What to Expect from Benedict XVI

The pope doesn't necessarily want to downsize the Church, says a Vatican reporter, but he does want to defend orthodoxy.

John L. Allen, Jr. is the Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter and one of America's leading authorities on Josef Ratzinger, who was elected pope in April 2005. Allen spoke to Beliefnet recently about his new book, "The Rise of Benedict XVI."

Several years ago, you wrote perhaps the first English-language biography of Cardinal Ratzinger. Are there parts of the book you would change now?

That was my first book, written before I arrived in Rome and before I really knew a lot about the universal church. The facts and figures are right, but the overall presentation is unbalanced. It gives prominent voice to criticisms of Ratzinger; it does not give equally prominent voice to how he himself would see some of these issues.

It wasn't because of ill will. It's like anyone's first work: You get a better sense of the complexity of things as you move along. In that sense, it's a flawed book; it just isn't a complete picture.

You're referring to issues important to North American Catholics-what are some of these issues and how would he see them?


You take almost any of the hot button issues: homosexuality, women's ordination, birth control, whatever. Obviously, Benedict would take a somewhat restrictive stance. There's no mystery about that.

What's missing in the [earlier] book is that from his point of view, it's not restriction for its own sake. He's not saying no to women's ordination because he takes pleasure in frustrating the aspirations of women.

It's part of a deeper concern for objective truth. It's what he called, the morning the [2005] conclave opened, the struggle against this 'dictatorship of relativism.' The notion is that there are truths out there that place limits on our behavior.

It's a question of defending the whole notion of objective truth. This isn't a reaction against feminism or a fear-based defensiveness, but a much deeper passion about truth.

What should liberal Catholics know about Benedict XVI?

The basic thing is, Ratzinger has a new job now. For 24 years, he was the church's top cop-it was his job to draw lines in the sand.

Was it a job he enjoyed?

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