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Pope Benedict XVI and the fight for freedom

From 1979-82 I was a Russian linguist in the U.S. Army serving in what then was called West Germany. We faced off against 30 Soviet Army divisions in Eastern Europe, mainly in East Germany, and another 60 divisions in the Western Soviet Union, much in what today is Ukraine. Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev also wielded thousands of nuclear weapons.

The Soviet Union was a vicious dictatorship that promoted tyranny around the world. But in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany unified. And on that happy Christmas Day 1991, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in power 74 years, dissolved itself. The Soviet Union broke up.

One of the leaders who brought about the peaceful end of the Cold War died on Dec. 31, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. You can read about his religious actions elsewhere. But when I was in the Army in Germany, as Cardinal Ratzinger he was the archbishop of Munich, near where we conducted maneuvers to prepare for war. In 1982, Pope John Paul II tapped him to become his main aide.

Pope John Paul II survived in the underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, then was part of the resistance to the Communist government that took over Poland. Ratzinger came from an anti-Nazi family, but was drafted into the German army as a teenager at the end of the war before deserting. They knew tyranny firsthand.

Communist Poland supposedly was a “workers’ paradise,” but really was an oppressed land, with the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations severely restricted. Lech Walesa’s Solidarity union began protests for freedom. In 1981 Brezhnev ordered a crackdown, carried out by the Polish puppet government, and Walesa was jailed. My army unit was told we might have to mobilize.

Working with President Ronald Reagan, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, heroic Polish labor leader Walesa and others, Pope John Paul II and Ratzinger brought about the largely peaceful end of the Cold War.

Also at that time, Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II were battling what’s called Liberation Theology, which tried to blend Marxism and Christianity, and was influential in Latin America. In 1984, Ratzinger issued an “Instruction” on it. He acknowledged the problems of poverty and the oppression by governments.

Then he wrote, “Impatience and a desire for results has led certain Christians, despairing of every other method, to turn to what they call ‘Marxist analysis.’ Their reasoning is this: an intolerable and explosive situation requires ‘effective action’ which cannot be put off. Effective action presupposes a ‘scientific analysis’ of the structural causes of poverty. Marxism now provides us with the means to make such an analysis, they say. Then one simply has to apply the analysis to the third-world situation, especially in Latin America …

“Let us recall the fact that atheism and the denial of the human person, his liberty and rights, are at the core of the Marxist theory. This theory, then, contains errors which directly threaten the truths of the faith regarding the eternal destiny of individual persons. Moreover, to attempt to integrate into theology an analysis whose criterion of interpretation depends on this atheistic conception is to involve oneself in terrible contradictions. What is more, this misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the person leads to a total subordination of the person to the collectivity, and thus to the denial of the principles of a social and political life which is in keeping with human dignity.

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“When man wishes to free himself from the moral law and become independent of God, far from gaining his freedom he destroys it.”

Liberation theology declined after that and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was obvious Marxist socialist economics impoverished people. Oddly, the main country damaged by liberation theology, Nicaragua in the mid-1980s, is ruled again by the dictator of that day, Comandante Daniel Ortega, in power since 2006. True to form, he is oppressing his people again.

When Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, he branded such actions “the dictatorship of relativism” — the rule of raw power without morality. Benedict himself represented the opposite, the embrace of humility, when he resigned in 2013, giving up immense power.

May he rest in peace.

John Seiler is on the SCNG editorial board.

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