the pope's war

"The Pope's War" Book Reviews from Germany

Matthew Fox's "The Pope's War" came out in German in September. Below are three reviews from Germany about the book. An Italian version should be released next year.

Much Truth and Insights into Ratzinger’s Style of Leadership: A Review from Germany

M. Plotzki

This book is a must-read for every Catholic and interested Christian because it points out Ratzinger’s schemings and his way of fraudulently concealing facts in clear and factual language without becoming spiteful or biased.  (My compliments to the translator for the excellent translation.)

The book explains a “theology of obedience” that affects our every day lives.  A theology that conceals crimes against children and teenagers, deliberately keeps them secret and even shields, protects and promotes the bishops and cardinals involved.  Ratzinger argues for compassion where openness and justice should be called for. Is this an “intact theology.” one that can reach people and is open and willing to reform?

This book, that I highly recommend to every interested and questioning person, raises serious concerns in me and stirs me up.  As a former member of the Roman Catholic Church, I too belong to those Christians who lament the deterioration of a society that with this behavior sees itself deprived of another one of its supports.  The great amount of people leaving this institution point the same way.

Here and all over the world we find many examples showing how the Vatican operates--Ratzinger has silenced good theologians who had been teaching inspiring, stimulating messages – for instance in the issue of women’s rights - that could bring change. This has been done by dismissing them from the church against their own will.  This book explains the background and mechanisms involved in these cases. Matthew Fox, for whom I wish many readers for his book, belongs to this group of theologians compromised by the Vatican.

Perhaps this book will lead to an enhanced exchange between its readers, so that together we can focus on these grievances!  That would be desirable! As always change can only be brought about when we ourselves as members of our society become active and express ourselves!

Clarification and Truth About Ratzinger: A Review from Germany

Bernd Wagenbach, director of studies (retired)

Helga Simon-Wagenbach

For a long time I have critically studied the history of the church and vigilantly watched the scandalous ideas and activities from Ratzinger that have nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. Of all the publications dealing with these problems, the outstanding book “Ratzinger und sein Kreuzzug”(in English, “The Pope’s War”) by Matthew Fox is particularly worth reading.

It contains very interesting information about the current pope including some that is to this point unknown and appalling – for example information concerning Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ.  Such an extraordinary and thrilling book as this, that serves the purpose of clarification and truth, should be warmly recommended like hardly any other!  It most definitely deserves a much larger dissemination.

Pope Benedict XVI– A Man of War and a “Murderer”of Theology? A Review from Germany

Roland R. Ropers

philosopher of religion and publicist

The American theologian and former Dominican Monk Matthew Fox, who is known worldwide, describes with brilliant clarity Ratzinger’s thirty year long dictatorship in the Vatican and his part in the cover-up of pedophile scandals and inquisition-like crusades against a large number of theologians and spiritual teachers who don’t conform to his political views and his course back into the religious Dark Ages.

It is obvious that Joseph Ratzinger has exchanged his soul for power.  Matthew Fox refers to Pope Benedict XVI as a “murderer of theology” and a “man of war.”  The current book of the now 71 year old professor of Creation Spirituality is appalling and illustrates how fraudulent and far from Christ the institution of the Roman-Catholic “faith corporation” has been steered.

At the end of his diagnosis Matthew Fox, among other things, points out 25 tangible steps for the revitalization of Christian communities.  Everyone who still relies on Pope Benedict and the cardinals, bishops and priests enslaved by him should very attentively read this book. It is about the urgently needed revolution of spirituality.

The Other Side of the Catholic Tradition

(A shortened version of this article appeared in The Washington Post 061411: People who came of age in the past forty years have known only one version of the Roman Catholic Church—a version of an iron-fisted ideology that first a Polish pope and then a German pope have enforced in the process of condemning liberation theology, creation spirituality, women, gays, the “secular world,” and much more.  Not only all bishop-making has accrued to the Vatican headquarters but also all teaching, calling itself the only “magisterium” or teaching arm of the church to whom all must kneel or get out.  Since “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, as Catholic historian Lord Acton observed on hearing of the declaration of Papal Infallibility in the nineteenth century, we have also seen of late immense corruption in the way the hierarchy has and has not responded to pedophile clergy and in the way it has denounced theologians and others who bring ideas to an age-old tradition.

But looking at the long and varied history of the church one gets a different impression.  Diversity and pitched battles abound before the time of instantaneous heresy hunting made possible by faxes, phones and emails changed the rules of the game.  Back when it took mail weeks and months to go back and forth by horseback and river boat, much gestated that was creative.  Let me offer a few examples.

In twelfth century Germany, the Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen, author of ten books, the first opera of the West, dozens of songs, and a healer, awakened popes and abbots alike, firing off letters that would make a Cardinal blush with shame in our day.  Her favorite topic when she preached all around Europe (Yes, a woman preached!) was the laxity of priests.  She writes of a vision of a “very beautiful lady,” who is the church who speaks thus to Hildegard: “This fact, that the wounds of Christ remain open, is the fault of priests.  For they are the ones who are supposed to make me radiantly pure and serve me in purity; but instead in their limitless greed they move from church to church in their practice of simony.  And even my robe is torn thereby, for they are violators of the law, of the gospel, and of their priestly duty…..They cover my face with dust, tear my robe, and make my cloak dark, and my shows black….They do not adhere to the straight ways, that is, to the hard and rough ways of justice.” (329f)

In a letter to Abbot Helenger who complained to her of dryness in his vocation, she offers this advice: “Sometimes you have the style of a bear who often grumbles to itself in secret; sometimes you have the style of an ass, for you aren’t solicitous in your duties but are glum and in many things bungling as well….. (303f)

And to Pope Anastasius IV she wrote these blunt words: “O man, the eye of your discernment weakens; you are becoming weary, too tired to restrain the arrogant boastfulness of people to whom you have trusted your hearts.  Why do you not call these shipwrecked people back? And why do you not cut out the roots of the evil which chokes out the good?  You are neglecting justice, the King’s daughter, the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you.  You are even tolerant that this princess be hurled to the ground.   Her crown and jeweled raiments are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night.  They are hypocrites ….Therefore, O man, you who sit on the papal throne, you despise God when you don’t hurl from yourself the evil but even worse, embrace it and kiss it by silently tolerating corrupt men.  The whole Earth is in confusion on account of the ever recurring false teaching whereby human beings love what God has brought to nothing.  And you, O Rome, are like one in the throes of death.  You will be so shaken that the strength of your feet, the feet on which you now stand, will disappear.  For you don’t love the King's daughter, justice.”  (273ff)

In addition to criticizing churchmen, Hildegard composed marvelous music (I call it “erotic Gregorian chant”) and poems, painted over 40 mandalas that we still possess, wrote ten books including books on trees and stones and medicine.  She has been accredited with discovering vitamins and the need to boil and purify water.  She says “all science comes from God” and taught that the Cosmic Christ or Divine Wisdom lived in every being (“there is no creature that lacks an interior life”).  She wrote: “I, the fiery life of divine wisdom, I ignite the beauty of the plains, I sparkle the waters, I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars.”   She was a Renaissance woman.

Thomas Aquinas followed a century after Hildegard and just after Francis of Assisi.  Aquinas was a genius of the first order whose intellectual output has rarely been equaled.  He died at 49 (the last year of his life he was struck dumb and neither wrote nor talked) but he wrote numerous works including commentaries on ten of the works of the greatest scientist of his day, Aristotle, who was being translated in Muslim learning centers in Baghdad for really the first time.  Aquinas said he preferred Aristotle to Plato because Aristotle “did not denigrate matter.”  A pope had forbidden Christians to study Aristotle but thanks to an Irish professor in Naples (a stone’s throw from the pope), who put scholarship ahead of obedience, Aquinas was introduced to Aristotle as a young man at the newly born University of Naples.  Aquinas committed his life to integrating Aristotle into Christianity—a direct affront against the fundamentalists of his day (and ours) who prefer Plato’s dualistic matter vs. spirit rap that appealed to Augustine and forms the basis of the Catholic Church’s teachings on birth control and homophobia to this day.  (Augustine said that all sex must be justified by having children.)   So controversial was Aquinas in his day that at one point the king of France had to call out his troops to surround the convent where Aquinas lived to protect him from…Christians aroused by fundamentalist clergy who insisted that believers did not need the science of “pagan Aristotle” since they had all their answers in the Bible.  For Aquinas, “revelation comes in two books—the Bible and Nature” and “a mistake about nature results in a mistake about God.”  Thus, the importance of science and scientists.

Aquinas rejected Augustine’s “introspective conscience” in favor of a cosmic perspective as when he says: “Every human being is ‘capax universi,’ capable of the universe.”  And again, “all beings love on another,” and “the order of the universe is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things.”  Aquinas says “joy is the human being’s noblest act” and he endorsed conscience in a big way, saying that one is always responsible to one’s conscience, more than to any other authority.  (Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King jr. cites Aquinas on this point in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail—Aquinas as a basis of civil disobedience.  We are to obey conscience, not necessarily man-made laws.)  Aquinas was condemned by church authorities three times after he died but eventually he was declared a saint.  Carl Jung has said that by bringing scholasticism from Islam to the West he inaugurated the beginnings of modern science since scholasticism was a method for learning that emphasized questions and answers over recitations of past “authorities.”  To the credit of the Dominicans, they protected their brother against the ire aroused by his forward-thinking teachings.

Another Dominican, Meister Eckhart, came right after Aquinas and he stood on his shoulders becoming the most important preacher in Europe.  He is probably the greatest mystic the West has produced and his writing abound with depth, humor, paradox and challenges to establishment Christianity.  For example, he declares, “I pray God to rid me of God” and he emphasizes what contemporary Biblical scholars are saying, that Christ is found not just in Jesus but in all of us.  Eckhart says, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I do not do so in my time and my person and my culture?”  And again, “we are all meant to be mothers of God.”  He declares that “the highest work of God is compassion” and that “compassion means justice,” in fact, “compassion is where peace and justice kiss.”  Eckhart was condemned by Pope John XXII a week after he died.  It was reading Eckhart that converted Thomas Merton from a dualistic monk of the 1950’s to a prophetic mystic of the 60’s.

Today’s eco-prophet, the late Thomas Berry (a priest in the Passionist Order and author of The Dream of the Earth, The Great Work and The Universe Story with Brian Swimme), often talked of how much he owed his twin mentors, Thomas Aquinas and Teilhard de Chardin.  Chardin was a French Jesuit mystic and scientist who was banished from his home country to China early in the twentieth century but who found plenty of scientific and mystical work to delve into in his exile.  He spent his life researching the deeper meanings of science and spirituality and, being forbidden to publish most of his works in his life time, he left his books in the hands of a woman (not to his Order) who got them published shortly after he died.

A fifteenth century scientist, mystic and cardinal in the church, Nicolas of Cusa, taught that “every face is a reflection of the One Face,” that is of God.  He called for deep ecumenism saying that while we call ourselves by many religions there is only one wisdom.  The late physicist David Bohm said he owed more to Cusa than to Einstein!

Recently I was giving a retreat at a Unitarian Universalist Center in Rowe, Massachusetts and a woman said to me: “I am so grateful that you, unlike Teilhard de Chardin, did not remain silent as the church asked.  You spoke out and took the consequences.”  I remarked that we live in a different time than Teilhard (who died in 1955), but I did appreciate her comment.  Ours are not a time for keeping silent.  The old wine skins are no longer holding the rich wine that is still flowing from the teachings, the life, and the story of Jesus.  New wine skins are needed to hold not only the rich lineage of the past but the mixing with other faith traditions, with scientific breakthroughs, with contemporary movements such as the women’s movement and the eco-justice movements, and today’s Biblical scholarship that can and ought to occur today.

Pope John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council of the early 1960’s which inspired many Catholics and non-Catholics alike has been called the “greatest religious event of the twentieth century.” It set the stage for a new future in religion to happen including a spreading of decision-making beyond Rome and empowerment of lay people and deep ecumenism.  It gathered  great theologians from all around the world—people like Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, M.D. Chenu, Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, Edward Schillebeeckx and many others.  Sadly, the papacy of John Paul II crushed it all including the courageous response of Latin American Liberation Theology that supported the poor and oppressed in direct expression of Gospel values and, contrary to the spirit and law of Vatican II, launched a modern day Inquisition with Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) as its chief inquisitor.  It is my opinion (and that of many other theologians) that in squelching the Vatican Council, the Vatican has been in schism for 40 years.

Can the Catholic Church resurrect from its self-dug grave and experience another renaissance in giving great souls and ideas to the world?  Can it move beyond eras of Inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, sexism, anti-semitism and other dark temptations?  Certainly not in its present form where curial bureaucrats take it upon themselves to censure all thought and creative movements.  But, as I point out in my recent book, The Pope’s War, if an angry and demanding lay movement rises up and declares the present and past papacies schismatic and moves ahead to deconstruct the church as we know it and reconstruct It on the authentic principles of Jesus’ spirit and teaching, and puts spirituality ahead of religion and travels lightly, surely something wonderful and needed could occur.

Posting 95 Theses at Cardinal Law's Basilica

Just before we started the event I asked my 30 year old woman translator if she was scared.  “No,” she said. “Even though we don’t know what is going to happen, I am looking forward to it.  It is important that we do this and what happens will happen.”  Courage!  Always a sign of the spirit. The action at Cardinal Law’s basilica was memorable for many reasons: the crowd that gathered (it was announced beforehand in the paper), their questions; their passion in taking on the policemen especially around the right to hang the theses on a gate; the beauty of the morning with sun shining from an all-blue sky; the length of time we stayed there—about 80 minutes (much larger gathering than Wittenberg);  the Vatican plainclothes police with dark sun glasses staring at me the whole time; and above all the strategy and courage of the young people who created the excellent poster which looked like a medieval Manuscript in a large type that yet was practical and easy to read; their flexibility in adapting to the policemen’s tactics, for example they smartly engaged the moment and the Vatican plain clothed police when the crowd had dispersed.  I was away from this engagement but saw dramatic interaction from where I was.  I so look forward to seeing their film.  I especially wonder if Stephano the filmer got the attack by the Vatican thugs of the second film maker on film?

How right Barbara was about 1) Vatican police dictating orders to Roman police and 2) the thugs that are policing the Vatican these days. Just as I learned after my Wittenberg action how much darker the Vatican was than I had anticipated, so with this Italian, Roman, action, I learned how much darker still were the forces and veritable police state ruling not only Vatican City but, in many respects, Rome itself.  Penny Lernoux’ words are chilling: “Ratzinger is only a front man for the German-Polish mafia,” she said.  Or Barbara’s words: “The Vatican is run by a gang of mafia thugs.”

Our protest was non-violent and remained that way in the face of violence on the part of the Vatican police.  Are Italians forbidden to preach or to listen to a preacher in a public square?  Was the Basilica event an historic moment?  One of empowerment for Italians vis a vis the church?  Consider that Italy never underwent the Protestant Reformation (but only the counter-Reformation of the Council of Trent).

Our videographers and photographers were taking pictures of the police videographers and photographers and vice versa.  It was like a scene from old East Germany.  The Stasi.  That was the feeling emanating from the Vatican police.

Before we began, one of our people went into the church to scout things out.  Many policemen were inside.  He went up to one and said, “I heard there was going to be a demonstration here today,” (or something close to that) and the policeman got very agitated and said: “No there won’t be.  We will see to that.”  So that was our first clue that our demonstration would be outdoors and even outside the fence.  But as it happened, even that distance was not enough to satisfy the Vatican police (who apparently have very broad jurisdiction in Rome itself).  During the course of my presentation and the q and a period of about 80 minutes, the sheet containing the theses were taken down (I took them back at one point from the policeman who took them down), put up again, taken down, held up by some of the participants standing by, etc. etc.  Up-down, Up down, Up-down.

A man who asked some very sophisticated questions about my presentation (he had the air of a lawyer about him and was of mature age), ended up in a shouting match with the policeman who was literally receiving phone calls from higher ups on his ear phone telling him what to do.  From the pained look on his face I had the distinct impression that he wished he was elsewhere—like rescuing a cat stranded in a tree or even a spouse form domestic abuse or handing out traffic violations—just anywhere other than in a church courtyard on a Sunday morning being dictated to by plainclothes police with their phones in their ear and hearing a presenter calling for a religious reformation (or revolution?).  The shouting match between the police and this “lawyer” person was about 1) who owned the property we stood on and 2) Who owned the fence demarcating this property from the church steps and on which we hung the theses.  The “lawyer” said in an angry voice to the policeman, “my taxes paid for this sidewalk and fence so keep your hands off the preacher’s theses.”  There was considerable back and forth.

Meanwhile, “radio radicale” was there the entire time with a microphone in my and the translator’s face and with a number of questions posed as soon as I finished my presentation.  My presentation followed my 4 points I laid out in my “New Reformation” book—how our day paralleled Luther’s day in four respects: 1) invention of printing press/invention of electronic media 2) politics as rise of nationalism/politics as globalization and sparks of democracy 3) rise of humanist scholarship of which Luther was a part/rise of scientific and theological scholarship of our time and 4) corruption in the highest places of the church/corruption in the highest places of the church including Cardinal Law overseeing this particular cathedral, he who passed one priest from parish to parish who abused 150 boys and who now sits on a commission in the Vatican appointing bishops around the world!  A woman professor told me she took a 3 hours train ride to be present for the event.  She taught anthropology and religion and invited me to come to her university to lecture—they would pay for my trip to Italy she said.

Before we began, one man came up to me who was about 44 years old and said: “I no longer call myself a Catholic but simply a Christian.”

All the while the young members of our team were alert and smiling and doing their assigned tasks whether taking video, guarding the theses, mixing with the group, translating, photographing the cops, hanging around me for protection.  (They had arranged all that beforehand among themselves with no coaching from me.)  They did it with smiles on their faces. They gathered with the plainclothes Vatican cops when the event had finished and argued vociferously about their demands to see their papers and my documents as well.  “We have done no crime so you have no right to demand our papers,” they declared.  But maybe they had committed a crime.  The crime of inviting people on church soil to think.

Their final act was to keep the thug Vatican cops demanding my papers engaged while one of their group quietly slipped away, came rapidly up to me and said “walk away fast” to the taxi stand at the side of the church.  Drama.  A day of drama.  Working with the young people was marvelous.  They were alert, flexible, prepared, strong, smiling, committed, competent, brave.  Intergenerational wisdom indeed!  Intergenerational courage also.

A number of people requested copies of the theses to read and study.  We told them that they would be posted in the Italian version on the Fazi web page.  Among phrases I heard from thoughtful Italians in conversation during my visit: “The church is dead.”  “We are a culture today with no new ideas. Old people are running things in a very old way.”  “Unemployment among the young is at 24%.  Many are being supported by their grandparents and parents even after college graduation sincere there are no jobs to be had.”  “A growing tension between the young and old.”  “Old money is running everything. “ People are scared with the bad economy.  The women’s movement is very weak.  “We are a conservative country.  Even liberal minded people have trouble imagining women priests.”  You can get a college degree for just $2000 per year but there are no jobs after school.  “The one thing Italy gives the world consistently is…Beauty.  That is our only gift to the world.”

I ask myself: Why are the Italians seemingly so keen on my work at this time?  One reason is the timing.  There is a lot of anger among Catholics and it is clear that first a Polish papacy and then a German papacy have not always sat well with Italians.  Another is that there is no love lost for Ratzinger himself.  In my time there and even near St Peter’s I did not see one poster for sale of Pope Ratzinger.  Another is that Aquinas with his non-dualistic philosophy is SO Italian in spirit in so many ways and the Augustinian mind-sets of the two recent popes is not at all of the Aquinas mind-set.  Furthermore, we need to remind ourselves that the Protestant Reformation did not penetrate Italy; it affected it by way of the counter-reformation but that did not question the powers of the papacy.  My 95 theses do put deeper questions.  Is calling for a Reformation in the church today rousing a sleeping giant in Italy?  The Italian capacity for real spirituality in the creation spiritual tradition is vast.  Is the Roman Catholic church, together with the media, not perfectly set up for non-violent resistance? For church-step sit ins?  For filling the jails?  For exposing the darkness of the Vatican and its ways at this time in history?

All in all, it was a most amazing trip—perhaps the most amazing gig in my life.  The people I met from the publishing house, Vito and our public dialog at the amazing conference of writers, his passion and radical critical mind, the many serious and passionate and intellectually-solid interviews on radio, in magazines and newspapers, and the amazing TV program.  The filming and event at Law’s Basilica.  Much to remember and to build on.

The abuse at the hands of church has been going on for so many centuries—buttressed by an ideology of suffering and penance and sin, that I had no idea what Romans have suffered at in the hands of the Roman Catholic church.  This is one reason a number of commentators called “original blessing” a “Copernican revolution” for a religion based on punitive images of God and a consciousness of sin. A difficult thing to do, to change it. I recall a Native American woman who was also a Catholic returning from a ceremony at the Vatican to beatify Blessed Tekawitha: “There are evil spirits in that place, (i.e. the Vatican)” she recalled.

I think most Catholics today—Italy, Ireland, United States, Latin America and parts in between—are in a complete state of disgust.  This morning’s Boston Globe quotes some Catholics in Ireland.  One says: “When we were growing up, you believed in the church more so than you believed in God….Now the whole thing is transformed.  You believe in God but you don’t believe in the church.”  And a priest, Fr. Tony Cullen, says: “I’d like to see the clerical church die, and the proper church emerge, the church of the people.”  What to do?  How create new structures?  Stay and fight?  Abandon it altogether?  Fight from the outside?  All of the above?  One thing is certain: The clerical church is dying.