When I was in Rome in February this year there was a fair amount of scepticism as to whether Benedict XVI would come to Sydney for World Youth Day in mid-July 2008. "He doesn’t like travelling and it’s too far to Australia", one well-informed journalist told me. Well, last week Benedict did publicly confirm that he’s coming, but whether he’ll get a run on the track at Randwick remains to be seen given the attitude of the local trainers. They want compensation for dislocation to the racing industry. That $20,000,000 the Howard government recently gave the Sydney Archdiocese might really come in handy to help calm the Australian Jockey Club.
Actually, there was a deeper reason as to why the Romans thought Benedict might not come: he’s made it clear that he thought tripping around the world wasn’t the Pope’s real ministry. He doesn’t see himself as 'bishop of the world'. Instead, he has reasserted the traditional role of the Pope as bishop of Rome, the visible symbol of the church’s unity and the touchstone of its orthodoxy, but not the omnipresent figure who dominates Catholicism.
He would be deeply aware that it is precisely this kind of ‘ecclesiastical ruler of the world’ syndrome that most annoys the Eastern Orthodox because they see it — correctly in my view — as heretical. For Benedict XVI the views of the Orthodox are very important.
What we are watching is the transformation of Joseph Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith inquisitor, into Pope Benedict, pastoral leader. His apparent hesitancy to rush into things and make strong decisions may well be explained by his care to draw people together rather than alienate them. The predicted purge of dissenters and progressives has simply not occurred. Even the CDF’s warning about the writings of liberation theologian, Jon Sobrino, was carefully and almost respectfully worded. No sanction was imposed. It was described by theologian William P. Loewe of the Catholic University in Washington as "more nuanced ... and certainly gentler" than the CDF treatment of Sobrino’s Jesuit colleague, Father Roger Haight, in the previous papacy.
The only individuals dealt with severely during this papacy have been abusive priests such as the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado.
Another significant sign came a fortnight ago when Benedict quietly reversed the changes of John Paul II to the conclave rules for the election of a pope. In 1996 Pope Wojtyla suddenly and for no apparent reason changed the rule first established in 1179 requiring a two-thirds majority of cardinals to elect a pope. Pius XII made this two-thirds plus one. This rule ensured that there was reasonable unanimity among the cardinals about the person elected.
John Paul decreed that an absolute majority could decide on the next pope if, after 33 ballots, no one was elected. What this allowed was a small majority hanging out for the required ballots, and then forcing their candidate through over a large minority. It was a recipe for disaster. Benedict has gone back to the traditional method because it eventually ensures the possibility of real consensus. While it may seem insignificant, it clearly indicates that he thinks of himself as a traditional pope, unlike his predecessor who was actually quite ‘revolutionary’.
One area where Benedict XVI has intervened decisively is in the appointment of bishops, which he personally supervises. He looks for men of some intellectual and spiritual quality although he doesn’t always succeed in finding them. Benedict has personally taken charge of the appointment process and no longer leaves it up to Giovanni Battista Re, the cardinal prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops who, in the last years of the John Paul II papacy had carte blanche in the matter of episcopal appointments. This lead to a considerable number of mediocre appointments and a couple of disastrous ones.
Many were critical of Benedict after the Regensburg lecture on faith and reason. They accused him of insensitivity to Muslims after his arcane reference to the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus (1391-1425). But he quickly recovered from this over-reaction to a bit of academic showing-off and visited Turkey with religious sensitivity and diplomatic aplomb. He has now restored the independence of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which supervises relations with Muslims and appointed an experienced diplomat as its president, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
I am not suggesting Benedict is some type of ‘progressive’. He’s not. He is profoundly and deeply traditional. His restoration of the Tridentine liturgy for a tiny but vociferous group in the church reveals his sympathy with this form of traditionalism. Meanwhile priestless parishes multiply and the Eucharist and sacraments (whether in Latin or Swahili) are denied to increasing numbers of the faithful.
But it is easy to forget that being traditional has its advantages. It means he knows his place in the church will not turn the papacy into an endless roadshow, while still understanding that in the modern world the pope has to travel to events like World Youth Day.
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12 July 2007
I'm not sure how "his care to draw people together rather than alienate them" sits with the report in today's (12 July) Sydney Morning Herald that he has said that protestant communities cannot be considered "churches" and that their clergy are not genuine priests.
I hope that this report was an inaccurate account of what he said and what he thinks
Dr Vacy Vlazna
12 July 2007
Paul Collins, mentions almost as a postscript that the Eucharist and sacraments (whether in Latin or Swahili) are denied to increasing numbers of the faithful who shamefully include
the divorced and remarried, members of the gay rainbow sash movement, and in April, 2007 a Wyoming lesbian couple received a notice from their parish church telling them they have been barred from receiving Communion. Additionally, pro-choice lawmakers officially have been denied sacraments and Benedict would support their excommunication. The suffering and spriritual angst caused by Benedicts's uncompromising dogmatism mocks a God of Love. Gentle Benedict??
12 July 2007
An insightful article.Interesting and helpful.
12 July 2007
It is great to read some reassuring commentary from a writer whom I respect, after having genuine anxiety as to the direction of the church under Benedict. As Paul Collins writes, however "preistless parishes multiply", and I see no sign yet that Benedict is addressing the great inertia of the church with respect to moving into the modern era. The number of those who worship regularly (not necessarily a good indicator of lives being lived according to the basic Jesus message of "Love one another as I have loved you") diminishes inexorably in Australia. The world as seen by those born since 1960 is not well interpreted by such a slow-moving belief system as that which binds our church. The gist of the critique of Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) is that our church has failed to address the modern world and has lost relevance to the lives of the young. Will Benedict lead such a venture? Perhaps World Youth Day will be a step in that direction.
12 July 2007
Like some others I have reservations about the Pope restoring the Tridentine Liturgy. But on reflection I believe that it may have a beneficial effect on the Church. By making "legal" the very thing that makes them feel unique, the traditionalists with their extreme views, could actually be weakened. If any one can now celebrate the Tridentine Mass (and I don't think many will)then it is possible that the Tridentine Mass will lose its connections with extremist right wing views of the traditionalists.
I find it interesting, that this decision by the Pope, was made at about the same time as his carefully nuanced letter to China. This letter too, is an attempt to break down barriers between Catholics.
I would at least hypothesise that both decisions by the Pope are decisions to unite Catholics, rather than divide them.
12 July 2007
I miss the quiet time during the Canon of the Latin Mass - a small period to contemplate and pray.
I also think the beauty and poetry of the prays in the old Mass has been lost by a dumming down of translation -
I am a 73 yo doubter of absolute belief but I still read the prayers of the office quietly here at times - to escape a noisy world. I do not believe that there will be Latin Masses again in the parish - Paul is a valuable comentator
Neville and Wenda Edwards
13 July 2007
As an ordained minister in a reformed church I have been disappointed for some years at the attitude of the Roman Catholic church to accepting the validity of my 'church' and my ordination. It seems to me that the recent remarks by the current Pope will do nothing to bring unity to the world, let alone the Christian faith. I believe the reported statements (if they are accurate) bring 'the church' however it is defined into further irrelivance among young people and those who trust in a Spiritual dimension in the cosmos but see the irrelivance of institutional religion. Comment Paul?
14 July 2007
Messrs Tweeddale and Edwards don't seem to grasp that being a Christian is not the same thing as being a member of s "church", and "priest" is not just another word for a Christian minister of religion. Despite the media's attempts to portray the statement as something sensational, there is nothing novel or shocking in the Catholic doctrines that protestant bodies are not strictly speaking "churches" and that their ministers are not priests. In fact most protestant ministers would be insulted to be described as priests, and many would be insulted to be told that their organisation is an institutional "church".
Paul, if you are so concerned about the problem of "priestless parishes", maybe you should return to the priesthood in which you solemnly vowed to serve for life.
14 July 2007
I am making a comment as an Anglican caught up in the liturgical movement of the 1960's. both Angicans and Roman Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries were confused between what was a private act of devotion and what was a corporate expression of Faith and committment that good liturgy should express. I was impressed by a Coptic liturgy held in St Paul's Angliocan cathedral Melbourne last year before a protest march to the Egyptian consulate about persecution in Cairo when a priest was murdered. The Melbourne Coptic Community filled the building and they all sang Coptic chants learned from an early age. An example of community involvement in an ancient liturgy. john ozanne
14 July 2007
I am not surprised at the coments on the restoration, so called, of the trident mass, We have been attending that mass for many years,have waited fourty years for this statment.My experience shows that it is the young priests who wish to say the tridentine mass and that it is the young people who attend.
Marianne Dacy (NDS)
17 July 2007
The restoration of the Tridentine Mass has filled many of us with alarm, because of the nature of some of the prayers for Good Friday and in some other areas that perpetuate the Church's poor attitude towards the Jews. There are some ambiguities in messages from Rome that are worrying.
18 July 2007
Perhaps Mr Kennedy can enlighten us 'lacking' Protestants why we would not want to consider our communities to be 'churches'?
25 July 2007
Now, I await Benedict's returning the cardinalte to its historical position overturned by John Paul 2. The restoration would provide an avenue to lever lay men and women into the Curia.
24 November 2007
I have to respectfully correct your comment re Pope Benedict XVI reinstating the Traditional Extraordinary Latin Mass to its rightful place. This action is not a response to "a tiny but vociferous group". All over the world there is an amazing growth of numbers of young people finding and loving the Latin Mass and the beauty of the prayers and music which go with it. The new seminaries established for the Latin and traditional ceremonies have had difficulty coping with the numbers of young men applying to enroll. Also priests, trained in the vernacular in the modern Church are turning up for training in the correct celebration of the Latin Mass. When Cardinal Pell celebrated a Pontifical High Mass in St Mary's Cathedral in October, the Cathedral was full to capacity and the Gregorian chant sounded very much 'at home' in that beautiful building. For anyone interested in the Sydney area, besides the usual Latin Masses at the Maternal Heart of Mary Chapel, Lewisham, a Traditional Midnight Mass in Latin will be celebrated this Christmas Eve at St Joseph's Church, Rozelle. Latin Mass can also be found in Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Melbourne. Tradition is always comforting for we will never know where we are going if we do not know where we are coming from.