The rest of the world was also affected. People everywhere recognised
that these events in Rome were of significance. The extraordinary media
coverage was driven by popular demand for news and comment. Those people
who tell us every so often that the Christian churches are dying were
silent for the time beingit was not their moment.
We now have a new Holy Father, a man whom many, myself included, had
crossed off the list of the papabili ahead of the Conclave despite the
shortness of the odds in the betting. I rated him as not a chance.
All those years as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith (CDF) had done too much damage to his public image. A friend
of mine suggested that, anyway, the Europeans had not yet forgiven the
Germans for the War. (I think my reason for guessing wrong was better
than his.) There were other considerations why he would not be elected,
considerations mostly related to actions and publications of the CDF that
had not been well received, and for which Cardinal Ratzinger was ultimately
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected in emphatic manner, the poor
public image of Joseph Ratzinger the Prefect of the CDF haunted some sections
of the media. The new pope, one journalist told us, had been the
most powerful man in the Vatican, conjuring up images of an ominous
dark presence who would frighten children at bed-time! There were scary
headlines, such as: Arch-conservative elected pope and Strict
defender of orthodoxyarch and strict indicating that we should
batten down the hatches.
What needs to be recognisedand many did recognise it quite soonis
that the tasks and duties of the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF and those
of the Successor of Peter are very different, though they are related
to each other. After all those years as disciplinarian, with the unenviable
job of lowering the boom on individuals who were perceived to be doing
damage, Joseph Ratzinger was now entrusted with the pastoral care of the
whole flock, told to feed the lambs and the sheep, to reach out and entice
back the strays, and to be careful not to extinguish the smouldering wick
or crush the bruised reed.
'Conservativism' and 'concern for orthodoxy' are not obstacles in the
way of carrying out either his former or his new ministry. Especially
not his new ministry: Pope Benedict XVI could not be a satisfactory shepherd
of the whole flockHoly Fatherif he were careless about the
presentation and transmission of the faith.
The new pope's personal demeanor is very unassuming. He comes across
as a rather shy and gentle person, as I had the opportunity to notice
for myself once. I happened to be the only person in the foyer when he
arrived at the Gregorian University a few years back for a meeting with
the assembled lecturers of the ecclesiastical universities in Rome, a
visit that was interpreted as an attempt to improve the image of the CDF.
I was thus in place to receive from him my own personal smile and wave,
and I remember thinking at that moment, 'Can this man really be the ogre
he is reputed to be?'
Benedict's first official message as pope was important. He delivered
it in Latin to the Cardinals of the Conclave at the end of the Eucharistic
Celebration in the Sistine Chapel the day after his election. Considering
that the white smoke had risen only the day before it was a message that
put on display Ratzinger's remarkable capacity for clarity and orderliness
of thought and expression, together with his calibre as a theologian.
In the message he emphasised five points which he later referred to as
'something of an outline' (qualche tratto) of how he saw his responsibilities
as successor of Peter. The five points were: collegial communion of pope
and bishops; putting the Second Vatican Council into practice; making
the Eucharist the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church;
the ecumenical challenge of rebuilding the full and visible unity of all
Christ's followers; continuing the dialogue with the different civilizations.
Addressing the first of the five points, the collegial communion of pope
and bishops, or 'collegiality', he prefaced his remarks with a plea for
support and prayer and constant, active and wise collaboration and advice
from all his brothers in the episcopate, so that he may truly be the Servant
of the Servants of God.
The Second Vatican Council called for this collegiality, aiming to have
the Successor of Peter and the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, form
one Apostolic College reflecting the way Christ formed Peter and the other
Apostles into one Apostolic College (Lumen Gentium 22). Collegiality,
as called for by the Council, is a restoration of what Jesus intended
for his Church and what has been lost to view down the centuries as Church
government imitated secular forms of government.
Benedict is well aware of the struggle that has gone on to make the Council's
dream of true collegiality a reality. The Synods of Bishops have fallen
well short of expectations; the Roman Curia tends to operate as a third
entity between pope and bishops, with authority over the bishops, and
many bishops are calling for that situation to change. Consequently, the
monarchical model of papacy that has been the norm for many centuries
still persists after Vatican II.
Benedict was a participant in the Council as a theological expert, so
he knows well what the Council was aiming for. He has written clearly
on collegiality, e.g. in Theological Highlights of Vatican II, Paulist
Press, 1966. Of all the five points in his first official message, I sense
that this firsthis expressed need for collegial support and prayer
and constant, active and wise collaboration and advice from all his brothers
in the episcopatebears the greatest weight of meaning in Benedict's
mind and will.
Looking back through his writings and interviews over the years it seems
clear to me that the poor public image he has been saddled with does not
fit the personality of Joseph Ratzinger. If I am mistaken and if he has
become that severe, strict arch-conservative that we have been told about,
then we still have grounds for optimism because of the fact that he places
so much emphasis on the need for collegiality. The constant, active and
wise collaboration and advice from his brothers in the episcopate will
protect us from him.
But I really believe we can now look forward to seeing the emergence of the real Joseph Ratzinger, the gentle shepherd and first-rate theologian.
Barry Brundell MSC, Editor.