April 20, 2005


An Evangelizer on the Right, With His Eye on the Future (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 4/20/05, NY Times)

As John Paul's alter ego, the new German pope has been training for this role for decades and knows how all the levers of Vatican power work.

"This man is not just going to mind the store," said George Weigel, a conservative American scholar who knows both the former and new popes. "He is going to take re-evangelization, especially of Europe, very seriously. I think this represents a recognition on the part of the cardinals that the great battle in the world remains inside the heads of human beings - that it's a battle of ideas."

Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert at the Italian magazine L'Espresso, said he expected a thorough housecleaning not unlike the Gregorian reforms of the church begun under Pope Gregory VII, who ruled from 1073 to 1085. Those reforms led to the end of both the married clergy and the buying and selling of spiritual favors like indulgences.

Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken and written forcefully about his sense of the threats to the church, both internal and external. Whether they are dissident theologians, pedophile priests, "cafeteria Catholics" who disregard the ban on artificial birth control, or "celibate" third world clergy who keep mistresses, the new pope's solution is likely to be a more forceful reiteration of the church's creed and the necessity of either living by it, or leaving it.

"How much filth there is in the church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely" to God, he said in Rome on Good Friday last month.

He has singled out the spread of "aggressive secularism," especially in Europe and North America. In the homily he gave Monday, just before the cardinals entered the conclave in which he was chosen, he warned about rival forms of belief, from "a vague religious mysticism" to "syncretism" to "new sects," a term that Catholics in Latin America use to refer to evangelical and Pentecostal churches.

The new pope is not likely to yield on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, whether dealing with other Christian denominations or Islam. In a document issued in 2000, "Dominus Jesus," the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Cardinal Ratzinger headed said the Catholic Church was the only true path to salvation and called other faiths "gravely deficient."

In choosing the name Benedict, this German theologian linked himself not only to a long line of former popes but also to St. Benedict, the founder of Christian monasticism, who was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1964 to be the "patron and protector of Europe." The monasteries that St. Benedict founded - and for which he wrote the "Rule," the basic guide to monastic living - became the keepers of culture and piety in medieval Europe.

Church scholars suggested that Pope Benedict XVI may be positioning himself as the new savior of Europe, rescuing the Continent from what he called in his homily on Monday "the dictatorship of relativism."

A Theological Visionary With Roots in Wartime Germany (DANIEL J. WAKIN, 4/20/05, NY Times)
The Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled, was his bulwark against the Nazi regime, "a citadel of truth and righteousness against the realm of atheism and deceit."

But he could not avoid the realities of the day. In an episode certain to be scrutinized anew, Joseph Ratzinger was briefly and unenthusiastically a member of the Hitler Youth in his early teens, after membership became mandatory in 1941, according to a biography by John L. Allen Jr., who covers the Vatican for The National Catholic Reporter.

In 1943, he and fellow seminarians were drafted. He deserted in 1945 and returned home, but was captured by American soldiers and held as a prisoner of war for several months, Mr. Allen wrote.

Along his way to the papacy, he built a distinguished academic career as a theologian, and then spent nearly a quarter century as Pope John Paul II's theological visionary - and enforcer of strict positions on doctrine, morality and the primacy of the faith.

In addition to his subtle and powerful intellect lies a spiritual, almost mystical side rooted in the traditional Bavarian landscape of processions, devotions to Mary and small country parishes, said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican diplomat who has written about Cardinal Ratzinger.

"It's a Christianity of the heart, not unlike that of the late pope's Poland," he said. "It's much different than the cerebral theology traditionally associated with German theology."

His experience under the Nazis - he was 18 when the war ended - was formative in his view of the function of the church, Mr. Allen said.

"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism," he wrote. "In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes."

It's worth keeping in mind, we had to kill an awful lot of people to defeat those prior isms.

Benedict XVI, 78, Was John Paul II's Strict Defender of the Faith (IAN FISHER, 4/20/05, NY Times)
It was not clear, however, how popular a choice he was on St. Peter's Square. The applause for the new pope, while genuine and sustained among many, tapered off decisively in large pockets, which some assembled there said reflected their reservations about his doctrinal rigidity and whether, under Benedict XVI, an already polarized church will now find less to bind it together.

"I kind of do think he will try to unite Catholics," said Linda Nguyen, 20, an American student studying in Rome who had wrapped six rosaries around her hands. "But he might scare people away."

Vincenzo Jammace, a teacher from Rome, stood up on a plastic chair below the balcony and intoned, "This is the gravest error!"

Pope Benedict's well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is "true" and other religions are "deficient"; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam. He has also strongly opposed homosexuality, women as priests and stem cell research.

His many supporters said they believed that the rule of Benedict XVI - a scholar who reportedly speaks 10 languages, including excellent English - would be clear and uncompromising about what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

"It would be more popular to be more liberal, but it's not the best way for the church," said Martin Sturm, 20, a student from Germany. "The church must tell the truth, even if it is not what the people want to hear. And he will tell the truth."

While Pope Benedict's views are upsetting to many Catholics in Europe and among liberal Americans, they are likely to find a receptive audience among the young and conservative Catholics whom John Paul II energized. His conservatism on moral issues may also play well in developing countries, where the church is growing rapidly, but where issues of poverty and social justice are also important. It is unclear how much Cardinal Ratzinger, a man with limited pastoral experience, and that spent in rich Europe, will speak to those concerns.
He's only popular among the vital, not the dying? Guess how they got that way in the first place.

A papal confidant faithful to doctrine (Charles M. Sennott, April 20, 2005, Boston Globe)

The white-haired Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 78, traces his conservatism to his reaction to violent student protests that swept Europe in 1968.

Ah, the student movements--the gift that keeps on giving...to conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2005 8:46 AM

Just how many conservatives have we gotten as a result of the student movements? Roger Scruton comes immediately to mind and I know there are others, I just can't think of them right now...

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 20, 2005 11:48 AM

They drove LBJ out--though Nixon was no conservative.

They brought Ronald Reagan to prominence.

Most of the neocons were repelled by the rabble and that hastened their switch to conservatism.


Posted by: oj at April 20, 2005 11:53 AM

In Benedict XVI's case, the 1968 protests he would have been most familar with would have been the European ones that had their epicenter in Paris and radiated out across te rest of the continent -- which proves that French Anti-Americanism is good for something, I guess, even if it is only to repel those who still maintain a sense of moral standards.

Posted by: John at April 20, 2005 12:54 PM

Which excludes the French

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2005 12:58 PM

De Lubac inspired no disciples among his countrymen?

Posted by: ghostcat at April 20, 2005 1:51 PM