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The Unfinished Papacy of Benedict XVI

Slate kindly asked me to contribute my thoughts on the retiring Pontiff. I see so many initiatives unfinished.

Benedict has also walked a precarious middle course, theologically speaking. He has imposed on the Vatican II documents an interpretive tool that he calls “the hermeneutic of continuity.” He claims, contra progressives and traditionalists, that Vatican II was not a break with Catholic tradition at all. In other words, apparent changes of church teaching in the council documents on subjects like whether nation-states should be confessionally Catholic, or whether the Catholic Church is the only true church were not substantial repudiations of past doctrine, but updated expressions of traditional teaching. This “hermeneutic” idea seems to be taking hold in the intellectual life of the church. For example, as part of his effort to make this continuity concept real to everyday Catholics, he liberalized use of the Traditional Latin Mass, though it remains uncommon. He encouraged reform of the new vernacular Mass, in line with the old. But those reforms have been timid and slow.