Three Monkeys Online

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The Ratzinger Report – An introduction to Pope Benedict XVI

Interesting to note is the way that the Church involved itself in the referendum campaign. Essentially voting no in the referendum, and not voting at all, both favoured those, including the Church, who wished to see the referendum fail. Rather than defending the law by calling for a direct 'no' vote, Cardinal Ruini, the head of the Italian Bishops' Conference, called for an abstention. By Italian law a referendum to be successful must have a quorum of 50%+1 of the electorate. The Church, which has had the experience of losing a number of important referenda in Italy in the past [Divorce, Abortion], seemed, to some, to take a more strategic than principled stance. &ldquoThey could have easily called for a no vote,” acknowldges Allen. “Someone voting no in the referendum would have been acting within the most strict view possible of Catholic morality. Instead of calling for a no vote, they called for abstention, which from a tactical point of view is a lot smarter. It’s easier to convince Italians not to do something, rather than trying to convince them to vote a certain way. In this case, the Italian Bishops, and above all Cardinal Ruini, clearly played to win. At the end of the day they succeeded. Obviously the reasons that there was under 50% turnout are complex. A lot of it has to do with a frustration with referenda, and the perception that the last number of referenda that were voted on didn’t go anywhere, and so forth. But the involvement of the Church did play its part – turnout was a lot lower than it would have been had the Church not been involved. And that does offer a model for the kind of very committed and in some ways, you could say partisan role that the Church is going to play in this pontificate.”

Also interesting to note was Ruini's statement that the Church had no intention to attempt to modify Italy's existing legislation on Abortion (though at the same time he has called for a European level review of Abortion legislation). Ruini's statement further suggests a tactical view, that the Church is looking to choose when and where it fights its battles. If it's impossible for the Church to win a battle on Abortion in Italy at the moment (which would seem to be the case based on current opinion polls), then it will put its energies into other battles that it can win.

Allen concedes that there may be an element of truth to this analysis, but contests that it's an approach that Benedict XVI will favour: &ldquoA lot of that is Ruini rather than Benedict. Benedict is a guy who actually is quite frustrated a lot of the time with what he would see as bureaucratic logic. If you read his new book, he very directly criticises thinking, which while he didn’t say it came from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano, which said that as long as article 52 of the European Constitution recognises the legal standing of Church institutions, we really don’t care what it says in the preamble. That’s a view that Benedict rejects on principle. So this kind of very crafty, tactical thinking that you mention, in Italy at the moment, reflects more the personality of Ruini than it does the Pope.”

Internal Dissent

Pope Benedict XVI's first appearance in public as Pope, surprised more than a few. His human touch, smiling broadly, and clasping his hands over his head in an apparent sign of victory were at odds with the harsh, uncompromising portrait often given in the media.

The question, on the minds of many catholics and non-catholics alike, is will Pope Benedict XVI be significantly different to Cardinal Ratzinger?

Allen, who has covered the former Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the best part of twenty four years, along with some of his colleagues in the Vatican press corp, believes it's more a case of seeing the full Ratzinger: &ldquoI think what’s happening is that the stage he’s playing on now allows more aspects of his personality to become visible. Those of us who know him in private would always have said that there was this great gap between his public image as a kind of bruiser or bully and so forth, and his private profile as being very accessible, very generous, and really incredibly nice. Those aspects of his personality are able to surface a bit more now because he’s playing a much more public and pastoral role than he was. You’re seeing more of the man, it doesn’t mean the man has changed.”

If there's more of the man's character to see, how will we be seeing it? Will Benedict XVI be a 'media Pope'? &ldquoRatzinger/Benedict XVI’s rapport with the media is better than many would have expected”, suggests Allen. &ldquoHe’s not the charasmatic populist that Karol Wojtyla was.He’s not an actor. For that matter he’s not even really a diocesan bishop. He spent a very short amount of time as a Bishop in Munich, and then a quarter of a century in Rome. So, he doesn’t have this instinctive love or capacity for media relations. At the same time he is a professor. He loves argument. He loves debate. Therefore, from a certain point of view he loves the challenging question. That aspect of his personality is going to bode well for his media relations. I’ve covered Ratzinger for 24 years, and he’s a good interview. He doesn’t duck questions, he doesn’t get flustered, he doesn’t get threatened. Neither does he give these banal, diplomatic responses, where you have to read them four times to understand what he’s getting at. In that sense he’s going to be more comfortable and open with the press than many people may have thought. I do think it’s going to be a better Pontificate, on the whole, for the print press rather than broadcast. There aren’t going to be a whole lot of splashy gestures in this Pontificate. There won’t be a whole load of big shows in St. Peter’s Square. There’ll be fewer trips, and of the trips that he does take, they’ll be less dramatic. By less dramatic I mean there will be less stagecraft to them. But it will be a Pontificate rich in ideas, so in that sense we’ll have a lot to write about.”

He may enjoy a challenging argument, and has formerly indulged in public debates with figures such as Italy's Paolo Flores d'Arcais, but this passion does not necessarily extend to debate within the Church. Within weeks of Benedict's election, the Jesuit editor of America magazine, Thomas Reese S.J. was forced to resign (the decision to oust Reese was actually taken before Ratzinger became Pope). The editor had sanctioned articles in the magazine which included essays exploring the moral arguments for the approval of condom use in the context of HIV/AIDS, criticisms of the doctrinal congregation's 2000 document on religious pluralism (Dominus Iesus), and a guest article by Democratic Congressman David Obey which challenged the suggestion that the Church should refuse communion to Catholic politicians who do not vote pro-life.

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