The New Pope, without Prejudice

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

The New Pope, without Prejudice


Byline: Martin Sieff, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It is doubtful if any other pontiff in modern times ascended to the papacy facing the number of hostile prejudices that Pope Benedict XVI did last year when he succeeded his longtime chief and friend Pope John Paul II, whom he served so well.

First, the personally shy, scholarly and retiring former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not the exceptional John Paul, the most charismatic and popular pope in at least half a millennium and one who directly interacted with more people than any other pontiff ever.

Nor could he match the extraordinary life odyssey of John Paul II. Anyone who steps into the shoes of a giant knows that he will be in for a rough ride.

Second, Benedict XVI is German - and his elevation to the papacy was followed by truly ugly xenophobic outbursts in the British tabloid press. Conspiracy theorists who love to rave about the Church, about the direction of modern Europe or about Germany could therefore be expected to have a field day.

Third, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the new pope had labored for more than two decades in the thankless vineyard of being prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he assumed in 1981.

That meant he was the chief enforcer of John Paul II's efforts to defend the traditional theological positions of the Church against a wave of liberal intellectuals who wanted to dismantle them. It was all too easy therefore for such enemies to try and falsely stereotype him as a modern Torquemada.

Fourth, the new pope is an outspoken and courageous social conservative - and is unabashedly proud of it. His unrelenting opposition to weakening the Church's moral stance against permitting abortion in particular was sure to outrage his liberal foes.

Michael Rose's deceptively slim but solidly researched, documented and robustly argued book coming hard on the heels of Benedict XVI's election to the Throne of St. Peter comes therefore as a rapid and welcome corrective to dispel so many hostile and wildly inaccurate and even contemptible cliches.

Like the religious leader it celebrates, this book does not indulge in any cheap sentimentality but is both substantive and admirable. Anyone looking for a colorful account, however sympathetic, of the life of the new pope will not find it here.

Mr. Rose concentrates rather on the vast and compendiously documented public record of the man - the dominant conservative theologian and intellectual thinker in the Church of his generation. …

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