Actually, that may be “suo.” Is “blog” masculine? I trust this blog is. Perhaps Reggie Foster, the pope’s inimitable Latinist, can help out here. I don’t have enough Latin to know. And it’s not because I am a convert to Catholicism. As a post-Vatican II Catholic, I probably wouldn’t have learned enough Latin to know anyway. But I did live and work in Rome for five years, much of it for and around the Vatican, a hegira that ended with my conversion—a miracle in itself, many would say.
Hence the title of this introductory “Benedictions” post, referring to the defense of his own conversion penned by the nineteenth-century Englishman, John Henry Newman. I doubt I’ll be made a cardinal, though Newman’s own elevation may not have been a sure thing in today’s rough-and-tumble church. Newman himself was as orthodox as the Pope, but could also critique the Vatican and the Church for misuses of authority, and power. That, too, is a model I’d like to emulate.
So what can you expect on this blog?

I’d like it to be “catholic,” as in universal, finding both profundity and whimsy—even absurdity—that inevitably accompanies the traveling circus that is a papal visit. (See some of my thoughts on popes in the U.S. in this National Catholic Reporter essay.) I’d like to bring my nearly 25 years experience covering the popes and the church to bear—but I also hope to be challenged, contradicted, even corrected, when I, sad to say, prove to be fallible. The end result is that we are all better informed through the conversation.
A pope’s appearances and talks are inevitably loaded with meanings inside of meanings, like a set of Russian nesting dolls, but no pope packs in as many layers as Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Theology, philosophy, piety, politics and, of course, the pope’s personality, are all aspects of his papacy, and all will be on display for the next few weeks, and afterwards. For a starting point, check out my handy guide of six things you absolutely have to know about Benedict.

If you want to know more—and I hope you do—I’d of course steer you toward my biography of the pope, titled (not terribly original), “The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World.” It’s the only biography (to date) of Benedict as pope, rather than Joseph Ratzinger as a cardinal, and I hope it brings a 360-degree perspective on the man whose papacy is having such an impact on the church—even though most Catholics aren’t quite sure how. Also remember that Joseph Ratzinger himself is a prolific writer, and his own memoir, “Milestones,” is a fine small volume to begin to get a sense of the man from the man himself.
But just as it is important for us to understand Benedict XVI—and he will be the focus over the next few weeks—it is also important for Benedict and the rest of the church to understand the lives of American Catholics in the pews, of priests in the pulpits, and the vowed religious serving everywhere. The challenges facing the American church, especially in the past few years of scandal and turmoil, are truly daunting, and yet they actually highlight the profound fidelity and enthusiasm that American Catholics have for the church, even as they struggle with the institution and the doctrines and traditions.
I hope this blog is a two-way lens that helps explain the pope to American Catholics, and represents the voices and concerns of American Catholics. I’ll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts, and having some fun along the way.
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