April 23, 2005
The New Pope: Benedict XVI
readers of this column may recall that I stuck my neck out last week and
made two predictions: that new Pope would be open to making priestly
celibacy optional, and that the new Pope would be Cardinal Francis Arinze of
The world's cardinals obviously had other ideas. They elected Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger, 78, a German and the closest colleague of Pope John Paul II for
years, who has now calls himself Pope Benedict XVI. Clearly, the
cardinals chose a man they thought most likely to continue the legacy of
Pope John Paul II.
"Every major papal document under John Paul passed by
Joseph Ratzinger's desk. If we are looking for continuity and unfolding his
legacy, we have the right man," observed
Christopher West, Director of the Theology of the Body Institute in
One man who publicly predicted Ratzinger would be
elected was Russell Shaw, a
columnist for Our Sunday Visitor, a weekly newspaper and former press
of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Why?
"He is a man of towering intellect and integrity and
has a great love for the Church. Of
all the cardinals, he struck me as far and away the best qualified
candidate," Shaw told me.
Father John Connor, Director of the Lumen Institute in
New York, adds, "It is very
interesting how quickly the conclave elected the pope. He brings to
the table 24 years at the side of John Paul. He is the intellectual equal of
John Paul, if not stronger. And, at the same time, he is a man who is deeply
spiritual, humble, a true lamb."
In his first sermon after being elected, Benedict XVI
cited his "sense of inadequacy."
However, "If the weight of responsibility that now lies on my poor
shoulders, the divine power on which I can count is surely immeasurable."
The cardinals also agreed with his goal to fight the
growing secularization of Europe. The drafters of the new Constitution of
Europe refused to acknowledge the continent's Christian heritage. Cardinal
Peter Turckson of Ghana said, "If the image of the church in
Europe is of a dying church, it gives us an orphaned feeling. It is
important that the church
in Europe come back alive."
As the dean (or longest serving member) of the
college of cardinals, Cardinal Ratzinger
preached a sermon on Sunday at a Mass before they locked themselves in the
Sistine Chapel to vote for a new pope. He outlined the issue of Europe's
"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the
church, is often labeled today as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which
is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching,
looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards...
"We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism
which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has at its
highest goal, one's own ego and one's own desires."
As the chief enforcer of orthodox Catholic beliefs,
Ratzinger fired theologians at Catholic universities who opposed orthodox
positions. This conservatism is very attractive to African and Latin
American bishops where Catholicism is growing most rapidly.
In fact, two-thirds of the world's 1.1 billion
Catholics live in the "Global South," which is one reason I predicted the
new pope would come from this region. However, only
a third of the cardinals are from that area.
What about the issue of priestly celibacy?
Under the new pope, "you will never see the question of
celibacy brought up," asserts
A.W. Richard Sipe, author of several books on celibacy.
Russell Shaw is more hopeful: "At the time of Vatican
II, 40 years ago, the ordination of older married men, who no longer have
responsibility for small children, who are pillars of the church and family
duties are not too heavy - was seriously considered. Nothing
came of it.
"However, with a new pope and with the obvious and
growing shortage of priests in the United States, Europe, Africa and Latin
America, the idea will be revived. It might be a good thing to do to
allow in countries where the bishops request it on an experimental basis."
Dr. Matthew Bunson, editor of the Catholic Almanac who
is writing a quick book on
Benedict XVI, notes that since priestly celibacy is a church discipline, not
a doctrine, the new pope is "entirely free to change church teachings on
that. However, it is unlikely he will do so at any time soon," because it
would conflict with "the continuity of John Paul II."
Don't expect any change with this pope.
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