THIS PICTURE [see newsletter] shows Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to England and Scotland in 2010, when he spent a morning at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, meeting and addressing a large number of pupils and staff from Catholic schools throughout the country. Many of us have happy memories of the visit, when we ran a coach to the Mass in Birmingham, some of you went to the Vigil in Hyde Park, and some of us took part in the Mass in Westminster Cathedral.
Much has been written and said since his peaceful death on New Year’s Eve. We are having a Requiem Mass at 6pm NEXT WEDNESDAY, and our friends from other churches in Beckenham have been invited (we did the same when St John Paul II died in 2005). I just want to share here two aspects of his teachings, partly because they are often overlooked. I think the late pope was rather ill served by some of his devotees, many of whom were more interested in what he wore on this feet than what he wrote, but following his death there is time for some reasoned assessments, not just by theologians but by all of us: there have been some very good discussions and reflections – on BBC Radio 4 last Sunday, the Tablet webinar last Wednesday and in the current Tablet issue.
The first thing I want to point to is Benedict’s theology of peace. When he was elected pope in 2005 he said that he took the name Benedict in honour of Benedict XV, who tried so hard to bring about a negotiated settlement during the First World War. Not only that: in his first message for World Peace Day at the beginning of 2006 he significantly moved forward the Catholic Church’s opposition not only to nuclear weapons but to the nuclear deterrent. He wrote: ‘What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all—whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them— agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor’. [Section 13 ; for the whole message click here]. To use less delicate language, nuclear deterrent policies, so beloved of this country, are a pack of lies.
This is part of Catholic Social teaching. This was also important in his last encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate (‘Love in Truth’) which appeared in 2009. This was originally planned for 2007, to mark the fortieth anniversary of the first papal letter about world development issues from Pope St Paul VI in 1967 (Populorum Progressio, ‘The Progress of Peoples’), which had been condemned by right wing Americans; but Benedict deferred his letter because of the world financial crisis. Like Paul’s letter it addressed the relationship between rich and poor countries in the world, observing that not much had got better since the late 60s. He called for stronger regulation of the world economic and financial system, which went down badly with those obsessed with national sovereignty:
‘In the face of the unrelenting growth of global inter-dependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority.’
May Benedict rest in peace.