The cardinals picked history and mission over management
By Christopher Power in New York and William C. Symonds in Boston, with Gail Edmonson in Frankfurt, Carol Matlack in Paris, Ann Therese Palmer in Chicago, and bureau report.
When the lightly built, white haired prelate appeared at the balcony to give his first papal blessing, many Roman Catholics in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere felt a sense of foreboding. Benedict XVI, as Germany’s Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is now known, is not charismatic - unlike John Paul II. He’s not from the Third World, the source of the Church’s growth. His nickname in German is Der Panzer Kardinal - “tank cardinal” - because of his scary role as the enforcer of doctrinal purity and definer of the party line on priestly celibacy, the role of women in the Church, and more. And many fear Benedict won’t move boldly to tackle all the financial, management, and personnel issues facing the Church. “The organization he has inherited is in massive disarray,” says Janet Hauter of Voice of the Faithful, a U.S. lay organization founded in the wake of the sex-abuse scandals. (1)
ON VATICAN TIME: The church is emphatically not a corporation, and it has nothing resembling a next-quarter mentality. It is ancient, and its leaders think in time slots that no modern company could consider: After all, the Chu7rch’s mission relates to eternity, not annual results. Put in this perspective, the Church feels no compulsion to fix its problems by making costly compromises. The crises of the past 30 years - the dearth of vocations, the sex scandals, competition from evangelical Protestants, the de-Christianization of Europe - are serious indeed. But the Vatican has been through crises before and has weathered monumental challenges to its authority - the Reformation, the French Revolution, the rise of Nazism and communism. With is sense of history, the Vatican is in no hurry to reverse course on issues such as priestly celibacy, human sexuality, and bioethics.
STANDING FOR SOMETHING: Pope John Paul, a onetime actor, played on the stage of the world to brilliant effect, and he connected with the masses. But he was also a theological purist and was abetted by Ratzinger in this purism. To many in the Vatican - especially Ratzinger - the point is to bear witness to Christ in the right way. Popularity is not the final goal. If the world wide Church started to shrink but the remaining members were true believers, purists like Ratzinger might be able to accept that outcome. Opponent of that line argue that the Church’s rigid orthodoxy smothers the real message of Christ, especially when it relates to social issues like the use of condoms to prevent AIDS. But Ratzinger’s supporters clearly have the upper hands. “The Church can risk secularizing itself,” Marcello Pera, president of the Italian Senate and co-author with Ratzinger of a book on the Church, told Vatican Radio on April 20, “or it can shake up the modern world.”
THE POSIBILITY OF A SURPRISE: Ratzinger has the hard-line credentials and intellectual underpinnings needed to initiate changes without being attacked from the right. Herve Legrand, a leading French theologian and Vatican adviser who knows Ratzinger, sees a chance of that happening. “We should avoid caricatures of this man,” he says. “He is very conservative. But we could have some surprises.” Legrand notes that when John Paul said ordination of women was contrary to the teaching of Jesus, Ratzinger pointed out this was “not a matter of infallible doctrine. It was very subtle. But he left the door open.”
The making of a conservative
- Born: On Apr. 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, Bavaria
- Family: His father was a police officer with strong anti-Nazi feelings. As a teenager, Joseph Ratzinger was forced to join the Hitler Youth and later to enlist in the German army.
- Vocation: Ratzinger first entered the minor seminary at age 12, then reentered after the war. Ordained a priest in 1951, he later participated in the Second Vatican Council.
- Turning Point: The student protest of 1968, which soured Ratzinger on liberalism.
- Vatican Role: As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger polices the ranks of Catholic Theologians. Later he becomes dean of the College of Cardinals.
- Achievements: Polylingual. Author of numerous books. Brilliant theologian. Good listener. Very conservative. Raises hackles among liberals.
For those that aren’t aware: Voice of the Faithful is an extremist organization that pretends to operate within the pretext of the Church. - Q.