In an article in the New York Times on Sunday that tries to be fair, the authors, perhaps unintentionally, get off more than one insulting line. They say, for instance, of the young George and Josef Ratzinger that they “became priests. The Church gave them educations and, perhaps, not incidentally, improved their social status.” Say again?
When the totally humiliating defeat of the Nazis arrived in 1945, Josef Ratzinger had barely reached his 18th birthday. His whole future lay open before him, free at last of Nazi tyranny. There were hundreds of thousands of young women of Germany whose boyfriends or young husbands had perished in distant places. Universities were opening again on all sides, and the numbers of young men to attend them had shrunken drastically. High-level professions of all kinds clamored for new young talent.
Despite cruel coercions by the Nazis that had disrupted his early life, Ratzinger had had a very good gymnasium education. He was now about to begin his university and professional studies. He chose, as not so many did, philosophical and theological studies leading toward ordination as a Catholic priest. But one price of making that choice was to sacrifice his sexual life in a vow to seek a higher love, in the following of Christ, the Son of God.
For a young man of Ratzinger’s brilliance, one can think of many other choices that would have brought him much higher status than being a mere priest–professor, and much else besides. Consider, too, that In past centuries, millions of youths had also chosen to give their lives to Christ, many to the point of martyrdom. And yet the only reason the writers can think of to explain the choice that Ratzinger made is “to improve his social status.”
Contempt is hidden in the words “perhaps not incidentally.” This vocation, the authors continue, was the boys’ “ticket” to “social, intellectual, and even cultural advancement.” (Can you imagine the authors writing the same thing about themselves or other self-made men?)
How do editors let such lapses stand?