Pope Benedict After One Year
Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life
Thomas Groome, Boston College
James Weiss, Boston College
Mary Ann Hinsdale, Boston College
Kenneth Himes, Boston College
Date: April 5, 2006
In early April, the Boisi Center marked the one-year anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI—formerly Cardinal Ratzinger —with a panel discussion on his tenure thus far. Professors James Weiss, Mary Ann Hinsdale, and Kenneth Himes of the Department of Theology and Thomas Groome of the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry were the featured speakers. Each offered brief commentaries on Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy and fielded questions from the audience during a vibrant question and answer period.
Professor Weiss opened the panel forum with the remarks about the general continuity between Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Weiss, an expert on the papal conclave, noted that Pope Benedict has not yet “lowered the boom” and has instead presided over a somewhat uneventful first year. Hinsdale, Himes, and Groome echoed this theme in their remarks. Weiss’s colleagues also agreed with his observation that Pope Benedict has so far shown great humility in his stewardship of the papal office, demonstrating a less autocratic, more self-effacing approach to his leadership of the Catholic Church in comparison to his predecessor. Hinsdale, Himes, and Groome moved the discussion from the broad outlines of Weiss’s comments to specific assessments of the past year. Dr. Hinsdale rated Benedict’s performance with a grade: C+++. According to her, Benedict deserves the average grade, with the exception of three areas: culture, consultation, and continuity. On each of these counts, his papacy warrants a “+.” Hinsdale explained that Benedict appears to have reduced the antagonism with which he views culture, has adopted an active “listening” approach as pope, and seems intent on staying the general course of Pope John Paul II. She wondered, however, whether Pope Benedict would continue to practice such generous listening practices, and if his open attitude toward culture would narrow if confronted with the issue of women in church leadership positions. Dr. Himes commented on the promise and the risk of the new papacy. He noted that there had been no real crackdown on the theological community, agreeing with his colleagues that Pope Benedict listens well and engages in constructive dialogue with cardinals and bishops. Himes expressed concern over the pope’s inconsistent position regarding the Islamic faith, citing the weak Vatican response to a new large mosque in Rome despite strong pronouncements on the lack of religious freedom for Christians in Islamic Saudi Arabia. Finally, Himes raised questions about the pope’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Although complimentary of the first half of the document and its articulation of Christian love, he objected to its discussion of charity and justice. Pope Benedict too easily distinguished the Church’s role of offering charity from the state’s role of securing justice. To Himes, the Church has and should be involved, even if indirectly, in matters of justice. Dr. Groome closed the panel. He affirmed the comments of Weiss, Hinsdale, and Himes, and offered a wish list of issues he hoped the pope would address. Groome would like to see Pope Benedict reinstate the power of bishops; take an aggressive stance on women’s rights in the Church; address the problem of the shortage of priests; and actively restore the public’s trust of the Catholic Church in the wake of the abuse scandals. He concluded with a prediction, one germane to his wish list. He believes the current pope will preside over the ordination of women to the deaconate. After a round of questions, the audience warmly thanked the panelists for their insights with extended applause.