The big news the past week has been the new pope, Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. While I have never met the him, I am close to a very good friend of his, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S. J. who has spoken of him often.
Pope Benedict XVI
In fact, for those of us who know some of Ratzinger’s background, advisor to John Paul II, have read his letters and decisions, it is almost too good to be true, to have a close continuation of John Paul II’s legacy. While he tried three times he tendered his resignation to John Paul II, the Pope rejected each request. The two thought in sync.
The new Pope is rooted deeply in the faith of the Catholic Church, its traditions, and the inerrancy of doctrine. He has been outspoken on his Catholic beliefs and sometimes appeared stronger than the Holy Father he advised. So we can expect to hear more criticism of Benedict XVI than we ever heard of John Paul II, and that was plenty.
He is adamantly opposed to the gay lifestyle, and said in effect simply forget about discussing woman priests. He had many enemies before becoming pope and will no doubt have many more as Pope. That’s because he is not willing to compromise on any article of Catholic Faith or dogma, and Cafeteria Catholics won’t like him.
But despite his hard line on Church Doctrine and tradition, Benedict reappointed the entire Vatican hierarchy that had been chosen by John Paul He is good with journalists, will have his installation Mass outdoors, makes decisions quickly and shows continuity with John Paul II.
One question now is, who will take the job he had held, overseeing church doctrine. Two names are being mentioned: Cardinal Christopher Schoenborn of Austria and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. We’ll see.
A Humble Pastor
The image emerging is surprising many: here is a humble, welcoming pastor. As second to the Pope in overseeing doctrine he became synonymous among Catholics with the church’s strictest factions, and earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler,” his friends and other top relates say this is an unfair reputation.
But despite all this animosity and sarcasm from liberal Catholics he emboldened conservatives, and he is our hero. “He was a follower and servant of the late Pope,” said Cardinal Lopez Trujillo of Columbia, “but this is a simple man, serene, cordial, very kind and with a fine sense of humor.”
The Threat of Relativism
He is, however, no fan of many modern customs. He hates rock music. He has said:
We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as is highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires. The church must defend itself against threats such as radical individualism and vague religious mysticism.
He was the one who booted Charles Curran out of Catholic University for encouraging dissent in the church; he crippled the Latin American “Liberation Theology” for alleged Marxism, and he came down on the use of inclusive language.
He called rock music “a vehicle of anti-religion” and told American priests they are allowed to deny Holy communion to those supporting manifest grave sin.
While his enemies will try to make much of his belonging to the Hitler Youth as a teenager, the fact is he got out as soon as he could and later deserted an antiaircraft installation by joining the seminary.
Teaching the Truth
He had seen the dissolution of the German Church and he has been watching the Catholic Church disintegrating all over Europe. He has set his heart on rebuilding the European Church.
The Chicago Tribune headlined its front page story Wednesday, “Church selects strict guardian of tradition.” So you can except a lot of complaining about Pope Benedict XVI, but not from this quarter.
Ratzinger has never been for dialogue simply for the sake of dialogue. It is a teaching tool. He has called all faiths but Catholicism deficient, and is vitally concerned with evangelization—teaching the truth. He has made it clear that it is all for the Love of Jesus Christ, done with compassion and care.
Pope Benedict XVI has a difficult job, and his brother is concerned about his health at 78. But who knows what the Holy Spirit has in store?