In praise of (Benedict’s) folly…

posted by David Gibson

An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, by the religious affairs correspondent of DW-TV, Germany’s international state broadcaster, takes a different angle on what most consider Pope Benedict’s various missteps with Muslims, Jews, and Catholics, and on issues like AIDS and condoms. John Berwick writes that all of these “mistakes” were well-intentioned efforts that have in fact borne great fruit: 

Perhaps we should be less worried about the pope’s bloopers than the arbiters of political correctness would have us be. In his classic Praise of Folly, Erasmus concluded: “All men are fools, even the pious ones. Christ himself, though he was the wisdom of the Father, took on the foolishness of humanity in order to redeem sinners. Nor did he choose to redeem them in any other way but through the folly of the cross and through ignorant, sottish disciples.”

There’s no accounting for folly, except to recognize that it’s perhaps the most endearing and creative human quality. And in the long run, it can be a lot more productive than prudent diplomacy.

O felix culpa? I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But it seems a rather facile bit of spin, to me, especially if one was not on the receiving end of the pontiff’s hurtful remarks. Besides, doing bad to achieve good–isn’t that against Catholic teaching? Maybe doing the right thing in the first place would be a better approach.


Comments read comments(11)
post a comment

posted April 28, 2009 at 2:36 pm

I hardly see any of Benedict’s behavior as ignorant or sottish.
Its funny to think of the pope as a bookish intellectual, stumbling through one intolerant remark after another, but it is all deliberate.
If his ideas were not accidental, then we wouldn’t be seeing these hard line sentiments transmitting so well down through the bishops to the local churches.
It is also amusing to think of Father Lombardi as a poor afflicted functionary doing damage control.

report abuse

Gerard Nadal

posted April 28, 2009 at 9:03 pm

” Besides, doing bad to achieve good–isn’t that against Catholic teaching?”
Come on big guy! This sounds a little too simplistic coming from you. Please define what actions were intentionally ‘bad’ and back that up.
Do you really think that millions of people tonight are distraught, even devastated because Benedict will not condone condom use during fornication? Do you think the world is filled with HIV positive people who say, “but only if the Pope said yes…” ?If they don’t give a rat’s _ss about the fornication, I doubt they’re losing sleep (or sex) over the condom thing.
As for the Jews, there was no malice aforethought in extending a pastoral hand to a brother Bishop who has lost his way. How about those in the Jewish community who take such easy umbrage taking some time to learn how WE do life and ministry and Church before getting a case of the vapors? Ecumenism Is a two-way street, is it not? Rabbi Brad Hirshfield was the only Rabbi who committed himself in writing to any pastoral or Ecumenical sanity during the Williamson outrage.
Despite my posting overwhelming evidence of Pius XII’s efforts to rescue Jews, evidence from the WWII Jews themselves, the modern Jews here and in the Jewish community at large insist on persisting in their calumnies against him. Frankly, I don’t see much more improvement in our relations until they can divest themselves of those vicious lies and embrace the truth as told by the WWII Jews themselves.
Benedict pisses people off precisely because he is NOT PC. He traffics in the truth. Something sorely lacking in the world of late. He pisses them off because he will not recast the Church in the PC image and likeness. As Mayor Koch famously thundered when ACT UP desecrated St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “If you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches, go start your own church!”
You can do lots better than this post David.

report abuse


posted April 30, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I agree: your remarks in these last posts are really getting simplistic. Obama good, Glendon not. Criticisms of Glendon good, defenses not. Obama good, Pope not. You’re making yourself more a mouthpiece for the opposition, whatever it might be, than a voice that encourages intelligent conversation and exchange of viewpoints. And this distinction is a really irresponsible way to close an entry. The Pope certainly doesn’t intend to do evil that good may come. The whole point of the article is that media commentators and others might not have to foresight to appreciate the possible very wise actions of the Pope and consider it folly. Your uncritical eye is getting a bit swolen. And this from a reader who generally appreciates your blog.

report abuse

John Berwick

posted April 30, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Thank you, Ambogio: at last someone who understands irony! I suppose the basic premise of my article is the Christian belief that “all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.” It was the insufferable heretic Pelagius – incidentally, a fellow-Brit – who demanded that everyone should do “the right thing in the first place.” For my part, I’m inclined to believe that good intentions and using your talents to the best of your ability is quite sufficient for us mere mortals. A sense of humour and a touch of self-irony are, of course, also a help in bearing with our own inadequacies and those of our fellow human beings, including those of popes. Catholics believe that the growth of the Kingdom is ultimately God’s work.

report abuse

David Gibson

posted April 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Ambrogio and Gerard: My walkaway about not doing evil to do good was a bit tongue in cheek, apparently as was Mr. Berwick’s op-ed. The serious intent was to say that while we are all certainly quite fallible–as is the pope, in most things of this mundane nature–we also have a responsibility to be careful.
And these were avoidable mistakes which had real consequences that cannot be dismissed as being “un-PC,” which is often what we just used to call rude.
The pope was wrong about condoms, but above all people are dying from AIDS. The pope knew that his Regensburg remarks could cause a reaction, and an Italian nun in Somalia was shot and killed and an Orthodox priest in Iraq beheaded, among many other episodes of violence. And telling Jews that they should, in effect, get a life, is just not a decent response in light of history.
As to your notes about my tone, that is something always to be wary of, and I appeciate salutary reminders. But if my posts seem Manichean, it is I think, fairly, response to the over-the-top reactions against, e.g., Obama speaking at Notre Dame, and the impugning of Father Jenkins and so many people associated with these incidents by those on the “right.” It’s unjust and uncharitable, though one always has to try to be just and charitable in pointing outsuch excesses.

report abuse

John Berwick

posted May 1, 2009 at 2:21 am

I think irony is a great way of deflating exagerated emotion, but unfortunately it can also appear callous. Let me say clearly that the couple of years I spent working in an AIDS hospice here in Germany have made me deeply aware of the suffering involved. But I am skeptical about the moral indignation of the media. The pope’s foolish remark about condoms on the plane to Africa provided journalists with an opportunity for pope-bashing, but I don’t think it influenced the sexual behaviour of a single African. It wasn’t delivered in a football stadium, and even if it had been, the Church’s official teaching on condoms is already well-known.
My article has drawn some sharp criticism in other forums. One colleague suggested that I would see things differently if I were one of the people hurt by the Benedict’s comments on Islam. As a Christian living in a secular society, I am regularly hurt by casual blasphemies. Shortly after the pope’s Regensburg remarks, a play was staged in Vienna featuring a Christ-figure in a pig’s mask. Would I have been justified in burning down the theater and decapitating the director? A little self-irony is a great antidote to fanaticism.
Of course it would be better if the pope could avoid making mistakes, as Mr Gibson suggests. But unfortunately mistakes are, of their nature, unforeseen, and therefore – by definition – unavoidable. If ignorant medieval architects had given up building soaring church spires after the first ones fell down and crushed people, we wouldn’t have the glorious cathedrals of Rheims and Chartres today.

report abuse

Gerard Nadal

posted May 1, 2009 at 10:15 am

Okay, all’s forgiven for tongue in cheek comments. Now, about the rest of your response. You are so wrong about Benedict, Africa, condoms and HIV it’s scary.
We have actually become impervious to truth on this matter. Despite my posts from CDC on the failure rates of condoms, the CDC fact sheet on condoms, and literally doing the math, you and others are impervious to the truth. Africa is the most condom saturated continent on the planet and still HIV continues unabated. But you refuse to see the connection.
As for the Jews, , I’m not saying get a life. It’s more blunt than that. Here too, I believe you are off track by referencing a history of persecution.
WWII saw the decimation of the Roman Catholic clergy precisely because our Pope and our bishops spoke out against Hitler and his regime. Between 5-7 million Christians died in those camps, millions of whom who were trying to save Jews. I am posting below a bibliography once again to underscore the point. Beyond WWII, we have Vatican II documents changing for all time the official stance of the Church toward the Jews. We had John Paul II’s repeated apologies and requests for forgiveness, at Joint functions with the Chief Rabbi of Rome, John Paul II used identical chairs, something he did for no other religious leader.
In light of it all, we are finished with the recriminations of the past. I am not saying get a life. I am saying get a sense of decency. Most of the Jews living today have never suffered at the hands of Christians. They claim the mantle of victimhood in an era of great decency and love, as an excuse for acting like bigots. If what I am posting below, coupled with the progress since WWII has no power to move them, then they are the true monsters. We’ve done all that we can do.
There is so much, it needs three posts. We begin on the following post.

report abuse

Gerard Nadal

posted May 1, 2009 at 10:17 am

Israeli diplomat and Consul in Italy, Pinchas Lapide chronicled the extraordinary growth in Catholic Jewish relations from the 1930’s to 1967, the year he published, “Three Popes and the Jews” He concluded:
“The Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives during the war than all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations put together.”
Then, there is the detailed book by Rabbi David G. Dalin:
“The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews From the Nazis,” by Rabbi David G. Dalin, (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2005).
The Polish Educational Foundation of North America has compiled a 273 page (pdf) non-comprehensive selection of Jewish survivors’ testimony (2007) of the efforts of Priests, Monks and Nuns in over 900 Roman Catholic Church Institutions by several times that number of those who staffed them. Several hundred additional cases have yet to be added to this work. It may be accessed at:
For a video Lecture By Ronald J. Rychlak from Pave the Way Foundation that DEMOLISHES all arguments against the Church’s and Pope Pius XII’s roles in aiding Jews:
Two Books by Ronald J. Rychlak:
“Righteous Gentiles, How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a million Jews From the Nazis.” (2008) And…
“Hitler, The War and The Pope” (2000)
A good online article:
Pius XII and the Holocaust, By Thomas Craughwell:
Consider a representative selection:
“In all, some 40,000 Jews throughout Italy were saved from the Nazis. Fourteen years after the liberation of Rome by the Allies, an officer of the Jewish Brigade was quoted in Davar, the Hebrew daily of Israel’s Federation of Labor: ‘When we entered Rome, the Jewish survivors told us with a voice filled with deep gratitude and respect: If we have been rescued; if Jews are still alive in Rome come with us and thank the Pope in the Vatican. For in the Vatican proper, in churches, monasteries and private homes, Jews were kept hidden at his personal orders…. Even on the synagogue near the Tiber he had his papal seal imprinted, and that was respected even by the Nazis.’
In the interest of giving the WWII Jews back their voice, a voice stolen from them in the 1960’s when false witness against Pope Pius XII (and by extension, against the WWII Jews’ testimonials) became fashionable, here they are in their own words.
Albert Einstein:
Time Magazine, December 23, 1940:?
“Being a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks…Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.”

report abuse

Gerard Nadal

posted May 1, 2009 at 10:20 am

The New York Times editorial on December 25, 1941 (Late Day edition, p. 24):
“??The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas… he is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all… the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism… he left no doubt that the Nazi aims are also irreconcilable with his own conception of a Christian peace.??”
The New York Times editorial on December 25, 1942 (Late Day edition, p. 16) states:?? “This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent… Pope Pius expresses as passionately as any leader on our side the war aims of the struggle for freedom when he says that those who aim at building a new world must fight for free choice of government and religious order. They must refuse that the state should make of individuals a herd of whom the state disposes as if they were lifeless things.”
World Jewish Congress, 21 July 1944:
Wrote to Pius XII, “gratefully conscious” of his “aid on behalf of sorely afflicted and menaced Jews in Hungary, which have been followed by offer of the Regent to secure release of certain categories of Jews particularly children. His Holiness’ efforts bring us new hope at the eleventh hour of saving from death the surviving remnants of decimated European Jewry.”
Headlines From The New York Times:
October 28, 1939 “Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism: Urges Restoring of Poland.”
January 23, 1940″Vatican Denounces Atrocities in Poland; Germans Called Even Worse Than Russians.”
August 6, 1942 “Pope is Said to Plead for Jews Listed for Removal from France.”
August 27, 1942 “Vichy Seizes Jews: Pope Pius Ignored.”
October 17, 1943 “Pope Said to Help in Ransoming Jews.”
December 4 1943 “Vatican Scores Germans: Denounces Decision to Intern and Strip All Jews in Italy.”
The New York Times on the liberation of Rome:
“Under the Pope’s direction the Holy See did an exemplary job of sheltering and championing the victims of the Nazi-Fascist regime. I have spoken to dozens of Italians, both Catholics and Jews, who owe their liberty and perhaps their lives to the protection of the Church.”
Chief Rabbi of Rome:
Rabbi Israel Zolli in 1945 converted to Catholicism with his wife, and in honor of all the Pope did for the Jews during the War took Pius XII’s name, Eugenio and had the Pope as his Godfather.
Chief Rabbi Herzog of Palestine:
“The people of Israel will never forget what his Holiness and his illustrious delegates are doing for us unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history.”
“I should like to take this occasion to express to His Holiness my deeply-felt appreciation of the frequent action which the Holy See has taken to render assistance to the victims of racial and religious persecutions.” –August 3, 1944
Moshe Sharett:
Later First Israeli Foreign Minister (April 1945):?” . . I told him [the Pope] that my first duty was to thank him , and through him, the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public, for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews, to save children, and Jews in general.”
Golda Meir:
Israeli Foreign (October 1958):?”When fearful martyrdom came to our people, the voice of the pope was raised for its victims.”
Pinchas E. Lapide:
Three Popes and the Jews (1967):?
“. . . the Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000, Jews from certain death at Nazi hands.”
Rabbi David G. Dalin: The Weekly Standard, February 26, 2001:?”. . . Pius XII was, genuinely and profoundly, a righteous gentile.”
Zenit News:?http://www.zenit.org/article-12040?l=english
“No one knows exactly how many Jews were hidden and saved by the Church, but according to “Three Popes and the Jews” by Jewish historian Emilio Pinchas Lapide, then consul general in Milan, “the Holy See, the nuncios, and the Catholic Church saved between 740,000 and 850,000 Jews from certain death.” It is estimated that more than 80% of the Jews in Italy escaped the Nazi genocide. In Rome alone, the Jewish community has certified that the Church saved 4,447 Jews from the Holocaust.”
Kenneth Woodward:
Newsweek (March 30, 1998):?
“In his 1942 Christmas message, which The New York Times among others extolled, the pope became the first figure of international stature to condemn what was turning into the Holocaust.”
So there it is David. You explain the Pius XII denial in the contemporary Jewish community. Please account for the pugnacious arrogance in light of the past seventy years. I can’t.

report abuse

Gerard Nadal

posted May 1, 2009 at 10:22 am

the post being held for approval belongs between the first and second above.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!  

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks...
So...my recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from PoliticsDaily.com to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That means, in short, that I'll have to sign off from blogging h

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored the new look Calvin in an essay at PoliticsDaily, "Patr

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, hence the long absence. Apologies to those who have chec

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's contribution in developing countries" were key topics of discussio

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.