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Theological Notebook: Stories from the Big Day, Pt. 1

This first set of articles has a lot of "the big story." Edit: I add a story from the NYT dealing some with his youth.

German Cardinal Becomes Pope Benedict XVI

Apr 19, 9:02 PM (ET)


VATICAN CITY (AP) - With unusual speed and little surprise, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany became Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, a 78-year-old transitional leader who promises to enforce strictly conservative policies for the world's Roman Catholics.

Appearing on St. Peter's Basilica balcony as dusk fell, a red cape over his new white robes, the white-haired Ratzinger called himself "a simple, humble worker."

The crowd responded to the 265th pope by waving flags and chanting "Benedict! Benedict!"

From Notre Dame in Paris to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, cathedral bells tolled and prayers were offered. Millions watched live television broadcasts of St. Peter's bells pealing at 6:04 p.m. and white smoke pouring from the Sistine Chapel's chimney - signs a successor to John Paul II had been chosen.

Not everyone was happy, however. Jose Silvano, a 40-year-old travel agent from Brazil, called Ratzinger "the right pope for the cardinals, but not for the people. We were hoping for a South American, a Brazilian, a pope who would work for the neediest and the rights of women and children."

Niels Hendrich, 40, of Hamburg, Germany, jumped up and down at the prospect of a new pope - but then gave only three halfhearted claps when he learned who it was.

"I am not happy about this at all," he said. "Ratzinger will put the brakes on all the progressive movements in the church that I support."

Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, who worked for more than two decades in Vatican diplomacy, said the decision to choose Ratzinger was not made in the days leading up to the conclave or as a result of Ratzinger's moving homily at Pope John Paul II's funeral.

"Decisions like this are not made on how a person impresses you in the last five minutes, the last hours, the last days," he said, adding that the cardinals were looking for a pope who would carry forward the work of John Paul.

At the sound of the bells, nuns pulled up their long skirts and joined others jogging toward St. Peter's Square to watch the new pope emerge. Many were delighted when Chilean Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez stepped onto the balcony and announced Ratzinger's election.

"The cardinals elected a good and holy man who was close to Pope John Paul II," said Mark Wunsch, 27, a religious philosophy student from Denver. "He'll be a wonderful and good leader in preaching the truth and love."

As head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger disciplined dissidents, backed John Paul in resisting reforms sought by liberals and urged caution in pursuing relations with other Christian denominations.

Coming from a continent where many churches are empty, he has pushed for Europe to rediscover its Christian roots while suggesting that Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union may be incompatible with European culture.

"Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord," the new pope said in heavily accented Italian after being introduced.

"The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers," he said.

Ratzinger went into the conclave a favorite. But the cardinals had appeared torn among choosing a short-term pope, returning the papacy to Italy after Polish-born John Paul's 26-year reign or electing a prelate from Latin America, home to nearly half the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

His election in four ballots over two days - the first of Tuesday's afternoon session - was one of the shortest in 100 years.

Inside the Sistine Chapel, there was spontaneous applause as soon as cardinals realized Ratzinger had won, according to Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Germany.

"And I burst out crying," Meisner said.

Meisner gave a few clues about the new pope's emotional reaction on being named. He said Benedict XVI looked "a little forlorn" when he went to change into his papal vestments in the Room of Tears - which earned its nickname because many new pontiffs get choked up there, realizing the enormity of their mission.

"I was worried, because when he came back dressed in his white vestments, I thought he had forgotten his skullcap," Meisner said. "But then I realized his hair is as white as his skullcap."

Meisner added: "By the time dinner came around, Ratzinger was looking much better and very much like the pope."

As dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger had delivered a particularly sensitive homily at John Paul's funeral. He followed it up with a fiery speech to the cardinals before they entered their conclave Monday, warning about tendencies that he considered dangers to the faith: sects, ideologies like Marxism, liberalism, atheism, agnosticism and relativism - the ideology that there are no absolute truths.

"Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church is often labeled today as a fundamentalism," he said. "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."

The contrast with the crowd-pleasing, world-traveling John Paul, elected at age 58, may be sharp, though the new pope, like his predecessor, is multilingual: He speaks German, Italian, French, Latin, Spanish and English, according to New York Cardinal Edward Egan.

Ratzinger, the oldest pope elected since Clement XII in 1730, has no apparent history of chronic health problems but has been hospitalized at least twice since the early 1990s, according to records and reports.

In September 1991, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that temporarily affected his left field of vision, according to the veteran Vatican journalist John Allen in his 2000 book "Cardinal Ratzinger." There is no indication that it left any lingering health difficulties.

In August 1992, he cut his head after slipping in the bathroom during a vacation in the Italian Alps, the Italian news agency ANSA reported at the time.

According to Meisner, the new pope also plans to keep John Paul's appointment in August at the church's World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.

Ratzinger is the first Germanic pope in nearly 1,000 years. There were at least three German popes in the 11th century. The last pope from a German-speaking land was Victor II, bishop of Eichstatt, who reigned from 1055-57.

Like John Paul, whose country was occupied by the Nazis, Ratzinger also has a World War II legacy.

In his memoirs, he wrote of being enrolled in Hitler's Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He says he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood.

Two years later, he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper, a common fate for teenage boys too young to be soldiers. Enrolled as a soldier at 18, in the last months of the war, he barely finished basic training.

"We are certain that he will continue on the path of reconciliation between Christians and Jews that John Paul II began," said Paul Spiegel, head of Germany's main Jewish organization.

Benedict XVI decided to spend the night at the Vatican hotel, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and to dine with the cardinals. He was to preside over a Mass on Wednesday in the Sistine Chapel and will be formally installed Sunday.

If Ratzinger was paying tribute to the last pontiff named Benedict, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as a doctrinal hard-liner. Benedict XV reigned during World War I and was credited with settling animosity between traditionalists and modernists, and dreamed of reunion with Orthodox Christians.

Benedict comes from the Latin for "blessing" and is one of a number of papal names of holy origin such as Clement ("mercy"), Innocent ("hopeful" as well as "innocent") and Pius ("pious").

The bells of St. Peter's rang after a confusing smoke signal that Vatican Radio initially suggested was black but then declared was too difficult to call.

The cardinals took an oath of secrecy forbidding them to divulge how they voted. Under conclave rules, a winner needed two-thirds support, or 77 votes from the 115 cardinal electors.

After the smoke appeared, the faithful poured into the square, their eyes fixed on the burgundy-draped balcony. Pilgrims said the rosary as they awaited the name of the new pope and prelates stood on the roof of the Apostolic Palace, watching as the crowd swelled.

Antoinette Hastings, from Kent Island, Md., rose from her wheelchair, grasping her hands together and crying. She has artificial knees, making it tough to stand.

"I feel blessed, absolutely blessed," she said. "I just wish the rest of my family were here to experience this with me."

In the pope's hometown of Traunstein, Germany, a room full of 13-year-old boys at St. Michael's Seminary that Ratzinger attended jumped up and down, cheered and clapped at the announcement of his name.

"It's fantastic that it's Cardinal Ratzinger. I met him when he was here before and I found him really nice," said 16-year-old Lorenz Gradl.

Ratzinger succeeds a pope who gained extraordinary popularity over history's third-longest papacy. Millions mourned him around the world after his death on April 2.

While John Paul, a Pole, was elected to challenge the communist system in place in Eastern Europe in 1978, Benedict faces new issues: the need for dialogue with Islam, the divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south as well as problems within the church.

These include the priest sex abuse scandals that have cost the church millions in settlements in the United States and elsewhere; coping with a chronic shortage of priests and nuns in the West; and halting the stream of people leaving the church.

In this photo made available by the L'Osservatore Romano Vatican newspaper, Pope Benedict XVI looks on after greeting and blessing the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 19, 2005. Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who chose the name of Pope Benedict XVI, is the 265th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Hero of church's conservative wing becomes Pope Benedict XVI

By John L. Allen, Jr.

In electing the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the College of Cardinals made a daring choice for a man who, despite his 78 years of ago, seems destined to lead a strong, consequential pontificate: Joseph Ratzinger, the intellectual architect of John Paul II’s papacy as the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Ratzinger is that rare individual among Vatican officials, a celebrity among men who normally move in the shadows. He had a run-away bestseller in 1986 with The Ratzinger Report, a book-length interview with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori. He is probably the lone official of the Roman Curia that most Catholics could actually identify, and a man about whom many of them hold strong opinions.

He is a hero to the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, a man who had the toughness to articulate the traditional truths of the faith in a time of dissent and doubt. To Catholic liberals, on the other hand, he is something of a Darth Vader figure, someone who looms as a formidable opponent of many of the reforms of which they have long dreamed.

It was Ratzinger, for example, who in the mid-1980s led the Vatican crackdown on liberation theology, a movement in Latin America that sought to align the Roman Catholic Church with progressive movements for social change. Ratzinger saw liberation theology as a European export that amounted to Marxism in another guise, and brought the full force of Vatican authority to stopping it in its tracks. He sought to redefine the nature of bishops’ conferences around the world, insisting that they lack teaching authority. That campaign resulted in a 1998 document, Apostolos Suos, that some saw as an attack on powerful conferences such as those in the United States and Germany that to some extent acted as counterweights to the Vatican.

It was Ratzinger who in a famous 1986 document defined homosexuality as “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” In the 1990s, Ratzinger led a campaign against the theology of religious pluralism, insisting that the traditional teaching of Christ as the lone and unique savior of humanity not be compromised. This effort culminated in the 2001 document Dominus Iesus, which asserted that non-Christians are in a “gravely deficient situation” with respect to Christians.

These are perhaps the best-known, but hardly the only controversial declarations of Ratzinger over the years. He once called Buddhism an “auto-erotic spirituality,” and inveighed against rock music as a “vehicle of anti-religion.”

Ratzinger has also said on many occasions that the church of the future may have to be smaller to remain faithful, referring to Christianity’s short-term destiny as constituting a “creative minority.” He has also used the image of the “mustard seed,” suggesting a smaller presence that nevertheless carries the capacity for future growth as long as it remains true to itself.

All this history has made Ratzinger a sign of contradiction for many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. As Benedict XVI, in other words, he is a pope who begins his ministry with both a strong base of support and a degree of baggage, in the sense that a broad swath of watchers will be expecting a hard-line, divisive pontificate.

Yet those who know Ratzinger have always been struck by the contrast between his bruising, polarizing public image and his kind, genteel, generous private side. In person, Ratzinger comes across as refined and almost shy, and bishops who have had dealings with him over the years almost uniformly testify that he is a good listener, genuinely interested in working collegially. Those with trepidations about a Ratzinger papacy will be watching carefully in the days and weeks to come for indications that this kinder, gentler Ratzinger will be the figure who emerges as Pope Benedict XVI.

The very name is maybe one indication. While the primary reference may be to St. Benedict, the founder of European monasticism, no doubt there are echoes also of Benedict XV, who reigned from 1914 to 1922 and put an end to the conservative anti-modernist campaigns of the pontificate of St. Pius X. Benedict said that rather than worrying about the least signals of doctrinal error, it was enough for someone to use Catholic as their first name, and Christian as their family name.

Perhaps, therefore, Pope Benedict XVI was sending a subtle signal that he too would like to be a conciliator rather than an authoritarian, repressive figure.

Ratzinger’s life story in many ways sums up the experience of European Catholicism in the 20th century. He was born in Bavaria in 1927, and grew up in the shadow of Nazi Germany. When Ratzinger was in the equivalent of high school, membership in the Hitler Youth was made compulsory and he was briefly enrolled, though he asked to be removed and never attended any activities. He was later conscripted into the Germany army and served briefly in an anti-aircraft battalion before deserting. His family was anti-Nazi, and Ratzinger never demonstrated the least affinity for National Socialism.

As Ratzinger later reflected on this experience, he drew the conclusion that liberal German Christianity proved the most vulnerable to pressure to assimilate to Nazi ideology, while the conservative denominations that were most clear as to their own identity were better able to resist. Some of his ferocious devotion to traditional forms of faith and practice no doubt reflect that experience.

As a young theologian, Ratzinger was a peritus, or theological assistant, of Cardinal Joseph Frings at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Ratzinger was seen as part of the broad progressive majority. In a stroke of irony, he ghost-wrote a speech for Frings in which he referred to the Holy Office, which later became the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a scandal. It was the very office he would later lead under John Paul II.

What many would consider his best-known theological work, Introduction to Christianity, dates from this period.

With the student protests that swept Europe in 1968, Ratzinger, along with a broad swath of Catholic opinion, began to sense that something dangerous had been set loose in the church by the reforming winds of the post-conciliar period. He began to move in a steadily more conservative direction, and eventually was named the Archbishop of Munich in 1977, and a cardinal shortly thereafter, by Pope Paul VI. In that capacity, he participated in the two conclaves of 1978.

In 1981, he was called to Rome by John Paul II to head up the pope’s doctrinal office. Despite the heavy workload imposed by the position, he has also continued to publish his own works on theology, liturgy and cultural criticism.

Whatever one makes of his theological positions, Ratzinger is almost universally recognized as one of the preeminent Catholic intellectuals of his generation, a man of vast culture and refinement. He plays the piano in his spare time, and his brother Georg served as the director of the Regensburg choir. Ratzinger once said of Mozart that his music “contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”

For those watching for clues as to how he intends to lead, those initial images of Pope Benedict XVI on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Square, beaming and waving, referring to himself as a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord,” were perhaps important indications. Every pope gets a honeymoon, a period in which the overwhelming Catholic desire is to see him succeed. While Benedict XVI may need that honeymoon more than most, to reassure sectors of Catholic and secular opinion with concerns about what it all means, those first images seemed full of promise.

April 20, 2005    
German Catholic News Agency

Joseph Ratzinger, right rear, and his brother, Georg, in July 1951 after their ordinations, with their mother and father, Maria and Josef, and their sister, also named Maria, in Freising, in Bavaria.

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Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

A Theological Visionary With Roots in Wartime Germany
April 20, 2005
By DANIEL J. WAKIN for the New York Times

ROME, April 19 - The man who has become Pope Benedict XVI was a product of wartime Germany, but also of a deeply Roman Catholic region, Bavaria.

As the Nazis strengthened their stranglehold on Germany in the 1930's, the strongly Catholic family of Joseph Ratzinger moved frequently among villages in rural Bavaria.

"Unemployment was rife," he wrote in his memoir, "Milestones." "War reparations weighed heavily on the German economy. Battles among the political parties set people against one another." His father, he wrote, was a determined anti-Nazi.

The Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger recalled, was his bulwark against the Nazi regime, "a citadel of truth and righteousness against the realm of atheism and deceit."

But he could not avoid the realities of the day. In an episode certain to be scrutinized anew, Joseph Ratzinger was briefly and unenthusiastically a member of the Hitler Youth in his early teens, after membership became mandatory in 1941, according to a biography by John L. Allen Jr., who covers the Vatican for The National Catholic Reporter.

In 1943, he and fellow seminarians were drafted. He deserted in 1945 and returned home, but was captured by American soldiers and held as a prisoner of war for several months, Mr. Allen wrote.

Along his way to the papacy, he built a distinguished academic career as a theologian, and then spent nearly a quarter century as Pope John Paul II's theological visionary - and enforcer of strict positions on doctrine, morality and the primacy of the faith.

In addition to his subtle and powerful intellect lies a spiritual, almost mystical side rooted in the traditional Bavarian landscape of processions, devotions to Mary and small country parishes, said John-Peter Pham, a former Vatican diplomat who has written about Cardinal Ratzinger.

"It's a Christianity of the heart, not unlike that of the late pope's Poland," he said. "It's much different than the cerebral theology traditionally associated with German theology."

His experience under the Nazis - he was 18 when the war ended - was formative in his view of the function of the church, Mr. Allen said.

"Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism," he wrote. "In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes."

Totalitarianism, indeed, critics might say.

They cite a long list of theologians Cardinal Ratzinger has chastised for straying from official doctrine; his condemnation of "relativism," or the belief that other denominations and faiths lead equally to salvation; his denunciation of liberation theology, homosexuality and feminism; his attempt to rein in national bishops conferences; his belief that the Second Vatican Council of the 1960's, which led to a near-revolutionary modernization of the church, has brought corrosive excesses.

In effect, he has argued for a purer church at the expense of size.

Hans Küng, one of the theologians who ran afoul of him, has called his ideology a "medieval, anti-Reformation, anti-modern paradigm of the church and the papacy."

"To have him as pope will be considered by many Catholics to mean that the church is absolutely unable to reform itself," he said, "and that you are not to have any hope for the great process of the Second Vatican Council."

Along with Bavaria and Nazism, a third influence helped shape the new pope: the leftist-inspired student unrest of the 1960's at the dawn of domestic German terrorism. He said it made him realize that, sometimes, there is no room for discussion.

Even before becoming the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger wielded immense power. John Paul appointed him prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Holy Office. It was a deeply personal choice, made without his usual wide consultation.

Their regular Friday discussions were said to be often freewheeling.

The cardinal expanded the power of the role, ruling on a wide range of subjects. He was the first professional theologian in the job in more than a century, one equipped with a strong intellect and decisiveness.

"This is a man who can deal with a lot of difficult material without becoming upset," said the Rev. Augustine Di Noia, who was the under secretary of the congregation.

John Paul was said to have given Cardinal Ratzinger wide latitude; some called him the "vice pope." Other Vatican officials have suggested he served as a lightning rod, diverting criticism from the pope.

As dean of the College of Cardinals, he was also the most powerful of them - their leader in the period after John Paul's death, the celebrant of his funeral Mass and their guide during the conclave.

Behind his fearsome reputation lies a "a simple person," Father Di Noia said. "He chuckles. There's a simple childlike quality to him." Others speak of his dry sense of humor and modest demeanor.

He is a diminutive man with deep-set eyes and white hair, and speaks Italian - the language of the Vatican - with a strong German accent. Unlike John Paul, he had little time for sports or strenuous activity, other than walks in the mountains.

Until now, he lived in a small apartment near the Vatican and walked to work. He was perhaps the best-known cardinal, appearing at Vatican news conferences and known to many through his books and profiles of him in newspapers.

Joseph Alois Ratzinger was born April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, the youngest of three children. It was a part of a region long within the orbit of Salzburg, in Austria, Mozart's birthplace. A pianist, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed a great love for the composer.

Partly because of his father's opposition to the Nazis, he wrote, the family moved four times before Joseph was 10. His mother was a hotel cook.

He entered the seminary in 1939. After conscription, he served in an antiaircraft unit. He has said the unit was attacked by Allied forces in 1943, but he did not take part in that battle because a finger infection had prevented him from learning to shoot. After about a year in the antiaircraft unit he was drafted into the regular military, sent home and then called up again before deserting in late April 1945, according to Mr. Allen. He told Time magazine in 1993 that while stationed near Hungary, he saw Hungarian Jews being sent to death camps.

In discussing his war experience, Mr. Allen wrote that he publicly expressed little of the explicit horrors that were around him; of the resistance to the Nazis by groups other than Catholics; or of the anti-Semitism of a prominent great-uncle.

In the fall after the war ended in 1945, he returned to the seminary, where his brother, Georg - who was soon to be a prominent church music director - was also enrolled. The brothers were was ordained in 1951; two years later Joseph Ratzinger earned his doctorate at the University of Munich. His dissertation was titled "The People and House of God in St. Augustine's Doctrine of the Church." He earned his teaching licentiate in 1957.

One of his most influential books was an early work from his university lectures, "Introduction to Christianity." He also wrote "Dogma and Revelation" and "Eschatology."

In his view, the church does not exist so that it can be incorporated into the world, but so as to offer a way to live. It is not a human edifice but a divinely created one. And theology is not a dry academic exercise. Theologians should support church teaching to serve the faithful, not depart from it.

His career as an academic began immediately after he was licensed. He spent two years teaching dogma and fundamental theology at the University of Freising and 10 years at the University of Bonn. He also had stints at the universities Münster and Tübingen. Alienated by the student protests at Tübingen, he moved to Regensburg in 1969.

In a 1985 interview with The New York Times, he called the protests "a radical attack on human freedom and dignity, a deep threat to all that is human." Such actions taught him, he said, that to discuss terror was to collaborate with it. "I learned where discussion must stop because it is turning into a lie and resistance must begin in order to maintain freedom."

Already in 1962, at 35, he achieved prominence at the highest levels of the church. A mutual acquaintance introduced him to Cardinal Joseph Frings, archbishop of Cologne. Cardinal Frings asked him to serve as his expert assistant at the Second Vatican Council. Father Ratzinger was credited with pushing Cardinal Frings to join French and other German bishops in standing firm against the Vatican Curia members who wanted to hold back council reforms. He also helped write a speech criticizing the Holy Office, the predecessor to his future home, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The speech called it outmoded and a "source of scandal to the world."

Yet within a decade he came to express deep worry that the church was drifting to the left and losing its ecclesiastical rigor.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Munich, and made him a cardinal in just three months. That same year, he met the future John Paul II, although some have said that they might have met at the Second Vatican Council. They both spent their youths under totalitarianism, but they also had a feeling that the church was adrift in a permissive sea, and that there was a need to return to the fundamentals.

John Paul appointed him to the doctrinal congregation in 1981. Soon, he was taking action against liberation theology, the Marxist-inspired movement of priests in Latin America to help the poor by radical restructuring of society. The congregation denounced the movement in 1984; Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian liberation theologian, was summoned and silenced for a year.

Other theologians were chastised. Charles E. Curran, a theologian at Catholic University of America, was barred in 1986 from teaching at a Catholic institution for refusing to recant his challenge to church teaching on sexuality. The Rev. Tissa Balasuriya, a Sri Lanka theologian, was excommunicated in 1997 after being accused of challenging fundamental Catholic tenets like original sin and the Immaculate Conception. More than a dozen others have been disciplined by the congregation.

With the end of the cold war, Cardinal Ratzinger turned his attention to fighting "relativism." His congregation's 2000 declaration "Dominus Jesus" - "Lord Jesus" - said other religions could not offer salvation, and were "gravely deficient." An uproar from other religious leaders followed, but John Paul publicly defended the document.

Even as he celebrated the Mass leading into the conclave on Monday morning, Cardinal Ratzinger called relativism a "dictatorship" under which the ego and personal desires are paramount.

One of his major efforts, which many say has been successful, was to sap national bishops' conferences of power - and even here he harkened back to the war. The German conference issued "wan and weak" condemnations of Nazism; the truly powerful documents, he said, "came from individual courageous bishops."

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