Not a 'Panzer Pope' After All
In his first year, Benedict XVI has confounded both liberal and conservative Catholics.
A year ago, after Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope, many American Catholics who had gone to Rome to observe the conclave went home depressed (in part perhaps by the unseasonably chill and wet Roman spring). An American priest and editor was allegedly predicting that there would be a house cleaning in the American church. He seemed to know whom the new pope would clean out. Like the Lord High Executioner in the Mikado, he apparently had a little list.
I adopted the stand of the Swiss theologian Hans Kung, once a colleague and friend of Cardinal Ratzinger, and then a bitter enemy. Kung offered wise advice that most people on both sides of the Catholic divide ignored. Give him time, said Professor Kung; suspend judgment and see what he does.
Today the division between the two polarized factions in the church continues. But those who were delighted are now displeased, and those who were discouraged are now cautiously hopeful. The new pope has managed to confound almost everyone as he strives for moderation and healing.
Media coverage during and after the conclave created a negative image of Papa Ratzinger--the "Panzer Cardinal," the "Hitler youth pope," the pope who condemned Harry Potter, the pope who fired the editor of the Jesuit magazine America, the Pope who banned gay men in seminaries. Most of these images were false. The instruction--not a doctrinal statement--on gays in seminaries did not say that they all should be banned, though it suited the interests of both the gays and the gay bashers to create that image. The comment on Harry Potter was in a private letter written years ago and not an official position.
A year after Benedict's election, the conservative Catholics are the ones who are angry. The pope has not repealed Vatican II, he has not imposed the old Latin Mass, he has not banned women from the liturgy, and he has defended Vatican II's statement on religious liberty.
Even the less drastic expectations of some conservatives have not been fulfilled. The priest and editor who is alleged to have predicted a “house cleaning” in the American church has recently written a hysterical and, some would say, disrespectful lament about the pope’s failures. His editorial seemed obsessed with the homosexual issue. He demanded that the pope resist his propensity not to hurt people’s feelings. The pope, he protested, has appointed bishops who are “soft” on homosexuality, has not clamped down on Jesuits who defend homosexuals, and has failed to make it clear that homosexuals cannot be priests.