The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has sent shock waves throughout the Catholic world -- and rightly so. The Holy Father's eight-year reign was very successful. With his announcement that he will be stepping down at the end of February, the church must find a suitable successor. It will be difficult.
Pope Benedict's greatest accomplishment is that he put in place an impregnable defense of the culture of life -- continuing the mission of his charismatic predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict is more than a gifted manager. He is a brilliant scholar and theologian. He has bravely spoken out against abortion, homosexual "marriage," contraception, sexual promiscuity, euthanasia, pornography and moral relativism. His worldview can be distilled to one seminal idea: Secular liberalism is a false god and pseudo-religion; the only source of transcendental meaning is the church and Jesus Christ.
Hence, liberals despise him. They are now dancing on his papal grave. Since he ascended to the papacy, the anti-Catholic left has accused him of numerous crimes -- being a Nazi sympathizer, fostering the hatred of women and perpetuating "homophobia" and "Islamophobia." The now-deceased Christopher Hitchens referred to Pope Benedict's career as having "the stench of evil." (This from a man who, for years, rationalized communist tyrannies responsible for the slaughter of millions.)
In the eyes of the secular left, the Holy Father's real crime is he is a genuine Catholic. The pope's teachings simply reinforced traditional orthodoxy, expressing the tenets of natural law. His views went against trendy progressive opinion. They amounted to restating basic, historic Catholic doctrine, such as homosexual behavior -- sodomy -- is immoral and unnatural; the family is the central unit of society; marriage consists of one man and one woman; contraception violates the fundamental purpose of sex, which is procreation; human life is sacrosanct from conception until natural death; and that male and female natures are distinct and different. He has consistently excoriated totalitarianism -- both communism and fascism. In short, he opposes the culture of death in all of its malignant forms. No wonder liberals hate him.
Early in his papacy, he criticized radical Islam. Pope Benedict cited a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, pointing out that since its inception, Islam has had periods of violent expansion. For this, enraged protesters took to the streets in cities across the Muslim world, many of them calling for the pope to be killed. The Holy See has repeatedly championed the rights of Christians, especially in Muslim lands. Throughout the Middle East and Asia, Christians are the victims of persecution and pogroms. Yet, as Western leaders remain largely silent about this mass religious expulsion, the pope continues to raise his voice.
Like John Paul II, Pope Benedict continued to reach out to the Jewish community. Moreover, he began to finally confront and crack down on the sex-abuse scandal that has plagued the church. He apologized to the victims. He stripped pedophile priests of their positions, and started the long, difficult process of healing.
The topic he returns to repeatedly is the long-term threat posed by moral relativism to the West. It is fostering moral paralysis, hedonism and cultural decline. Ethical standards have been smashed. The doctrine of personal liberation is rampant. In America, the results have been disastrous: the breakdown of the family, skyrocketing divorce rates, a huge rise in illegitimate births, drugs, pornography, the mass murder of nearly 50 million unborn children and an AIDS epidemic that has led to millions of deaths. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report stating there are 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year. The most common diseases are gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis B and HIV. The CDC says the United States faces an "epidemic" of sexually transmitted diseases. We have become Sodom and Gomorrah.
For decades, moral relativism -- the belief there are no moral absolutes, no enduring principles of right and wrong -- has been used as a battering ram to destroy the West's Christian foundations. In particular, it forms the essence of our postmodern society's fashionable bigotry: Christophobia. The hatred of Christianity lies at the core of the socialist project. In Europe, Christianity is dying. It is widely viewed as a superstitious institution that existed prior to the Enlightenment. Yet, the extinction of a religion inevitably leads to the destruction of the culture and the civilization it spawned.
Pope Benedict understood this. This is why he has been the West's spiritual titan. His resignation opens up a moral vacuum. God willing, his successor will be able to fill his giant shoes.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio commentator in Boston.
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