Pope Benedict XVI has had a book of essays published posthumously in which he defends the unique character of the Mass and the Catholic priesthood and attacks rising intolerance in the increasingly atheistic West.
In the book, which is called What Christianity Is, the German pope, who died aged 95 on New Year’s Eve, warned Catholics in particular of the danger of a “radical manipulation of human beings” and “the distortion of the sexes by gender ideology”.
He wrote that although the intolerance of modernity towards the Christian faith “has not yet turned into open persecution … it manifests itself in an increasingly authoritarian way with the aim of achieving, by appropriate legislation, the eradication of what is essentially Christian”.
There are 16 essays in the book, four of which are previously unpublished. Benedict dated a preface May 1, 2022, and told Elio Guerriero, an assistant who helped him to compile the essays, that he did not wish the book to be published until his death.
“I do not want to publish anything else in my life,” Guerriero said Benedict told him, according to news reports. “The fury of the circles opposed to me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of any word from me immediately provokes a murderous clamour on their part. I want to spare myself and Christendom this.”
His anxiety may in part have arisen from the backlash he expected from his insistence in the book that the Mass is a radically different from services held in Protestant churches, thereby carrying implications for ecumenical dialogue and intercommunion.
Benedict wrote that the differences “are not superficial and casual but indicate a fundamental difference in understanding the mandate of Christ” when ordered his disciples to “do this in memory of me”.
“It is quite clear that the [Protestant] Last Supper and the Mass are two fundamentally different, mutually exclusive forms of worship,” Benedict wrote. “Let those who preach intercommunion today remember this.”
He said that in some of the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council, the theses of German Protestant reformer Martin Luther played “a certain tacit role, so that certain circles could claim that the decree of the Council of Trent on the sacrifice of the Mass had been tacitly abolished”.
Much of the opposition to the Traditional Latin Mass, he claimed, was discomfort with its emphasis on sacrifice and expiation.
In his book, Benedict also defended the Catholic priesthood and priestly celibacy, which he describes as the most appropriate expression of self-sacrifice to God and a condition for ritual purity in keeping with the tradition of the Israelite priesthood.
He said the 16th century Protestant reinterpretation of the priesthood remained “a wound that is felt today and which, in my opinion, must be addressed in an open and fundamental way”.
The late pontiff also repeated his long-held concerns of flourishing gay subcultures operating in Catholic seminaries – especially those in North America – along with the acceptance of the use of pornography by some seminarians, rectors and priests.
The vocational training of the next generation of priests is on the verge of “collapse”, he said in one essay.
“In several seminaries, homosexual clubs operate more or less openly,” Pope Benedict complained.
During his own papacy, Benedict made the screening of actively gay men as candidates for the priesthood a key plank of his efforts to combat clerical abuse in the light of data revealing that the overwhelming majority of victims were males.