I'm bumping this up in consideration of the Holy Father's recent Christmas address that contains the same troubling elements that prompted this post last year.
Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Germany is not playing out like his UK trip last year. He has reached out to just about everyone, except German Catholics. The lack of enthusiasm among German Catholics certainly hasn't been improved by the pope's actions or words. As one Catholic German remarked, "has he even said one word to us?" Is the reason why the pope has spent so much time "reaching out" to Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and atheists in Germany because he's finding it hard to locate German Catholics to dialogue with? Perhaps. German culture is as non-Christian today as it was in the days of St. Boniface. Germany is by all appearances "a desert of faith".
However, I think there is a different motive.
Pope Benedict XVI is, at least from all appearances, a liberal when comes to religious tolerance. His words belie a man who believes that Catholicism is just one of many valid voices. He gives equal credit to Talmudic Judaism, Islam and Protestantism, even suggesting that Catholics need to turn to these various other religions to gain a full understanding of Divine Revelation. He uses the word "pluralism" with a positive connotation. Never once, to my knowledge, has the Holy Father ever called any politician, atheist or secularist to conversion while in Germany, this time or the two previous times. His words to the German government assure politicians that they can govern without regard to God or Christ the King. What a startling departure from everything the Church had always taught previous to the Second Vatican Council. I don't have the authority to call the pope a heretic, but if my son came to me and expressed these positions, I would sit him down and show him where he was wrong, and why his soul would be in mortal jeopardy, pointing out the specific heresies that he would be espousing.
The Holy Father, who seems so open to Tradition and traditionalists on the one hand, on the other does more than flirt with liberalism and indifferentism. He presents a enigma for many, but there is an explanation. One popular internet priest calls Benedict XVI the "pope of Christian unity", however, what would be more accurate is the label, "the pope of social reconstruction". The difference in practice can be very subtle.
The Holy Father has embarked on the dangerous path of liberalism because this liberalism has been engrained into the psyche of those of his generation, and its cause is nothing other than the fear and guilt generated by the remembrance of World War II and the Holocaust. This has been the driving force of this pontificate, always lurking just under the surface of Benedict's dealings with non-Catholics and world governments. This is a particular flaw of the Holy Father's generation. Those of this generation have lived their entire lives under the shadow of, and guilt for, the atrocities of World War II. Never far from their decision making and ideological principles is the contemplation of Hitler, Nazism, the brutality of WWII and the images of the liberated concentration camps. It is particularly pronounced among Germans from this generation, and it tells us much about this pope's apparent inconsistencies and ideological liberalism when it comes to religious tolerance.
The pope has mentioned this remembrance more than once on this current trip to Germany. He was careful to keep the memory of WWII vivid in order to preface his vision. It is a premise that is never isolated from his thinking. It is attached like a cancer.
Catholics have always been careful to view the world's events from a supernatural perspective as well as from a practical perspective. In many cases one can not perceive the practical implications of an event without seeing the same event from the supernatural perspective. The greatest deficiency of atheism is that it renders man incapable of perceiving reality. When the events of WWII are viewed from this supernatural perspective, we are able to understand the root causes and their practical implications. Our supernatural perspective perceives in the events of WWII the struggle between Satan and God, between virtue and vice, between good and evil. We are able to ascertain in those years the presence of a demonic will bent on thwarting God's design by, first, annihilating the Jewish people so there could be no conversation of the Jews, and thus no consummation of God's design as recorded in Scripture, and then, second, upon the failure of that immediate purpose, the scarring of modern man's psyche so he would be unwilling to accept the Gospel, and to even hate the Gospel.
This mediate purpose of the demonic will in regards to the events of WWII have been devastating. It is like a worm eating away at what is left of the Western World's foundations. The atrocities of WWII are viewed now by moderns as a result of the failures of those systems and ideologies that prevailed in Europe prior to the Second World War. In reality, the western world had already been moving at a very quick pace from it Christian roots, but the same demonic will has inspired in the minds of modern man the notion that the chief culprit in this great failure of the Twentieth Century was Christianity, and specifically the one institution in Europe that had done so much to shape the thinking of Christians in Europe: the Catholic Church.
It has become accepted dogma that WWII was the result of the failure of religion. Hatred of the Jew was pinned on the Catholic Church. All religious wars were turned into just so many precursors to Nazism and imperialism. Lies about Pope Pius XII spread quickly from their origins in the KGB because Westerners were already predisposed to believe that the Church was to blame in large measure for the evolution of fascism and Nazism. Never mind that such conclusions were not in the least based on any real evidence at all. It was enough that it was the zeitgeist in which Europeans lived and breathed. Satan had made the tail wag the dog.
This thinking was adopted even by the church leaders of this generation. Ideas of changes that were relegated before the war to a minority of Modernists and liberals living in the underworld of the Liturgical Movement gained a new impetus from churchmen convinced that they and their Church were, at least in part, to blame for the atrocities of the Second World War. Was not the demise of the Jesuit order already sealed when Pedro Arrupe walked, stunned and horrified, through the rubble of Hiroshima? That "permanent experience outside of history, engraved on my memory" was the opening the devil used to destroy the Jesuits at the hands of Arrupe the vandal. When that generation stared in disgust at the images of Dachau and Auschwitz, the devil plied his trade with deceitful temptations in the minds of those churchmen. "Change her... change the church that failed humanity," Satan whispered to those churchmen.
And so they did.
Pope Benedict XVI was no different than any other churchmen of his generation. He had much to do with shaping the Second Vatican Council and enacting those changes that have so wrecked the Church, and as a consequence the Western World. While it is true that Joseph Ratzinger realized, sometime in the mid-seventies as we know from the book, Milestones, that the project of dismembering the Church and her traditional expressions of faith was sending the Church into extinction, it is still true that the scarred remembrance of WWII had a crucial influence even on this realization in Benedict's thinking and policy making.
While it is obvious that Benedict cherishes traditional Catholic expressions, they are to him just mere expressions among so many other expressions, some that are not even Catholic, that are not necessarily equal, but all valid, nonetheless. The difference is of aesthetic quality, like the difference between Bach and Schubert or Reni and Caravaggio. Personal preference ought to be respected, but it doesn't necessarily make any one artist or composer superior to the other. For Benedict the crucial factor for the church-esthete, which he seems to have appropriated to himself, is judging the appropriateness of the various expressions within given circumstances, much the same way someone chooses a venue for a concert. Sometimes traditionalism is more appropriate, and sometimes Communion and Liberation is more appropriate. There is more of phenomenology to Benedict's thinking than the moderate realism of St. Thomas Aquinas in his evaluation of the intrinsic value of Christian expression.
Some have called this "a big tent mentality", insinuating that Benedict believes there is room in the Church for all these many valid expressions. While on the surface this appears to be the case, however, it's not as simplistic as that. The driving force of the "pope of Christian unity" isn't a big tent mentality, but a drive to overcome the specter of 20th century atrocity by turning the Church into a kind of institutional hub of culture, over and above those societal institutions and religions that, like Nazism, could bring Europe back to the brink of atrocity. This notion of the Church was fully adopted by Pope John Paul II, and fully endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger at the time. It was this notion that drove John Paul in his struggle against communism. It is a project that is merely being continued now into this pontificate. The project is to make the Church into a force to shape culture and society in such a way that Europe and the world will never fall victim to Hitler again.
Perhaps on the surface this sounds perfectly acceptable. The problem, however, is that this is not the mission of the Church militant. The mission of the Church militant is that given to her by Christ: "Go and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." The mission of the Church is the salvation of souls. Whatever the Church does to alleviate human suffering, it ought to be done as a means to the end of proclaiming the Gospel and eliminating the greatest human suffering of all, which is the real possibility of damnation.
The Church has always been the primary catalyst of cultural change. She formed Western civilization. However, she did this not as the immediate purpose of her actions, but always as a happy byproduct of her primary activity, which is the salvation of souls. We see today the last remnants of a generation of churchmen who have this backward. Pope Benedict XVI has placed shaping culture and guiding the society as the primary activity of his pontificate and the modern Church, even to the point of espousing liberalism and indifference in order to convince non-Catholics of his humanitarian vision of worldly peace.
However, as the precipitous decline of the Western World's economy, society and social mores continues unabated, can we point to souls being saved? Only one observation needs suffice in order to answer this question: western man has given himself easier access to pornography than he has grace. This, and any other observation of the moral condition of individual men and women, makes it obvious that the salvation of souls has not been a happy byproduct of the new mission of the Church.
In fact, I surmise more souls were saved on the battlefields of the Crusades than in this drive for a worldly peace that is an impossible dream inspired by the devil.