Will this impact regular churchgoers at the parish level? I don't know if it will very much. If you're in a very progressive parish and your pastor gets called to task because the bishop has got a complaint from Rome, then I suppose it will reach down into your life. For average Sunday Mass-going Catholic, it won't.

I think Benedict will call the church to a full-throated witness against this dictatorship of relativism, which means a strong emphasis on Catholic identity. What are the markers of our identity? Part of it is liturgical practice: Eucharistic adoration, better preaching, better music, sticking closer to the rules.

In what way?

Well, for example, praying the Eucharistic prayers as they are given, not making them up as you go along. He wants people to fall in love with the liturgy. And all the 'politics of identity' things that embattled minorities do to preserve their identity.

You think Benedict perceives the orthodox Catholic Church as an 'embattled minority'? Oh sure. His view would be that in terms of the agenda-setting level of Western developed culture, orthodox Christianity represents a minority presence. He's talked about the church as a creative minority, which is a phrase that comes out of British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee-the idea that cultures are regenerated by their creative minorities.

Toynbee was Protestant, right? Yes. Ratzinger reads widely, not just Catholic historians. His criticism of the encyclical Gaudium et Spes was that it didn't draw heavily enough on Luther. He cites Toynbee all the time. He wants more mission and less bureaucracy. He'd like to trim the Vatican, to trim Bishops' conferences. Even at the parish level, fewer boards and committees, more focus on getting outside the church and transforming the secular world from within.

Will laypeople see this as him taking away decision-making power? Some will. It's perfectly legitimate to debate that. But I think the goal is to help Catholics understand that being Catholic doesn't mean holding some office in the church. It means taking the word of God to the outside world, redeeming the secular world from within.

You don't see wide-scale disbanding of parish councils, for example? No. I do think the tone will be: we don't need new structures, we need a new spirit. Finally, I think he is going to be a determined, dogged, ecumenical pope, especially in relationships with the Orthodox.I believe Benedict will be able to do what John Paul never could, which is go to Moscow-because he's not Polish. Doctrinally, I think Pope Benedict believes the Orthodox are closer to orthodox Catholicism than the mainstream churches of the reformed West-Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, which have certainly become much more liberal.The other option in the West are the evangelicals. The problem with the evangelicals is that many of them are explicitly anti-ecumenical . It's difficult to dialogue with them-the so-called sects are very diffuse, so even if you wanted to have dialogue, it's not clear who the partner would be.

The ones expanding in Latin America and Africa and other places tend to be fairly hostile to the Catholic Church in some ways. All of that explains why there's this preferential option for the Orthodox. The level at which that will filter down is that there will be a strong push for sister parish relationships with Eastern churches. For trying to promote an awareness of Eastern liturgical, spiritual traditions. You'll see more icons showing up in Catholic churches. You might see exchanges-Orthodox clergy and Catholic clergy.

So an Orthodox priest would come and say Mass at a Catholic Church? He couldn't say Mass, but he could come and preach, or give a talk, or lead a retreat

With regard to Islam, will we see Benedict going to a mosque as John Paul II did? In trying to balance priorities, the ecumenical issues will be more important to him. I don't think he's not going to reach out to Muslims. It's not that he's going to support restrictive immigration policies. I just don't see interreligious dialogue as one of the towering priorities of this pontificate.He'll want to have good relations. But the core concern of this pontificate is truth, the reassertion of truth, and the reassertion of Catholic identity as a way of preserving that truth.

In the context of that, I don't think outreach to Islam or anybody else will be a front-burner concern.What would you ask him now that he's pope? I would ask him to comment on what Cardinal Francis George said the morning after his election, which is that the defining issue for the pontificate of John Paul II was the struggle against the Soviet dictatorship, and the means was teaching about human dignity and supporting solidarity. The defining issue for Benedict's papacy is the struggle against the dictatorship of relativism.I'd ask him if that's true, and how does he intend to prosecute that battle? How does he intend to turn around four centuries of intellectual development in the West towards subjectivity and towards relativism?I'd ask, "How do you do it when there are a lot of people within the Catholic Church who, when you start talking about 'truth,' what they hear is 'authority'?"

It's about how to put the genie back in the bottle. Exactly. This is a pope of epic ambition. This is no small task.