The Making of a Papacy: Pope Benedict XVI Charts a Conservative Course in His First 100 Days

Article excerpt

July 27 marked the 100th day of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. As with any transition of power, the first one hundred days are a crucial indicator and opportunity to establish the values and priorities of a new administration. Clear challenges lay before both the Roman Catholic church and the new pontiff as he succeeded John Paul II, yet a careful analysis of the actions and statements of Benedict XVI indicate that there remains much work to be done and there seems to be little will to do it.

Since 19 April 2005, Benedict XVI has:

* Made 117 individual appointments (1)

* Released more than 90 prayers, letters and speeches

* Published a book

* Participated in 150 formal meetings

* Granted just one formal meeting to a woman (2), and he has not individually appointed a woman. (3)

* Not met with a single survivor of clergy sexual abuse to discuss the crisis.

* Not addressed women's ordination, the church's ban on condoms or the shortage of priests.

On 19 April 2005, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Upon his election, Benedict XVI inherited a church divided. One of the enduring legacies of the long reign of Pope John Paul II is the tension within the church between men and women, the global north and global south, conservatives and liberals, gay and straight.

After affirming his commitment to Vatican II on the second day of his papacy and during his first mass as pope, Benedict XVI promised on Sunday, 24 April (Day 6), "My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church." By immediately establishing a tone of openness, he gave what could be perceived as a nod to Catholics alarmed by the election of the former "doctrinal watchdog." His pledge suggested a possibility, however optimistic, that he would use his papacy to foster an environment that welcomed Catholics who have been estranged. That he might heal a church battered and bruised by an internationally pervasive sex abuse scandal. That he would address the HIV/AIDS pandemic with courage, compassion and justice. That he might reinvigorate a priesthood of dwindling numbers. Catholics and non-Catholics around the world prepared themselves to wait and watch.

From the moment Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope, Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) closely monitored the actions and statements of the new pontiff, his emissaries, the Vatican and the Holy See. Through a website called www.Pope-Watch.org, CFFC reported on the quotidian activities of the new pope.

The past one hundred days reveals profound differences in the worldviews and values that divide many of the laity from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church.

As part of its First 100 Days Campaign, CFFC issued critical and easy recommendations that Benedict XVI could and should have done in his first one hundred days:

* Meet with survivors of clergy sex abuse, listen and apologize.

* Promote a culture of life by lifting the ban on condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

* Open top curial positions to women and appoint qualified women to 25% of senior positions within the Vatican.

* Reassign 25% of long-term curial officials to parish work or direct social services.

* Integrate currently married priests into official ministries and move towards optional celibacy for all priests and religious.

* Promote intellectual and theological freedom throughout the church, especially in universities and health care institutions.

* Clarify the right of all Catholics, including divorced and remarried Catholics and policy makers, to examine their consciences and determine for themselves their suitability to receive the Eucharist.

* Celebrate the Eucharist with those whom the church has hurt, including married priests and advocates for women's ordination, nuns and young people abused by clergy, theologians who have been silenced by the church and people living with HIV and AIDS. …