The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Part I

In this Christmas season and invitation from a New Year to renew ourselves as a species and as individuals, we have been meditating on the moxa (prophetic moxie) and doxa (mystical glory) that are part and parcel of the Christmas story and our stories.

“Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, April 2 , 1995” Photo by Levan Ramishvili on Flickr.

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Cardinal Ratzinger, died at the age of 95.  Since then a number of articles have appeared about his legacy.  Jason Berry in The Daily Beast focused especially on his “failure” vis a vis the horrors of the priestly pedophile scandals.[1] Another article focused on his failures regarding Ecumenism such as his insulting Jews by undoing the excommunication of a British Bishop who denied the holocaust and re-inserting a “conversion of Jews” prayer into Good Friday services. 

As regards Islam, in a talk in 2006 he cited a centuries-old diatribe against the prophet Mohammad that talked of Islam as “evil and inhuman.”[2]   

An extended interview of Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on Democracy Now! discussing his book “The Pope’s War”. Originally posted to YouTube by Sowingthewinds.

That he insulted Buddhists by declaring that Thich Nhat Hanh was “the anti-Christ” was told to me by TNH himself when he came to speak at our University of Creation Spirituality. I counseled him by telling him that I had read his two books on Christ and that he obviously knew more about Jesus than the Vatican did. 

In his last will and testament we are told Pope Benedict apologized to all the people he may have offended.  That is a lot of people. 

“Thich Nhat Hanh meditative.” Photo by Duc on Flickr.

He insulted Hindus by declaring that Christians should not do yoga because “it gets you too much in touch with your body.”  Shades of his commitment to St. Augustine and his patriarchal dualisms (“the soul makes war with the body;” “spirit is whatever is not matter.”).  Ratzinger did his doctoral thesis on Augustine.

It seems every time Ratzinger wrote complaints about my work to my provincial he invoked Starhawk being on my faculty.  Starhawk is a feminist and justice activist who explores the wicca tradition.  Once when I told her that she was keeping the Vatican awake at night she responded, “I don’t know why they are threatened by me—we did not burn any of them at the stake.”

He declared that Protestant churches were not really churches and non-Christian religions were “severely deficient.”

Benedict was uncomfortable with Native American spirituality also.  One of the  charges he leveled against me was that I “work too closely with Native Americans.”  Perhaps he was ill at ease with the fact that we had a Lakota teacher in our program who built a sweat lodge on Holy Names campus and led our faculty, staff and students in regular sweat lodges, a deep spiritual practice that has benefited me for years.

Deep Ecumenism was not Ratzinger’s forte.  To be continued


See Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved.

Fox, A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity.

Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest.

[1] https://www.thedailybeast.com/pope-benedict-xvi-failed-as-a-reformer

[2] https://www.npr.org/2022/12/31/898524253/pope-benedict-xvi-dies

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Side profile of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, taken during a televised broadcast. Originally posted to Flickr by Beyond Forgetting.

Queries for Contemplation

How have you incorporated deep ecumenism into your spiritual life?

Recommended Reading

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality & The Transformation of Christianity

A modern-day theologian’s call for the radical transformation of Christianity that will allow us to move once again from the hollow trappings of organized religion to genuine spirituality. A New Reformation echoes the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in 1517 and offers a new vision of Christianity that values the Earth, honors the feminine, and respects science and deep ecumenism.
“This is a deep and forceful book….With prophetic insight, Matthew Fox reveals what has corrupted religion in the West and the therapy for its healing.” ~Bruce Chilton, author of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

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21 thoughts on “The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Part I”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you write that on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Cardinal Ratzinger, died at the age of 95. You also write of a number of his failures, such as: his “failure” vis a vis the priestly pedophile scandals, his failures regarding “Deep Ecumenism” such as his insulting Jews by undoing the excommunication of a British Bishop who denied the holocaust and re-inserting a “conversion of Jews” prayer into Good Friday services, he talked of Islam as “evil and inhuman” and he insulted Buddhists by declaring that Thich Nhat Hanh was “the anti-Christ.” He insulted Hindus by declaring that Christians should not do yoga because “it gets you too much in touch with your body,” and declared that Protestant churches were not really churches and non-Christian religions were “severely deficient.” Benedict was uncomfortable with Native American spirituality also. One of the charges he leveled against me was that I “work too closely with Native Americans.” Deep Ecumenism was not Ratzinger’s forte. Then you ask us: “How have you incorporated deep ecumenism into your spiritual life?” My Creation Spirituality Community which is called, “Spiritwind” studies different religions, philosophies, and spiritual traditions. In fact right now we are doing one titled, “Welcome to the Universe” which deals with the New Cosmology…

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    Dear Matthew, thank you for your daily meditations, your commitment to deep ecumenism and your unwillingness to remain silent when others attempt to “whitewash” someone’s past to avoid the messy truth.

    I found the information on labeling “anti-Christs” almost hilarious as my Baptist paternal grandmother and Seventh Day Adventist maternal grandmother both thought the Seat of Rome was the certain location of the “anti-Christ.” Talk about psychological projection.

    Finally, I will say that my practice of mindfulness in the Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village Tradition has led me back to my Christian roots AND to the appreciation of perennial wisdom in other faith traditions. Clearly ecumenism is one way of recognizing the diversity and compassion of our Creator’s handiwork and Thay’s saying “No mud, no lotus” is far more Christian than Josef Ratzinger could understand.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall:
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall:

      Patrick, I had a long journey where I started out as a Seventh-day Adventist minister, but then left after a crisis of faith. Then I became ordained in the United Church of Christ, where I had complete theological and social freedom. But I didn’t find my true home until I Met Matthew and Creation Spirituality–especially because off its “deep ecumenism”–a term that Matthew coined himself! Thank you for finding us, and visit us often!

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    Do you like a good laugh? Well I do. Irony does that to you. Just the other day on December 31, my remarks herein were being compared with those of Gnostics and Heretics. That same shallow or deep ecumenism, of which Pope Benedict cast upon and censured Matthew Fox with, are alive and well today within Matthew’s own website. — BB.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Bill I was in NO way calling you a heretic. I do not even believe in heretics because the word “heretic” literally means just “to choose.” I believe that everyone has the right to believe as they “choose.” I believe that Gnostics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and those of all faiths have a valid way to God. l was just saying that the things you were saying on December 31 were in line with what the Gnostics taught! I did not agree with Ratzinger or Pope Benedict’s views.

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    My journey into deep ecumenicism has often felt like walking through the fire. I was brought up Catholic, yet I was always discerning what I was being taught. This led to Eastern, Goddess, New Age, Shamanic, and then to Creation/Liberation/Feminist spirituality. I am a Twisted Hairs, which is a term meaning one whom braids together the spiritual truths and wisdom from several different spiritual paths into ONE.

    My journey reflects my Medicine Name, which is Small Hawk and my Sacred Name, which is Circling Fox. Both of these names carry within them the essence of my soul, which is revealed and made known to me throughout the journey of my life. Small Hawk, refers to my natural ability to see all the small details that make up the whole and of being a messenger whom weaves these together. Circling Fox, refers to my natural ability to move within many different circles and then carrying the light of truth and wisdom found and sharing this.

    The most challenging threads have been the Christian ones. I am grateful that I found my way to the true wisdom teachings within Christianity, that of the mystics and prophets; through people like Mathew, Mirabia Starr and others, for without these courageous souls I would not have been able to heal, reconcile and synthesize my earlier experiences within Christianity. I still, at times wrestle with this, especially during this reckoning unfolding within many of the Christian Institutions.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Today you write, “I am a Twisted Hairs, which is a term meaning one whom braids together the spiritual truths and wisdom from several different spiritual paths into ONE.” That’s “deep ecumenism” in action. And I am glad that in that process you were able to find your “way to the true wisdom teachings within Christianity, that of the mystics and prophets; through people like Mathew, Mirabia Starr and others, for without these courageous souls I would not have been able to heal, reconcile and synthesize my earlier experiences within Christianity.” May God bless you and yours this New Year.

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    Great DM today Matthew summarizing your prophetic struggle with the patriarchal Catholic Church, and its past two patriarchal church leaders, Popes John Paul II and Benedict. Your interview in the DM with Democracy Now! (still reporting on TV truthfully on injustices around the world), and your three books recommended at the end of today’s DM are excellent! The spirit of truth, justice, and deep ecumenism of Vatican II had been suppressed in many ways by these two past popes like you and several other liberation and feminist theologians have bravely struggled and written about. The Divine Feminine Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Truth~Peace~Justice~Mercy~Healing~Transformation~Creativity~Beauty~Joy~Diverse Oneness~Compassionate Service… within and among us cannot be repressed nor destroyed in our eternally evolving souls within Divine Love of our co-Creation~Evolution Cosmic Christ, including our Sacred Mother Earth….

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    I find it disturbing to focus a meditation only on the “negatives” in Pope Benedict’s life- this seems to be more divisive than encouraging unity through being peacekeepers and respecters of the lives of each and every created relative, human and other than human. I think we have all done things that have not promoted peace and unity but by emphasizing only that part of our lives we do not have a chance to see the “positive” accomplishments of our relatives, which offer us encouragement to live as we are taught by the Teachings of Jesus the Christ.
    Peace and All Good to all.

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    I am forever grateful for my simple Congregational backgound, later morphing into the open and affirming UCC. I was so fortunate not to have been taught to hate or exclude and so fortunate in getting to know more about Judaism in college and about Roman Catholicism at a Jesuit University and then to work with a Muslim man and learn a little about Islam. After some decades as an agnostic, I decided my daughters should have at least a foundation in the faith and rejoined a church. Around that time, I decided I was a person of faith, not necessarily a Christian, and felt deeply appreciative of the many gifts of other belief systems—and deeply appreciative of discovering Matthew’s book “Original Blessing”, which led to Marcus Borg, Spong, and other ecumenical type writers. So, I do consider myself a deep ecumenical person of faith.

    What a very tragic and constricted and fear-drenched life the late Cardinal R led! And what deep damage his character faults did to so many individuals and the Church itself. Who knows what forces twisted and perverted the image of God he should have been able to manifest. God is merciful and forgiving, though, I pray.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, I was a Congregational / United Church of Christ minister for over 30 years. I was taught there a very open form of Christianity and even wrote a proposal for “Deep Ecumenism” for the denomination, which was accepted–though they dropped the term “deep ecumenism”–substituting for it “Interfaith” in dialogue and practice. This I have put into practice by creating my own Creation Spirituality Community which is called, “Spiritwind” which studies different religions, philosophies, and spiritual traditions. In fact right now we are doing one titled, “Welcome to the Universe” which deals with the New Cosmology… At the last three UCC churches I have served since, I have also had a Spiritwind group where I have taught “the gospel of deep ecumenism.” Finally you write that you are: “deeply appreciative of discovering Matthew’s book ‘Original Blessing,’ which led to Marcus Borg, Spong, and other ecumenical type writers.” That happened with me too!

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        At my home UCC church in Massachusetts, we had sacred dance (though more sedate than those in Cosmic Masses), and one minister was very much interested in indigenous beliefs back in the 1980’s.

  8. Richard Reich-Kuykendall:
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall:

    “At every deed, however puny, that results in justice, God is made glad, glad through and through. At such a time there is nothing in the core of the Godhead that is not tickled through and through and that does not dance for joy.” Meister Eckhart

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    This is an important summary of what many of us found so deeply distressing in those years, with all of your usual spirit and humor and grounded wisdom. One request – please edit to say that Starhawk IS a feminist and justice activist who EXPLORES the wicca tradition. You scared me for just a minute, but she is still here, in the flesh among us, yes?
    Sending you so much love and appreciation, and strong thoughts and energy for a healthy, joyful 2023.
    Gail T Smith

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Thank you, and thank you for the catch, Gail – and our apologies to you and to Starhawk! Yes, she is very much alive and active.
      New Year blessings to you also.
      Appreciation,
      Phila Hoopes
      Blog Coordinator

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    Institutional religion is fading. Traditionalist religions such as Catholicism are scrambling to seize power in governments if they can’t hold onto members of their faithful. Their “piece of the pie” keeps getting segmented by schism and now by multiplicity of spiritual options in an online world. They fear dilution and erasure of what they declared as THE Truth: their version, the one they declared infallible. They cannot compromise on their “infallible” teachings. “Ecumenism,” a unity of Christian factions, seems to be a distant hope if such arrogant intransigence is adopted by each group. And that’s just within the one faith. When you try to get interfaith dialogue, you need humility and open minds, neither of which is likely.
    Mysticism could be a bridge of (some) common understanding, but I don’t think traditional organized religions will be open to it any time soon because many of them are already ambivalent about mysticism even though it’s woven into their Holy texts. Each tradition has their own specific interpretation of the mystical revelation and its meaning, and many of them value their interpretation much more than the experience itself. (Of course, they assume they know everything there is to know about it). They’re already uncomfortable with their own mystics: they’re not likely to want to grapple with any more of them. They miss out on vast amounts of wisdom.

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    I never could use any name for the man you write about but “Ratzinger,” which represented my thoughts about him—a rat in the Vatican. I had no interest in anything he said because it did not seem at all Christian to me. Now I see that he was far worse than I thought.

    As for deep ecumenism, I believe that if a person on the path, regardless of their chosen religion, digs deep enough, they will find the well where all wells meet. A wise Christian theologian said (was it Teilhard du Chardin?) that he had more in common with a person who has dug deeply into their own religion, regardless of which faith path it is, than he has with Christians who do not dig deeply. This is certainly true for me. My partner is Buddhist and we find few things on which we disagree. The wording is different, and there is a bit more focus on service in my Christian path and a bit more focus on meditation on his path. That’s the main difference we have found.

    By the way, my alma mater is Chapman University, and I’m happy to say that when they built their interfaith chapel a couple decades ago, they included Wicca. The beautiful chapel in Orange, California is worth a visit.

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