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The Measure of the Man Who Is Pope Benedict XVI

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One of the things that makes the current and by no means passing turmoil within the Roman Catholic Church so very interesting is the all too obvious analogy between the behavior of the Vatican and the behavior of contemporary civil governments. They are all tied to the conventions that got their people into office, and once there, they almost literally cannot see or accept any plan that would change the fundamental power structure, even if it would basically cure the problems that that very power structure creates. This is true in Europe and in the Americas (North and South).

The other thing that makes the trouble in the Roman Catholic Church so riveting is that the Church is so huge, its influence (although waning rapidly) so extensive, and its opportunity for bringing about a truly beneficial change in the way we are on this planet. Whether we like the details of Catholicism or not, there are a billion Catholics out there with human needs and ready to accept even a half loaf of theological metaphysics if it is demonstrated to be even slightly palliative.

So, for weeks now, to the exclusion of writing about President Obama's missed opportunities, Rahm Emanuel's incompetence, Paul Krugman's economic wisdom, and many other subjects of great interest to me, I have been concentrating on the largest question: "will the Roman Catholic Church take this opportunity to reform?"

In the New York Review of Books recently a Princeton Medievalist, Anthony Grafton, wrote a short piece entitled "The Pope and the Hedgehog", for which there is only a teaser available to non-subscribers, but which is worth reading. Grafton begins with valediction to Joseph Ratzinger that will make almost any reformer puke. But, in the end, Grafton makes the point that the "hedgehog-like" behavior of the current Pope, bristling spines at a hostile world, curled up in a self-defeating ball, is exactly what we are seeing. Grafton has trouble with the power structure thing, but that is probably because he knows from all his studies and lectures that the Roman Catholic Church "saved Europe from barbarism" after the final collapse of the Roman Empire. You should know that historicist baloney like that develops its own logic and is shared widely by those, like Grafton and Ratzinger, who have irons in that fire ... still.

Then, this morning, my colleague in New York City, sent me a piece from the Irish Times written as an open letter to Pope Benedict by Hans Kueng ( KÜNG) an old acquaintance of Joseph Ratzinger, a theologian of immense importance. This "letter" is a thorough indictment of the man who is now Pope for his failure to take the opportunities in this turmoil to preserve what is Christian about the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, Joseph Ratzinger is just another man, as Grafton grudgingly agrees, a miserable leader, a hedgehog since early times, unable to clear his ambitions out of his conscience, unable to take the best opportunity in centuries to remold the Church for modern times and modern human beings.

Kueng believes that the Roman Catholic Church is in its "worst credibility crisis since the Reformation." Kueng does not mince words about Benedict XVI. He calls him an utter failure, and in a church-political move that is startling and fraught with very interesting opportunities for mischief, he calls on the bishops (the episcopate) to rise up and be heard against the self-serving hedgehog conservatism of the Curia (the bureaucracy of the Vatican) and including the College of Cardinals!

"Holy Mackerel!" I exclaimed. This is a call to "revolution" where "evolution" is apparently impossible. Kueng knows Ratzinger inside and out, he has worked with him over many decades and, now, he lets loose with a brief, a short list of theses, that rival the more theatrical ones of Martin Luther.

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A week ago I thought that Benedict's call for curing the sins of the Church was a realization that the call to reform ignored meant revolution, now I think that inside the Church the heels are dug in and revolution it must be!

JB (and with many thanks to Tony)

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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese History, (more...)
 

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