Fr. Rutler on the Pope of Christian Unity

I have been proposing that we begin referring to Benedict XVI as the "Pope of Christian Unity".

This is precisely what liberals do not want him to be, since it is likely that the sort of person Benedict will bring into manifest unity in the Church will be conservative.

In any event, a reader sent me this from Fr. George Rutler, pastor of Our Savior in Manhattan:

November 1, 2009
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The expression "a living saint" can be misleading. Certainly, we have encountered people in our own lives who fit that description, as best as we can judge. The Holy Church makes the final decision about saints. We celebrate them especially on All Saints’ Day, and on All Souls’ Day, we pray for our loved ones who are drawing more closely into the aura of holiness. The saints on the calendar are only the tip of the iceberg, and most of the saints who have ever existed are known to God alone. Perhaps churches should have a shrine to "The Unknown Saint" quite as we have a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All Saints’ Day is rather like that.

     My point, though, is that there is no such thing as a dead saint. [good point] There are saints alive now, and there are saints who have physically died, but all are alive in Christ and they are "busy" in heaven, to use a temporal metaphor. Some saints capture the popular imagination more in one generation than in another. For instance, St. Simon Stylites was admired in Syria in the fifth century for spending most of his life seated on top of a pillar. That is not a useful model for our day, although some may still remember Flagpole Kelly, and not long ago thousands of New Yorkers went to watch a man spend a week on top of a column up the street in Bryant Park.

     Millions are drawn to Padre Pio, and some are compelled by an unmeasured fascination with his miraculous spiritual gifts, which were blessings indeed, rather than emulating his heroic humility and discipline. There remains an astonishing cult of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She was almost the reverse of St. Pio: totally unknown in her earthly lifetime, and accomplishing nothing conspicuous to her contemporaries. She would have remained such had not her spiritual writings been discovered and published. Perhaps she fascinates precisely because in just barely 24 years on earth, she did the most ordinary things with most extraordinary joy. Whenever her relics are taken on pilgrimage to foreign lands (not to mention the one that was taken on a space shuttle), hundreds of thousands pour out to pray by them. This happened most recently in England, where the media were confounded by the huge crowds.

     Concurrent with that phenomenon, there were astonishing developments in long-moribund Christian life there, not least of which was the announcement of the first papal state visit to Britain and the expected beatification of John Henry Newman, who predicted a "Second Spring" of Faith in England. Then came news of an Apostolic Constitution, which will provide a unique canonical structure to welcome those desiring union with the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI, who well deserves the title "The Pope of Unity," has shown the power of the intercessions of the saints.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Pope of Christian Unity, SESSIUNCULA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TNCath says:

    Father Rutler has the amazing ability to “nail it” every time he writes with impeccable use of diction! My favorite line, “Concurrent with that phenomenon, there were astonishing developments in long-moribund Christian life there.” A masterful analysis!

  2. robtbrown says:

    Is there anything that says good pastor as well as the daily availability of Confession at his parish?

    Before the 7:45 am Mass and after the 12:05 pm Mass

    4:00-5:00 pm

    4:15-4:45 pm


  3. Gabriella says:

    VIVA the Pope of Christian Unity and the priests who follow his example ;)

  4. idatom says:

    Fr. Z.,
    Fr. Rutler talks of praying for our loved ones, we can also pray for strangers in purgatory as explained in the little brown book ENCHIRIDION of INDULGENCES, page 52 we find # 13—

    “Visit to a Cemetery”.

    [ An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial. ]

    In other words for this short action on our part a soul, God’s choice, is sent to heaven.

    Keep the Faith

    Tom Lanter

  5. irishgirl says:

    Bravo to Father Rutler!

    This morning I attended three consecutive TLMs for All Souls Day, and then went to the cemetery where the relatives on my late father’s side are buried, and to pray for their souls and obtain the plenary indulgence.

    And before it gets dark, I hope to go to the cemetery where my late mother’s relatives are at rest. And I just remembered-my maternal grandmother was born on All Souls Day 1879 in Germany; so this makes today her 130th anniversary of her earthly birth!

  6. vincentuher says:

    Thank you, Father. There is no question that our Holy Father is the Pope of Christian Unity. Indeed, I imagine that from the historical perspective in the future he will be seen as a ‘Reconciler of Peoples’ for establishing a firm theological foundation in discussions with the Muslims.

    Fr. Rutler writes with such precision and clarity. It is always a personal blessing to read what he has written or to see him on EWTN. Likewise, it was a blessing today on All Souls to see the EWTN Mass with priests in black chasubles with golden orphreys and the chanting of the Dies irae by the choir director with the choir singing one tone (ison) undergirding the chanting. For a largely homebound person like myself the EWTN broadcasts — where I always enjoyed seeing Fr. Rutler — are gifts from heaven as is this blog.

  7. Amerikaner says:

    The “Glory of the Olive!”

  8. ssoldie says:

    I will let the Holy SEE proclaim what a titles will be conferred, as Pope St Greorry the Great, Pope Leo XIII, Pope of the Working Man etc. He is first and foremost ‘The Vicar of Christ’ visible head of the Church, the ‘Most Holy Father’.

  9. Agnes says:

    The Holy See also takes cues from the laity – sensus fidei – such was the case for proclaiming the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, many many causes for saints, etc. While mostly a top-down operation, it is not completely! Long live B-XVI, Pope of Christian Unity! I think it’s quite catchy.

  10. romancrusader says:

    I think History will show that Pope Paul and JPII totally screwed up the Church. I think Pope John can be forgiven because the intent of VII was not what it turned out to be. JPII was very spiritual but lacking. He liked being a rock star and made everything ecumenical. He lead the world (who hated all of us, including him) and let the lavender mafia and progressives take over.

    Paul and JPII did nothing to bring the church back to the intent of VII, but let the Spirit of VII go wild.

    I think that someone snuffed JPI too. That’s just my tin-foil hat talking though.

    Furthermore, I think Benedict XVI wants a stronger and leaner Church. A battle is coming and we don’t need wimps, we need warriors.

  11. Clinton says:

    I don’t think I’m qualified to be an armchair Bishop, second-guessing both John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI, the Pope of
    Christian Unity and the Glory of the Olive. I’m just grateful for them both.

  12. Warren says:

    I will never forget watching the live announcement and presentation of Pope Benedict at his election – tears of joy! Long live B16!

    romancrusader – I must disagree with your assessment of Popes Paul VI and JPII. The Holy Spirit gave us through Paul VI Humanae Vitae, surely a prophetic document. Paul VI had the task of steering the Church through the 1960s and 70s. I cannot imagine a heavy handed approach would have made a difference to people hell bent on destroying their souls and resistant to authority of any kind. I am usually the first to suggest a firm hand on the tiller – but who am I? My job is to be obedient to the Magisterium. Let’s hope more and more catholics, better formed in the Faith, will give full allegiance to Christ and His Church.

    And, who can deny that the Holy Spirit worked through JPII to bring down communism. Who can deny that JPII loved our Blessed Mother and called all of us to a deeper reflection on the Mother of our Redeemer? Even a cursory glance at his teaching reveals someone graced by God with a depth of contemplation rightfully called profound. Plus, his voluminous writings – which, I would argue, affirm the authentic direction set forth by the Council – will continue to influence and guide generations to come.

    I think you correctly identified the real culprits who tried to hijack the Council, i.e., the unfaithful, misbehaving clergy and laity who have been entirely mistaken about the direction and orientation intended by Vatican II.

    Thanks be to God, we have an excellent Vicar of Christ to steer the Barque of Peter away from enemies foreign and domestic.

  13. romancrusader says:

    25 years of disaster does not a saint make. How do you explain all those liberal bishops that were appointed. What about the way JPII shamefully handled the sex abuse scandal? What kind of Church do you call that?!

  14. TNCath says:


    I think your assessment of the pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II is not accurate. In a recent interview, Cardinal Franc Rode called Vatican II “the greatest crisis in church history,” and yet Paul VI (by the guidance of the Holy Spirit) managed to keep the barque of Peter afloat, despite the “smoke of Satan” which was allowed to enter the Church during his pontificate. Do not underestimate the power of the Evil One and the toll it must have taken on Paul VI during those tumultuous years. John Paul II made immense headway in the restoration of the Church, and Benedict XVI continues this restoration, picking up where John Paul II left off.

    It is easy to “armchair quarterback” being Pope, but the average Catholic has no idea what physical, psychological, and spiritual strain he must endure.

  15. romancrusader says:

    Excuses, excuses, excuses.

  16. Clinton says:

    “Excuses, excuses,excuses”?

    I think TNCath and Warren made some excellent points, romancrusader. Considering the language you employ when speaking of
    our Popes (‘disaster’, ‘totally screwed up the Church’, ‘shamefully handled the sex abuse scandal’, etc.), the least you could do is
    not be so dismissive when others make reasonable posts in their defense. I do like the bit where you allow that Bl. Pope John XXIII
    “can be forgiven”. That was big of you.

    While this sad era sees relatively few vocations to the priesthood, it seems there is no shortage of vocations to the papacy.

  17. romancrusader says:

    I didn’t mention John XXIII.

  18. mpm says:

    While this sad era sees relatively few vocations to the priesthood, it seems there is no shortage of vocations to the papacy.
    Comment by Clinton — 2 November 2009 @ 4:06 pm

    Hear, hear!

  19. romancrusader says:

    Why didn’t Paul VI excommunicate those theologians who dissented from Humanae Vitae?

  20. chcrix says:

    “Why didn’t Paul VI excommunicate those theologians who dissented from Humanae Vitae?”

    Probably for the same reason that B16 doesn’t immediately require TLM to be celebrated in every church and supress the novus ordo. It is true that the Pope is in theory an absolute monarch. But even an absolute ruler needs to move carefully – particularly if he wants to have a long term effect. I think Pope Benedict is moving very effectively to reform the liturgy. But just issuing a decree wouldn’t have the desired effect. So he gives a good example of how to “pope”.

    From what I have read, P6 may not have been as adroit as B16. I tend to feel that he might have done more to stem the abuses that crept in, but I might well be wrong.

    A whole rash of excommunications might have made things worse instead of better.

  21. Clinton says:

    “I think Pope John can be forgiven because the intent of VII …” romancrusader @ 1:06 pm
    “I didn’t mention John XXIII.” romancrusader @ 4:10 pm

    I hope I can be forgiven for thinking that Bl. Pope John XXIII was indeed mentioned.
    If I am mistaken, I apologize.

    As to the original posting, I’m glad to see that referring to our Pope as the ‘Pope of Christian Unity’ is getting traction. I believe
    His Hermeneuticalness has also begun to use the expression. Well done, for it is a title well deserved! Now we have the talks with
    the SSPX beginning, and the Eastern Orthodox are making friendly overtures — l pray the future holds even more good reason
    to refer to the Holy Father as the ‘Pope of Christian Unity’.

  22. I think “Pope of Christian Unity” is redundant. I would call him, “Pope Benedict the Dutiful.”

  23. MichaelJ says:

    Sorry, as yet another “armchair quarterback” I have yet to see any evidence that Pope John Paul II made “immense headway in the restoration of the Church”. I’ve no doubt that he was a holy and pious man, but I have not seen anything that he actually did that would warrant such an assertion.

    All of his overtures to Tradition seemed (to me at least) to have been a begrudging concession to those of us who just could not “get with the times”.

    Perhaps he did much behind the scenes to lay the foundation for a future Pope (as many here claim), but if it was behind the scenes, I think I can be forgiven for not loudly proclaiming him the Greatest Pope Ever.

  24. Frank H says:

    romancrusader, you said “I think Pope John can be forgiven because the intent of VII was not what it turned out to be.” To which Pope John were you referring?

  25. Frank H says:

    MichaelJ, I tend to agree. I am getting a bit weary of hearing the frequent references to Pope John Paul “The Great”, especially on EWTN. I believe there may even be parishes so named. It is clearly pre-mature to make such an evaluation, as it is pre-mature to beatify him.

  26. robtbrown says:


    Anyone who was an adult Catholic before JPII became pope knows how much he improved the Church. I know from personal experience that in the US the talk among formation teams was not if women would be ordained but when. There was joy among religious (at least those adhering to Catholic doctrine) when he reiterated during his 1979 US visit that women cannot be priests.

    Under the papacy of JPII the teaching of moral theology also improved.

    Did he reform the Church? No, but JPII was the oak tree standing strong in the storm, resisting the anti-doctrinal winds. He also appointed a lot of very good people, including you-know-who.

  27. ncstevem says:

    Have to agree with roman crusader.

    One of the things I notice among faddish people (I think we can agree that traditional Catholics are the antithesis to being faddish) is their propensity to try and prop up their heroes by their actions and words.

    For example, the pagans build a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clearly the Rock & Roll genre doesn’t even come close to the quality of classical, jazz, Big Band music etc. So the secularists recognizing the inferiority of what they peddle try to buttress its ‘importance’ by building a Hall of Fame.

    The same is true in the world of sports, art, architecture, fashion etc. where the pedestrian (at best) is now lauded as extraordinary.

    I notice the same among the ‘conservative’ (EWTN) Catholic crowd. They built up this cult-like mentality around things like Me?ugorje, the charasmatic ‘renewal’ and the previous pope.

    In regards to Pope John Paul II, it’s my impression that they could never bring themselves to question the wisdom of some of his decisions (i.e. Holy Communion standing & in the hand, girls pretending to be altar boys, the ‘ecumenical’ meetings at Assisi, kissing the Koran etc.) because they had so much invested in him on a personal level. To admit some of his actions might not have been prudent might set the whole house of cards of his ‘greatness’ tumbling down.

    This mentality has never learned the concept that a certain level of detachment should exist between the clergy and the laity. Fr. Bob and Fr. Dave have replaced Fr. Smith and Fr. Jones.

  28. romancrusader says:

    I’ll give in on Paul, to a point.

    JPII, no way. He sure did take the lead on getting rid of communism, but then what for the next 20 some years? Answer? NOTHING!

    His “love of Mary” let Medjudgore become Catholic Disneyland and made a bunch of hoodlum kids rich, let him see himself in the fatima secret and fluff through the consecration of Russia. He gagged Sister Lucia and let breakdancers, topless women into mass at the Vatican. He kissed the Koran for Pete’s Sake.

    Some Catholics can’t get past what happened in 1989 with his part in the fall of communism to see what a horrible disaster he was to our church.

    Ever read Windswept House?

  29. TNCath says:

    Sorry, but this meanness is just too much for me. No one on this blog has either the vocation to be Pope or more positive influences on the Church than we will ever be.

  30. Clinton says:

    If we are going to be applying such stern standards to our Popes, with such demands for inerrant episcopal appointments, almost
    supernatural administrative abilities, and a talent for theology that would make the angels weep for joy … then we should be just as
    ready to turn our pitiless gaze upon ourselves. A Pope can only work with the flock he’s got, and for the last 40 years how have we been?

    Here in the US we contracept, abort and divorce at rates that are barely distinguishable from the rest of our increasingly pagan society.
    About 20-25% percent of us bother to go to Mass on Sunday. We are breathtakingly ignorant of our faith–and since parents bear the
    primary responsibility for the education of their children, we can’t just lay the blame for that one at the feet of our parish priest. We
    complain about Sister Pantsuit and her crazy congregation, but who is funding her labyrinth and buying her books on wicca? That’s
    right — we are. That nutty broad doesn’t just print money in the basement of the Motherhouse. We are her meal ticket, people. Who keeps sending their children to colleges “in the Catholic tradition” yet has no idea what a mandatum is? (And
    evidently couldn’t care less). For years we’ve paid top dollar to universities that couldn’t spell Ex Corde Ecclesiae, only to be
    shocked, shocked when our children’s faith is in ruins. Did the Notre Dame debacle really come as a surprise? Really? We did that.
    Not Bishop D’Arcy and not the Pope. We did. Who stopped going to Confession? Did a Swiss Guard show up to prevent you from
    going? Because that’s the only way you’re going to blame *that* one on the Pope. Complaining about all the CINO politicians in
    office? Can’t blame that on the Popes or the Bishops–put together there’s only 200-300 of them, hardly enough to swing most
    elections. ‘Fraid that one’s our bad. Who’s subscribing to the “National Catholic Reporter” and keeping it afloat? I doubt we can
    pin that on either John Paul II or Paul VI. Which denomination in the US contributes the least, per capita, to its Church? Yep, Us.
    Who’s gotten stingy with their smaller families, complaining about the priest and religious shortage, but hoping it’s someone else’s
    child who answers the call? Let’s look in the mirror and be honest with that one…

    If we’re going to be passing around blame sandwiches for all that’s gone wrong in the Church for the last 40 years, then we need to
    man up and save a big, fat one for ourselves. Lord have mercy on us all.

  31. MikeM says:

    Roman Crusader, just imagine the stresses Satan must place on the Vicar of Christ. We all second guess a papal decision here and there. Some Popes have been better than others, and some papal decisions have probably been bad ones. But I don’t envy having such weight on my shoulders. Billions of souls on the line, fighting Satan head on, and trying to run an institution whose administration would be taxing even if it weren’t at the helm of an all out spiritual battle.

    Plus, have you read the writings of Paul VI and JPII? I have questions about both of their skills as administrators, but both seemed to be brilliant and holy men, and we were lucky God gave us such wonderful shepherds. And now we have Benedict XVI! Deo Gratias!

  32. mpm says:


    Exactly right. If we are not in communion with the Pope because he is Christ’s vicar on earth for us, and for that reason obey his instructions and pray for his intentions, we have no right to sit back and judge him.

    “I was willing to obey, but he did not command me as I wanted!”

    Good luck with that….

  33. romancrusader says:

    Let me ask you this. Why can B16 can write AND shepherd his flock? Could the two before him not walk and chew gum?

  34. MichaelJ says:

    I do not disagree with anyone who points out the tremendous pressure placed on Pope John Paul II or that he was presented with a series of insurmountable obstacles. Neither can I disagree with those who suggest that I personally share part of the blame. That is not the point though.

    Other Popes, rightly given the honorific “The Great” have also had the burden of tremendous stress and pressure and have also faced “insurmountable” problems. And yet they, through the Grace of God, overcame and thereby earned the right to be called “The Great”.

    There are objective measures that can be applied to judge the effectiveness of any Papacy. One does not need to “be the Pope” or have “more of an influence on the Church” in order to apply them. Just like I do not need to “be a quarterback” or to have any athletic ability at all to know whether “my” quarterback performed well during last Sunday’s NFL game.

    So far, robtbrown is the only one who has responded in a rational way to defend the legacy of the late pope. All others have either made excuses, shifted blame or launched accusations of disobedience. If you think that Pope John Paul II deserves the title “The Great”, now is your chance to prove it.

  35. Clinton says:

    Let’s see…

    Cardinal Ratzinger as Head of the CDF (despite his pleas to be allowed to retire), initiating World Youth Day, Veritatis Splendor, the
    FSSP, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a pivotal role in the collapse of communism (of which Gorbachev said it would not have been bloodless
    but for him), Cardinal O’Connor of New York, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, unswerving devotion to the sanctity of life, the discrediting of
    liberation theology, visiting his would-be assassin in jail to forgive him, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the 1983 Code of
    Canon Law, Solidarity, theology of the body, the slow-motion martyrdom that were his final years of bad health, the fear and contempt
    with which dissidents and the world regarded him, and the love that drew immense, immense crowds into the streets of Rome to pay
    their respects at his passing, etc., etc..

    These are some of the many reasons that I feel the late Pope could rightly be called John Paul the Great. I may have left out a few
    hundred other reasons, but you get my drift, MichaelJ.

    Honestly, I think God could have sent Moses himself to guide us these past 40 years, and we’d still complain about having nothing but
    manna for dinner.

  36. MichaelJ says:

    Would you be willing to discuss each of these things? Some, such as “theology of the body” would not be viewed by many as a positive accomplishment. Others, such as his popularity, really have little to do with his role as Supreme Pontiff. Finally, most, such as his forgiving his would-be assasin, could be expected of an good Catholic – not just those who are considered “Great”.

    The debate here is not whether John Paul II was a good man or a good Catholic. The debate is whether he went above and beyond what we would rightly expect from an “Ordinary” Pope.

  37. romancrusader says:

    Discrediting of liberation theology? He stood behind Ratzinger’s cassock and nodded in agreement. He was blessed to have someone so intelligent guiding him.

    JPII SAID lots of things and his inaction spoke much louder.
    It is not the Pope’s job to be loved, something that JPII worked SO hard for. He should be detested in Jesus’ Name loved only by true Christians and especially Catholic/Christians that he guides.

    He allowed our liturgy to be decimated.
    He allowed our music to become trite.
    He allowed children to be devastated by his inaction with homosexual priests.
    He allowed people to leave the Catholic Church in droves as he “shepherded” non-Catholics and even non-Christians.
    Everything from the lavender mafia to breakdancers at the Vatican to Altar Girls, the man left a legacy of liberalism and Protestantism that Benedict is now working to clean up.

    All the rest of the good stuff (in 27 years for Heaven’s Sake) is nothing but sprinkles on a Poo cupcake. John Paul the Great is the LAST thing I would call the man. John Paul the Inactive would be more accurate.

  38. Clinton:

    You must have caught me waxing my golden calf in the driveway again.

    You have your finger on it, Clinton. God in His mercy calls His servants from among us. We cannot dismiss Sister Pantsuit and Father Hollywood as the notorious “them”. They are us. Our faithless generation has set the standards for discipleship and those who disciple far too low.

    Everyone, to Confession!

  39. Kimberly says:

    I loved John Paul II. He struck me as a holy man, but I do think his nature was weak in many ways. If you compare him to the other GREATS we have for Popes I don’t think he was of the same material, but I’ll let God decide on that one.

Comments are closed.