Pope Benedict XVI: Signs of Hope
As John Paul II's successor, Benedict XVI has become the first Pope elected in the twenty-first century. As a twenty-first century Pontiff, Benedict has inherited a Church that while not necessarily in turmoil, could certainly be described as one in transition.
This transition takes many forms. The Catholic Church is growing rapidly in developing African areas, but losing membership throughout Europe. Additionally, while the number of young people choosing priestly and religious vocations is dwindling, there has been no new talk of removing the celibacy requirement for priests or of the ordination of women.
Sex abuse scandals have devastated members of the Church in the United States, yet the disgraced Boston Cardinal who ignored such abuses was seen playing a major role in Pope John Paul II's funeral mass. All of this occurs within the framework of a society where views on human sexuality are changing; yet the Church seems unwilling to discuss issues such as homosexuality and contraception.
Catholics across the world had been hopeful that the new Pope might at least be willing to begin a discussion about these important issues. It was disappointing, then, to find out that a man known as "The Grand Inquisitor," had been chosen to be the next leader of the Church. Far from the character in Dostoevsky's novel that would burn even Christ for heresy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has none-the-less been the head of the Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As it says on the web site of the official Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club, he has been "putting the smackdown on heresy since 1981."
While the newly chosen Pope may not have been the progressive that many wanted him to be, there are still reasons to be hopeful.
First, much has been made about Benedict's stance against Liberation Theology in Latin American countries. This should be attributed not to any dislike of social justice, but rather to the realization that priests should not be involved in political matters. Anyone who witnessed a priest telling his congregation that George Bush was the only moral choice for President during the last election realizes that this is a good philosophy.
Additionally, we should gain strength from Benedict's choice of a name. The previous Pope Benedict, whose term lasted through World War I, made it his mission to work for peace. He did not take sides during the war, but rather chose to speak out against war in its entirety. We can certainly hope that Cardinal Ratzinger chose this name in hopes of working to make the world a more peaceful place.
Finally, many people agree that Benedict XVI was chosen to be a transitional Pope, someone who would last a short time, make few changes, and allow the Church some rest before moving on to a more important Papacy. However, we must remember that Pope John XXIII became Pope in 1958 in much the same situation, and then went on to organize Vatican II which made some of the most sweeping changes that the Church had ever seen.
In a day when terms like progressive and conservative and thrown around so much almost as to make them lose their meanings, it is important to treat Pope Benedict XVI as what he truly is, the successor of St. Peter who has been placed in charge of preserving the Catholic faith for a short period of time. His ultimate motivations come not from some fear of progress, but from the need to preserve the message of Christ.
Besides, for the moment, we should probably spend more time worrying about our neoconservative President than our new conservative Pope.
Front Page (April 29, 2005)
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