.- The New York Times reported this week that many former critics of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger are warming up to the man once called the “Vatican’s pit bull,” since his becoming Pope Benedict XVI last spring.
“Supporters and skeptics alike”, wrote Ian Fischer, “say Benedict is revealing himself as a man more complicated, subtle and personally warm than many had expected from his years as the Vatican's defender of the faith.”
The article noted that while Pope Benedict hasn’t backed down on crucial issues of Catholic teaching like homosexuality, contraception and abortion, making him extremely appealing to orthodox Catholics, more dissenting Catholics have been surprised by the Holy Father’s softness and emphasis on God’s love.
Rev. Keith F. Pecklers, a Jesuit professor at the Rome’s Gregorian Pontifical University told the Times, "I have been pleasantly surprised by what we have seen thus far…What strikes me is that he is clearly a man of deep prayer and spirituality. He is very intelligent, a good theologian. And he is very humble. He clearly does not want to call attention to himself."
Fischer juxtaposed Pope Benedict with his predecessor, John Paul II, who was world-renowned for his powerful stage presence. “His manner is gentle,” he wrote, “even shy, his voice quiet and his reasoning clear, the focus less on him and his strong views than on the church and its teaching.”
Even Oriana Fallaci, an Italian wroter told The Wall Street Journal recently that he appreciates the intelligence and clarity of Pope Benedict’s writings. "I am an atheist,” he said, “and if an atheist and a pope think the same thing, there must be some truth there."
While some, like Florida resident, Teresa La Peruta, 59, admittedly did not like the Pope at first, largely for her, because of his strong stance on fertility laws, she too admitted after a recent audience in the Vatican that "He is beginning to win me over."
According to the times, when La Peruta said this, the Pope had just donned an Italian firefighter’s hat and accepted an invitation to talk with a terminally ill nun on the cell phone of a man in a wheel chair.
Still others, like papal biographer George Weigel, simply see the man who Joseph Ratzinger (the Pope’s given name) has always been. "I have known this man for a very long time,” he told the Times, “and what I am seeing, frankly, is the man I have always known."
"It's the attractiveness of a man who knows exactly who he is, who, like John Paul II, is a genuine Christian radical, and who can explain the depth of Christian faith in a kind of winsome way."