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On the Roman Catholic Church:
Pope Benedict XVI

More on Pope Benedict XVI  >>

Commentary added on 4-22-05

A New Pope: Benedict XVI

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is certainly viewed with appreciation by many Roman Catholics and others. But notes of concern are also being sounded. Here's a selection of reports and comments.  [4-20-05]

A New Pope: Benedict XVI

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a renowned theologian and hard-line enforcer of Catholic Church doctrine for the last two decades, was chosen Tuesday to succeed his friend and close ally Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger, 78, became Pope Benedict XVI, the 265th leader of the world's largest and most powerful Christian institution. The LA Times presents a good overview of the election of Pope Benedict, and varying reactions to his elevation to the papacy.


Ratzinger called "arch-conservative" in Reuters report

The story begins: "Arch-conservative German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope on Tuesday in a surprise choice that delighted traditionalist Roman Catholics but stunned moderates hoping for a more liberal papacy."

Read this on, or in the Reuters posting.


Rabbi Michael Lerner sees the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger as bad news for the world and for the Jews

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the progressive Jewish magazine, TIKKUN, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco, took the unusual step of criticizing the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new Primate of the Roman Catholic Church. He is concerned about the Pope’s early involvement in Nazism, however reluctant he may have been. He points to more immediate concerns as well: Ratzinger’s suppression of creative theologians such as Hans Kung and Leonardo Boff, and his opposition to policies that would aid the world’s poor and oppressed.

Read his statement >>


The Gentle Watchdog

The LA Times carries a report focusing on Joseph Ratzinger’s background in Germany, growing up under the Nazis and in post-war Germany. While he shows some rigidity in enforcing traditional doctrines and morals, he is seen doing that as a way of defending the Church against the dehumanizing dangers of modern culture.

Regarding accusations that Ratzinger supported Nazism, the story notes that "Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles agreed that Ratzinger's father was anti-Nazi and said Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth should not be taken as an indication of Nazi sympathies because membership was mandatory. Hier said his group likes Ratzinger and expects him to continue John Paul II's outreach to Jews."


Steadfast Beliefs in a Tumultuous World

The Washington Post suggests that "his searing experience as a World War II Nazi conscript left Pope Benedict XVI with a distrust of nationalism and socialism, and a passionate belief in holding firmly to enduring truths."


A polarizer or a reconciler?

Pope Benedict is seen by one analyst (in the LA Times) as likely to have an activist agenda, aiming to "to revitalize the Roman Catholic faith and identity where it is threatened by secularism, particularly in Europe."


New Pope intervened against Kerry in US 2004 election campaign

Agence France-Presse reminds us that it was Cardinal Ratzinger who "intervened in the 2004 US election campaign ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters including presidential candidate John Kerry."

An example:

One of Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements on this subject was in a memorandum he sent to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington last year on how the church should treat pro-choice politicians and their supporters.


What’s in a (pope’s) name?

Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst and church historian, sees reasons for hope and for concern in Cardinal Ratzinger’s choice of the name of Pope Benedict.

On April 19 Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope on the fourth ballot. Sylvia Poggioli on NPR had the courage to say that he had headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once called the Inquisition. She'll probably catch plenty of flak for telling that truth. In any case, Ratzinger was the enforcer for the hard line positions taken by John Paul II.

A new pope's choice of name can be significant. When Roncalli was elected in 1958, he came out and said, "I shall be called John." It was an allusion, of course, to Luke 1:60. But it also contained a message--that he intended to resume the conciliar movement that saved the papacy following the Great Schism (the years were 1415-17), then was betrayed by the papacy, which ignored or bypassed most of its decrees.

Pope Benedict XV's years were 1914 to 1922. His first task was to seek peace, then to hold the Catholics of warring European powers together. His entries in the Denzinger collection of authoritative decrees mostly hold the line against the softening of doctrine and biblical interpretation.

What may be most memorable about him, however, is that he brought to an end the anti-Modernist crusade carried out under Pius X by the secretive Sodalitium Pianum, a sort of papal FBI. He himself, like Roncalli, the future John XXIII, had been under suspicion. He told the leader to clear out his office, saying, "We forgive but we cannot forget."

The papacy of John Paul II saw not only the enforcement of orthodoxy, carried out by Ratzinger, but the centralization of power, resented by many of the bishops, even many of the cardinals. If taking the name Benedict means that there will be some loosening of the reins of authority, perhaps even the undoing of past abuses, then this, at least, could be good news. The new pope's promise to stay loyal to the directives of the Second Vatican Council may carry the implicit criticism that his predecessor did not do so.

If we look for more auguries, the last Germans to be popes lived during the eleventh century--Leo IX (1048-54), Victor II (1055-57), and Stephen IX (1057-58). They were part of the Northern Reform, in which renewed study of canon law led to reform of church practices under the sponsorship of the German Emperor. This happened before the centralization of church authority under the great but controversial Italian, Gregory VII (1073-85). This papal reform had mixed results--not only reform but uniformity, decreed in ways that were widely resented and resisted.

Hadrian VI (1522-23) was from the Netherlands, not part of the German Empire, and was the last non-Italian pope until John Paul II. While he sympathized with the calls for reforms made by Erasmus and Luther, he was a traditionalist in doctrine.

In sum, popes from north of the Alps could sometimes bring a surprising breath of fresh air. But we can't count on it.


And finally, a thought from Pope John XXIII, as he opened the Second Vatican Council:

In the daily exercise of our pastoral ministry-and much to our sorrow-we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance. To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages, and they rant on as if they had learned nothing at all from history -- and yet, history is the great Teacher of Life...We feel bound to disagree with these prophets of doom who are forever forecasting calamity-as though the world's end were imminent. Today, rather, Providence is guiding us toward a new order of human relationships, which, thanks to human effort and yet far surpassing human hopes, will bring us to the realization of still higher and undreamed of expectations.

This is from Thomas Cahill's excellent little biography of John XXIII, Pope John XXIII: A Penguin Life. [We trust that "Penguin" refers to the publisher of the book, not its subject.  A thought from your WebWeaver.]

Thanks to David Oliver-Holder, Kettle Moraine United Presbyterian Church, Hartland, WI

What do you think?
Please share your thoughts about Pope John Paul II, or about Pope Benedict XVI.
Just send a note!

John Paul II: The Great Restorer
by Leonardo Boff

Leonardo Boff, a renowned liberation theologian, teacher, and writer living in Petrópolis, Brazil, considers the significance of the Papacy of John Paul II. Amid all the calls for the Pope to be placed on a fast track for sainthood, Boff sees his reign as one of restoring the Catholic Church to a pre-Vatican II orthodoxy. Specifically, Pope John XXIII had begun to deal with two major issues facing the Church: the Protestant Reformation and modernity.   [4-20-05]

In sum, his papacy was dedicated to "the restoration of and the return to great discipline."

Read his essay in The Witness magazine


GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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