Catholic theologian Eamon Duffy mocks Pope Benedict & uses Newman to attack him

Professor Eamon Duffy, University of Cambridge, has written a piece for The Irish Times under the headline, ‘Man of Sacristy’ walks in the shadow of John Paul II.

The eminent professor makes snide and mocking comments about the Holy Father a week before his State visit to the UK.

Ignoring the fact that Benedict has been Pope for over 5 years and has drawn millions to his audiences, visits, and World Youth Days Prof. Duffy writes: ‘Pope Benedict is an altogether smaller figure, a man of the sacristy and the lecture room’.

He goes on:

‘But the pope has repeatedly shown himself maladroit and badly advised in his attempts to promote his views. An academic to the toes of his red papal slippers, he has poor antennae for the likely public perception of his actions and utterances. That was made clear by the hostile reaction to his Regensburg remarks on Islam, and, more recently, by his disastrous though doubtless well-intentioned conciliatory gestures to the holocaust-denying Lefebvrist rebel Bishop Richard Williamson.’

‘The reign of Papa Ratzinger has not ushered in the era of ferocious reaction many feared when he was elected, but his own deep reservations about many aspects not only of the modern world but of the modern church have become increasingly plain. An ongoing Vatican campaign to downplay the novel and reformist dimensions of the second Vatican Council, and to emphasise continuities with the attitudes and ideas of the age of Pius XII , appears to have his support. His decision in 2007, in the teeth of opposition from most of the world’s bishops, to permit the free use of the old unreformed Latin Mass, seems another straw in the same wind’.

Eamon Duffy then claims that Pope Benedict’s decision to promote the beatification of Cardinal Newman is odd because Duffy claims Newman’s vision of a healthy Church is ‘the antithesis of Pope Benedict’s’

Duffy then goes on to list the things that Newman advocated that are the antithesis of Pope Benedict’s vision of the Church:

‘He [Newman] deplored clericalism, worked to create an educated and active laity, and argued for greater freedom for theology within the church’.

“Truth,” he wrote, “is wrought out by many minds, working together freely.” He detested, and himself suffered from, trigger-happy dogmatists who tried to pre-empt intellectual exploration by invoking pat formulae and ecclesiastical denunciations’

‘Structures of authority gave the church strength, he conceded, but did not give it life: “We are not born of bones and muscle.”

‘He also believed the slide into relativism would not be halted by mere denunciation. If Christian values were to survive and prevail, they must commend themselves by their intrinsic power and attractiveness. Modern materialism, he wrote, must be met “not by refutation so much as by a powerful counter-argument . . . overcoming error not by refutation so much as by an antagonist truth”.

Protect the Pope comment: Prof Eamon Duffy uses his version of Cardinal Newman as a mirror in which to  reflect his negative caricature of Pope Benedict. In this distorting mirror he’s concocted Pope Benedict is against restricting clericalism, an educated laity and theological freedom.

Compared to Newman’s healthy vision of the Church Duffy obviously believes Pope Benedict is for trigger-happy dogmatists and ecclesiastical denunciations. Pope Benedict is too associated with structures of authority that don’t give life, and too keen to make denouncements and refutations instead of presenting the attractive truths of Christianity.

The Pope Benedict that Duffy has created in his distorting mirror bears no relation to the real Pope Benedict who will be visiting in a week’s time. This caricature is so removed from the reality, Protect the Pope has to ask Prof Duffy, have you actually read anything written by Pope Benedict?

10 comments to Catholic theologian Eamon Duffy mocks Pope Benedict & uses Newman to attack him

  • My impression of the article was of it being more nuanced and balanced than you appear to consider it. I did not think that Professor Duffy was mocking Pope Benedict but merely contrasting his personality with that of Pope John Paul. Indeed the reference to “the sacristy and the lecture room” reminded me of the holy father’s own contrasting of himself with his predecessor when he declared “after John Paul the Great a humble fellow worker in the Lord’s Vineyard”. Elsewhere he describes Pope Benedict as “gentle” and even “more intelligent” and when he suggests that in some instances he might have been better advised regarding the impact of some of his public utterances it seems – whether or not one agrees – fair comment. All the same, I think that in every other instance you are doing an excellent job here.

    • admin

      To me it read as a typical academic attack on the Holy Father that pretends at balance, but the last quarter about Newman reveals the authors real intention, which in this case was a liberal cri de cour against the theological ‘panzer Cardinal’. The contrast with Pope John Paul II may have been appropriate for the first day or week of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, but it is misleading 5 years later. Physically the Holy Father may be small, but as the successor of Peter and as a pastor and theologian he is a giant, who is prepared to tackle problems within the Catholic Church that Pope John Paul didn’t, such as the exclusion and marginalisation of the Latin Mass. Also, Pope Benedict is challenging the intransigence of the Curia, and the problems with the appointment of Bishops, which even John Paul II admitted had been a weakness of his pontificate. Nowhere does Prof. Duffy talk about the courage or wisdom of Pope Benedict but instead he falsely portrays a weak, ineffectual man who is ill-advised and has made a series of mistakes. That’s just plain wrong.

      One last thing, Duffy fails to mention that millions of people attend the Holy Father’s weekly audiences and Angelus addresses, more even than during Pope John Paul II’s time.

      Thank you for your support of Protect the Pope.

  • admin

    Here’s Commonweal’s assessment of Duffy’s piece: ‘An interesting piece by the distinguished historian Eamon Duffy on Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain. The short version: Benedict enters an English culture where Catholic are, paradoxically, more accepted at all levels of society than before, but where a public anti-Catholicism is gaining renewed energy. The Pope’s own combative orientation to the modern world, in Duffy’s view, is unhelpful.

    • ninoinoz

      I think I can resolve the paradox.

      What seems to have happened, and its significance has only just been noticed, is the surpassing of the Anglicanism as the major religion in this country. This will be accentuated by the setting up of the new Personal Ordinariate, but was already happening through immigration, higher birth rates, lower Catholic secularisation rates and people ‘marrying’ into Catholicism.

      Other religions now look to the Archbishop of Westminster for collective leadership on areas of common interest, not the Archbishop of Canterbury.

      Now, politicians have picked up on this as they actually have to confront voters and co-operate with churches on various matters, but the liberal clique that thinks the country is run for their benefit have only just become aware of this social change. And they don’t like it at all.

      Worse, from a liberal point of view, has been the collapse in government finances. The necessary cutbacks means they can no longer ‘buy’ support for their policies through government funded programmes. Now, who are going to help the poor, sick and homeless. The religions and their associated charities, that who.

      If you want an example of increasing religious influence, just look at the bleating about Free Schools from the liberal education establishment. They are absolutely shocked that just under half the new ones are of a religious character, despite children being disproportiately from ethnic minority and/or religious families.

      Lastly, why should we be surprised that the language of Northern Irish politics has been adopted in Britain when the same factors are at play; demographics and a Protestant/Secular hegenomy of public life.

  • Anthony

    “This caricature is so removed from the reality, Protect the Pope has to ask Prof Duffy, have you actually read anything written by Pope Benedict?”

    Good question. Has he read Spes Salvi? This shows a Pope with a profound and compassionate understanding of human nature.

  • Peter Bridgman

    Dear Admin,

    Eamon Duffy is a historian, not a theologian, and you have spelt his name wrong. If you haven’t heard of the man, Duffy wrote ‘The Stripping of the Altars’ which overturned everyone’s thinking about the Reformation, and ‘Saints and Sinners’, the best available single volume history of the Papacy.

    You ask if Duffy has read anything by Pope Benedict. Here is a recent article from the Tablet in which Duffy quotes extensively from Benedict and in which Duffy (a liturgical conservative himself) supports the Pope’s efforts to “bring back elements that were lost and to restore a sense of continuity.” In left-wing Catholic circles such as The Tablet, Duffy would be seen as something of a Tridentalist.

    After reading Duffy’s article in the Tablet, you might just feel that a retraction is in order.

    • admin

      Peter, sorry about the spelling mistake, as usual I was a bit rushed for time balancing work demands. Prof Duffy is a leading member of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain, the professional body for Catholic theologians in this country. If Prof Duffy is familiar with Pope Benedict’s writings, apart from his liturgical work, then his misrepresentation of the Holy Father’s vision of the Church by the false contrast with Cardinal Newman is even more disgraceful.

  • Robin Leslie

    I haven’t read Eamon Duffy’s article on Pope Benedict but it would surprise me if Eamon Duffy were destructively attacking the Pope.
    However if he was belittling this good Pope he would simply be contradicting his own findings of the causes of the Protestant Reformation. In his book The Stripping of the Altars, Duffy cites the excessive influence of the universities and a coalition of scholars and merchants in engineering the ‘crisis’ in the Church. The same phenomenon is happening again now, which only goes to confirm that ‘history repeats itself’. The ordinary practicing and believing Catholic is seeing his Church attacked and the Pope scapegoated by a motley band of academics including Anglicans like Ostreicher, rabid rationalists like Dawkins, gays galore, exclusive humanists and New age sexual orientationists, all of them queing up to externalise their bile onto the Pope simply because he represents ‘difference’ to an increasingly totalitarian
    neo-liberalism in the UK.
    I hope that Eamon Duffy will pay more attention to pope Benedict’s
    papacy thus far which is wholly honourable. I for one, as a Catholic, would resist any of the liberal reforms proposed by those who simply refuse to acknowledge the mystery of our faith, a mystery that will never be transcended by mere human knowledge, no matter how important that may be to us, but only by risking the whole of our lives for God for others.

  • [...] championed the great Cardinal in his writings and lectures. Contrary to Professor Eamon Duffy, who offensively claimed that Newman’s vision of the Church, is “the antithesis” of the current pontiff’s, Benedict [...]

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