Stories today include a NCR cover story by John Allen looking as deeply as possible at the way Benedict's papacy is forming up, and assesses him as "not a transitional pope," and makes for interesting reading, particularly with Allen's Roman access. He has another shorter story here handling the details of the rumor mill that might be useful information for your conversations. A long analysis-piece from Catholic News Service provides a bit of contrast. Richard Ostling, a long-established religion writer for the AP also weighs in on Ratzinger's openness to the press and what he's seen in covering the man. An article on Benedict meeting with the Cardinals, Brazil's papabile Cardinal Hummes on Benedict, and details on the installation Mass and the guest list fill out this installment.
Not a transitional pope: Benedict may surprise
The following is the cover story that will run in the April 29 issue of National Catholic Reporter.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Two days before the opening of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago had a conversation with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, about the American sex abuse norms, arguing that the norms should be maintained more or less as is.
George asked if Ratzinger, whose office is charged with processing sex abuse cases, had any questions. Ratzinger, according to George on April 20, showed “a good grasp of the situation.”
Forty-eight hours later, Ratzinger was the pope. As George kissed his hand, Pope Benedict XVI told him in English that he remembered the conversation the two men had, and would attend to it.
The story is a telling example for those seeking to discern the subtleties that could mark potential contrasts between the pontificate of John Paul II and that of Benedict XVI, who was the late pope’s most loyal lieutenant and yet still very much his own man.
That episode captures an important contrast between the two. In a similar situation, John Paul II, whose passion for travel and dialogue and acting as a global moral authority sometimes meant a certain neglect of internal administration, would likely have passed such a detailed matter to an aide. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, said he’d take care of it himself.
More than one cardinal expressed the point this way: The election of Joseph Ratzinger April 19 was a vote for continuity with the papacy of John Paul II, but also a choice for a man who will translate the guiding lines of the Wojtyla pontificate into institutional reality. While some cardinals think that John Paul II was inattentive to the nuts and bolts of ecclesiastical governance, they believe Benedict will be sure that what the church says and what it does are in better alignment.
Benedict XVI is thus seen as a man tough enough to make hard political choices, but profound enough to grasp the deeper theological currents that run underneath the political terrain.
Pope Benedict XVI is a man with a keen vision of the realities facing the Catholic church, especially in the West, along with the courage to proclaim remedies that fly in the face of much conventional wisdom and political correctness. A hero to some and villain to others, the man who will lead the 265th papacy in the history of the Catholic church is likely to surprise and outrage, inspire and provoke sectors of opinion both within the Catholic church and in the wider world.
Behind the scenes
Before anything else, the choice of Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI was an election, and as such, if only in part, a political exercise. Hence, the political question to which everyone wants an answer: How did he win?
One is tempted toward one of two equally banal answers: that the Holy Spirit dictated the outcome or that he got the most votes. Both may well be true, but neither is informative about what went on behind the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel as the 115 cardinals under 80 years of age contemplated the future of Roman Catholicism.
Despite the fact that Ratzinger made virtually everyone’s short list of favored papal candidates, there remained strong doubts even as the conclave opened that he might be in a position to gather two-thirds of the vote. One Italian newspaper confidently predicted the day before the balloting that it was now “excluded” that Ratzinger might exit as pope.
As the first two bursts of smoke on Monday night and Tuesday morning turned black, speculation that the Ratzinger candidacy had run into difficulty intensified. Yet white smoke began to emerge shortly before 6 p.m. Rome time, suggesting a pope had been elected on the fourth ballot — putting this election in a tie for second place for speed among the conclaves of the last century, only one ballot slower than the 1939 conclave that elected Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli as Pius XII, and identical to the 1978 conclave that elected Cardinal Albino Luciani as John Paul I.
White smoke so soon could suggest the election of a front-runner, though not necessarily. In the first conclave of 1978, Luciani had not figured on most A-lists, and he won on the fourth ballot. In the end, however, it was Ratzinger whose name was pronounced by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, the senior cardinal deacon, following that famous phrase, Habemus papam: “We have a pope.”
Cardinals remained with the new pope in the Casa Santa Marta Tuesday night, and then joined him for Mass in the Sistine Chapel the following morning. In between, some sneaked out to provide comments for the thousands of journalists still milling about Rome; others waited until after the Mass to meet the press. In any event, despite their vows of secrecy, much about the 2005 conclave quickly became clear.
First, Ratzinger had strong support in the early ballots (some wire service accounts had him with as many as 60 votes), a formidable base that did not decline in successive rounds. By Tuesday afternoon, the mind of the group seemed clear, and he was elected.
“You don’t get a pope on the fourth ballot unless the consensus was pretty strong early on,” one cardinal told NCR.
This does not mean the conclave was bereft of debate. A cardinal from the Southern Hemisphere told NCR that there was “something of a horse race” in the conclave, and that a number of names drew votes on the first couple of ballots. By the third, however, it seemed clear that no single candidate was emerging as a serious alternative to Ratzinger, and the deal was done.
Ratzinger was very much a known quantity within the College of Cardinals, and it’s no surprise he had strong support. Yet it’s equally clear that some more progressive-minded cardinals might have balked at his candidacy just a few weeks ago. So what changed?
Several cardinals told NCR that his performance during the interregnum was stellar, and went a long way toward resolving whatever doubts many electors might have had. As dean of the College of Cardinals, for example, Ratzinger presided at the funeral Mass of John Paul, delivering an eloquent homily that was interrupted by applause 12 times, a response that left him visibly emotional — an uncharacteristic personal flourish from the normally poised Ratzinger.
One African cardinal said that Ratzinger acted at that Mass in a “style like that of John Paul II, maybe more than his own style.” In other words, he sensed Ratzinger growing into a part.
Ratzinger also presided and gave the homily at the concluding Mass for the election of the new pope, on the morning of the day that the conclave began. His blunt caution against cultural currents hostile to the faith — Marxism, liberalism, radical individualism, secularism and relativism — was interpreted by some as potentially damaging to his candidacy for its dour tone, but instead it buttressed his reputation as a thinker and someone with a capacity to engage the ills of the secular West.
Off stage, however, Ratzinger’s role from the death of John Paul II to his own election was even more important.
He presided over 13 daily meetings of the General Congregation, the assembly of cardinals that worked through John Paul II’s rules for the transition, and then listened to one another describe the problems in their local churches. By most accounts, Ratzinger did a superb job leading these sessions, allowing each cardinal to have his say and even inviting people who had not yet spoken to do so.
One cardinal said that two things about the way Ratzinger led these sessions impressed him.
First, he said, whenever conversation would bog down among cardinals trained as canon lawyers over what church law might permit, Ratzinger intervened, saying, “We know what canon law says, but what should our pastoral response be?” It was reassuring, the cardinal said, to those who worried that 24 years in Rome and only a couple of years as archbishop of Munich had equipped Ratzinger with little sense of pastoral realities.
Second, whenever Ratzinger called on a cardinal to speak, he did so by name, illustrating that he knew all the members of the College of Cardinals personally — reflecting decades of conversation with them about their problems and concerns. Whenever a cardinal approached him to speak, he responded in that cardinal’s language, exhibiting his mastery of languages and his cosmopolitan bearing.
A source among the cardinals said that a principal organizer of the pro-Ratzinger camp in the early going was Cardinal Christopher Schönbourn of Vienna, Austria, who studied under Ratzinger during the 1970s.
The experience of this interregnum is a reminder of a bit of conclave wisdom, which is that the camerlengo may govern the church in the absence of a pope, but the largest pre-conclave platform belongs to the dean. Whoever holds that job enjoys a privileged opportunity to set the agenda and present himself to his brother cardinals.
Hence, the politics of the interregnum boiled down to this: Ratzinger entered with strong support, rooted both in his personal charm and his strong doctrinal stands, but needed to win over doubters concerned about his reputation for being aloof and authoritarian. His conduct during the two weeks from the death of the pope to the conclave went a long way to resolving those doubts.
None of this is to say that Ratzinger was actively campaigning to become pope. In fact, at least twice in recent years he had requested permission from John Paul II to leave office and retire to Regensburg, Germany. Yet if he had been running for office, one would say he ran a terrific campaign. He managed to hold onto his base, to put the matter in the terms of secular politics, while still attracting crossover voters.
Moreover, whatever opposition existed never managed to get organized, and melted away when the momentum behind Ratzinger’s election seemed irresistible.
The logic of the election
Aside from the political calculus, one can also pitch the “why” question on substantive grounds. What was it that the College of Cardinals saw in this man, Joseph Ratzinger, that convinced two-thirds of them to make him pope?
His intellectual accomplishment played some role. Ratzinger is among the most accomplished Roman Catholic theologians of his generation, a man widely acknowledged even among his detractors as a first-rate thinker and analyst. His masterpiece is usually considered to be 1968’s Introduction to Christianity, a contemporary presentation of Christian faith. The book was no legalistic manual stuffed with rules and regulations; it was a meditation on faith that reached into the depths of human experience, a book that dared to walk naked before doubt and disbelief in order to discover the truth of what it means to be a modern Christian. Many found it exhilarating.
Despite the fact that the later Ratzinger, some believe, became more cautious and defensive, no one disputes that he has the intellectual acuity to be pope.
Another key point in his favor, one cardinal told NCR, was that among electors Ratzinger was seen as being “in the curia but not of the curia,” meaning that he came to the Vatican as a cardinal and was not tainted by the normal alliances and political connections one normally makes coming up through the curial system. Consequently, he was seen as someone tough enough and who knew the curia well enough that he would be able to get it in hand. During John Paul II’s reign, different curial offices were often seen as speaking too freely on their own and even at odds with one another. Ratzinger was seen as someone who would clean up such discordance.
Ratzinger also has spiritual depth. He has written a number of small books on the spiritual life considered instant classics, and when he celebrates the Mass his reverence is transparent. While detractors may argue that his theological stands are misguided or harmful, few dispute the nobility of his intentions.
Ratzinger also has a personal side that may not always be transparent to the public, but one that’s well known among intimates and collaborators. They say he’s humble, gentle, gracious and even shy. Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, for example, called Benedict XVI “a wonderful human being.”
Cardinal George of Chicago called the new pope “a humble genius.”
These points by themselves, however, do not explain why Ratzinger was seen by the cardinals as the right answer to the problems facing the church at this historical moment.
Perhaps the best explanation on that score came from George.
“In 1978, when Karol Wojtyla was elected as Pope John Paul II, the primary challenge to the church came from the East, in the form of Soviet Communism,” George said. “Today the most difficult challenges come from the West, and Benedict XVI is a man who comes from the West, who understands the history and the culture of the West.”
Ratzinger’s clarion call to resist a Western “dictatorship of relativism” could be likened to John Paul II’s struggle against the Marxist dictatorships of Eastern Europe. If resistance to the Soviets was the defining feature of at least the early stages of the Wojtyla papacy, perhaps resistance to relativism will be the lodestar of Ratzinger’s.
“There was a fault line in the Soviet empire that brought it down, that the concern for social justice was corrupted by the suppression of freedom,” George said. “In the West, there’s also a fault line between concern for personal freedom and the abandonment of objective truth.” George said that both contradictions “are not sustainable in the long run.”
Going into the conclave, many cardinals told NCR that they had identified secular culture, especially the relativistic and post-Christian culture that often dominates Western Europe, as a source of special concern. In that context, many obviously thought that Ratzinger was the man with the right life experience and intellectual and cultural preparation to take on the challenge.
A pope with baggage
Ratzinger is that rare individual among Vatican officials, a celebrity among men who normally move in the shadows. He had a runaway 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.
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.
As Benedict XVI he is a pope who begins his ministry with both a strong base of support and a load 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 Benedict legacy
The very name is perhaps 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 antimodernist campaigns of the pontificate of St. Pius X. Benedict XV 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 figure.
Those were certainly the notes struck during a message after his first Mass as pope, held in the Sistine Chapel April 20. Benedict XVI called for collaboration between the bishops and the pope, a reference to collegiality in the church. He committed himself to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and committed himself to the untiring quest for full unity among Christians. The pope greeted the followers of other religions, and of all those who simply are looking for an answer to the meaning of human existence and have not yet found it. He committed the church to a continuing search for social justice, especially with respect to systems of development. Benedict XVI also said he would reach out in a special way to the young, much in the style of his predecessor John Paul II. (The Vatican later confirmed that the new pope will travel to Cologne in August for World Youth Day.)
In many ways, those were just-right notes to strike, especially for all those who fear that Benedict XVI’s is destined to be an authoritarian, defensive, exclusively vertical pontificate. He seemed to saying, “You may have a surprise in store.”
In the meantime, there may be one final clue, having to do with the name he chose, in trying to decipher the first tentative indication of what kind of pope Ratzinger intends to be. On this score, George said the new pope offered a kind of exegesis of his choice to the cardinals inside the conclave.
“Benedict,” George recalled Ratzinger explaining, is in the first place a reference to St. Benedict, who founded European monasticism at a time when the Roman empire was collapsing, and the church helped preserve human culture and thought. Second, however, the name is also a reference to Benedict XV, the last pope to hold it, who strove for peace in a time of war.
In an unmistakable parallel for a 78-year-old pope, George said that Ratzinger also pointed out that Benedict had a short papacy, just eight years from 1914 to 1922. Clearly, the new pope is aware that time is short and the challenges facing him are enormous.
It is for that reason, perhaps, that amid all the speculation about where Benedict XVI might take the church, one thing seems certain: This is most definitely not a “transitional” papacy. To put it bluntly, there isn’t a transitional bone in Joseph Ratzinger’s body.
However much time he has as Benedict XVI, he will make his mark.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent.
The mill continues to grind, but rumors prove false
Four named as possible doctrinal prefect
By John L. Allen, Jr.
Reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office until recently headed by Pope Benedict XVI, is preparing to issue four new documents, including one approving Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, are "absolutely false," according to senior Vatican sources.
Reports in the Italian media claimed that whoever is appointed as Ratzinger's successor will inherit four documents ready to be issued. One, the reports suggested, concerns Communion for the "innocent party" in the case of divorced and remarried Catholics; a second would raise the retirement age for bishops from 75 to 80; a third and fourth on ecumenism would commit the pope to the search for Christian unity and would express the divinity of Christ in a mode acceptable to other Christian confessions.
These reports, senior Vatican sources told NCR April 22, are not true. There are no such documents, nor any projects to produce documents along the lines suggested, within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sources said.
While it is possible that other Vatican offices might be thinking about such documents, a Vatican source said April 22 that even if that were the case, nothing is close to publication.
On the question of Communion, Vatican sources said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is working on a study of the principles underlying reception of the Eucharist, responding in part to the debate raised in the United States over pro-choice Catholic politicians. It will not, however, produce a change of policy for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
That issue was already addressed in a 1994 document of the congregation, "Reception of Communion: Divorced-and-Remarried Catholics." The heart of that document was the following affirmation: "If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists."
On the question of the retirement age, Vatican sources indicated that this question is not part of the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in any event, no document on the subject exists in that office.
On the ecumenical question, the new pope has already expressed his commitment to the search for Christian unity, and his anticipated visit Monday to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is a further symbolic indication of his desire to move in that direction.
Yet senior Vatican sources told NCR that the two ecumenical documents referred to in the Italian press accounts do not exist. The congregation conducted a symposium on the papacy following John Paul II's 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, the proceedings of which were published in 1998. At the moment, sources said, no further documents are planned.
On the subject of Ratzinger's successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at least four names have been suggested in recent days: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, who was one of the proponents of Ratzinger's election to the papacy; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, Ratzinger's former deputy at the congregation; Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a well-known Italian theologian and frequent Vatican advisor; and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, a widely respected intellectual.
George is considered something of a longshot, since Benedict XVI may prefer to leave him in the United States, where he is currently the vice-president of the American bishops' conference and will presumably become the president at the end of the current term. In that capacity, he would be positioned to perhaps the most important point of reference for the pope in the American church.
One other rumor making the rounds is that Benedict XVI may simply decide to direct the congregation himself, as Pius XII, a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps, did with the secretariat of state. Others regard this is a remote possibility, since the pope may not want to take on this responsibility himself.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent.
Pope Benedict likes verbal sparring, thinks God has sense of humor
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The cardinals who elected Pope Benedict XVI and the priests who worked with him at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had a common message about the new pope: Do not believe everything reporters have told you.
While the 78-year-old German theologian spent 24 years defending Catholic doctrine and moral teaching, there was always a deeply spiritual, quiet, kind pastor behind the pronouncements, they said.
The then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's conclusions about specific theologians and their teaching, about trends in theology and about moral questions have been described either as clear or as sharp.
Some may debate whether as prefect of the congregation he always had to act when he did or if advancement in theology requires time and room for debate and correction by colleagues; but when Cardinal Ratzinger put on his scholar's hat and engaged in public debates with other scholars, there was no denying the twinkle in his eyes and the smile on his lips.
He enjoyed the sparring.
Last October, he and an Italian historian discussed history, politics and religion in a Rome debate.
The cardinal told the scholar and Italian government officials, members of Parliament and Vatican officials in the audience, "We find ourselves in a situation in which it would be opportune to dialogue.
"Our moral capacity has not grown at the same rate as our potential power," especially when it comes to the ability to manipulate, prolong or terminate human life, he said.
His somber assessment of the world's moral confusion did not outweigh the obvious delight he took in an opportunity to engage in a public debate where theological and philosophical terms and names could be tossed into the conversation with no need for explanation.
Even while serving as the Vatican's moral and doctrinal "watchdog," a task often covered in silence, the future Pope Benedict continued to be a prolific public speaker, author and subject of interviews.
He has published more than 60 books: scholarly theological tomes; responses to questions; collections of speeches and essays; and memoirs on his first 50 years of life, published in English in 1998 as "Milestones."
In "Milestones," he wrote about being born in Marktl am Inn, Germany, April 16, 1927 -- Holy Saturday that year -- and being baptized on Easter in the newly blessed waters.
"Personally, I always have been grateful for the fact that in this way my life from the beginning was immersed in the paschal mystery, which could not be anything other than a blessing," he wrote.
The future pope's father was a policeman, and the family moved frequently during his youth. According to his memoirs, he was only vaguely aware of the poverty and political strife building up in Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War.
He joined his brother, Georg, at the minor seminary in 1939, and said he found it difficult to study in a room with 60 other boys, but got used to that.
"What weighed more heavily on me was that every day included -- in homage to a modern idea of education -- two hours of sports," he wrote. He was the smallest boy in the class and the games were "a true torture."
The book-length interviews with then-Cardinal Ratzinger -- the 1985 "Ratzinger Report," the 1996 "Salt of the Earth" and the 2002 "God and the World" -- showed a prelate with clear ideas, worried about the state of the church and not the least bit hesitant to respond to questions.
The interviews cover many of the same topics the doctrinal congregation had issued statements on: the Second Vatican Council; theological dissent; liberation theology; ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; the special place of the Jews in salvation history; liturgy; the role of women in the church; and collegiality and papal primacy.
But they also attempted to delve into his spirituality, prayer style and the events that shaped his life.
He told Peter Seewald, author of the 1996 and 2002 books, that he believes God "has a great sense of humor."
"Sometimes he gives you something like a nudge and says, 'Don't take yourself so seriously!' Humor is in fact an essential element in the mirth of creation. We can see how, in many matters in our lives, God wants to prod us into taking things a bit more lightly; to see the funny side of it; to get down off our pedestal and not to forget our sense of fun," he said.
Seewald asked the future pope if he had ever been tempted to leave the Catholic Church; the cardinal said it would "never have entered my head," because his whole life has been bound up with the church.
However, he said, "there are things about her (the church), big and little, that are annoying. From the local church, right up to the church's overall leadership, within which I now have to work," he told Seewald in an interview conducted in 2000.
When Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the meditations for the Good Friday Way of the Cross service at Rome's Colosseum this year, he spoke much more soberly about members of the church who no longer believe in Christ as the true savior, who abuse others, who do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist or who have abandoned the sacrament of reconciliation.
His words on sex abuse and other clerical scandals were much stronger than any public comment he had made since 2001, when the doctrinal congregation began requiring bishops to report abuse cases to the congregation.
In the 2005 meditation, he wrote: "How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him."
In a November 2002 speech in Spain, Cardinal Ratzinger had said, "In the church, priests are also sinners."
However, he said, "I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a distortion of the reality because the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower."
Serving as dean of the College of Cardinals, the future pope opened the April 18-19 conclave with a homily many people described as negative or pessimistic.
It was not a new accusation.
Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken on more than one occasion about his belief that the Catholic Church would get smaller and smaller, but that eventually the world would discover the hope and joy present in the small community of true believers and be attracted again to the Christian faith.
"When I said that," the cardinal told Seewald, "I was reproached from all sides for pessimism. And nowadays nothing seems less tolerated than what people call pessimism -- and which is often in fact just realism."
The challenges the church faces continue to change, he said, but God continues to be with it.
As the chief defender of Catholic doctrine and morality, Cardinal Ratzinger had a major role in drafting the 1992 "Catechism of the Catholic Church" and, especially, its 1997 revised passages on the death penalty -- judged unacceptable in most cases -- and on homosexual orientation, which it said was "objectively disordered."
While he has said all people must be treated with love and respect, he said no one can change Christian moral teaching that homosexual acts are sinful and no one can equate a gay union to marriage between and man and woman without denigrating the human, moral, social and religious significance of marriage.
One question on many minds since Pope Benedict's election was: What will happen to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and to its liturgical reforms?
In "The Ratzinger Report," he said the post-conciliar church "seems to have passed over from self-criticism to self-destruction" with a growth of dissent and more people abandoning church practice.
The cardinal said it was not the fault of the council, but of Catholics who thought that renewal of the church and dialogue with the modern world meant embracing the world's agenda without any sense of responsibility or limit.
Nevertheless, Pope Benedict told the world's cardinals April 20: "I want to forcefully affirm the strong desire to continue in the task of implementing the Second Vatican Council."
He said Vatican II's documents were especially relevant to the modern church and today's globalized society and that the council's "authoritative" rereading of the Gospel would guide the church in the third millennium.
Pope Benedict did not mention the council's liturgical reforms.
In the early 1980s, then-Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly mentioned his belief that the council's liturgical reforms did not include the mandate that the priest face the congregation while celebrating Mass. He said he felt the church should have preserved the ancient practice of the congregation and priest facing East during the eucharistic prayer.
By the time he published "The Spirit of the Liturgy" in 2000, he acknowledged that issuing new rules to have the priest celebrate with his back to the people was no longer pastorally practical.
"Nothing is more harmful to the liturgy than a constant activism, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal," he said.
He gave a similarly pastoral reply when Seewald asked him if the Mass should be celebrated in Latin.
"That is no longer going to be possible as a general practice, and perhaps it is not desirable as such," he answered.
But he did call for "a new liturgical consciousness, to be rid of this spirit of arbitrary fabrication," that might be clever or entertaining but not "the Holy One being offered to me."
The other big question looming in people's minds was: What would Pope Benedict's approach to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue be?
The question was prompted by the doctrinal congregation's questions over the years about joint ecumenical agreements, but mostly because of the congregation's 2000 document, "Dominus Iesus," on salvation in Christ alone, its 2000 document on "sister churches" and its 2001 criticisms of Jesuit Father Jacques Dupuis, author of a book on religious pluralism.
Speaking to seminary rectors two months after "Dominus Iesus" was released, the cardinal said it "expresses with great clarity the central point of our faith, that is that the Son of God was made man and that a bridge exists between God and man."
The document was the focal point of ecumenical and interreligious controversy because of its firm statement that Christ and the church are necessary for salvation, leaving those who do not believe in Christ or are not part of the church feeling like the congregation was denying that their faith offered the possibility of salvation.
The cardinal said at the time he was most disappointed in the negative reaction of Jewish leaders and groups to the document.
"I did not expect it at all because for me it is evident that we come from the roots of Israel and that their Bible is our Bible and that Judaism is not just one of many religions, but is the foundation, the root of our faith. We share the faith of Abraham," he told Vatican Radio.
The other 2000 document insisted the term "sister churches," frequently used among Christians, was to be used by Catholics only in reference to Orthodox and other churches that "have preserved a valid episcopate and Eucharist."
The document was criticized by many Anglicans and Protestants, as well as by Catholic ecumenists.
Catholics involved in interreligious dialogue also expressed concern after the congregation's 1998-2000 investigation of Father Dupuis' 1997 book, "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism," an investigation focused on the issues raised in "Dominus Iesus."
In early 2001, the congregation praised Father Dupuis' desire to explain the theological significance of the presence of so many religions in the world, but it said the book contained ambiguous statements and insufficient explanations that could lead readers to "erroneous or harmful conclusions" about Christ's role as the one and universal savior.
Under Cardinal Ratzinger, the doctrinal congregation was increasingly sensitive to criticism about the methods it used when investigating theologians and their work.
In 1997, Cardinal Ratzinger said his new "Regulations for Doctrinal Examination" would safeguard the rights of theologians under review. The biggest change was the possibility for the theologian to name an advocate and an adviser to assist in his examination.
The commentary issued with the notification on Father Dupuis went out of its way to say the "tone" of the Vatican statements was not meant to sound authoritarian, but it had to be assertive and definitive so that the faithful know that "these are not matters of opinion or questions for dispute, but central truths of the Christian faith that certain theological interpretations deny or place in serious danger."
After celebrating Mass April 20 in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict, in referring to himself, told the cardinals who elected him that he would assume as "his primary commitment that of working tirelessly toward the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty."
Also referring to himself, Pope Benedict said, "he is aware that to do so expressions of good feelings are not enough. Concrete gestures are required to penetrate souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that interior conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism."
He also told the cardinals, "I address myself to everyone, even to those who follow other religions or who are simply seeking an answer to the fundamental questions of life and have not yet found it."
"The church," he said, "wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in a search for the true good of mankind and of society."
And while not shy about talking tough, as a cardinal Pope Benedict avoided "fire and brimstone" phrases and cautioned others about attributing apocalyptical threats to God or to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1996, four years before Pope John Paul II released the so-called "third secret of Fatima," Cardinal Ratzinger told a Portuguese Catholic radio station that the pope had shown him the message.
"I am certain," he said, "that the Virgin does not engage in sensationalism; she does not create fear. She does not present apocalyptic visions, but guides people to her Son. And this is what is essential."
The Vatican published the complete text of the Fatima message in 2000, interpreting it as a vision of a long war waged by atheistic regimes against the church. It included a figure of a "bishop in white" who falls in a hail of gunfire, which was presumed to be a reference to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul in 1981.
At a press conference marking the publication of the text, Cardinal Ratzinger said, "There does not exist an official definition or official interpretation of this vision on the part of the church."
Like any private revelation approved by the church, he said, the Fatima message "is a help which is offered" to Catholics for living their faith, "but which one is not obliged to use."
In a commentary on the message, he said the vision described the path of the church through the 20th century as a "a journey through a time of violence, destruction and persecution."
Cardinal Ratzinger said he believed the particular period of struggle described by the vision had ended, making it appropriate to reveal the secret's contents.
The reality of evil and of threats against the church are topics Pope Benedict has discussed often.
When the future pope was a child in Adolf Hitler's Germany, school officials enrolled him in the Hitler Youth movement. He said he soon stopped going to the meetings. But when he was 16 he and his classmates were conscripted into an anti-aircraft unit that tracked Allied bombardments; although in uniform and staying in barracks with other soldiers, the seminarians also continued their studies. Later, young Ratzinger was drafted into a worker's battalion, then into the army.
In the spring of 1945, when Hitler had died and it appeared the war was almost over, he deserted his unit and returned home. When the U.S. military arrived, he was arrested with other members and former members of the German army and placed in a prisoner-of-war camp for several months.
In "God and the World," Seewald asked the then-Cardinal Ratzinger about Hitler, the devil and evil.
"One certainly cannot say that Hitler was the devil; he was a man," the cardinal said. However, he added, "I believe one can see that he was taken into the demonic realm in some profound way, by the way in which he was able to wield power and by the terror, the harm, that his power inflicted."
Pope Benedict Meets With Journalists
Apr 22, 2:52 PM (ET)
By RICHARD N. OSTLING
Pope Benedict XVI holds his first meeting with Vatican journalists Saturday, and if my own experience is any guide, they'll find him a polite and engaging newsmaker who is unafraid to discuss sensitive topics or defend his conservative vision of Christianity.
I got the chance to meet the new pope back in 1993, when he agreed to a rare, no-topics-barred, on-the-record interview with myself and another journalist.
At the time he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, midway through a 24-year tenure as the fabled and sometimes feared head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I was Time magazine's religion writer, and was joined by John Moody, Time's Rome bureau chief in those days and now senior vice president of the Fox News Channel.
I had seen Ratzinger in person once before, more than five years earlier, when he delivered an important but esoteric Manhattan lecture on modern Bible scholarship.
The address was disrupted for 10 minutes or so when about 20 gay activists made hash of things, interrupting the cardinal one by one so he couldn't speak. "Rat!" they shouted. "Nazi!" Six were hauled out and arrested.
The lingering memory doesn't involve the protesters but the unflappable Ratzinger. Expressing no irritation, he calmly waited out the disruptions and, in his soft-spoken way, respectfully requested the right to speak freely.
Now we were chatting in person with Ratzinger in his tastefully ornate Vatican sitting room.
The cardinal was precisely the man being depicted this week: anything but arrogant in manner, warm but not effusive, soft-spoken, gracious and even slightly courtly. It was easy to understand former students' and subordinates' fondness for their kindly overseer.
He was more comfortable addressing complex theological topics in his native German, yet Ratzinger was competent, even fluent in English - his facility in it well exceeds that of any modern pope.
The cardinal was freely willing to discuss quite personal matters like the horrors of Nazi Germany and his involuntary army service, favored pastimes (piano playing, listening to classical music), the fact that he'd never driven a car, his befuddlement with computers.
He was even willing to share medical details about the bleeding stroke two years earlier that temporarily affected his vision, and a fall that knocked him unconscious in 1992. He said he had recovered without permanent damage from each incident.
The session represented extremely unusual journalistic access to a prefect of the doctrinal office, requiring months of wizardry by Moody to negotiate. But Ratzinger had already lowered barriers with lengthy interviews that friendly writer Vittorio Messori turned into a book called "The Ratzinger Report." The cardinal's candid and downbeat comments on the health of the church had caused a sensation in 1985.
More than anything, Ratzinger's performance in our interview showed his confidence in his message and his grasp of theological issues, which is exceptionally keen. The longtime university theologian possesses one of the most subtle minds in modern Catholicism, outshining perhaps the one-time philosophy professor Karol Wojtyla - his predecessor on the throne of St. Peter.
The cardinal was impressively articulate and unhesitant in responding to queries about his office's disputed actions to define the substance of the Catholic faith. He was perfectly comfortable defending a conservative vision of Catholic Christianity, and unapologetic about his desire to require reluctant theologians to honor that view.
Did he seem destined for even bigger things? I have to confess, I didn't think so. At the time I wrote: "Might he be elected pope one day? Vatican watchers say no: He is too controversial."
So much for punditry.
Richard N. Ostling has covered religion for 35 years at Time magazine and now The Associated Press.
New Pope Has First Meeting With Cardinals
Apr 22, 2:34 PM (ET)
By BRIAN MURPHY
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI personally greeted the most powerful prelates in the church Friday in a ceremony that illuminated two central elements of the new papacy: his vast Vatican experience and his efforts to cement bonds with his beloved predecessor.
One by one, more than 150 cardinals kissed the pontiff's hand and chatted briefly with him under the sweeping frescoes in the Clementine Hall, where mourners first saw John Paul II's body after his death April 2. The encounters with the new pope were easy and familiar.
The pontiff had served in a highly influential Vatican post since 1981 and is well known by nearly all the cardinals and members of the Vatican bureaucracy - a sharp contrast to John Paul's arrival in 1978 as a Vatican outsider with few established confidants. Benedict has moved quickly to reappoint the entire top leadership of the Holy See, which he helped shape as one of John Paul's key advisers.
The pope also has repeatedly cited John Paul's legacy and his desire to continue in its spirit.
Benedict told the cardinals the late pope's "great trial and suffering" against Parkinson's disease and other ailments were an inspiration for all Roman Catholics. On Thursday, he reinforced another link important to John Paul: close contact with Rome's Jewish leaders.
"I undertake this new mission with more serenity because I am able to count on your generous collaboration in addition to the indispensable help of God," he told the cardinals. He was elected Tuesday by 114 of his fellow cardinals under age 80.
The cardinals came one by one and knelt before the pope, who was wearing all-white robes and seated on a gilded chair. He exchanged a few words with each, but spent longer with Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German Bishops' Conference. The pope responded with gestures that may become familiar to the world as his papacy evolves: raising his eyebrows while listening and flashing a quick smile.
The 78-year-old pope rose to welcome the cardinals unable to kneel, including 86-year-old American theologian Avery Dulles and Polish Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, who uses a wheelchair.
The pope's initial words and acts are forcing a wider reassessment among followers. Many feared a distant and strident papacy because of the pontiff's long role as the church's main watchdog of theology, an office responsible for muzzling and punishing dissident voices.
"Already Benedict XVI has become ... an 'open door' pope, cordial and spontaneous," said Donatella Pacelli, a Rome sociologist who studies Catholic issues.
London-based religious commentator Peter Stanford recalled the pope's intellectual grounding as a forward-looking theologian in the 1960s who - like John Paul - turned increasingly conservative against secular trends.
"It would be a mistake to see (Benedict) as simply an efficient, ultra-loyal bureaucrat carrying out another man's orders," he wrote.
The pope's Vatican e-mail addresses received more than 56,000 messages in the first two days.
"When are you coming to Canada?" asked one well-wisher from Nova Scotia. "We will all be waiting."
But before any travel can be considered, he must formally take the papal throne.
The Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday is expected to draw 500,000 people and a host of dignitaries, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder; Prince Albert II of Monaco; Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Chrisostomos, a top envoy for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Christian Orthodox; and a senior representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Kirill.
Known as the Ceremony of Investiture, it will celebrated by the senior cardinal deacon, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the Chilean who proclaimed Benedict's name to the world as the 265th pontiff. During the Mass, Benedict will receive his papal Fisherman's Ring as well as the pallium - a narrow stole of white wool embroidered with six black silk crosses - which symbolizes his pastoral authority.
Air space within a five-mile radius will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and Rome's second airport, Ciampino, will be shut down.
Italian civil protection officials estimate 100,000 people from Benedict's native Germany will flock to Rome. Italy will provide German-speaking volunteers from Italy's bilingual Alpine regions to help them.
The decision for an outdoor Mass - rather than in St. Peter's Basilica - shows Benedict favors the populist touch of recent popes who have made the same choice.
Italian civil protection chief Guido Bertolaso told reporters that the pope would likely mingle with the faithful. On his installation day, John Paul walked up to the crowd control barriers to greet pilgrims and kiss babies.
One upcoming decision by the pope will be closely watched: whom he picks as his successor to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Less immediate - but even more important - is when he will name new cardinals. John Paul announced his first group seven months after becoming pope.
The Italian daily La Repubblica, meanwhile, reported that Benedict - before being named pope - had been working on a document to allow divorced couples who remarry to receive Communion. The Vatican had no comment.
Brazil Cardinal: Pope Can Accomplish a Lot
Apr 22, 4:24 AM (ET)
By FRANCES D'EMILIO
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI realizes his papacy could be a short one, given his advanced age, but plans to accomplish a lot - and the Roman Catholic Church has great hopes for him, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes said.
Hummes, one of Latin America's leading churchmen, was among the cardinals participating in the secret conclave that elected the 78-year-old German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope. thought
"Age isn't important. There were some very short papacies which did great work," Hummes told reporters. He cited John XXIII, who served from October 1958 to June 1963.
In his five-year papacy, John XXIII "changed the church, reformed the church, updated the church," he said.
Addressing cardinals in the pope's first Mass on Wednesday, Benedict indicated he would draw on John XXIII's work in modernizing the church.
The new pope named himself after Benedict XV, who led the church for not quite 7 1/2 years spanning World War I in the early 20th century.
Benedict XVI told the cardinals he was taking the name of a pontiff who "had a very short papacy, but he worked a lot," said the Brazilian prelate.
John Paul's health failed in this last years, making it difficult for him to travel, lead long ceremonies and in the last weeks, even speak to the faithful.
Benedict XVI is fond of walking, speaks in a clear, strong voice and has stood through long ceremonies he led in recent months, including John Paul's funeral. According to a biography by respected Vatican watcher John Allen, Ratzinger suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1991, but without lasting effects.
Asked whether age was a concern in the selection of the pope, Hummes was evasive.
"Health? Life? Who knows? No one knows," said Hummes, 70. "Today, medicine is very capable of sustaining life even until - who knows - 90, 95, even in good condition."
"We hope a lot in this new pope," said Hummes, who many had hoped would become Latin America's first pontiff. He said the media helped whip up those hopes.
"It's not an important question where the pope comes from," he said at an informal news conference.
Vatican watchers have said they expect Benedict XVI, who as cardinal served more than 20 years as John Paul's watchdog on moral teaching, will concentrate much of his energy and attention on the moral state of health of Europe, where many have rejected the church's positions on such issues as euthanasia and gay marriage.
Hummes said Europe's crisis in faith was "strongly growing" and "needs special attention." But the cardinal added that he didn't think a Vatican campaign to shore up flagging faith and moral values in Europe would come at other continents' expense.
Hummes seemed confident that Benedict, despite his reputation as a doctrinal conservative, would work to modernize the church.
"History goes ahead, progress has happened at an incredible speed, humanity has changed rapidly," the cardinal said.
Hummes was asked if he thought the church would one day revise its ban on artificial birth control.
"I'm sure that the church will continue a deeper dialogue with science, with new sciences like biotechnology, biogenetics," said Hummes, adding that he didn't want to get into the "theological question" behind the ban.
Church teaching holds that married couples shouldn't use contraceptives because they should be open to new life.
Dignitaries Attending Pope's Installation
Apr 22, 12:16 PM (ET)
By The Associated Press
Dignitaries planning to attend Pope Benedict XVI's installation ceremony Sunday at St. Peter's Basilica:
AUSTRALIA: Communications, Information Technology and Arts Minister Helen Coonan
AUSTRIA: President Heinz Fischer, Parliament Speaker Andreas Khol, Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach, Education Minister Elisabeth Gehrer
BRITAIN: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II
CROATIA: Parliament Speaker Vladimir Seks, Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor
CZECH REPUBLIC: President Vaclav Klaus, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda
DENMARK: Ambassador to Rome Sven Erik Nordberg
ESTONIA: President Arnold Ruutel
FINLAND: Culture Minister Tanja Karpela
FRANCE: Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
GERMANY: President Horst Koehler, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Interior Minister Otto Schily, Bavarian Gov. Edmund Stoiber
HUNGARY: President Ferenc Madl, Parliament Speaker Katalin Szili, Supreme Court president Zoltan Lomnici
LEBANON: President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri
NETHERLANDS: Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, Crown Prince Willem Alexander
PHILIPPINES: Vice President Noli de Castro
POLAND: President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld, Deputy Parliament Speaker Jozef Zych, Senate Speaker Longin Patusiak, Vatican Ambassador Hanna Suchocka
PORTUGAL: Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Cabinet minister Pedro Silva Pereira
SLOVAKIA: President Ivan Gasparovic, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan
SWEDEN: King Carl XVI Gustaf
TURKEY: State Minister Mehmet Aydin; and Chrisostomos, Metropolite of Ephesus, representing Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Rome Ready for Large Crowds for Pope
Apr 22, 1:47 PM (ET)
By ALESSANDRA RIZZO
ROME (AP) - Rome is gearing up for the installation of Pope Benedict XVI - an outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday expected to draw hundreds of dignitaries and half a million faithful, including about 100,000 people from the pontiff's native Germany.
Although the influx of 3 million pilgrims who packed the city in the aftermath of John Paul II's death will dwarf Sunday's gathering, the anticipated crowd is prompting officials to put in place a very tight security plan.
"Rome is preparing for another extraordinary challenge," Mayor Walter Veltroni said Friday. "The success of the plans implemented in the past weeks, in even more difficult conditions than the current ones, encourages us."
Benedict was elected Tuesday in one of the shortest conclaves in a century. Hundreds of VIPs are expected at the Vatican for his inauguration - including presidents, prime ministers, royals and religious leaders.
An anti-missile system will be in place to defend the skies, along with fighter jets, helicopters and an AWACS surveillance plane deployed by NATO at the request of Italian authorities.
Air space within a five-mile radius will be closed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ciampino Airport, used for both civilian and military flights and by many low-cost airlines, will be shut down starting at midday Saturday until Sunday afternoon. Traffic at Rome's main Leonardo Da Vinci Airport should not be affected.
The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero said this week that 10,000 police would be deployed across Rome to guarantee security.
Most of the estimated 500,000 pilgrims are expected to arrive Saturday night or before dawn Sunday, just a few hours before the Mass starts at 10 a.m., said Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Civil Protection Department.
About 100,000 people will travel from Benedict's native Germany, and Rome was preparing to receive them by importing German-speaking volunteers from Italy's German-speaking north.
Officials were planning to set up giant screens in the Vatican area to allow pilgrims who can't get into St. Peter's Square to follow the ceremony. The city was also preparing water, medical assistance and buses to shuttle between the main train station and the Vatican. Parking lots are being readied on the outskirts of the city.
Rome won praise for the way it handled the unprecedented crowds who came to mourn John Paul, who died April 2. Officials were confident the measures would work again.
"We are tranquil," Bertolaso said, but added: "It's a very important event, and we should not play it down."
Streets around St. Peter's will be cordoned off to traffic during the ceremony, but the city was not expected to be locked down completely as was the case during John Paul's funeral, when schools and businesses closed and cars were banned from the streets for most of the day.