First Thoughts on Benedict XVI

For those keeping track at CNN or BBC (or wherever), you probably know already that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals and Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, is the 265th Vicar of Christ and has taken the name Benedict the 16th.

When I first heard from my sister about it (I was out, sorry), my first reaction was, “oh no.” As a Catholic more or less holding liberal views, and as a student of history and knowledgable about what the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is – the modern incarnation of the Inquisition – I suppose my gut reaction was rather obvious. In fact, if you track the news articles even preceeding JP2’s death, there has been tension between the “traditionalists” and “liberals” in the Church. Of course, many of the critics of the ascension of “the Pope’s Rottweiler” to the Throne of Peter come from the liberal school of Catholic thought.

But seeing the man for the first time as he gave the “urbi et orbi”, I felt different. I don’t know; maybe it was seeing the foremost doctrinal enforcer of the Church smiling that did it. Maybe it was the testimonials after about a man who had a human, caring side (check out http://www.iht.com). But I think we Catholic liberals will be (happily) proven wrong about Pope Benedict XVI.

As the new Pope himself put it, the main tension in Catholicism today is between “fundamentalism” and “relativism.” His main concern as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith was in defending the bedrock of beliefs that make up Roman Catholic Christianity, and his greatest fear was in the erosion of these beliefs by the “relativistic” attitude of a post-modern world, that there was nothing constant. In this, I don’t think he was being a “doctrinal dictator”: he was simply being a Cardinal of the Church, indeed THE Cardinal primarily entrusted with the defence of the Faith.

Let’s wait and see. Despite his conservative outlook, he is a man said to be of excellent and formidable intellectual ability, and one who has shown a side that is human and caring. And, at the end of the day, regardless of what we think of him and his views, Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is still Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. And as Roman Catholics, he is our temporal head. And although we should not follow blindly, we should at least take heed of the words and respect the authority of he who sits on Peter’s throne.

Who knows, maybe given the storms buffeting human society in a post-modern and post-9/11 world, what we need is a sure and steady hand to see us through (“,)

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