Loading
April 20, 2012
The Pope at 85
By Russell Shaw *

By Russell Shaw *

Nearing his 85th birthday April 16 and, three days later, the seventh anniversary of his election to the throne of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI—even after so many years—apparently remained something of an enigma for many people. A small but telling incident before Easter may hold a key to understanding this unusual man.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened:

Preaching at the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday, Benedict spoke with regret of  “a group of priests from a European country” who’d issued “a summons to disobedience” even to “definitive” Church teaching. That was a reference to a group of several hundred Austrian priests who’ve given their dissent the provocative name “Call To Disobedience.”

Benedict said he wishes to believe these men desire Church renewal. But, he asked, is this how to get it “or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?”

Contacted for reaction by the Associated Press, a leader of the group greeted the papal remarks dismissively. Although “listening with interest,” said Monsignor Helmut Schuller, he took the words only as questions, not an invitation to halt and desist.

From the start, it’s often been that way for Benedict XVI. Almost his first act after becoming pope was to meet with Father Hans Kung, the Church’s most prominent dissenter and a bitter personal critic of the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict was his usual gentle, cordial self. Father Kung apparently was friendly, but he hasn’t budged an inch since then.

A Catholic woman I know sums up what others feel about this pope: “Back when he was in charge of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, all we heard was what an ogre he was. Then he’s elected pope, and he turns out to be a kindly, loving man. Instead of an ogre, he’s a universal grandfather.”

That has several explanations. The difference between the job descriptions of pope and Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith prefect accounts for part of the perceived transformation, from the Ratzinger that was to the Benedict that is. Part of it also lies in his enemies’ campaign to discredit the Ratzinger name during his Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith years.

But something else also is operative.  

As pope, Benedict is highly sensitive to the pastoral dimensions of his ministry. Crackdowns are few and far between. Like the professor he is at heart, he speaks the truth of the gospel as he sees it--clearly, persuasively, with entire sincerity—hoping listeners will respond in like manner.

Attractive, yes, but how practical is another matter. So far, the results aren’t highly encouraging, whether it’s dissident priests in Austria or an ultra-traditionalist group like the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X, which Benedict has sought for years, without much success, to coax back into full communion with the Church. (As this is written, there are reports that Rome and the SSPX may be close to agreement. If so, it’s a tribute to Benedict’s forbearance.)

For a man of lesser faith, the disappointments and rebuffs would be discouraging. But Pope Benedict at 85 plainly has his eye on the future. The projects he’s pushing these days—the New Evangelization, the Year of Faith—are aimed at the long term renewal of the Church, and it’s hardly likely he’ll be around to see it happen. But so what? In God’s providence, all will be well in the end.

Do you doubt it?

Universal grandfathers don’t.

Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books, including three novels and volumes on ethics and moral theology, the Catholic laity, clericalism, the abuse of secrecy in the Church, and other topics. He has also published thousands of articles in periodicals, among them The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, L’Osservatore Romano, America, Crisis, Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Reporter, and many others. From 1967-1987 he served as communications director for the U.S. Catholic bishops and from 1987-1997 was information director for the Knights of Columbus. He lives in Washington, D.C.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus

RESOURCES »

Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic
Apr
23

Liturgical Calendar

April 23, 2014

Wednesday within the Octa ve of Easter

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 28:8-15

Gospel
Date
04/22/14
04/21/14
04/20/14

Daily Readings


First Reading:: Acts 3:1-10
Gospel:: Lk 24:13-35

Saint of the Day

St. Adalbert of Prague »

Saint
Date
04/21/14
04/20/14

Homily of the Day

Mt 28:8-15

Homily
Date
04/22/14
04/21/14
04/20/14

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
     HTML
Text only
Headlines
  

Follow us: