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Theological Notebook: Habemus papam

Huh. So I totally did not call it! Josef Cardinal Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI, a name it will take some time to get used to. So. A German, a Bavarian, in fact, and a key intellectual, one of the leading proponents of change at Vatican II who in later years, after reportedly being very shaken by the student riots of 1968, moved to a much more cautious and contrary position. From this position he worked for most of John Paul II's papacy in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he had a mixed reputation for guarding orthodoxy, mixed because he at time seemed to proceed without due process for those under review.

He has been a figure of some controversy, made most clear to me during the announcement by listening on the phone to one of my best friends weeping in pain on hearing of his election, seeing Ratzinger as the moving force behind impeding her being able to minister as a Catholic woman. I can only hope that all the people now being interviewed on CNN, who say that the way he has constantly been portrayed in the press is all wrong--that he is warm, shy, and very pastoral--is accurate.

Urbi et Orbi Blessing:

Dear brothers and sisters,

After our great Pope, John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in God's vineyard.

I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and how to act, even with insufficient tools, and I especially trust in your prayers.

In the joy of the resurrected Lord, trustful of his permanent help, we go ahead, sure that God will help. And Mary, his most beloved Mother, stands on our side. Thank you.


I include below the bio from the Catholic News Service and John Allen's theoretical sketch of a Ratzinger papacy.


German theologian one of most respected, controversial cardinals


By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Considered the guiding light on doctrinal issues during Pope John Paul II's pontificate, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will enter the next conclave as one of the most respected, influential and controversial members of the College of Cardinals.

Since 1981 the 77-year-old cardinal -- regarded as one of the church's sharpest theologians -- has headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department charged with defending orthodoxy in virtually every area of church life.

Since November 2002 he has been dean of the College of Cardinals, a key position in the time between popes. Cardinal Ratzinger will preside over the pre-conclave meetings of cardinals in Rome, set agendas for discussion and action, and be responsible for a number of procedural decisions during the conclave.

Some church officials at the Vatican think Cardinal Ratzinger could be elected to the papacy, particularly if the College of Cardinals is looking for a candidate who is older, experienced and dedicated to Pope John Paul's theological and ecclesial agenda.

Over the years, Cardinal Ratzinger met quietly once a week with the pope to discuss doctrinal and other major issues facing the church. Insiders say his influence was second to none when it came to setting church priorities and directions and responding to moral and doctrinal challenges.

"I'm not the Grand Inquisitor," Cardinal Ratzinger once said in an interview. But to the outside world, he has been known as the Vatican's enforcer. He made the biggest headlines when his congregation silenced or excommunicated theologians, withdrew church approval of certain books, helped rewrite liturgical translations, set boundaries on ecumenical dialogues, took over the handling of clergy sex abuse cases against minors, curbed the role of bishops' conferences and pressured religious orders to suspend wayward members.

In 2003, Cardinal Ratzinger's congregation issued an important document that said Catholic politicians must not ignore essential church teachings, particularly on human life. That set the stage for a long debate during the 2004 U.S. election campaign on whether Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry, a Catholic who supports legalized abortion, should be given Communion.

Cardinal Ratzinger's congregation also published a document asking Catholic lawmakers to fight a growing movement to legalize same-sex marriage.

White-haired and soft-spoken, Cardinal Ratzinger comes across in person as a thoughtful and precise intellectual with a dry sense of humor. A frequent participant at Vatican press conferences, he is a familiar figure to the international group of reporters who cover the church.

He is also well-known by the church hierarchy around the world, and his speeches at cardinal consistories, synods of bishops and other assemblies often have the weight of a keynote address. When Cardinal Ratzinger talks, people listen.

Sometimes his remarks have been bluntly critical, on such diverse topics as dissident theologians, liberation theology, "abuses" in lay ministry, homosexuality, women as priests, feminism among nuns, premarital sex, abortion, liturgical reform and rock music.

As Pope John Paul's pontificate developed, some Vatican observers said the cardinal's influence grew.

"He's become the last check on everything, the final word on orthodoxy. Everything is passed through his congregation," one Vatican official said in 1998.

In his first decade at the helm of the doctrinal congregation, Cardinal Ratzinger zeroed in on liberation theology as the most urgent challenge to the faith. He silenced Latin American theologians like Franciscan Father Leonardo Boff and guided the preparation of two Vatican documents that condemned the use of Marxist political concepts in Catholic theology.

But after the collapse of Marxism as a global ideology, Cardinal Ratzinger identified a new, central threat to the faith: relativism. He said relativism is an especially difficult problem for the church because its main ideas -- compromise and a rejection of absolute positions -- are so deeply imbedded in democratic society.

More and more, he has warned, anything religious is considered "subjective." As a result, he said, in places like his native Germany, the issue of abortion is being confronted with "political correctness" instead of moral judgment.

He said modern theologians are among those who have mistakenly applied relativistic concepts to religion and ethics. He said Jesus is widely seen today as "one religious leader among others," concepts like dogma are viewed as too inflexible and the church is accused of intransigence.

Cardinal Ratzinger has been particularly sensitive to wayward trends in Asian theology, especially as they find popular expression. He banned the best-selling books of a late Jesuit theologian from India and declared a Sri Lankan theologian excommunicated for his writings on Mary and the faith.

After review by Cardinal Ratzinger's congregation, U.S. Father Charles Curran, who questioned church teaching against artificial birth control, was removed from his teaching position at The Catholic University of America in 1987. In 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger made a similar judgment on a book touching on the divinity and salvific mediation of Jesus by Jesuit Father Roger Haight, who was banned from teaching Catholic theology.

Cardinal Ratzinger also has focused on ordinary Catholics, saying there can be no compromise on dissent by lay faithful. The cardinal helped prepare a papal instruction on the subject in 1998 and accompanied it with his own commentary warning Catholics they would put themselves outside the communion of the church if they reject its teachings on eight specific issues.

The same year, he issued a document on papal primacy -- a topic of intense ecumenical discussion -- saying that, as a matter of faith, only the pope has the authority to make changes in his universal ministry.

Cardinal Ratzinger's theological ideas are based on years of study, pastoral ministry and Vatican experience. Born in Marktl am Inn April 16, 1927, the son of a rural policeman, his family moved several times during his younger years. His priestly studies began early but were interrupted by World War II.

In a book of memoirs, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled that while a seminarian, he was enrolled by school officials in the Hitler Youth program; he soon stopped going to meetings. After being drafted in 1943 he served for a year on an anti-aircraft unit that tracked Allied bombardments. At the end of the war he spent time in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp before being released.

Ordained in 1951, he received a doctorate and a licentiate in theology from the University of Munich, where he studied until 1957. He taught dogma and fundamental theology at the University of Freising in 1958-59, then lectured at the University of Bonn from 1959-1969, at Munster from 1963-66 and at Tubingen from 1966-69. In 1969 he was appointed professor of dogma and of the history of dogmas at the University of Regensburg, where he also served as vice president until 1977.

A theological consultant to West German Cardinal Joseph Frings, he came to the Second Vatican Council as an expert or "peritus." At the council, he was said to have played an influential role in discussions among the German-speaking participants and gained a reputation as a progressive theologian.

After the council, he published several major books, including "Introduction to Christianity," "Dogma and Revelation" and "Eschatology." He was named a member of the International Theological Commission in 1969.

Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977 and named him a cardinal the following year.

Cardinal Ratzinger has frequently criticized the growth of church bureaucracy and its output of studies, reports and meetings. Asked once whether the Vatican would operate better in Germany, he responded, "What a disaster! The church would be too organized.

"The saints were people of creativity, not bureaucratic functionaries," he added.

Today, Cardinal Ratzinger lives in an apartment just outside the Vatican's St. Anne's Gate. He walks to work daily across St. Peter's Square, rarely attracting people's notice.




Outline of a Ratzinger papacy


By John L. Allen, Jr.
Rome

Despite the nonstop speculation surrounding the conclave that opens April 18, the press seems to have at least one thing right: in the early stages: The balloting will likely shape up as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the candidacy of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the so-called “Panzer-Kardinal” who for 24 years was John Paul’s top doctrinal czar.

Given the strong, polarizing stands Ratzinger has taken, it’s not clear that there are really 77 votes for him among the 115 voting cardinals, the number it would take to achieve a two-thirds majority. On the other hand, Ratzinger’s strong base of support means one has to take his prospects seriously.

What would a Ratzinger papacy look like?

In the main, it would likely take shape along predictable lines. Ratzinger would mount a strenuous defense of Catholic identity, resisting enticements from secular culture to water down church teaching and practice; he would stress “Culture of Life” issues, doing battle against gay marriage, euthanasia and stem cell research; he would ensure that theological speculation is contained within narrow limits. He would likely travel less, and project a more ethereal style reminiscent of Pius XII. Ratzinger’s governing metaphor for the church of the future is the mustard seed – it may have to be smaller to be faithful, what he calls a “creative minority.”

One can also, however, anticipate elements of a Ratzinger pontificate that would come as a surprise, and that would mark a departure from the policies of John Paul II.

Letting institutions go

One of the longest controversies in the United States during John Paul’s papacy came over Catholic colleges and universities. The pope asked Catholic theologians to receive a mandatum, or license, from their local bishop, certifying their orthodoxy. After years of resistance, the U.S. bishops approved norms in 1999 that gave the Vatican most of what it wanted.

Under Ratzinger, the Vatican would be less likely to expend resources to preserve institutions it perceives as already lost to secularism. In his memoirs Milestones, Ratzinger reflected on the German church’s struggle to hold onto its schools under the Nazis. “It dawned on me that, with their insistence on preserving institutions, [the bishops] in part misread the reality. Merely to guarantee institutions is useless if there are no people to support those institutions from inner conviction.”

In the case of at least some colleges, Ratzinger’s instinct would thus be to drop the pretense that these are still Catholic institutions. He spelled this out in a book-length interview called Salt of the Earth: “Once the church has acquired some good or position, she inclines to defend it. The capacity for self-moderation and self-pruning is not adequately developed .... it’s precisely the fact that the church clings to the institutional structure when nothing really stands behind it any longer that brings the church into disrepute.”

The point applies also to hospitals, social service centers, and other institutions.

Shrinking church government

Because Ratzinger is the prime theoretician of papal authority, it is often assumed that under him the Vatican would take on even more massive proportions. In fact, like most conservatives, Ratzinger feels an instinctive aversion to big government. He believes that bureaucracies become self-perpetuating and take on their own agendas, rarely reflecting the best interests of the people they are intended to serve.

“The power typical of political rule or technical management cannot be and must not be the style of the church’s power," Ratzinger wrote in 1988’s A New Song for the Lord. “In the past two decades an excessive amount of institutionalization has come about in the church, which is alarming. … Future reforms should therefore aim not at the creation of yet more institutions, but at their reduction.”

While Ratzinger would not hesitate to make decisions in Rome that others believe should be the province of the local church – revoking imprimaturs, replacing translations, dismissing theologians – he would not erect a large new Vatican apparatus for this purpose. Ratzinger would encourage bishops’ conferences and dioceses to shed layers of bureaucracy where possible. The overall thrust would be for smaller size, less paperwork, and more focus on core concerns.

Better Bishops

Many Vatican watchers believe that one weakness of John Paul’s pontificate was his episcopal appointments. Some have been spectacularly bad, such as Wolfgang Haas in Switzerland, Hans Hermann Gröer and Kurt Krenn in Austria, and Jan Gijsen in Holland. Bellicose and divisive, these bishops destabilized their respective dioceses, countries and bishops’ conferences. Krenn, for example, recently resigned in disgrace following sexual scandals in his seminary in Sankt Pölten.

In 1985, the pope’s personal secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz, a friend of Krenn, told the Congregation for Bishops that the pope had Krenn in mind as the new archbishop of Vienna. Ratzinger actually blocked Krenn’s appointment. Ratzinger knew that Krenn would be a disaster in a high-profile forum such as Vienna.

Given his long years of evaluating potential prelates (he serves on the Congregation for Bishops), Ratzinger knows the backgrounds of potential appointees, and would be able to spot potential problems. Backdoor channels would be less likely to generate surprise picks.

While Ratzinger’s appointments would be solidly conservative, they would also generally be men of intelligence and administrative skill.

Whether any of this would be sufficient to overcome opposition to Ratzinger from the church’s liberal wing remains to be seen, but it does suggest the possibility for the unexpected.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent.
Tags: benedict xvi, catholicism, conclave, ecclesiology, john paul ii, mysticism/spirituality, papacy, second vatican council, theological notebook
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