A German theologian has taken aim at Benedict XVI over a screed from the Pope Emeritus on a supposed global “dictatorship of humanist ideologies”, calling the retired pontiff’s words “fantasy”.

– Retired pope denounces resisting modern “anti-Christian creed” punishable “by social excommunication”

Author Peter Seewald published May 4 a new biography of Joseph Ratzinger which contains a never-before-published interview with the Pope Emeritus which Seewald maintains took place in autumn 2018.

In that interview, the retired pope warned that the Catholic Church is threatened by a “worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanist ideologies”, among which Benedict cited gay marriage, abortion and the “creation of humans in the laboratory”.

“Modern society is in the process of formulating an anti-Christian creed, and resisting this creed is punished by social excommunication”, Ratzinger further alerted, adding that, on the state of today’s Church, “events have shown by now that the crisis of faith has above all led to a crisis of Christian existence”.

– Same old “litany” of “dictatorship of relativism”

Writing May 6 on German Bishops’ website katholisch.de, University of Freiburg theologian Magnus Striet took issue with the retired pope’s alleged words, lamenting that once again Benedict XVI turned to the tired old “litany” of the “dictatorship of relativism” that marked his 2005-2013 pontificate.

As supposed proof of his claim that the world is in the thrall of a quasi-humanistic “dictatorship”, the retired pope cited the apparently widespread acceptance today of gay unions, whereas “a century ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to talk about homosexual marriage”.

“A hundred years ago, the human sciences were still in their infancy compared to today”, Striet shot back.

“What biopolitical human breeding ambitions have to do with the question of legal equality for homosexual partnerships can only be deduced to a limited extent” in the emeritus pope’s words, the theologian further observed.

That was before delivering a fatal blow to Benedict’s argument: that “homosexual rights are definitely not enforced worldwide”, for which reaason talk of a “global dictatorship” of ideologies pushing them “is a fantasy”.

– Does the Pope Emeritus understand what modern societies are?

On Benedict XVI’s point of “modern societies” allegedly conspiring on an “anti-Christian creed”, Striet affirmed that that idea seemed so far-fetched that the retired pope seemed not to understand “what modern societies are and what constitutes a secular state and a modern legal system”.

At least in the case of Germany, the theologian continued, “citizens can live their Christian creed here, whether communally or individually. The same applies to people with a different creed. The only requirement is that they do not come into conflict with the applicable law”.

“Nobody is therefore denied the right to demand strict anti-abortion legislation or to believe in good biblical tradition that homosexuality is a sin”, Striet explained.

Another fault in the retired pope’s argument that the theologian picked apart was that just because societies don’t bow to religions as “culturally transcendent authorities”, that doesn’t mean they are “hostile to religion”.

Modern societies simply “require people who want to bring their religious beliefs into the public discourse that they provide reasons for them that are good enough to convince”, Striet insisted.

“Joseph Ratzinger, too, is thus entitled to claim that in Germany a false, absurd humanism is being placed in opposition to the Christian credo which he defined as such. For this he will reap criticism from a country practiced in democracy, which has nothing to do with ‘ready hostility'”, the theologian clarified, quoting the retired pope.

– An irony and a double standard

One final point Striet addressed in his response to Benedict XVI was the irony and double standard of the former pope affirming on the basis of the historical evidence that women deacons and priests never existed while at the same claiming to be a “Pope emeritus”, an also unprecedented historical innovation.

“Imagine that women deacons and priests never existed. Historians are absolutely in agreement on the question. Can’t they still exist in the future?”, the theologian asked.

“Imagine that there has never been a moral theological acceptance of homosexual couples in Church history and that John Paul II taught a theology of the body that definitely excluded the recognition of such partnerships. Can’t such recognition happen in the future?”, he continued.

“Finally, there is also a theologically creative justification for the fact that the new title and then the new office of pope emeritus can exist”, Striet concluded.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.