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did the message get through?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 25, 2005

The following article by Marco Tosatti, titled, "The Document That Put Ratzinger on Top," appeared in the Italian newspaper La Stampa last Friday (April 22). If the story it tells is true, it gives some grounds for hope that the will for reform may be taking root in places where it can make a difference.

A confidential but highly detailed document on the situation of the Church -- and especially the situation inside the Church -- circulated among the cardinals over the past few days, making a vivid impression and probably contributing indirectly to the choice of Joseph Ratzinger as the successor of Pope John Paul II. "I put my hand here after reading it, because I was afraid my heart would give out on me," one cardinal told us. It is an unsigned document, consisting of about ten sub-parts, which provides a picture of the situation of the clergy in various countries of the world, particularly Europe, Africa, and North America. We were not told who the author was, but certainly it was someone viewing the Church situation from a privileged vantage point, and very much an insider's one.

The "lack of integrity" of too many priests is put in stark relief: violation of the rules of celibacy, obviously, but not only that; problems tied to money, problems with the use of the faithful's contributions, and problems concerning the confessional as well. One example cited was the case of two young priests, guilty of violating the secrecy of the confessional and for that reason reduced to the lay state for thirty years by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "Time was when the secrecy of the confessional was an impregnable rampart," remarked the aforementioned cardinal. It is likely that this document was the basis for then-Cardinal Ratzinger's seemingly harsh interventions.

The first of the series took place during his reflections accompanying the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, the reflection on Jesus' third fall under the weight of the cross. The Pope's theologian-friend wrote: "Ought we not call to mind how much Christ has to suffer in His own Church? ... How many times we celebrate only ourselves without so much as taking Him into consideration! ... How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, by virtue of their priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Christ! How much vainglory, how much self-complacency! How little respect we show the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which He awaits us to raise us up again every time we fall!"

It was a reflection in which he spoke of the Church as a "boat on the point of sinking, a boat taking in water on all sides. And also in Your field we see more darnel than wheat. To see the vesture and visage of Your Church so filthy throws us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures."

Two days later, near the Vatican, Cardinal Ratzinger met on the street a retired curial monsignor who asked him the reason for giving what seemed a discouraging reflection. "We must pray much, we must pray much," answered Benedict XIV, "You weren't born yesterday; you understand what I'm talking about; you know what it means -- We priests! We priests!" he concluded in a tone of pleading, adding, "Remember the prayer to the Sacred Heart, in which we ask particular pardon for the sins of priests. I know it hurts to say the boat's taking in water from every side, but it's true, it's true. We priests ..."

Struck by the manner in which Ratzinger said, "we priests, we priests," the monsignor recognized his inner suffering and asked him nothing further.

Last Monday the dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger, during the first act of the conclave, the Missa pro eligendo pontifice, gave the same cry of alarm in another form: "How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves -- thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error."

At the end of the Mass many of the those present, including some of the cardinal electors, broke into applause. According to our source, this served as a "first ballot" indicating those in favor and those against, who kept both hands tightly gripping their Mass booklets. But the bleak picture of the situation within, and the need for a Pontiff able to grasp the helm of the Barque of Peter and keep hold of it, removed the reservations of many respecting the candidacy of Benedict XVI.

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