Via Media

In The Tablet, Robert Mickens looks at the B16 papacy so far, and into 2006:

But now as the world gets set to ring in 2006, many people are wondering if the new calendar year will be the point at which Benedict XVI resolves to stop being the caretaker of the John Paul II legacy and sets about putting his own mark on the papacy. One thing is for certain: he will have the opportunity to do so in the coming months when he issues his first encyclical, creates a dozen or more new cardinals, and makes two or three journeys around Europe.

And there is still the expectation that the Pope will eventually begin making changes to the Vatican bureaucracy. As far as an overall programme for his pontificate, Pope Benedict has only said that it is “not to do [his] own will” and “not to emanate many documents”. But in what may be his most important speech so far (on 22 December to Roman Curia officials) he outlined what most closely approaches his agenda: to motivate the Church to develop the “dialogue between reason and faith … with great open-mindedness”, based on the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Benedict XVI will have been Bishop of Rome for nearly nine months when his first encyclical letter is finally issued some time in January. Though many people have become mercilessly impatient with the wait, they should remember that even though the first three popes of the past century (Leo XIII, St Pius X and Benedict XV) issued their introductory encyclicals within two months of assuming the papacy, Pope Paul VI only published his 14 months after his election. The five months it took Pope John Paul II to produce his first encyclical in 1979 is, only relatively, fresher in memory. While these popes used their first encyclicals to outline the programme of their pontificates, Vatican officials who have seen Pope Benedict’s letter say he does not do so.