3.16.2006

On the Distressingly Gentle Style of Pope Benedict XVI

I remember last year, when Pope John Paul II died, the question of who should succeed him became a hot topic of conversation among my colleagues in the religion department of the high school I was teaching at.

In ever religion department I've worked in so far, I've probably always been regarded as the most progressive of the bunch. So I raised a few eyebrows when I claimed that I would be perfectly happy if Cardinal Ratzinger became pope. I had a couple of conservative colleagues who were quite pleased that I finally said something they could wholeheartedly agree with. And my more progressive colleagues, who usually find me quite agreeable, weren't buying my Ratzinger-for-pope argument.

By the way, an informal survey found that I was the only one who had actually read anything he had written. The others, like many Catholics, had formed an opinion of Ratzinger based entirely on his reputation.

In a post on this blog, which I unfortunately later deleted,* I said Ratzinger was in my top five favourite candidates. Contrary to the doom and gloom expected by progressive Catholics, I argued that Ratzinger was a much more creative and original thinker than people often recognised, that he was not the rigid conservative people generally take him as, and it would be wrong to assume he would handle the role of the pope in the same way he handled his role as doctrinal enforcer.

So I was quite pleased to read this column by Fr. Richard McBrien. Conservative hardliners are finding that Pope Benedict is a lot less nasty than they had hoped. The enemies of the church (you know, the Jesuits, Fr. Hans Küng, people who don't hate gays, etc.) just haven't been feeling his wrath. I mean, he went so far as to invite Küng for a meeting and private dinner at Castel Gandolfo! What's the deal with that?!?!

What went wrong? Why did Ratzinger go soft?

I think anyone who actually bothered to see past the cartoonish reputation he acquired as prefect for the CDF, and who read enough of his theological work with an open mind, will find that there is really nothing particularly surprising about Pope Benedict XVI.

* The reason I deleted the first few posts on this blog was that I wanted to take it in a completely different direction, focusing more on ideas and less on current events. I notice I've departed from that in recent weeks (or months, even), but I plan on getting to more philosophy and theology in the near future.

3 Comments:

Blogger Talmida said...

And here I thought it was the job that had changed the man! I've been so impressed with Ben 16. If Deus Caritas Est is anything to go by, he's an easy writer to read too (unlike his predecessor). Maybe I'll give some of his earlier work a try.

11:00 AM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Talmida, given your interest in Genesis, I would recommend his book In the Beginning....

His interpretation of Genesis is both surprisingly original (not exactly a "conservative" strong point!), and very readable. I think it was the first full book I read by him, and so far it's my favourite.

12:16 AM  
Blogger Talmida said...

Thanks, Pear! I'll keep an eye out for it.

10:43 AM  

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