Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

Column: Pacquiao misunderstands ‘spiritual renewal’

Pastor Manny Pacquiao takes center stage, again. Published on March 7, 2017.

Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, the following trended on Twitter: #DDSBigReveal, Lascañas, Senate, Manny Pacquiao, Davao Death Squad, and Spiritual Renewal. The six trends were all related to the Senate hearing conducted by the committee on public order to assess retired policeman Arturo Lascañas’ dramatic accusations against President Duterte.

The last, in particular, referred to the witness’ explanation for changing his testimony. Last October, before the Senate committee on justice, he denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad. It was just “media hype,” he said. On Feb. 20, at a news conference in the Senate, and then yesterday, under oath a second time, he said he had been forced to lie the first time because his family’s safety had not yet been secured, but that he really wanted to tell the nation what he knows about Mr. Duterte’s alleged personal liquidation squad because of a “spiritual renewal.”

I can understand why several senators questioned Lascañas’ conversion story. (I use “conversion” here to mean, not a moving from one religion or denomination to another, but rather a turning—that’s the root of the word—from one path to another.) It goes to the issue of motivation. Why change one’s mind, and perjure one’s self? The senators are right in assuming that neither should be taken lightly. Lascañas does have some serious explaining to do.

But I think one reason “spiritual renewal” trended on Twitter yesterday is people reacted to the narrow view some of the senators held about that religious experience. Continue reading


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Column: Benedict and Francis on social media

Published on June 3, 2014.

In a column I wrote over a year ago, I teased the country’s two cardinal-electors for asserting, in a news conference they called after they returned from the conclave that elected Pope Francis, that the Holy Spirit did not read social media. It was their good-natured way of expressing just how surprising the turn of events had been: the first resignation of a pope in 600 years, the first pope from the so-called New World, the first pope to be named after Francis of Assisi.

But I thought it was a mistake, theologically, to consider any form of media to be off-limits to God. I traced my argument back to Benedict XVI’s own thoughts on social media. As it happens, in the message he prepared for last year’s World Communications Day, Benedict had chosen to focus on social media. The title of the message was a useful summary: “Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.”

If online social networks are spaces where the evangel can be shared, then by definition it cannot be off-limits to the source of the same good news. Continue reading

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Column: Tagle’s pope; Benedict vs the media

Published on March 12, 2013, at a time of heightened speculation about the possibility of a pope from Asia.

I haven’t finished reading Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s dissertation, a theological thriller titillatingly titled “Episcopal Collegiality and Vatican II: The Influence of Paul VI,” just yet, but one passage has struck me with the force of revelation.

“But Paul VI also poignantly laid bare the irony at the heart of the papacy: the divinely instituted center of communion constitutes in the present time the greatest block to Christian unity. The lofty view of the papal office supported by a sure faith is cast in an almost tragic shade.”

This insight, which I understand Paul himself recognized, is sandwiched between a recapitulation of his “abundant reflection” and “innumerable musings” on papal primacy as the gift of the first Vatican Council, and his “slow acceptance” of the teaching that supreme power over the Church was shared by the communion of all bishops, “united to its head.”

This tension which Paul felt with all his being reflected one of the central challenges of the second Vatican Council. In Tagle’s formulation: “Collegiality as a mark of the renewal of Vatican II must be related to the papacy as defined by Vatican I. This issue proved to be one of the most contested in the council”—and gave Paul, perhaps the most conflicted of all 20th-century popes, “the most torment.”
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Column: A “small” pope

Like many others, I was stunned by Benedict XVI’s resignation. I spent the next several days after the announcement in a frenzy of research and reading, trying to make sense of it all. This column, published on February 19, 2013, was an attempt to pull all that reading together.

Even the most generous-spirited praise for Pope Benedict XVI cannot avoid making comparisons. Here, for example, is theology professor Vincent Miller, in a deeply sympathetic essay published in the Jesuit magazine America. “From the beginning of his papacy, in the shadow of John Paul—then called ‘the Great’—Benedict has struck a lower profile. Of course he lacked his predecessor’s charisma, but his gestures were so often intentional.”

Even an editorial critical of the charismatic John Paul II, in the weekly Tablet, slides easily into comparative-speak: “Pope Benedict’s legacy is largely spiritual and intellectual rather than public and spectacular, like that of his predecessor.” (The Tablet’s leanings can be guessed from the nickname, a play on another meaning of “tablet,” that its critics have bestowed on it: The Pill or, for emphasis, The Bitter Pill.)

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Learning from John Paul II

The first thing that struck me, when I read the English text of Pope Benedict XVI’s “Declaratio” on the Vatican Radio website, was this passage:

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

I thought the Pope was referencing his predecessor’s last years in office, when Pope John Paul II’s Petrine ministry was precisely service “with prayer and suffering.” Referencing, and then finally rejecting, that sainted example, because of the present-day conditions in which the Roman Catholic Church found itself: “so many rapid changes,” “shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.”

I understood these phrases to mean a recognition of the stasis that had characterized Vatican decision-making in the first years of the 21st century, when Pope John Paul II’s ministry of suffering had offered believers everywhere a source of inspiration, but also a cautionary tale of governance.

PS. Amy Davidson of The New Yorker was thinking along the same lines.

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“A decision of great importance to the life of the Church”

Still stunned, some six hours after I first saw the news flash on TV. Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign by the end of the month is unprecedented in the modern age; the last time a pope resigned, Christopher Columbus had not even been born yet. That is to say, when Gregory XII resigned in 1415, to settle the so-called Western Schism, the “New World” wasn’t even a concept. Pope Benedict’s bold, striking decision brings us—suddenly, dizzyingly—to uncharted waters.

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Column: Pope, father-general — and farmer-leader

Published on July 14, 2009

Halfway through Pope Benedict XVI’s third encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” I thought I caught a glimpse of the true guiding spirit behind it. It was, to my surprise, not Pope Paul VI. Continue reading

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