Benedict's Annum

Pope Benedict XVI began his second year in the Chair of Peter yesterday, and what a difference a year makes. Part of the press tarred him as the 'Hitler Youth' Pope, Cardinal 'Panzer' Ratzinger, John Paul II's 'orthodox enforcer,' feared by liberals and championed by reactionaries.

Today he is today viewed by much of the world with a bemused indifference. What happened?

With the entire world riveted on Rome last April, Benedict XVI entered universal consciousness with the greatest media hype imaginable. Yet just a year later he is largely off the map, mentioned in the back pages of newspapers, or at the tail end of newscasts whenever a Vatican pronouncement or minor scandal warrants. So much is anticipated, yet so little occurs. As usual, the stories, profiles, and commentary of an ignorant media helped shape and color the unrealized expectations of most.

Where is the new Inquisition? The sweeping changes to the Mass? The restoration of a Latin liturgy? The purging of homosexuals, feminists and the ecumenically—inclined?

Has Ratzinger pulled a fast one? Could he be a 'nice' Pope after all? Or, is he a closet lefty?

The media elites, naturally, just don't get it. And, of course, they wouldn't like it if they did. To be sure, the Faith, even after two thousand years, is always a safe bet to be misunderstood by the shallow opinion—makers of the day.

The conflict between media and the Catholic Church is all but structural, built—into the social architecture. Opinion polls, popular consensus, modernity say X; the Church says Y. The dichotomy is always there.

Reconciliation, to the modern mind, is inevitable. It is part of the evolutionary process. And, of course, it is the Church that must change.

Clueless moderns always expect the Church to behave as feckless politicians and institutions do, swiftly reacting and changing to appease the transitory and superficial demands of custom and trend. Yet to the unrelenting consternation of the progressives, the Church remains steadfast. A new Pope, therefore, is always seen as an opportunity for sweeping change.

Furthermore, media decision—makers, for the sake of the inattentive masses, need popes, like our own presidents, to be typed as 'good' or 'bad' according to reigning sensibilities. The narrative then unfolds along familiar lines scripted in advance. Seemingly liberal Pope John XXIII of Vatican II (good) is followed by a pen—wielding conservative, Humanae Vita's Paul VI (bad). John Paul I's (neither good nor bad) brief pontificate is an inconclusive prelude to John Paul the Great's (we will soon see about that!) epic reign (first good, than bad).
Complexity of thought, range of outlook, depth of perception, theological integrity, —— the obvious traits of Benedict's pontificate thus far, these are not the makings of a simple, punchy storyline. How is Benedict to be regarded? How can the media decide if he is a good pope or a bad pope?

To a great many people's dismay Benedict XVI has revealed himself as far from a superficial fellow. He began his pontificate last April 24th with a homiletic commentary on two liturgical symbols that represent the inauguration of the Petrine Ministry. The first, Pallium, a woven cloth placed on the Papal shoulders, indicating the role of the shepherd seeking his lost sheep, the human race. The second, the Fisherman's Ring, placed on his finger, conferring the mission Jesus originally gave Peter: 'Do not be afraid. Henceforth you will be catching men.'

Later he issued his first encyclical, much anticipated as a quiet reflection entitled "God Is Love.'  These are, surely, strange and unexpected themes from the goose—stepping prelate of wide media description.

Either the Pit Bull of Rome has changed or, more reasonably, he was misnamed from the start. 

Benedict XVI may yet surprise us on many fronts, but rest assured he will undoubtedly remain as he really is, and has been of old. That is, a compassionate, warm, intelligent, strong defender of the Faith.

The discerning will soon come to understand that the bold and energetic leadership of John Paul II was an anomaly.  Bishops of Rome, truthfully, are more properly understood as captains of ships whose voyage has long since been charted. They put a new and human face on an ancient institution. Their job is to subtly steer and correct, not create. This does not make it a small job.

On the contrary, the challenges are immense. Truth is not negotiable. It is not flexible. The Creed of Nicea has remained for eighteen centuries and weathered the storms of heretics, Borgias, Reformations, Gnostics, Councils, Wars, and even the frailties and sins of fallen clergy—— and is still intact.

Benedict understands what his role is, and that is not to make bold changes for changes sake but rather to spread the good news. And despite the desires of many——— The Good News is not new news.

Andrew Sumereau is a frequent contributor.

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