raises the question of just what the theological orientation of the Integrated Community is.

Seeking Early Catholicism, Misled by 'Feelings'

Like many organizations and movements that developed in throughout the 1940s, '50s and '60s, the Integrated Community attempted to position itself as a faithful alternative both to longstanding Catholic practice and to the radical forms of dissent associated with such theologians as Hans Küng. And, as is commonly the case among those of such an orientation, the Integrated Community was partly founded to attempt re-creation of what its founders imagined to have been the life of the early Church.

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From the perspective of the matter at hand, one of the most notable features of such attempts — both among those who make them and within the Integrated Community specifically — is the fact that they often do not limit themselves either to insistence upon (real or imagined) early Catholic practices concerning matters that allow for legitimate variation (such as those parts of the liturgy which vary from rite to rite) or to the belief that the early Church constituted an ideal from which Catholic practice declined, rather than a foundation from which later developments naturally grew.

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Theologian Hans Küng

They also have a tendency to "restore" the supposed "experience" of early Catholic life — explicit commitment to which is ascribed to the Integrated Community by the Pontifical Council for the Laity's "Directory of International Associations of the Faithful."

This tends to shift emphasis away from intellectual assent to doctrines and towards creating the type of "feeling" it is believed was felt by early Catholics, an emotionalism that can lead to marginalization or denial of doctrines at odds with "experience." Achieving the correct "feeling" of "community" can become so important that it can lead to the "group" micromanaging people's lives.

Influenced by 'Social and Political Concerns'

Another commonality shared by the Integrated Community and other movements initiated by mid-20th century Catholics is a tendency to be excessively influenced by and preoccupied with the intellectual currents and social and political concerns of the day.

"Modern" biblical exegesis, ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, and French existentialism were among the particular interests of the Community's founders. Even if this initial intention was to sift through such currents from a more orthodox perspective, such a combination of interests seems to indicate too great an orientation towards the spirit of the age.

Some Catholics had compromised with Nazism while others were compromising with communism.

Given that Benedict has stressed that he believed his role to be assuring the Integrated Community's orthodoxy and that it focused on matters concerning which the former pope seems inclined to be as "modern" as orthodoxy allows, it is not surprising that he should have taken the group under his wing in an effort to promote its trajectory while preventing it from going too far.

And he was undoubtedly attracted by the Integrated Community's desire to address the fact that some Catholics had compromised with Nazism while others were compromising with communism — a particularly important issue when World War II had only recently ended and when Liberation Theology was exploding throughout much of the Church.       

Unfortunately, a basic level of political common sense is no assurance against gravely abusive behavior, let alone of faithful Catholicism, while attempts at "orthodox theological adventurousness" can easily lead to error and dissent rather than the legitimate development at which they initially aimed.

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