Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

The Times Online reports on the election of a new Pope:

At comparative speed and with moving ceremony, the 115 cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel have elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new spiritual leader of the world’s Roman Catholics. The selection of this scholarly and forceful figure will be portrayed as the “conservative” choice and one that favours continuity over change.

One indicator of Cardinal Ratziner's own self-image is his choice of title. Pope Benedict XV, his predecessor in name, came to the Petrine See at the outbreak of the First World War. The New Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about him.

(Giacomo della Chiesa) (1914-1922) Born Pegli, Italy, 1854; died Rome, Italy. Nuncio to Spain, privy chamberlain, Archbishop of Bologna, and cardinal, he was elected directly after the outbreak of the World War, and maintained a position of neutrality throughout. He sent a representative to each country to work for peace, and in 1917 delivered the Plea for Peace, which demanded a cessation of hostilities, a reduction of armaments, a guaranteed freedom of the seas, and international arbitration. President Wilson was the only ruler who answered him, declaring peace impossible, though he afterwards adopted most of Benedict's proposals for establishing peace. At the close of the war France and Spain resumed diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and Great Britain retained permanently the embassy she had established during the war. Benedict promulgated the new Code of Canon Law, established the Coptic College at Rome, enlarged the foreign mission field, and in his first Encyclical condemned errors in modern philosophical systems. He denounced the violation of Belgium and gave freely to the victims of the war, widows, orphans, and wounded, and established a bureau of communication for prisoners of war with their relatives.

Like Pope John Paul, Ratzinger lived through the Second World War and served for a time in the German Army. Wikipedia notes that he joined the Hitler Youth at 14, where his biographer maintains he avoided attending meetings, was drafted at 16 and deployed as a raw recruit to Hungary at 18 where he deserted at the end of the war. In the seminary, which he entered after being processed out of POW camp, Ratzinger became interested in two great historical intellectuals of the Church, Augustine and Bonaventure. He then went on to a theological career within the Church -- he was colleague to Hans Kung at Tubingen -- then later went on to found a theological journal, before he became "prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which was renamed in 1908 by Pope Pius X." Ratzinger was an opponent of liberal trends within the Church from the 1960s, at a time when he would have been in his 30s and early 40s, making him a conservative "culture warrior" in the heyday of the counterculture.

Ratzinger comes at a time when his own native Western Europe is gripped with a crisis similar in some respects to that which divided Eastern Europe in John Paul's day. Like John Paul, he arrives at the Papacy in the midst of a global war: what the Cold War was to John Paul the War on Terror must be to Benedict XVI. He is an unknown quantity, without extensive pastoral experience; a philosopher Pope: the Pope of the Memes. And it is in this last where Benedict's historical significance may lie. He is the first Pope of the Internet Age and stands uncertain, as we all are, on its brink.


The Guardian quotes a Vatican analyst as saying:

Vatican analyst John-Peter Pham said the cardinals clearly agreed with Ratzinger's assessment that ``John Paul confronted two totalitarianisms - Nazism and communism - and that what remains is the `dictatorship of relativism,''' as the new German pope put it.

There was also this addendum about his wartime membership in the Hitler Youth.

In his memoirs, he wrote of being enrolled in Hitler's Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He says he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood. Two years later, he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper, a common fate for teenage boys too young to be soldiers. Enrolled as a soldier at 18, in the last months of the war, he barely finished basic training. ...

If Ratzinger was paying tribute to the last pontiff named Benedict, it could be interpreted as a bid to soften his image as a doctrinal hard-liner. Benedict XV reigned during World War I and was credited with settling animosity between traditionalists and modernists, and dreamed of reunion with Orthodox Christians.