year after the death of John Paul II and the beginning of the
pontificate of Benedict XVI, Vatican analyst Sandro Magister has
offered an evaluation of both papacies, highlighting the similarities
and differences in style of the two popes.
In an interview with the Spanish daily, El Correo, Magister offered a brief analysis of the first year of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, noting that the Pope “has inaugurated a very particular style, substantially based on words.” Benedict, he stated, “acts as a sort modern-day doctor of the Church, teaching what he believes to be the central element to be defended and appreciated: Christian truth.”
According to Magister, the response to this new style has been “unexpected, surpassing all expectations.” The proof lies in the high numbers of attendance at St. Peter’s, “greater than for John Paul II, double or even triple,” he added.
“And what is most important is that people listen to him with great attentiveness. He is a Pope who speaks and is truly listened to, in contrast somewhat to John Paul II, who people came more to see than to hear. He attracts attention, and in any case, he inspires respect for his serenity and depth,” he wrote.
Asked about changes in the Curia, Magister pointed out that “they have been few and measured, but they have already set a course that will be followed in the coming months.” “The naming of his successor to the Doctrine of the Faith, William J. Levada, indicates that this congregation will again become the central institute of the Curia, under the direct control of the Pope.”
“Levada”, he said, “does not have the role of protagonist, but rather of executor of orders. This is returning the office to what it was before Paul VI, who made the Secretary of State the central focal point of the Curia. Therefore I see the Secretary of State losing power in the future.”
The Italian journalist also pointed to important changes in two other dicasteries. “At the Congregation for Divine Worship, which deals with issues very dear to the Pope, such as the liturgy, he has named a completely unknown bishop of Sri Lanka who is very close to him, and he has relieved Fitzgerald as president of Inter-Religious Dialogue because of his different vision especially with regards to Islam.”
Magister also underscored the Pope’s openness to dialogue and debate, noting that he is “very willing to meet with people and have serious discussions.” “The number of people he meets with daily is less than that of John Paul II, but the meetings last longer and are richer,” he adds.
Benedict XVI “speaks and discusses with many people, at the audiences, at the synod, with the bishops. But later, he makes the decisions personally and alone, and that’s why we are almost always taken by surprise.”
Continuity and complimentarity
Asked his opinion on the pontificate of John Paul II one year after his passing, Magister responded that the late Pope “was sometimes a genius at laying out great perspectives, he wrote great titles. Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is writing the story behind the titles.”
“But there is an element of continuity,” he said: “John Paul II returned the Church to the center of public life and Benedict XVI wants to build the capacity of the Church to communicate with the world upon this foundation of great visibility.”
Magister also noted that Benedict XVI is continuing the dialogue begun by John Paul II with other Christians and with different groups inside the Church, “but in a much more selective way. He appreciates the positive in each movement, but he has no problem calling them to a new discipline. He has done so with the Neocatechumenate.”
“With other Christians, the Pope wants to highlight not so much that which unites them but that which separates them, thus underscoring the uniqueness of Roman Catholicism. He is not proposing that we find common ground and leave the divisions in parenthesis, but rather he is going to the heart of the divisions in order to see which road to take from there,” Magister said.
Lastly, Magister noted that Benedict has a unique strategy in dealing with other religions. “When he met with Muslims in Cologne, it was not at a mosque, but at the bishop’s residence , with a large cross behind him.”