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Our readersFebruary 28, 2013

Brother Benedict

When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, we all knew that his papacy would not last as long as those of some of his predecessors. So his resignation should not be a complete surprise, and we ought to praise God for the eight years that Pope Benedict has been able to serve and lead the Catholic Church.

Still, even though I am not Catholic, I was saddened to read of his resignation. I have known this humble man personally for the last 18 years; and through personal encounters and correspondence, I have developed a deep respect for him. Already as a cardinal, and then as pope, he has been a tireless advocate for the true values of Christianity—values that are sadly being lost and attacked all over the world.

Pope Benedict is one of the few voices that have had the courage to speak out for true Christ-like discipleship and for traditional family values. With his resignation, we are losing a voice of conscience that we can ill afford to lose, even as it has been rejected and criticized.

I am going to miss Brother Benedict very much and will have him in my prayers. And I pray that the Catholic Church will be led and guided in appointing his successor.

Johann Christoph Arnold

Senior Pastor Bruderhof Communities

Rifton, N.Y.

Original Sources

Re “Pius’s Balancing Act,” by David I. Kertzer (2/18): The controversy surrounding Pius XII and the Holocaust is a polarized mess riddled with oversimplification and biased characterization. Maybe it is hopeless. Maybe folks are just too invested in vilification or hagiography. Maybe “Hitler’s Pope” is too tempting a proxy for other intra-faith and interfaith battles. But here are two ways we might arrive at a calmer, clearer understanding of our church’s history during the worst moral episode of the 20th century.

First, take Pius out of the running for sainthood, at least for the next several decades. God’s judgment does not require ratification by Pius’s acolytes (or his prosecutors). And the idea of a St. Pius XII does not leave a lot of room for gray or nuance.

Second, don’t rely simply on the interpretations and recounting of authors, reviewers and pundits. Use the blessing of technology to read original sources and contemporaneous accounts. Mr. Kertzer refers to the lack of explicit reference to National Socialism in “Mit Brennender Sorge.” A reader of the encyclical, however, would likely note its focus on “the Reich Government” and its indictment of “certain leaders [who] pretend to draw from the so-called myth of blood and race.” Was there any doubt about to whom the encyclical was referring?

Mr. Kertzer also claims that Pius “refused to denounce publicly the Nazis’ invasion of Poland in [September] 1939.” But read “Summi Pontificatus,” issued in October 1939. The New York Times front-page headline read: “Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism; Urges Restoring of Poland.” A public library with a generous database will allow readers to see this for themselves and make their own judgments about Pius—and the varying reliability of his detractors.

Kevin Doyle

West Nyack, N.Y.

Our Foolishness

Stephen Bullivant offers exceptional insight in his recent article, “Foolishness!” (2/11). What a brilliant and much needed reflection. Over the years I’ve developed a simple habit of looking around during Sunday Mass in wonder, and gratitude, for all the folks who show that I am not alone in affirming such “incredible” mysteries about who we are: calling out to God (yes, God!) as our Father; acknowledging that Jesus, the Christ of the universe, is one of us, who walked to his execution because he tried to show us our Father.

Virtually none of us believed him then, but we believe him now? Really? Nothing short of “foolishness.” Those who might consider us believers unbalanced might be surprised by how close we feel to them, how deeply we understand their view and by how humbly we would try to give reasons for the hope that is in us.

Robert B. Murray

Braintree, Mass.

Prize-Winning Article

For his article, “Foolishness!”, Stephen Bullivant deserves an America prize for insight. How aptly he shows how much we believers have to learn from atheists. How relevant is his quotation from Psalms 14 and 53, which provided St. Anselm with the point of departure for the whole of scholastic philosophy. And how well his essay is capped by his other quotation from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.

I would only add the other quotation from Ecclesiastes, “Infinite is the multitude of fools,” which is the inspiration in Erasmus’s Encomium Moriae and has its culmination both in “Twelfth Night,” in Feste’s comment, “Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere,” and in the whole play “King Lear.”

What distinguishes this play among all Shakespeare’s other plays is its wise collocation of comedy and tragedy—comedy at the end of Act IV and tragedy at the end of Act V. What few Shakespearean scholars, as “non-fools,” seem to recognize is how well the dramatist is anticipating Mr. Bullivant’s wise requirement, in presenting the Christians in his audience with a topsy-turvy Passion play, putting the joy of the Resurrection before the sorrow of the Passion, thus waking them up from their all-too-dogmatic slumber.

Peter Milward, S.J.

Tokyo, Japan

Still Growing

“The Coming Population Bust” (Current Comment, 2/4) was written in the spirit of a dutiful and obedient Catholic, blissfully (and smugly) ignorant of facts regarding population studies.

Did the magisterium break into your editorial offices? A slight down-tick in the rate of population increase hardly signals an “existential threat to the future of humanity.” Planet earth is still adding more than 70 million people per year, with one billion chronically hungry and another eight million dying every year from hunger-related illnesses. Please see the five-part series, “Beyond 7 Billion,” published this past summer in The Los Angeles Times. It isn’t going to get better soon. Start praying.

Richard Dubiel

Stevens Point, Wis.

Prudential Judgments

While everything in the Feb. 4 issue of America was rich, I found three items especially intriguing.

I wonder how one could expect the harmony Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl (“The Noble Enterprise”) looks for when our bishops focus on safeguarding traditional teachings, while theologians focus on exploring the ramifications of these teachings in the light of expanding or evolving knowledge and information. I suspect the magisterium is confronted with prudential judgments. The late Cardinal Avery Dulles (“Ignatius Among Us”) illustrates the pitfalls in that process; three of the cited theologians (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac) were placed under a cloud, only to be rehabilitated by Vatican II.

As I read the article “Misdirections” as part of this triad, John W. O’Malley, S.J., further unveils the human limits of objective interpretation of what we read.

Perhaps the episcopal ring is no more a guarantee of wise prudential decisions than the wedding ring is a guarantee of profound and lasting love.

Thomas W. Mahan

Brevard, N.C.

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