April 19, 2005

It's Ratzinger

I have to admit to being a little surprised at the choice of Germany's Cardinal Ratzinger to be the next Pope, called Benedict XVI.

I am not a Catholic and don't track Church politics closely. It had just seemed to me that with almost half of the world's Catholics living in Latin America a prelate from that region was the most likely choice. That a Latin American pope was not chosen, though, does not surprise me as much as the conclave's election of a man 78 years old.

John Paul II was a marvel in many ways, but his age and infirmities had a major negative impact on the last years of his papacy. It is hard for me to imagine, for example, that his weak and ineffectual response to the appalling sexual abuse scandal in the American church was not at least in part a product of his declining energy and powers of concentration (more dedicated observers of the Church may wish to argue with me on this point). The conclave's choice of Ratzinger risks reliving this problem within only a few years.

He may be worth the risk. A European Pope who was close to the revered John Paul II may be better able to relate to Catholics in Africa and South America than a Pope from one of those regions could relate to Catholics in the other. Also, a disproportionate number of cardinals are still from Europe, and may have felt that attempting to revive the church in Europe is a high priority only a European Pope could attempt. Finally Ratzinger's intellect and personality are by all accounts formidable; for a while at least he won't be pushed around, and cardinals may well have found this thought a comfort.

Great figures in any public office are rarely succeeded by people of close to equal stature. Perhaps the conclave recognized that any new Pope would suffer from comparison with the last one, and decided to choose a man who would not mind and could hold things together until the Church had a better idea of how it wanted to be led in the new century.

But that's enough uninformed speculation from me. Further speculation informed and otherwise is invited in Comments

Posted by at April 19, 2005 05:12 PM | TrackBack (8)
Comments

seems like a bad choice to me, but then again, I'm not Catholic.

Posted by: praktike at April 19, 2005 07:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Reading more, it strikes me that he will be widely reviled.

Posted by: praktike at April 19, 2005 08:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As another non-Catholic, I seem to have as much expertise as anyone else here.

This seems like a place holder appointment. He was JPIIs right hand man, so there should be no sudden policy shifts. Meanwhile, the non-European Cardinals have seen each other again but for the first time as the ones who will choose the next Pope. I'd imagine a lot of conversations (and campaigns) will be started now that will continue until the next, the first non-European, Pope is elected.

Posted by: Mrs. Davis at April 19, 2005 08:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Liberal pundits who were looking for reform in the Church are way off track. The Catholic Church flourishes by being faithful to its traditions, not by diluting them. The liberalism of Vatican II weakened the Church: convents emptied out, socialist ideas crept in. Today, nuns are over 70. The traditionalism of John Paul II strengthened it. What even liberals today admire John Paul II for-- precipitating the collapse of communism-- sprung directly from traditionalism, which allowed him to distinguish good from evil without the irony that a modernist would attach to those words.

I am not a Catholic. I do not find certain Catholic doctrines, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the necessity of the Apostolic Succession, and the Augustinian views on sexuality which underlie the ban against contraception, persuasive. I am more drawn to the Orthodox tradition personally. But I have great admiration for the Catholic Church, and particularly for John Paul II.

Posted by: Lancelot Finn at April 19, 2005 09:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For an analysis as to why a German, see the lastest postings at the blog, Davids Medienkritik.

Posted by: DL From Heidelberg at April 20, 2005 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Given his age, he won't hold office for long.

Posted by: ellie at April 20, 2005 12:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For starters, I am not a Roman Catholic.

I guess I serioulsy wonder why all [in particular] non - Catholics find it necessary to voice their criticism of the new Pope. With his election barely 12 hours old all the usual suspects are running up their detailed analysis of why his Papacy is not going to suit them. He does not need your advice, he reports to a higher authority. Let's wait and see how he does, at least in those area where his actions are of concern to non Catholics.

Posted by: Ramrod at April 20, 2005 04:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Many times in the past, a long-serving Pope has been followed by one who serves a shorter period. That's part of the age thing; although with modern medicine B16 could very well be around a couple of decades more.

Second, scandals involving priests molesting children and adolescents did not take place only in America, and it is not only in America that the hierarchy acted to cover up the molestations. Germany, Ireland, Austria (the Viennese cardinal who was a long-shot candidate for Pope was made archbishop precisely to clean up after such a scandal), in fact any country with a substantial Catholic population whose news I pay attention to has seen a molestation scandal in recent years. The urge to cover up and put the interests of the molester above those of his victims has been as universal as the scandals. From that evidence, if I were in a responsible position, I would draw the conclusion that there is a structural problem at work.

And Ratzinger's sermon about a "dictatorship of relativism" strikes me as just bizarre, akin in a way to the Rote Armee Fraktion's diatribes about "consumer terrorism" in the 1970s.

Posted by: Doug at April 20, 2005 10:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

265 popes in just under 2000 years, averages out to not quite eight years per pope. JPII's 26 years is highly anomolous in church history (third longest ever), and they don't want a repeat anytime soon. That's why they chose a guy 78 years old.

I'm not surprised that they didn't choose someone from the third world (though the African Cardinal Arinze was my first choice). We need to remember that for centuries almost every pope was Italian. The church is indeed branching out, having chosen a Pole and a German in succession. I believe the Latin American Pope will come - just not yet.

Posted by: Joel at April 20, 2005 01:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lancelot Finn:
"The Catholic Church flourishes by being faithful to its traditions, not by diluting them. The liberalism of Vatican II weakened the Church..."

Well, lets hope then that Benedict XVI adheres to true and tested tradition, abandons John-Paul II's compromises with relativism, and reasserts the Syllabus of Errors as promulgated by Pius IX.

Posted by: SLR at April 20, 2005 02:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike, it doesn't surprise me that by looking around at commentary, one would conclude His Holiness will be "widely reviled." All the headlines reading "Millions of liberal Catholics in Shock and Dismay" could just as easily read "Millions of Real Catholics Overjoyed." Widely reviled in certain circles he already is, and always will be. The only questions for him to address in the regard is why, and by whom.

A notion has become common coin that the Pope's job is to endear himself to the very people who fundamentally hate him and everything his Church is about. This is on one level true, since he is the world's most visible Christian witness. But on another more intuitively obvious level this is nonsense. A world as utterly at odds with the Christian tradition as ours will have no reason to love the Pope, and it would be no credit to him if it did.

The Church isn't a political party in search of votes--it's an apostolic authority in search of converts. The Church does not pursue converts simply for the sake of doing so, like a democratic organization. Planned Parenthood hasn't sought to increase its popularity by appointing pro-lifers to their management staff, and it hasn't altered its stance on the logic that by doing so it could increase its membership to include social conservatives. Doing such a thing is called "unprincipled," and it is this surrendering of principle that makes people loathe and distrust politicians.

Pope Benedict XVI will probably be a transitional Pope, but a highly effective one in the sense that he will solidify the Church's present course immeasurably.

Posted by: Sage at April 20, 2005 05:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

silly me, I thought the word "catholic" meant "open."

Posted by: praktike at April 20, 2005 06:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, "catholic" in its religious sense means "universal," as in the Westminster Confession if memory serves. It is still occasionally used in the sense of "liberal" or "broad-minded" as in the expression "a man of catholic tastes."

Posted by: JEB at April 20, 2005 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike, JEB is correct: "catholic" in its religious sense means "universal," as in "these truths apply to everyone, even the people who don't like it."

Posted by: Joel at April 20, 2005 10:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

SLR:
lets hope then that Benedict XVI adheres to true and tested tradition, abandons John-Paul II's compromises with relativism, and reasserts the Syllabus of Errors as promulgated by Pius IX.

Tradition is typically misunderstood by those committed to liberal, rationalist, Enlightenment mindset in which tradition plays no role (or rather, in which traditions linger illegitimately, making the mindset possible, but cannot be acknowledged). What perhaps puzzles the Enlightened most is the intellectual humility of tradition. (My defense of tradition here.) The Catholic Church claims, ultimately, to guard certain divine mysteries: the details of the Church's operation are flexible over time. (In my preferred tradition, the Orthodox, this intellectual humility is even more pronounced.)

The Enlightened tend to interpret the assertions of the Church through the lens of their own accustomed, but unwarranted, self-assurance. As a result, they forever misunderstand them. Only when one approaches them with a spirit of intellectual humility do they gradually become intelligible. (My defense of tradition here.)

John Paul II was not a relativist. He was a traditionalist, with his own distinctive philosophy of the sanctity of human life, which, however, was a tribute to and articulation of older truths, truths which are called mysteries because they are not susceptible to a complete and final articulation. I look forward to Benedict XVI's contributions to this tradition; and singling out the challenge of relativism is an excellent start. (My take on truth and relativism here.)

Posted by: Lancelot Finn at April 20, 2005 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

praktike,

Yes, silly you. Catholic means universal. If your response was intended to convey your disdain toward the idea of a Church that means what it says and is "open" only to those things consistent with what it teaches, well, that's fine. The Episcopal Church is available just about everywhere, I'm told.

Posted by: Sage at April 21, 2005 01:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Man, praktike is a dick.

Posted by: D.J. at April 22, 2005 12:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's just say that JPII was very conservative, in my opinion, and the new Benedict will, I predict, be more conservative. He is already firmly on record with all of the traditional positions on issues dealing with below-the-belt buckle theology. Sex seems to be a specialty. Strict, top down authority is another.

JPII was against capital punishment and the shameful Iraq Invasion. Ratzinger???

Opinion from a post-christian former-lifelong Catholic who is half Polish.

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