Pope Benedict XVI: 21st Century Radical
One thing about the Easter holidays is that there’s often stories on magazines focusing on Christianity, Churches, Jesus or other Bible figures. The Pope also becomes subject of cover stories around Easter time. This Easter, there were a lot of good reasons to pay attention to the Pope and the Church, especially this Easter. This also comes to light as April 16th was Pope Benedict’s 84th birthday.
Joseph Ratzinger has been with the Vatican since 1981 when he was voted Cardinal-Prefect for Pope John Paul II. After John Paul’s death, he has led the Catholic Church as Pope Benedict for six years. He has made a lot of news over the years on the actions he’s done and the responses to issues he’s spoken out about. The responses have differed. Some have welcomed his views and his actions. Others are unhappy or even outraged. Even though he is an interim Pope, he has already made his own legacy in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
This Easter weekend, he did something unique for a Pope. On Good Friday, he hosted an international televised dialogue where he answered questions written to the Vatican. Of 3000, he answered seven. This was done so on an Italian television show In His Image which was taped a week earlier.
One question was from a 7 year-old Japanese girl Elena. She asked him to explain the suffering in her country ever since the March earthquake and tsunami. His response: “I ask myself the same question: Why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers, but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent.” He went on to give words of comfort: “even if we are still sad, God is by your side.”
Other questions he asked included one from an Italian man of what Jesus did in between the time of his crucifixion and resurrection. His answer: “The descent of Jesus’ soul should not be imagined as a geographical or spatial trip, from one continent to another. It is the soul’s journey.” An Italian woman asked of the soul of her son who has been in a coma for two years: “The situation . . . is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play . . . The soul cannot be heard, but it remains within.” A woman from the Ivory Coast asked of the violence that’s tearing her country apart: “Violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good . . . The only path is to renounce violence, to begin anew with dialogue.”
This is a break from the traditional or expected norm for the Pope. It’s a common belief that the Pope preaches from the pulpit but has no clue of what’s going on in the real world. If that interview has proven something, it’s that the Pope is listening and he is aware of the situations around the world and of people’s concerns. He’s also willing to give answers. Last year, we saw an example of his response to sexual abuse scandal by setting up a council dedicated to the scandal. This year’s example of how he’s willing to answer questions for an Italian television show demonstrated how Pope Benedict is willing to go to connect people with the answers of the Church. This factor is enough to consider Pope Benedict a radical of the Catholic Church.
We shouldn’t forget that during the reign of Pope John Paul II, John Paul came to Benedict for advise and speeches back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. It was because of this that he was heavily expected to be elected Pope after the death of John Paul II. Pope Benedict knew what the job of being Pope was long before he took to the throne. Despite what one believes, he is to represent the moral voice of the Roman Catholic Church to its 1.2 billion followers. He can’t simply ‘go with the times’ or ‘get with the program’ and say ‘yes’ to what is already deemed sin in the Bible. In fact many faithful admire how the Pope is refusing to bless popular sins. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the Church now has a ‘counterculture’ status: “Jesus stood in opposition to the world, in opposition to culture and society. It’s a good thing the Church is against the world.” This is enough to label Pope Benedict a radical of the times.
This is one of the challenges of the Church and of Pope Benedict. He knows that the Catholic Church has to be an example of God’s love. He also knows that the Church has to be a strong moral voice to its followers and condemn sinful acts. Finding a balance between the two is the hard part. This is not the only balancing act Pope Benedict has been trying to do. Another is trying to bring back a lot of common traits of the Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council from fifty years ago. One of which was encouraging a return to the Latin Mass. He knows how a lot of Catholics left when the Latin Mass was dropped. He also is taking into account the Traditional Catholics that separated themselves from the Vatican after the Council and consider the Church false and the seat of the Pope vacant.
However the biggest surprise I received in terms of the press’ attitutes towards Pope Benedict came in an Article from Maclean’s magazine. It asked “Is The Pope Catholic?” It gave account to a lot of surprising things Pope Benedict has done over his reign and puts them into question. MacLean’s has even highlighted some of his questionable sayings:
From inflaming the Islamic world by quoting medieval anti-Muhammad remarks to welcoming disaffected Anglicans into the Roman fold, becoming personally embroiled in the clerical sex-abuse scandal, endorsing the (sometimes) use of condoms, writing a passage in his newest book exonerating Jews from the charge of killing Christ, and a host of less headline-grabbing initiatives (including a casual acceptance of the theory of evolution).
This was brought to the attention by a book by Canadian author Michael Coren entitled Why Catholics Are Right. Coren defends the Church and Pope Benedict’s actions in the book. However it’s also highlighted that the top concern of Pope Benedict is the spiritual state of Europe. There’s no question that the secularizing of European society has upset Benedict a great deal and he wants Europe to see that the Church has reason in society. He also wants to see Europe return to the Church-based values that helped shaped the continent for centuries. Only time will tell if it does or not.
Interesting the quote above mentions the ‘condom use’ part. Many remember how Pope Benedict mentioned that condom use is justifiable in some cases, like sex with a prostitute. Although it created a lot of news the world over, one thing that was overlooked that that sex with a prostitute remains a mortal sin, condom or no condom.
As Easter passes, the Church will experience another year. As the world becomes more secularized, Pope Benedict carries the Church and its moral voice on his shoulders. Some will welcome what he has to say while some will question and others will be outraged. Nevertheless, the Church has to stand firm on its morals as it carries the conscience of the Church’s 1.2 billion believers. Pope Benedict knows it and he’s ready to meet the challenge.
MACLEAN’S: Is The Pope Catholic?. Macleans.ca. Author: Brian Bethune. 2011. Rogers Media Inc.<http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/04/18/rebel-with-a-cross/>
NEW YORK POST: Pope Benedict Answers Questions On TV On Good Friday.NYPost.com. Author: Andy Soltis.2011. NYP Holdings, Inc. <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/good_fri_popecast_bXYW6mxE0djUeun3iQ4j5K>