Pope Benedict's Surprise

But now it's time for the Vatican to show the love that the pope extols in his first encyclical.

BY: Andrew Greely


Pope Benedict's new encyclical,

God is Love

, surprised everyone, both those who expected (gleefully) condemnations and those who feared them. Instead the Pope offered a meditation on love - the love that is God, God's love for us, the intimate connection between God's love and the love of a man and woman for one another, the connection between justice and charity and between church and state in establishing a just society. Moreover he wrote on these delicate and complex issues with clarity and assurance that are impressive. I'm not sure whether one should call it a homily or a theological meditation or a deft blend of the two.

If a Pope's first encyclical sets the tone of his pastorate, than Papa Benedetto appears to be setting a course for moderation and healing in the years to come, a course that the Catholic church desperately needs. The Catholic "culture wars" between a minority who would reverse the Second Vatican Council and a minority which invoke it for their own agenda have created an atmosphere of rage in the Church with which the Church can do without. Certainly the citations from the Council in God is Love indicate that the Pope has no intention of revoking the Council.

Moreover, the explicit link between divine love and sexual love, would have been impossible without the Council (though of course it has been implicit in the Catholic tradition since St. Paul). John Paul II in the audience talks during his early pastorate spoke on the same subject, but without the incisive clarity of the Encyclical. I apologize to the Pope for my doubts that German theologians can ever speak clearly (Shanty Irish Prejudice!).

God is Love offers a model, a paradigm, an ideal type for relationships among Catholics - God and humans, man and woman, parents and children, priests and parishioners, bishops and priests, the Pope and bishops, everyone and everyone else. There can be no pretense that Catholics have lived up to that model down through the ages or do so even today. Weak and flawed human beings that we are, we often fail badly. I receive large batches of e mail every day from laity complaining about their pastors and bishops, from abuse victims who want justice , and from gays who believe that the Church hates them.

We have failed to honor the ideals of love...
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