taking the words of Jesus seriously

Well, news has broken that the heir of St. Peter’s key-wielding authority in Rome is resigning. I offer a few words of contemplation to the RLC readership–many of whom I presume are not Catholic (because Catholics are generally not “red letter Christians.” We’re big into inventing traditions atop the so-called historical Jesus. See Mary’s assumption.)


1) Keep the conspiracy theories to a minimum. Just yesterday I was teaching my RCIA classes at Mass (indoctrinating the new converts), and I brought up a concept that Ratzinger wrote about in his Introduction to Christianity (a book I heartily don’t recommend if you are looking for a simple introduction. It is fairly heavy philosophy.) One student quickly jumped into say that he heard that, back in the day, Ratzinger, once chair of that mean and nasty Vatican doctrine police (the CDF), was reputedly involved in Oscar Romero’s assassination plot. I’ve heard some juicy rumors in my day, but this kind of stuff seems like crap–and it clouds the mind of logic and patience. Ratzinger, yes, has lodged criticism of liberation theology, but primarily because some of its branches have resorted to violence and worldly means of political coercion.

With Papa Ratzi’s resignation, surely some people will shovel more hearsay atop the situation. I’m not precluding that there can be some shadows lurking about this, but I encourage the internet-jazzed mobs out there to read and think with minds more capacious than Twitter. I’ve heard not a few people claim that Ratzinger abetted the child-abuse crisis; but I’ve also heard many credible commentators declare that he’s actually been a staunch and capable manager of the crisis. Sift and read books–not, quickly tweet and judge.

Related: Tony Campolo on the Impending Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

2) Read him–a neglected practice among his critics. Ratzinger is a scholar first, and a very capable one at that. He initially shied from Peter’s seat because he just wanted to be a scholar and theologian. And of the numerous people who bray their complaints about him being some conservative Nazi, I ask whether they have read any books of his, or read a full transcript of one of his lectures (not taken-out-of-context quotes about Muslim scholars). The aforementioned Introduction quoted no theologian more than Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a poster-child of progressive theology. I can easily say that Ratzi has said some things that aren’t agreeable by me. But I’ve also been enticed to read him because James Alison, of all people, a gay and Catholic theologian, a stupendous thinker, has declared that there is more going on with Ratzinger than meets the eye (see youtube debate, “Is It Ethical to Be Catholic?”).

3) Understand what “St. Peter’s successor” is. It is quite fashionable to poo poo the mere existence of a leadership structure in the Church–citing seemingly egalitarian passages from the gospels. Well, just as many Peter-propaganda passages litter the gospels–handing over of keys, authorizing apostles, conferring a kingdom, etc.. Whether the gospel writers inserted Peter to justify his successor’s authority, or whether Jesus’ authorizing Peter comes from the mouth of the historical Jesus, we cannot ultimately know. For better or worse, the Church found it necessary to develop a cosmopolitan office that symbolically unified the church among its many branches. Of course, even the Catholic catechism says, “only Christ is the head of the Church, ” but there have been valid reasons (again, perhaps from the gospels themselves) to have a “first among equals” who presides among the apostles and bishops. Considering the validity of Peter’s office will help keep some people, I think, from kicking Ratzinger in the butt as he exits.

I offer those three points largely as an encouragement toward patience, insight, and research, and ultimately Christian charity, which always hopes for the best like an innocent dove, while never precluding guile, like a shrewd snake. This, to me, is the solution to the thin Tweetish logic (or lack of it) that so pervades the commentariat.

Chris Haw is the co-author of the best-selling book Jesus for President with Shane Claiborne. He recently finished his book about his joining the Catholic Church, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart (Ave Maria Press). He has been interviewed in Christianity Today, America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Sojourners, CNN, and Al-Jazeera and was featured in the DVD series “Another World Is Possible” and the documentary The Ordinary Radicals.

Haw is a carpenter, painter, theologian, and potter. He and his family are members of Camden Houses, a small Christian community in Camden, New Jersey. A graduate of Eastern University with degrees in Sociology and Theology, Haw did his graduate work in Theology at Villanova University and now occasionally teaches Religious Studies at Cabrini College.

Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

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