Six Surprising Things About Benedict XVI, 'The Puzzling Pope'

David Gibson offers a handy guide for getting to know Pope Benedict XVI.

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rather than conservative may be a distinction without a difference.



TWO: He is a theologian


A popular quip (well, in certain circles) is that philosophy asks questions that cannot be answered, and theology gives answers that cannot be questioned. The gibe isn't really fair to theology—or philosophy, for that matter. But it does get at the heart of Benedict's approach to ministry. He has been immersed in theology all his life, and his entire priesthood was spent in academia or the Vatican bureaucracy. (His only parish work was a stressful year he spent at a parish after his 1951 ordination.) If the charismatic John Paul II spoke to the soul by touching the heart, the cerebral Benedict XVI goes to the soul through the head. His many books are his "friends," and his former spokesman, Joaquin Navarro Valls, described Benedict’s approach as the "pastoral care of the intelligence." He is the Catechist-in-Chief, a brilliant intellect who can distill decades worth of study into learned sermons delivered so

eloquently you never even know when he’s speaking off-the-cuff.



THREE: He is not the "Panzerpapst"

Whatever Benedict's pastoral abilities, don't expect Cardinal Ratzinger to step off "Shepherd One" (the name of his chartered plane) on April 15. For most of John Paul's 26-year reign, Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—onetime home of the Roman (not Spanish) Inquisition, as we inevitably note—and the designated "bad cop" of Christendom. The head of the CDF has to draw lines, level punishments and basically talk tough, a role that Ratzinger seemed to relish, but one that won him epithets like God's Rottweiller and the old standby, the Panzerkardinal. But now that Cardinal Ratzinger is Pope Benedict, he knows better than anyone that he is also the chief pastor of the church. There can be no "Panzerpope." His job is to be the good cop, a symbol of unity who tries to encourage people to live their faith more deeply. As he told a dinner companion about his new role: "It was easy to know the doctrine. It’s much harder to help a billion people live it."



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FOUR: He is a European

So as we all stood there in St. Peter's Square three years ago, watching the white smoke on a chilly April evening, we knew, just knew, that the College of Cardinals gathered in a conclave was about to make a historic turn and choose a Latin American as pope, a historic first, or maybe even an African. And out walks an elderly German theologian as our next pope. Benedict's friends and fans said give him a chance, he'll surprise you. And in some respects he has. (The Catholic right is actually somewhat disappointed that he hasn't been tougher; the Catholic left is happy not to get a bull of excommunication in the mail.) But at the end of the day, Benedict is who he was—a thoroughgoing European who believes it was no coincidence that Christianity flourished in the West. "Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe," Hilaire Belloc wrote a century ago. Restoring that legacy is Benedict’s

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