Benedict’s clarity and confusion

When telling of the life of Christ and proclaiming the good news of the Gospel, Pope Benedict XVI has been a very fine preacher and theologian; thus his superb sermon at the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass

“The Lord said to me: You are my son; this day I have begotten you”. With these words of the second Psalm, the Church begins the Vigil Mass of Christmas, at which we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ our Redeemer in a stable in Bethlehem. This Psalm was once a part of the coronation rite of the kings of Judah. The People of Israel, in virtue of its election, considered itself in a special way a son of God, adopted by God. Just as the king was the personification of the people, his enthronement was experienced as a solemn act of adoption by God, whereby the King was in some way taken up into the very mystery of God. At Bethlehem night, these words, which were really more an expression of hope than a present reality, took on new and unexpected meaning. The Child lying in the manger is truly God’s Son. God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. . . .

Among Christians, the word “peace” has taken on a very particular meaning: it has become a word to designate communion in the Eucharist. There Christ’s peace is present. In all the places where the Eucharist is celebrated, a great network of peace spreads through the world. The communities gathered around the Eucharist make up a kingdom of peace as wide as the world itself. When we celebrate the Eucharist we find ourselves in Bethlehem, in the “house of bread”. Christ gives himself to us and, in doing so, gives us his peace. He gives it to us so that we can carry the light of peace within and give it to others. He gives it to us so that we can become peacemakers and builders of peace in the world. And so we pray: Lord, fulfil your promise! Where there is conflict, give birth to peace! Where there is hatred, make love spring up! Where darkness prevails, let light shine! Make us heralds of your peace! Amen.

Likewise Benedict’s Epiphany Sermon is quite, quite wonderful. Such sermons give sustenance, offering more than mere platitudes.

But the Pope got very muddled when he talked about some other things. To the accompaniment of protests, Benedict XVI said again recently that it is wrong to legalise unions other than marriage, because that “clouds the functions of the family”. The Pope was delivering a traditional New Year speech (Italian text) to the administrators of the Lazio region and of the City and Province of Rome on 12 January.

According to Zenit the Pope’s words come at a time when some political groups have proposed the introduction in Italy of a Civil Pact of Solidarity, or PAC, a type of juridical recognition of de factocouples, including homosexuals. Benedict XVI said:

Come dicevo infatti il 6 giugno scorso, parlando al Convegno che la Diocesi ha dedicato a queste tematiche, “Il matrimonio come istituzione non è quindi una indebita ingerenza della società o dell’autorità, l’imposizione di una forma dal di fuori, è invece esigenza intrinseca del patto dell’amore coniugale”.

As in fact I said on this topic to the Convention of the Diocese on 6 June “Marriage as an institution is thus not an undue interference of society or of authority. The external imposition of form on the most private reality of life is instead an intrinsic requirement of the covenant of conjugal love”.

Non si tratta qui di norme peculiari della morale cattolica, ma di verità elementari che riguardano la nostra comune umanità: rispettarle è essenziale per il bene della persona e della società.

[I]t is not a question of peculiar norms of Catholic morality, but of elementary truths that affect our common humanity: it is essential to respect them for the good of the individual and of society.

[È] un grave errore oscurare il valore e le funzioni della famiglia legittima fondata sul matrimonio, attribuendo ad altre forme di unione impropri riconoscimenti giuridici, dei quali non vi è, in realtà, alcuna effettiva esigenza sociale.

[I]t is a grave error to cloud the value and functions of the legitimate family, founded on marriage, attributing to other forms of union improper juridical recognition, for which there does not exist, in reality, any effective social need.

As Damien comments, with a yawn, “There is no reason to be surprised at the Pope’s statements. This is the position that the Vatican has been taking all along.” But as Damien also notes,Benedict is not only opposing same-sex marriage, he is arguing against legal recognition of other sorts of unions. “He has stepped outside the sacramental and theological issue of what constitutes marriage in the eyes of the church. And outside that realm he says that other unions would cloud the function of the family.”

“How?” is of course the question.