A Pontiff's First Year
Benedict has foiled the expectations of liberals and conservatives alike
Benedict is also more of a stay-at-home pope. Although he journeyed to Cologne, Germany, for the World Youth Day last summer and plans to visit Turkey, he is unlikely to come anywhere close to matching the air miles of his peripatetic predecessor. And that in itself is a clue to Benedict's sense of his mission: a papacy devoted to the precise articulation of the principles of the faith.
The question, though, is whether Benedict's intellectual rigor and clarity will translate into a leadership style that will be as valuable to the church as John Paul's more exuberant, evangelical ministry--or even if it will correct some of the perceived shortcomings of the Polish pontiff's reign. For example, many claim that administration and governance were critical deficits in the last papacy--one reason, some say, that the sex-abuse crisis got so far out of hand. Benedict's supporters believe that he will clean house by creating a leaner, meaner Curia and by arranging for more direct interaction with diocesan bishops. He has already merged four curial offices into two.
Yet while some conservatives find progress too slow on this front, liberals worry that the downsizing of offices dealing with justice and peace, migration, dialogue with non-Christians, and culture reflects a diminished concern with some of the more pressing issues of the day. "I think what we'll see is a decline of interest in justice and peace and an increase of interest in internal issues of the church--except where abortion and gay marriage are concerned," says the Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit weekly, America, and a leading scholar of the Vatican. Reese, who was pushed out of his editorship shortly before Benedict was installed, finds little evidence of administrative finesse in the curial office that Ratzinger headed: "You heard of theologians called in to face accusations that were totally false. Ratzinger was not getting good work from his staff. This is a guy who would frankly rather go home and read his books."
Picking his own. But there is no question that this pope is cultivating more direct communication with his bishops and cardinals than John Paul did. One reason, many say, is that Benedict grew wary of national bishops' conferences, finding that they developed their own agendas and were often heavily influenced by midlevel conference officials. "He's picking his own men, and he will teach them in synods," says the Rev. Anthony Figueiredo of Seton Hall University and a special assistant to Benedict at last October's synod. This teaching style, Figueiredo says, will involve at least as much listening as talking. "We are going to see an emphasis," he says, "on dialogue." That emphasis also came through at the March consistory, when the pope met with the College of Cardinals before the installation of his 15 new selections to that body. "He really wants to collaborate," McCarrick says, "to listen to those around him, to be open."
A big question is how all this communication will help Benedict achieve his vision of a church that is clearer about its bedrock principles. Rightly or wrongly, many American Catholics will evaluate the pontiff's success by how he deals with the sex-abuse scandal. To them, the Vatican's November instruction banning the ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" is only a first step. To conservatives such as Neuhaus and theologian George Weigel, its enforcement in the face of widespread dissent will be as crucial a test of church discipline as was the lax enforcement of the 1968 encyclical on birth control. Liberals within the church, including the Rev. John Coleman of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, argue that the conservatives are trying to make the document into something it isn't. Coleman and others emphasize that the teaching was issued (with papal approval, to be sure) by the Congregation for Catholic Education and therefore is of lesser standing than a papal encyclical. They also point out the definitional haze that surrounds terms like "homosexual orientation" (often noting that such an orientation has little causal connection with pedophilia) and suggest that the real test of the teaching won't come until church officials visit the seminaries to apply it. But conservatives counter that such nitpicking amounts to nothing less than a dare. "There can be no doubt," wrote Neuhaus, "that the rejectionists have thrown down the gauntlet in challenging the still-young pontificate of Benedict XVI."