Monday, April 17, 2006

Benedict not a Rottweiler?

The Boston Globe is amazed that Pope Benedict hasn't burned liberals at the stake this past year, and that he (gasp) is willing to dialogue with people, even those who dissent (like Hans Kung). What will come next?

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One year on, Pope Benedict confounds critics

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Before he was elected Pope, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known by such critical epithets as "God's rottweiler."

One year on, not only has he not bitten, he has barely even barked.

Indeed, Pope Benedict, a quiet, professorial type who was elected on April 19, 2005, has shown the world the gentle side of the man who was the Vatican's chief doctrinal enforcer for nearly a quarter of a century.

"People expected this stern schoolmaster who was going to wag his finger at you and hit your knuckles with a ruler," said Jesuit Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"They had a very negative image of him and have been surprised by the smiling, pastoral personality with the fluffy white hair who could be quite charming."

Hans Kueng, the liberal Swiss theologian whose harsh criticism of Ratzinger's doctrinal office contributed to his reputation as a Grand Inquisitor, was among those pleasantly surprised at the new Pope's style.

"Up to now, the worst fears have not been realized. He has found another style," he said.

After appearing uncomfortable in the limelight at the start, the Pope, 79, has shown that he is now at home with his new job.

He has shown that he intends to be Pope in his way. Despite great reverence for his charismatic, globetrotting predecessor -- whom he has put of the fast track to sainthood -- he will not change his quiet manners to imitate John Paul's style.

"Benedict is a man who does not love balconies and crowds," wrote Vittorio Messori, a leading Italian Catholic writer.

FEW CHANGES SO FAR

Some had criticized John Paul for perhaps being too preoccupied with the problems of the world and not enough with the problems of the Church as an institution.

So, many had expected Benedict to make sweeping changes to the Curia, the Vatican's central and staid administration. But he has made only a few significant changes so far.

His appointment of former San Francisco archbishop William Levada to succeed him as chief doctrinal enforcer surprised some conservatives who felt he should have taken a tougher line toward the city's large gay community.

In another move, he sent Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Vatican's leading expert on Islam, to be the Vatican's envoy to the Arab League in Cairo and put his department under the wing of the Church's culture minister, Cardinal Paul Poupard.

Fitzgerald's admirers complained he was being "exiled" because he might be too open to dialogue with Islam at a time when some in the Vatican wanted a harder line with Muslim countries that do not respect their Christian minorities.

Benedict has held out surprise olive branches to leading liberals and traditionalists, meeting Kueng, who has remained a priest despite being banned from teaching Catholic theology, as well as the head of an ultra traditionalist group.

Both were gestures that Pope John Paul never made, even when he was in good health.

CAUTION AND PATIENCE

Kueng, who has known Ratzinger since they worked together at the Second Vatican Council in 1962-1965, said the man he hired to teach theology at Tuebingen University in Germany in the mid-1960s was the same one who received him as Pope last year.

"There are not two Ratzingers, he has stayed the same person, but what has changed is his role," he said.

"He no longer has to control the teaching and censor the teachers. Now he is responsible for spreading the Christian message in Church and in the world.

"For that he needs to be inspiring, communicative and understanding. He has shown, in a friendly four-hour talk with me, that he can make surprising signals of openness to dialogue."

Kueng said he hoped the Pope would move ahead with major changes in the Curia now that he has had a year to reflect.

"He has obeyed the Roman saying 'primo anno oculus' -- in the first year, keep an open eye. He has watched things cautiously. I hope that, in the second year, he moves forward and undertakes reforms. Now he should act with a strong hand."

Reese, the Georgetown theologian and papal historian, advised patience.

"One of the mistakes made in looking at a new Pope is that people think he is going to be like the new president and that the first 100 days are going to be dramatic. Popes don't do it that way. It took seven years for John Paul to replace all the heads of Vatican departments," Reese said.

On the ecumenical front, Benedict has pushed hard for improvement in relations with Orthodox churches, which split from Rome in the Great Schism of 1054.

He has also made it clear he is committed to continued good relations with Jews. He already has strongly denounced the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust and will visit the death camp at Auschwitz during a trip to Poland next month.

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