Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What Does Pope Benedict XVI Really Believe?

Civil libertarians are understandably disappointed at the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Pope. They didn't exactly expect Ted Kennedy to come out of the conclave, but they hoped for someone who had previously shown interest in moderating the Church’s stances on issues such as homosexuality and birth control

Catholic Andrew Sullivan is particularly dismayed at the Church he obviously loves but with which he deeply disagrees, concluding: “This is the religious equivalent of having had four terms of George W. Bush only to find that his successor as president is Karl Rove.”

Others on the left have whipped themselves into their usual hysteria. The widely read liberal blog AmericaBlog has a series of posts with such conclusions as Pope Benedict XVI is evil and is a Nazi. AmericaBlog is on the extreme, we should note. Even Daily Kos has the credibility to tell its readers that Benedict XVI was most certainly not a Nazi, concluding: “Calling him a Nazi…is unfounded and unfair, and only serves to demean us.”

But exactly how conservative is Pope Benedict XVI? What kind of man is he? Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Kenneth L. Woodward says:

Those who have met him in person find him humble and unpretentious--a better listener than many of those who work for him. He can be charming and diplomatic.

That’s good. But what does he believe? E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post has some insight:

The new pope was supported from the outset by a substantial cadre of traditionalist cardinals who believe, with him, that the church's main task -- and the key to its survival -- is to present an uncompromising alternative to modern secularism.

The obligation of the Christian, Ratzinger has said, "is to recover the capacity for nonconformism." Just because the world (or at least certain wealthy, educated parts of it) is going in one direction does not mean that the church should follow.

Ultimately, it seems that the belief structure of the new Pope is best described in The New York Times by Michael Novak who says:

[Benedict XVI] fears that Europe, especially, is abandoning the search for objective truth and sliding into pure subjectivism. That is how the Nazis arose, he believes, and the Leninists. When all opinions are considered subjective, no moral ground remains for protesting against lies and injustices.

There is no evidence that Benedict XVI won’t engage the modern world, just that he won’t succumb to it. While it would be wonderful to see a Catholic Church that accepts homosexuals and permits the use of condoms, the Church still has a very positive role to play. In a secular world where we are bombarded by demands to be happier, be healthier, be prettier, there is great value in an institution that asks us to be better.

Religion reminds us that the community and the divine are just as important if not more important than the individual. Religion reminds us that the world is not subjective. That there is Truth. There is room for the Catholic Church to moderate on numerous issues, and we wish they would. But in a world of relativism, we should not too quickly judge a man who still believes that we have a purpose much greater than ourselves.

For more reaction, check out The Moderate Voice where they’ve assembled thoughts from all over the Internet.


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